By Robert Pigott, BBC religious affairs correspondent
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has issued a powerful challenge to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene in Zimbabwe. He is asking for effective action to protect Christians from what he says is the brutality being used against them. Dr Williams warned last month Zimbabwe was poised on the brink of disaster. Now he has called on Mr Ban to explain what is being done to prevent murderous, state-organised violence, directed especially against Anglicans. The archbishop has watched with dismay and frustration as the Zimbabwean police have attacked political activists and singled out Anglicans for harsh treatment, while the country’s neighbours in southern Africa have appeared unwilling to act. Now he seems ready to shame the UN into taking effective action. “We are concerned to know what the UN Security Council… is doing to defend Mothers’ Union meetings at churches and prevent people being torn away from altar rails on the orders of ruling party or state official,” said Dr Williams. “We plead once more for immediate high level SADC and UN mediation and monitoring to ensure a free and fair presidential run-off, and the protection of its citizens from state-organised violence.” For several weeks the police have disrupted Anglican services in Zimbabwe and attacked worshippers with batons. In one case they beat women as they knelt in front of the altar in the act of taking the bread and wine of the communion service.
Anglicans have been targeted since the Church replaced former Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who was a strong supporter of President Robert Mugabe. Since then the deposed bishop has been able to prevent Anglicans getting into the cathedral. Dr Williams said: “There is a continuing failure to enforce court orders permitting Anglicans to worship in their cathedral church in Harare and other parishes.” Other Anglican leaders have gone on record demanding that the international community take responsibility for dealing with the violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, himself once a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda, last year cut up his clerical collar live on BBC television, promising to go without one until Robert Mugabe had gone. He issued a joint statement with Dr Williams last month calling on Zimbabwe’s neighbours to act far more robustly to avert a “spiral of communal violence”. Dr Sentamu said on that occasion: “I didn’t believe the softy-softly approach of Thabo Mbeki would work. “I think it’s time we acknowledged that African countries are sometimes incapable of creating good governance on their own. We must stop saying this is just an African problem… this is an international problem.” Rowan Williams has now reinforced the call for international action, and pointedly directed it at Mr Ban. The head of the Anglican Communion is telling the UN Security Council that someone must take responsibility for Zimbabwe, that doing nothing is not enough and the ball is now in the UN’s court.