Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Irresponsible governments - accountability for acts and omissions


The South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala - Msimang and Treatment Action Campaign's Zackie Achmat have frequently crossed swords in the past. He was asked by a local paper whether he could ever be friends with her. Achmat replied "no", and explained: "Almost a million people have died and for that I don't think that I could ever establish a friendship with her."

Forget the question of whether or not anyone would want to be friends with such an egotistical, petty character as the South African Minister for Health Prevention and the country's similarly deluded President. There's a more interesting issue, and that issue is this. Consequentialist ethicists (among others) have made much of rejecting the acts and omissions doctrine. They claim, essentially, that all other things being equal, you are as responsible for the consequences of your actions as you are for the consequences of your omissions to act when you could have acted. I think that this makes perfectly sense.

Here then is an interesting challenge: Remember a mass murderer like Slobodan Milosevich, the Christian slaughterer or anything not Christian/Serbian during the civil wars in former Yugoslawia? Many people died as a direct consequences of his actions (read: policies). Well, if we really believe that the acts and omissions doctrine doesn't make much sense, we surely need some international court of justice that holds governments responsible for policies that omit to act when they could have acted to prevent significant harm to their citizens. Thabo Mbeki, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the ANC government are responsible for up to 1 million of preventable deaths in Southern Africa due to their refusal to provide medication to these people when they could have.

I am still flabbergasted that nobody in South Africa seems keen on holding these liberation politics apparatchicks responsible for the preventable deaths of more than a million poor Black South Africans. Just imagine such genocidal policies had been enacted by a white government. The world would have been up in arms, and quite rightly so. Surely, holding a Black run government to lower standards of performance, competence etc is in itself racist, isn't it?

... or am I missing something?

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