The International Bar Association says that the U.N. Security Council should ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for crimes against humanity. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.

International Bar Association Executive Director Mark Ellis says he has been calling for an investigation of Mr. Mugabe by the International Criminal Court for four years.

"During the past four years the atrocities that have been committed against Zimbabwean citizens have increased dramatically and so there is even more of a reason for an investigation to be started today," he said.

Ellis tells VOA that under international law, crimes against humanity are those carried out as an element of a systematic and widespread attack against a civilian population and include killings, rape, torture, displacement and the abuse of food, housing and medical care to punish opponents of a government.

He says that this is what has been happening in Zimbabwe.

"So all of these acts have been committed, I think it is quite clear that these acts have been committed," he said. "There is evidence to suggest that this has been going on for a number of years and Mr. Mugabe, at a minimum, is complicit in these acts because he is the head of state."

Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the so-called Rome Statute, the enabling international law that brought the Court into being. Consequently, the only way an investigation can be launched by the court, is for the Security Council to request it.

The International Bar Association was founded in 1947 and has 30,000 member lawyers that represent 200 bar associations and law societies from across the globe. It has conducted a number of programs to promote the rule of law and support lawyers in Zimbabwe.

Ellis was prompted to make his latest call following recent widespread violence in Zimbabwe that independent rights organizations say is being perpetrated by the ruling ZANU-PF with the support of the security forces. Those being targeted say they are suspected of voting for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in March elections.

Mr. Mugabe rejects the allegations.

The Security Council has not asked the ICC to investigate charges against Mr. Mugabe and his government, but Ellis says members took an important first step when it added Zimbabwe to the council agenda.

Ellis says this sends a message to Zimbabweans that the international community recognizes their suffering.

Last month Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu urged Mr. Mugabe to step aside, saying it would give him an opportunity to leave office with some dignity intact and perhaps prevent international legal steps against him.