THE United States yesterday said sanctions alone would not force the Zimbabwean government to end human rights abuses, and urged mass action to make Harare commit to stopping human rights violations.
Speaking in a teleconference with local journalists from Washington yesterday, Assistant Secretary Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Robert Destro said the US respected Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and it was critical for Zimbabweans to work together to end the rights abuses.
“No, sanctioning is not enough, at the end of the day, responsibility to police the boundaries of human rights rests with the Zimbabwean people themselves and we respect their sovereignty,” Destro said.
“Our job is to call the situation as we see it.”
He said the US could only offer assistance within the parameters of “healthy bilateral relations we have”.
The US slapped Zimbabwe with sanctions in 2001 under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in response to a series of human rights abuses, including a violent land reform programme of 2000, orchestrated by the late former President Robert Mugabe’s administration.
Hope that the sanctions would be removed died when President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe on the back of a November 2017 military coup, deployed soldiers to quell post-election protests in August 2018 and fuel protests in January 2019, resulting in the killing of 23 civilians.
Mnangagwa has engaged three international public relations companies, including an American outfit, Ballard Partners, to help spruce up his image and force the removal of sanctions, but the US has, instead, extended the embargoes by another year.
Yesterday, two US Senators, James Risch and Chris Coons, called for more names to be included on the sanctions list, saying “there remain several others who need to be held accountable” for human rights violations in the country.
Mnangagwa last year cajoled the Southern Africa Development Community and the African Union to call for the removal of the sanctions, claiming that apart from causing untold suffering to millions of Zimbabweans, they were advancing a regime change agenda.
But Destro said the whole issue of sanctions was to get the desired attention and have people work together to have the human rights violations addressed, but refused to comment on whether Washington would add more names to the list, opting to say it was “a lengthy process and quite sensitive”.
Destro’s utterances were made as the US outlined areas the Zimbabwean government has been found wanting on human rights violations since Mnangagwa took over.
Meanwhile, the report on Zimbabwe presented by Washington yesterday gave details on how human rights were violated in the southern African country in 2019 under the Mnangagwa administration.
“Numerous factors contributed to a flawed overall election process, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s lack of independence, heavily biased State media favouring the ruling party, voter intimidation, unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders, disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters,” the report read in part.
It also blasted police heavy handedness on protesters, saying even though the force was under the charge of the Home Affairs ministry, the Office of the President allegedly directed some Zimbabwe Republic Police roles and missions in response to civil unrest.
Human rights issues singled by the US included unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces, torture and arbitrary detention by security forces, harsh life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, and serious problems with the independence of the Judiciary, among other issues.
Risch, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, and Coons, a member of the Sub-committee on Africa, applauded the decision by the US Department of the Treasury to update the list of sanctioned individuals for Zimbabwe to include former army Presidential Guard commander Anselem Sanyatwe and State Security minister Owen Ncube on Wednesday.
“As Zimbabwe’s leaders continue to blame their deepening political and economic crises on the political opposition, peaceful protesters, and foreign governments, they are failing to take responsibility for the suffering of the Zimbabwean people, for which they alone are responsible.
We applaud the United States’ decision last week to extend the Zimbabwe sanctions programme for another year.”