WASHINGTON DC —
American lawmakers say they will not lift sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle, though they say they may try to refine the sanctions to reduce the impact on average Zimbabweans.
The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday entitled “The Troubling Path Ahead for U.S.-Zimbabwe Relations.” Chairperson Representative Christopher Smith said the purpose of the hearing was to examine US policy, especially the sanctions, following what he termed a “problematic” election.
Testifying before the committee, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, Shannon Smith, called the presidential and parliamentary elections of July 31st a missed opportunity for Zimbabwe.
“The United States and other members of the international community had clearly communicated, both publicly and privately, a willingness to consider rolling back sanctions and other restrictions on Zimbabwe and charting a path to full normalization of relations – if Zimbabwe demonstrated that it was ready to allow its deserving people to freely choose their next government through a fair, peaceful, and credible election.”
Deputy Secretary Smith argued that sanctions are intended to punish individuals in Zimbabwe who want to maintain power and wealth while suppressing ordinary people.
“We therefore continue to maintain targeted sanctions aimed at those who are actively undermining democracy in Zimbabwe and thus depriving all its citizens of a more democratic, prosperous future.”
ut according to Zanu-PF, it is the sanctions that are responsible for depriving citizens of prosperity. This claim, Deputy Secretary Smith noted, is a “misperception.”
“In the future, we will not be swayed by the attempts of President Mugabe and his party to blame Zimbabwe’s economic misfortunes and disastrous economic mismanagement – on the United States and other governments that maintain targeted sanctions on a select group of individuals and entities. We do, however, want to communicate our message clearly. Those who benefit most from the status quo – influential officials within the Zimbabwean government and the defense and security sectors – will no doubt remain the most vocal critics of the United States and other Western countries, and they will continue to rely on state domination of the media to perpetuate misperceptions about U.S. policy.”
Speaking at the same hearing, Representative Ed Royce also took a swipe at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for rushing to endorse President Robert Mugabe after a flawed election.
“The performance of SADC has really been a disappointment here. Heralded by the administration at the start of the summer as a force for positive change in Zimbabwe, SADC in my opinion is still adding to the problem as they failed in the past to speak out and this time the Parliamentary group assessment of the July elections I think, terribly missed the mark. Miraculously they concluded that the elections were a credible reflection of the will of the people, free and fair.”
Royce compared the SADC statement with views from civil society organizations and other domestic observers, which found “rampant voter roll tampering, political harassment and intimidation.”
Also giving testimony, United States Agency for International Development Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, Todd Amani, said Washington will now shift its focus from good governance to humanitarian aid as Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis.
“A recent vulnerability assessment indicates that due to a poor agricultural season, as many as 2.2 million vulnerable people may require food assistance during the upcoming hunger season (September 2013-March 2014) - an increase from 1.6 million estimated in need from the prior year and the highest level since 2009. In anticipation of this season’s humanitarian response, USAID has already provided nearly $15 million in food commodities and anticipates providing additional emergency food assistance resources before the end of this fiscal year.
“While the economy has slowly stabilized since the disastrous crisis of 2008, the recent, deeply flawed elections represent a disturbing political and democratic setback from the cautious and sober optimism five years ago at the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU).”
International Advocacy Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Arthur Gwagwa, told the committee that from the Zimbabwean perspective, there are options—including the status quo or the total removal of sanctions, or a progressive removal of sanctions. Here he refers to sections of a brief submitted to the hearing.
“Firstly, the maintenance of sanctions until all agreed reforms per Appendix 1 are achieved or remedied. The second option is for the immediate removal of all sanctions, on the basis of collective but diverse reasons per Appendix 2. Finally, the USA could pursue a third option, which involves a staggered review of sanctions in response to progress.”
President Mugabe said Wednesday that Zimbabwe will not be “destroyed” by Western sanctions and will rely on its natural resources and friendly countries for survival. Mr. Mugabe made the remarks during a press conference soon after swearing in new cabinet ministers for another five-year term.
Currently, the Specially Designated Nationals on the US sanctions list includes 113 individuals, including President Mugabe and now Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa. There are 70 entities on the list, as well, including the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe and Oryx Diamonds Limited.
Beyond the issue of sanctions, Representative Royce also criticized the makeup of the new cabinet, calling it a recycling of old Zanu-PF hardliners. Royce singled out Information Minister Jonathan Moyo and Mr. Chinamasa for suppressing media reforms and the independence of the judiciary, respectively.
Imani Countess is the Africa Region Program Director for the Solidarity Center, an International Worker Rights Development Organization. Speaking on behalf of labor, Ms. Countess accused Mr. Mugabe’s government of infringing on workers’ rights prompting the International Labor Organization to act.
“In October this year, the International Labor Organization (ILO) will send a high-level technical team to Zimbabwe to implement recommendations made by a Commission of Inquiry in 2009 and 2010 on respect for Freedom of Association and the Right to Bargain Collectively. Zimbabwe’s ongoing and systematic failure to respect Freedom of Association led to Zimbabwe’s inclusion in the June 2013 hearings at the ILO’s Committee on Application of Standards as one of the 25 worst countries regarding labor rights violations.
“In addition to some of the events noted previously, legal submissions made to the international body noted that Zimbabwe has failed to uphold international labor standards and even failed to ensure compliance with national laws.”
No one representing the government of Zimbabwe was at the hearing. But VOA Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reached Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo who said he is not amused by the U.S. actions.
"America wanted the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to win the elections. The sanctions are a regime change agenda and they are hurting ordinary citizens."
The United States of America imposed sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his top officials in 2001 for alleged human rights abuses.