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Concern About Deadlock on Zimbabwe Sanctions

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Credit: crisisgroup.orgBy Jerome Mwanda
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

NAIROBI (IDN) - The European Union (EU), the U.S. and other Western states "claim to support ending sanctions" against Zimbabwe but they are treating the issue "more as a political football than a problem to be resolved," says the International Crisis Group headed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.

Sanctions were introduced in response to "political violence, human rights abuses and rule-of-law violations, as well as deteriorating democratic standards" that followed the violent 2000 and 2002 elections.

They include targeted measures against individuals and entities, like visa bans and asset freezes; restrictions on much government-to-government aid (though not humanitarian and some development help), as well as on access to loans and credits in international financial institutions; and arms embargoes.

The Crisis Group's report Zimbabwe’s Sanctions Standoff says: These measures have generated a polarised narrative between those who argue that Zimbabwe is under a broad sanctions regime that is primarily responsible for its economic woes, and those who claim that they are limited, and ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) policies and practices are mainly responsible for economic disintegration.

Among those calling for removal of sanctions is the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as they are a "serious political impediment to reform". Those who have imposed the measures – in particular, the EU and the U.S. – argue the lack of reforms justify the continuation of sanctions. These, says the Crisis Group report, have however been "more symbolic than drivers of change."

"President Mugabe and ZANU-PF manipulate the issue politically and propagandise it as part of their efforts to frustrate reforms and mobilise against perceived internal and external threats to national sovereignty," says Piers Pigou, Crisis Group's Southern Africa Project Director but adds: "Supporters of sanctions have not connected individual measures adequately to the broader struggle for democracy, and they have never gained support for them from the region."

The gridlock reflects the broader paralysis that characterises Zimbabwe's politics and underscores the necessity for key reforms to secure credible elections that must be held by June 2013, finds the report.

Sanctions cannot be dealt with in isolation from broader challenges, says the report, but insistence that their removal requires virtually full implementation of reform has stymied exploration of innovative approaches.

The Crisis Group, an eminent think tank based in Brussels, urges the EU, the U.S. and other Western states to make distinctions between the various types of sanctions. In particular, it asks them to do a comprehensive review of their impact; be more flexible on targeted measure when an individual's travel involves legitimate government business; and keep arms embargoes but make greater effort to engage the security sector so as to promote dialogue about its responsibilities.

The report advises those imposing sanctions to also seek to negotiate with SADC a suspension of the ban on much government-to-government aid linked to implementation of key election-related reforms and more vigorous SADC facilitation within an agreed timeframe.

Signatories of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) reached after the 2008 elections – ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – as well as the facilitator, SADC (with South Africa leading), should put realistic options on the table tying relaxation and eventual removal of all sanctions to a realistic reform agenda, as set out in the draft election roadmap and including monitored implementation, the report says.

"All that requires a degree of political commitment that has largely been absent," says Africa Program Director Comfort Ero. "But if it can be summoned, there may yet be a chance to put in place at least the minimum conditions, including restraints on the security services, needed for genuine elections by 2013."

"Only bold action offers a chance to break the impasse, stresses the report. But the issue should not be addressed either separately from the reform agenda, particularly as it relates to the fast-approaching, potentially disastrous election season, or as an all-or-nothing matter," says the report.

The Crisis Group is of the view that any approach must proceed from a foundation – currently missing – that can provide a more substantive and nuanced basis for moving forward. The EU, U.S. and others imposing sanctions should make clear distinctions between the several categories of measures.

The Crisis Group warns that "the political situation in Zimbabwe is fragile, with growing fears the country may be heading toward new repression and conflict as the era dominated by the 88-year old President Robert Mugabe comes inevitably closer to an end, and elections draw nearer."

Mugabe's ZANU-PF claims the GPA and subsequent negotiated reform process have run their course, and conditions are conducive to a free and fair vote. The Movement for Democratic Change formations disagree but do not specify what they consider to be the minimum necessary reforms. SADC and most international observers believe the foundation for free and fair elections has not yet been laid.

The report admits that there has been some economic and social progress, but points out that major deficits and deadlock persist on core reforms and implementation of some already agreed matters. "Most significantly, ZANU-PF retains full control of the security apparatus, raising legitimate fears elections could lead to a repeat of the 2008 violence and refusal to accept the democratic will of the people," the Crisis Group points out. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 08, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: President Mugabe at a rally in Harare on March 2, 2011. | Credit: crisisgroup.org

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