It’s not time yet to lift sanctions against Mugabe

By Phillip Pasirayi


IN 2004 a national convention was held under the auspices of the Crisis Coalition which among other things sought to reflect on the impact of economic sanctions and to make recommendations on the role of the international community regarding the Zimbab

wean crisis.

The meeting was attended by members from a diverse cross-section of Zimbabwean society including representatives from academia, the diplomatic community, churches, students, civic leaders and political party spokespersons. There was no representative from government and the ruling party as they turned down invitations that had been extended to them.

True of the mainstream media and the Crisis Coalition meeting deliberations, there is no consensus regarding the legality and the impact of the sanctions and whether or not the sanctions should be lifted.

Professor Heneri Dzinotyiwei, who presented a paper titled “The Impact of Sanctions and Role of the International Community in the Zimbabwean Crisis” at the conference, asserted that sanctions were having an unintended negative impact as they were affecting the ordinary Zimbabwean as much as Zanu PF members who were the targets.

I believe that the sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe’s government are a legitimate tool that the international community uses to rein in errant members in order to effect policy change.

It is necessary to dispel the myth that has largely emanated from government that the sanctions are economic sanctions and illegal as they were not discussed by the United Nations.

We should also locate this debate within the context of the latest overtures by members of the clergy who have launched a campaign programme meant to have the sanctions lifted.

Contrary to what we have always been told through state propaganda outlets that the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are illegal, these sanctions have been imposed on the ruling elite and not the ordinary Zimbabwean.

It is to the discretion of members of the European Union or the countries that have imposed the sanctions such as the United States to define their international relations in a manner that does not seem to compromise their values or in this case seem to endorse barbarism, chicanery, vote-rigging and the atrocities that the Zanu PF government has been associated with.

Through sanctions, the international community defines the boundaries of that community and the bounds of what is acceptable behaviour.

The reason it is wrong to call for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Zanu PF at this juncture is that such a move could be misconstrued to mean that the ruling party is reforming. As long as human rights violations continue at such alarming levels, it does not make sense to lift sanctions against members of the ruling elite.

If anything, the sanctions against Zanu PF must be further tightened to force the ruling party to embrace democratic values and respect the rule of law.

The international community has sought to assist Zimbabwe recover from her current crisis through imposing targeted sanctions which include a travel ban against the ruling elite. The idea of smart or targeted sanctions as argued by international law expert, Antonio Cassese (2003), is meant to avoid having the sanctions affect unintended people as blanket sanctions would do.

Smart sanctions are carefully designed and they in most cases include a travel ban, a freezing of assets held in foreign land and a ban or boycott of selected businesses linked to those that are meant to feel the pinch of the sanctions.

On the other hand, economic sanctions normally entail restrictions on commercial relations with a target country such as trade, investment and other cross-border activities. Sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe do not fit this category because they are not blanket sanctions imposed against Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe continues to export its agricultural products such as beef and tobacco to the EU and the US. 

In order to understand the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and their consequences, it is best to analyse them through an incisive piece written by Adeno Addis (2003), “Economic Sanctions and the Problem of Evil”, Human Rights Quarterly Volume 25.

Adeno convincingly argues that sanctions “are a means through which the international community or any sanctioning community imagines itself because they are instruments of behaviour modification”.

 Apart from this instrumentalist or behaviouralist perspective, sanctions are also imposed in order to define the boundaries of the sanctioning community and to disassociate itself with “the evil other”. This is called the identitarian perspective.

When the EU slapped the Zimbabwean government with sanctions, targeting President Robert Mugabe, the US followed suit and targeted senior Zanu PF members “who formulate, implement, or benefit from policies that undermine or injure Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions or impede the transition to a multi-party democracy”.

In other words, the sanctioning community is defining its values and at the same time using sanctions as an instrument to effect change in the formulation and implementation of policy.

The paradox, according to the government, is that the smart sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe is that instead of hurting Mugabe and his cronies they are hurting the ordinary people, the majority now living below the poverty datum line.

But the fact that the smart sanctions have not led to the anticipated behavioural change on the part of the ruling regime is not sufficient justification to campaign for the removal of those sanctions. It is in this light that those people campaigning for the removal of sanctions against Zanu PF are ill-informed.

Adeno underscores the same point arguing that it could be a mistake to assume that sanctions do not serve any meaningful purpose if they do not lead to immediate behavioural change.  

Although the international community has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the people, the primary responsibility lies with the state. So the argument that it is because of the smart sanctions that the government cannot meet the human rights of the citizenry does not stand in international law.

Even in times of crisis, man-made or natural, the state is under obligation to help people meet their basic rights.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, through General Comment No 8 (1997), notes that “the imposition of sanctions does not in any way nullify or diminish the relevant obligations of that state party”.

It therefore follows that Zimbabwe as a state party to the UN International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is still under an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil a whole range of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to adequate food, the right to health, right to housing and to an adequate standard of living and civil and political rights.

As long as the government of Zimbabwe continues on its self-destructive path, being the main instigator of human rights abuses and denying people their electoral rights, there is no justification to campaign for the uplifting of the sanctions.

The sanctions against the rogue Zanu PF regime should only be lifted when airwaves have been opened, newspapers that were shut down are allowed to operate, electoral rights are respected, opposition MDC mayors are unconditionally reinstated and, above all, a new constitution is put in place. 

* Phillip Pasirayi is a Zimbabwean academic activist

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