Human rights violations strain Zim-US relations

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US ambassador Brian Nichols

BRIDGET MANANAVIRE

THE United States government says it is alarmed by the ill-treatment of the country’s citizens by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, indicating its bad human rights record has left relations between Harare and Washington DC heavily strained.

Relations between Washington and Harare remain cold despite government’s re-engagement drive anchored on a commitment to reform. Washington has imposed restrictive measures against Harare since 2002. The US this week issued a withhold release order against Zimbabwean diamonds as relations continue to sour.

In a tele-press briefing from the US capital on Wednesday, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African Affairs Tibor Nagy said the Zimbabwean government was well aware of the conditions set by America before there can be a “normal constructive positive relationship”.

Nagy’s averments come at a time when Sadc countries have committed to a region-wide anti-sanctions campaign on October 25, in solidarity with Zimbabwe.
He said the US has been having a frank and honest dialogue at the highest levels of the Zimbabwean government, and the leadership understands what the US is looking for.

“However, again, let’s be very frank. Zimbabwe has a reputational problem. We have great concerns over how the government treats its own citizens. We have great concerns over the space that is available for democracy and governance in Zimbabwe. We have been alarmed with how the government has treated its own citizens. So those are the issues,” Nagy said.

“But as I said, we have had very frank and honest discussions among ourselves and the highest levels of your government. So hopefully, again, my dream and prayer is that we can have fully normalised positive relations with every country in Africa and Zimbabwe is near the top of my wish list, again, given the personal connections I have had with your beautiful country and your wonderful people.”

The Mnangagwa government has of late been criticised for abductions and torture of political activists, trade unionists and human rights activists.

Government has also come under fire for failing to bring to book the soldiers who shot and killed six civilians in April last year. Government also deployed the army in January this year to quell protests, resulting in the deaths of at least 17 people. Nagy insisted though, that Zimbabwe was not under sanctions.

“We have sanctions against certain individuals and certain corporations — there can be greater detail on that — but not against the country of Zimbabwe. There is nothing to stop US businesses from investing in Zimbabwe, from going to Zimbabwe,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it’s no secret; we have a problematic relationship with Zimbabwe. There is Zidera (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) which restricts to a certain extent what the United States can and cannot do.”

US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols last week said Zimbabwe should focus on implementing democratic reforms and dealing with corruption.

“The biggest sanctions in Zimbabwe are the sanctions Zimbabwe puts on itself, US$3 billion unaccounted for; spending on command agriculture , that money going into private companies then jack up the exchange rate to ZW$27 on the OMIR. So those types of problems like Zinara (Zimbabwe National Road Administration) losing US$25 million unaccounted for; building luxurious homes. Zesa, the bulk that has been stolen from there, and the list goes on and on. Those are the sanctions Zimbabwe puts on itself and that should be the focus of its government,” Nichols said.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) this week issued a Withhold Release Order on Zimbabwean diamonds, effectively barring them from entering the United States on the basis that they were produced through forced labour.

“Human rights abuses are widespread at Marange as security forces continue to beat, and harass artisanal miners both being used as forced labour and also those found illegally mining, the latter sometimes even being killed for illegal mining,” US embassy spokesperson Stacy Lomba said this week.

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