By Nevanji Madanhire
A SMALL detail the media missed about Alena Douhan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights in Zimbabwe is that she is from Belarus. Belarus is in the same situation as Zimbabwe. It is under the yoke of both United States and European Union sanctions. So, Douhan knows first-hand the debilitating effects of sanctions on countries under them and her preliminary statement on her visit reflects this.
The US state department says since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka came to power in 1994, he has consolidated power through widespread repression.
In 1996, Lukashenka temporarily expelled US and EU ambassadors. After a presidential election in 2006 the US and the EU implemented travel restrictions and targeted financial sanctions on nine state-owned entities and 16 individuals. In 2008, after the US tightened sanctions Belarus permanently expelled the US ambassador.
The EU is a major ally of the United States. Its embargo on Belarus has been extended annually since its introduction in 2011. These measures include an embargo on arms and on equipment that could be used for internal repression as well as an asset freeze and travel ban against people deemed to aid the repression.
Like Zimbabwe, therefore, Belarus is considered an international pariah in the West. Douhan knows first-hand that sanctions are meant to hurt the victim country’s economy and the common people’s ability to survive. She knows that sanctions lead to revolution as people accuse their own governments of failure to rule.
She knows the imposer of sanctions will continue to say that the measures do not include food and humanitarian aid when in fact they do because the sanctions bar banks from doing business with the targeted country. They hit the importation of food and medicines causing immense suffering and even death among the poor.
Like they have done in Belarus, sanctions are meant to slow down the economy sharply, trigger a recession as exports and investment inflows reduce, and rising inflation and high unemployment weigh on consumption. As the poor suffer, the rich become richer. She knows the side effects of the sanctions. The country suffers deep corruption and incompetence as those who oversee the economy become more and more depraved. Sanctions empower the institutions that control the levers of illicit trade at the expense of the middle class engaged in legitimate professions.
She knows that the ultimate aim of sanctions is to make people revolt like they have done in her own country and that such revolts lead to nowhere as they are always violently suppressed. Her call for constructive dialogue between the imposers of sanctions and the sanctioned countries is therefore informed by research and experience and should be taken seriously by the opposing forces. But the US has little regard for the UN and therefore Douhan’s call will go unheeded.