(Brussels) – The European Union should maintain its travel restrictions and asset freezes on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle until Zimbabwe carries out concrete human rights and institutional reforms, ahead of this year’s national elections. The EU is conducting its annual review of its sanctions policy toward Zimbabwe and is scheduled to announce a decision on February 17, 2012.
Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (GPA), which established a power-sharing government in 2009, contains specific measures to promote freedom of speech and the rule of law, end politically motivated violence, and apply national laws fully and impartially to hold those responsible for abuses to account. Mugabe’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has been the main obstacle to real progress in carrying out these reforms and ending human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
“Mugabe’s ZANU-PF is committing grave human rights abuses against all perceived opponents,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Easing the sanctions now would send the wrong message and reinforce the repression and impunity in Zimbabwe.”
Human Rights Watch’s ongoing research in Zimbabwe shows that while the country’s economic situation has significantly improved since the power-sharing government’s inception, there has been little progress on promised human rights reforms or respect for the rule of law. A human rights commission which was set up three years ago still does not have a statute that would to allow it to become operational, and state institutions such as the Office of the Attorney General and the police force remain highly partisan.
Human rights defenders and other critics of the government are arbitrarily arrested and detained and otherwise harassed. For example, on February 7, police arrested 10 members of the nongovernmental organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) as they peacefully demonstrated in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.
The women were detained for two days and then released on bail. Seventeen members of the same group had been arrested on January 19, and released on the same day. On December 5, 2011, the authorities arrested three activists from the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) in Gwanda, after they held a community meeting on public information rights in November. The three activists spent 11 days in detention before they were released on bail.
More than three years after Zimbabwe’s presidential election run-off, the power-sharing government has not investigated widespread abuses, including beatings, killings, and torture committed by the army and supporters and officials of ZANU-PF against real and perceived supporters of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). There has also been no justice for victims of serious abuses that took place during elections in 2002 and 2005, and for the victims of Zimbabwe’s violent land reform program.
Some government-owned companies subject to EU sanctions, like the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), are actively involved in mining diamonds in eastern Zimbabwe, where Human Rights Watch uncovered rampant abuses by the armed forces, including forced labor, child labor, extrajudicial killings, beatings, smuggling, and corruption. There has been no accountability for these abuses.
The lack of institutional reforms, in particular to promote credible elections and end ongoing abuses, justify the need to maintain pressure on ZANU-PF to honor its commitment to reform, Human Rights Watch said.
The European Union in 2002 began imposing travel restrictions and asset freezes on Mugabe and about 200 senior ZANU-PF officials, as well as on some state-owned companies with close ties to the party. The first round of sanctions followed Mugabe's controversial re-election that year, a breakdown of the rule of law, systemic human rights violations, and chaotic and often violent land seizures.
Human Rights Watch called on the EU to maintain sanctions against Mugabe, ZANU-PF officials, and other legal entities until the conditions for lifting the sanctions are fully met. These include: restoration and respect for the rule of law; an end to human rights violations; upholding media freedoms; and accountability for perpetrators of violence, killings, and other abuses.
“EU concessions on sanctions will not get ZANU-PF to end its abuses,” Bekele said. “To the contrary, removing sanctions will give Mugabe and his party free rein for continued repression ahead of elections.”