Last week, United States President Donald Trump renewed sanctions against several senior Zimbabwe government officials for another year, citing lack of reforms, economic mismanagement, and “accelerated persecution” of critics by security forces. Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it ignored evidence of major reforms.
But the US is not alone in highlighting Zimbabwe’s lack of political will to implement credible reforms. Last month, the European Union noted that lack of reforms, the further shrinking of democratic space, and corruption have contributed to Zimbabwe’s “current deteriorating humanitarian crisis.”
Similarly, following a visit in September 2019, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, noted “a serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment since August 2018.” He expressed concerns that reforms to the public order laws did not go far enough to address challenges to freedom of assembly, including broad discretionary law enforcement powers and the military’s involvement in managing public demonstrations. In March 2019, Human Rights Watch found that Zimbabwe security forces had used unnecessary lethal force to crush nationwide protests in January 2019. During the protests the security forces fired live ammunition, killing 17 people, and raped at least 17 women.
Among the few reforms carried out by the Zimbabwe government is the repeal of the draconian Public Order and Security Act which was replaced by the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act. The new law, however, still does not fully guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and continues to give law enforcement agencies broad regulatory discretion and powers.
Instead of being in denial, Zimbabwe authorities should focus on implementing key reforms that would improve respect for human rights. The reforms include, in line with section 210 of the Zimbabwe Constitution, the establishment of an independent mechanism for investigating and providing remedies for public complaints of misconduct by security services. They should implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the post-election violence of August 1, 2018, including ensuring those responsible for abuses are held accountable, and set up the special committee to compensate victims.
Zimbabwe’s full reengagement with the international community will depend on real change and a clear commitment to respect for human rights, good governance, and the rule of law.