Sanctions and human rights in Zim


By Special Matarirano

ZIMBABWE has been reeling under stringent unilateral coercive measures imposed on her mostly by the United States, Britain and the European Union since the year 2001. 

These coercive measures which are commonly referred to as ‘sanctions’ created and are still creating a lot of political and economic challenges for the country’s developmental drive, causing a lot of ordinary people to suffer.

A cross section of the larger Zimbabwean polity has come to believe that notwithstanding the reason these sanctions were imposed; the real effect of the coercive measures has been established as a political method to force the common people towards submitting to the ‘regime change’ Western policy against the ZANU PF Government. 

Despite the African Union, SADC and the country’s perpetual call for the removal of these illegal sanctions, international organisations such as the United Nations, itself never slamming Zimbabwe with coercive sanctions, remained mum and doing less to summon courage in the condemnation of such unilateralism and bullying. 

The sanctions have become a practice of ‘scariest’ system of global power politics by super power nations and blocks for over two decades. 

These sanctions have become a brutal political and economic exercise of power relations used by the West as represented by US, Britain and the EU. 

The US got its independence on July 4 1776 with its eloquent assertion of “all men are created equal.” 

It took America close to a decade of simmering tensions between northern and southern states over slavery, states’ rights and westward expansion. 

The conflict was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil, with some 620 000 of 2,4 million soldiers killed, millions more injured and much of the South left in ruin. The Civil War in the US began in 1861. 

The war was caused by a fundamental economic difference that existed between the country’s northern and southern regions. 

Though this is not part of this article, it is vital to have a glimpse of how long it took America to establish the type of democracy they have today.

 Related to the above, Zimbabwe was slammed with abrasive sanctions exactly 20 years in its independence after trying to ‘right a century-long colonial wrong’; that of redistributing the land to its majority impoverished black population. 

Those who follow history of Zimbabwe, the land was at the core for the waging of the liberation war and the Lancaster House Constitution dismally failed to solve the equitability of the land issue. 

Even at that time Britain knew how the disequilibrium in land distribution was and would be a sticking prodigy in the future of Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabweans had a right to their fraudulently and violently possessed land. 

Most of our people remember the early years of the imposition of coercive and unilateral measures which indeed had profound and far-reaching consequences to the country’s moral fibre. 

Because of the Government’s incapacity to draw Foreign Direct Investment, there were magnified unrests in the country. 

The doctor’s strike paralysed operations at major referral hospitals in the country, bodies waited for hours before taken into mortuaries, as there were no doctors to certify death. 

The industrial actions that followed were equally disastrous.

All the years that followed were years that the relationship between Britain and Zimbabwe soured.  

Many Zimbabweans in the UK endured marked ill-treatment and deportations; others were denied entry into that country on any flight from Harare. 

The deportations were, at that time, viewed by the Human Rights Organisation chairperson, Nicholas Ndebele, as politically motivated. 

There were further reports of poor treatment, including racist and political comments, and it became obvious that the immigration officers at London’s Gatwick Airport, the main port of entry for people from Africa into Britain, were practising a terrorism of race, self-esteem and nationality, itself a human right issue.

Now, 21 years after the imposition of these unilateral coercive measures, a UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, led by Ms Alena Douhan, will undertake an official visit to the country from October 18 to 28 2021. 

The Special Rapporteur and her team will collect information and hold a series of meetings with Government authorities, civil society organisations, private sector and opposition. 

The Special Rapporteur will then present a public report on the country visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council during its 51st Session in September 2022. 

The team is most likely to hear the following from the different groups they will interact with in the course of their mission.

The Government will certainly spike the longest nail on the head of how the sanctions have defrauded state institutions and incapacitated the provision and enjoyment of the human rights of the citizens in particular. 

The unilateral coercive measures have disabled most if not all state enterprises from delivering public service utilities. 

In 2013, just to take a few examples, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control intercepted a US$2 million loan Olivine Industries secured from PTA Bank because its majority shareholder, Industrial Development Corporation, was on the US sanctions list. 

Olivine, a consumer goods company, is experiencing severe funding problems due to capital constraints. 

Resultantly, a lot of employees have lost their jobs and are not enjoying their right to a decent earning.

In 2016 alone, 19 de-risking cases were recorded in 10 of the local banks OFAC fined Barclays Bank US$2,48 million to resolve potential civil liability for 159 alleged violations of the sanctions regulations by facilitating transactions that took place between July 2008 and September 2013. 

Agribank and Infrastructure Development Bank also suffered the sanctions carnage. Agribank said the reputation damage caused by sanctions meant that it struggled to find an equity partner and had lost a US$98 million line of credit. 

In 2017, CBZ was slapped with a US$3,8 billion fine by OFAC for facilitating transactions on behalf of ZB Bank, which was under ZDERA sanctions and the penalty was reduced to US$385 million after serious negotiations. 

In April 2019 ,Standard Chartered Bank was fined US$18 million for violating the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) sanctions on Zimbabwe. 

The bank closed about 16 branches countrywide recently and only remaining with three. Banks are critical as enablers of citizens’ financial transactional freedom. 

Farmers, infrastructure developers, businessmen and almost every ordinary citizen depends on the bank stabilities dismantled by sanctions. 

Today, Zimbabwean banks and money transfer agencies are facing problems in meeting their customers’ obligations owing to the termination of correspondent bank arrangements between local banks and international financial institutions.

Agriculture is one area hard-hit by the unilateral sanctions. 

Agriculture, as and is still the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy; providing employment and income to over 60 percent of the population, supplying 60 percent of raw materials required by the manufacturing sector and contributing 40 percent of the total export earnings. However, several key institutions with direct influence to the agricultural sector were placed under sanctions, while other financial services providers were slapped with huge fines. 

The unilateral sanctions brought a myriad of challenges to the agriculture sector. Specifically, they have made it extremely difficult to access agriculture lines of credit and attract investment. 

This resulted in lack of development, rehabilitation, modernisation and deterioration of production and marketing infrastructure, ultimately reducing productivity and access to markets. 

The sanctions affected the livelihood of households owing to lower agricultural yields and this derailed Zimbabwe’s quest to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) against poverty and hunger. 

In essence, these unjustified and illegal sanctions have violated basic human rights by directly perpetuating hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe and working against the SDGs.

The mining sector was negatively affected by the sanctions resulting in limited funding to recapitalize as most financiers stopped providing lines of credit to the industry; failure to receive proceeds from minerals sales especially those associated with the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ); and reduced ability to access new markets. 

A huge chunk of mining companies closed leaving their employees exposed to poverty and starvation. 

The question therefore is how targeted then are these ‘targeted sanctions?

Some health facilities that were under construction like provincial and district hospitals and were being financed through the World Bank loan facility could not be completed soon after the imposition of sanctions as donors withdrew their funds. 

Government failed to raise enough funds to complete the projects leaving some facilities incomplete. 

And the effects of such negative developments are bone by the citizens, the right to health is affected.

Dr Alena Douhan should therefore first visit the enablers of national public service providers like Government, captains of industry, transport unions, banks and humanitarian organisations before listening to some of the political players who are actually conduits of the illegal sanctions in Zimbabwe. 

Most Civil Society Organisations and the opposition parties like the MDC Alliance will obviously attempt to leverage their presentations on what will give them political credence since they have been ‘the purveyors’ of such unilateral coercive measure since year 2000. They care less of the people than the care they exert on political ambitions. Vatengesi!

Hence though some Non-Governmental Organisations and opposition parties are most likely to point at the alleged rampant corruption in government and other national players, the bigger rot of the country’s setback lie in the unilateral coercive measures slapped on Zimbabwe for the past 21 years.  

The view that sanctions imposed on states by bigger states may and have a potential threat to human rights and humanity’s ability to enjoy some universal rights, is but a turning point in light of the coercive stance the embargos have had on affected states. 

Ngaabve masanctions tione kuti Zimbabwe inoramba iri pasi here! 

In a nutshell, the UN Special Rapporteur’s mission has been long overdue to help end the polarised debate on whether and to what extent the adoption, maintenance or implementation of unilateral sanctions impedes the full realisation of the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. 

In particular, the right of individuals and peoples to development. Sanctions are undemocratic and a diabolic, bullish, heinous act that save to infringe freedoms and human rights.


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