By Prof Jonathan Moyo

THE Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) followed the 2000 Parliamentary elections; the March 4 2002 Presidential Proclamation sanctioning designated individuals followed the 2002 Presidential election, as did Executive Order 13288 of March 6 2003; while Executive Order 13391 of November 23 2005 followed the 2005 Parliamentary elections while Executive Order 13469 of July 25 2008 — the most destructive — was a direct response to Zimbabwe’s first harmonised general electiond of March 2009, and particularly the June 27 2008 Presidential run-off election.

The use of cacophonic propaganda about 11 individuals, who include the country’s top leadership in Government, said to have been sanctioned for alleged human rights abuses and corruption together with three private commercial entities — tellingly on the same day that Biden issued his termination of the ‘national emergency’ in Executive Order 14118, is clearly intended to distract attention from Biden’s embarrassing order which, as already pointed out, is a de facto acknowledgment of catastrophic failure of the US policy of regime change in Zimbabwe, over the last 21 years of the three Executive Orders; and the last 23 years of their enabling law, ZDERA, which remains intact.  

The US government and its running dogs in Zimbabwe want the media chatter to be more on the 11 individuals and three commercial entities that have been put under the Magnitsky Act, and less on the revoked orders for what turns out to be cheap and misleading propaganda purposes. ‘Cheap’ because geopolitics, international relations and international law are about States and their institutions, systems, processes and international law; not about individuals.

It is ‘cheap’ and ‘misleading’ for the US to make propaganda noise about 11 individuals, nine of whom were already under substantially the same sanctions — some of them for all the 21 years of the revoked orders — while pretending that there’s something substantially different or dramatic about the Magnitsky sanctions.

Being shrill about removing a handful of individuals from a 21-year-old failed and now rotten US sanctions basket, and putting them on another seven-year old US basket with an exotic Russian name, and nothing else; while dubbing that propaganda basket a ‘sanctions transition’ is actually a dumb stunt.

The stunt becomes a hostile act and an attack on Zimbabwe’s sovereignty with unpredictable consequences when, because it is bereft of substance and is in breach of international law — it is used as a propaganda tool to mock or humiliate the national leadership of a sovereign State or to cause divisions within the apex of the country’s national security ranks.

It is important to understand why the US, in the words of its officials, is ‘transitioning’ from country-specific sanctions — such as the ‘Zimbabwe Sanctions Programme’ — to the ‘Magnitsky Global Sanctions Programme’. 

The devil is in this detail!

According to a 2021 assessment by the Congressional Research Service: Global Magnitsky’s global remit may avoid some challenges associated with country-specific sanctions regimes; like ZDERA.

Experts who spoke to the Congressional Research Service noted that creating a country-specific regime can be laborious and can sometimes complicate diplomatic relations and/or have unintended ramifications.

The experts said, pursuant to IEEPA, creating a country-specific sanctions programme, like ZDERA, requires a national emergency declaration that must necessarily be claimed to be due to ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat . . . to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States’.

For example, the Congressional Research Service reported that, in 2015 testimony to Congress, an executive branch official noted that the use of IEEPA-mandated language in a national emergency declaration allowing for sanctions against individuals in Venezuela, for instance, generated blowback . . . from the region, including from some of US allies and partners in the region, and from the government of Venezuela itself.  

According to the official, the national emergency language can be used, as it must be, to show that the US is, in effect, going to war against the country targeted by the declaration of a national emergency.

Interestingly, the Congressional Research Service notes that the US has used Global Magnitsky authorities to designate nationals of some of its so-called democratic allies and/or countries with which it has generally positive bilateral relations, such as Bulgaria, Israel, Latvia and South Africa.  

Apparently, and unlike ‘country-specific sanctions programmes’ that have previously been the norm, the Magnitsky Global Sanctions Programme provides the US government officials with greater diplomatic scope and flexibility to engage in quid pro quo wheeling and dealing under which sanctioned individuals are removed from the list in exchange of something beneficial to the US, such as access to resources like lithium.

In effect, the Magnitsky sanctions are an: “I scratch your back, and you scratch my back” type of sanctions.

The report of the Congressional Research Service noted that, pushed by the US whose unilateral sanctions, like ZDERA, have invariably ended in embarrassing diplomatic failures. A number of countries have, in recent years, established sanctions regimes that mirror the Global Magnitsky sanctions; these countries include Canada, the UK, the EU and a host of other jurisdictions such as Australia and Japan. 

To be continued . . . 


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