Suspend sanctions, urges UN's visiting Pillay

In a move that could set the tone to redefine Zimbabwe's relations with western governments, the visiting UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has urged the suspension of sanctions imposed on the country a decade ago.

Addressing journalists on the last of her five day visit to Zimbabwe, Pillay said there was now a common position against the sanctions, which she still described as ''targeted''.

Pillay's visit is the first ever by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the invitation by the coalition government now in its third year of existence.

''The continuation of sanctions is now opposed by all three parties that make the Inclusive Government, and I have yet to hear a single Zimbabwean inside the country say they definitely think that sanctions should continue,'' said Pillay.

''I would urge those countries that are currently applying sanctions on Zimbabwe to suspend them, at least until the conduct and outcome of the elections and related reforms are clear,'' she added.

The three major political parties comprising President Robert Mugabe's Zanu (PF), Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC and the smaller MDC breakaway movement led by Industry Minister, Welshman Ncube, are not yet agreed on when to hold the next elections.

While President Mugabe, reportedly pushed by hardliners within his party, is insisting on the polls taking place this year, the two MDCs, civil society and the western community want them postponed until meaningful media, electoral and other reforms take place to ensure free and fair elections.

The US and EU imposed sanctions on President Mugabe and his lieutenants from 2002, banning free travel to their countries and barring companies perceived to be aligned to Zanu PF from conducting business with American or European firms.

The ban came following an outcry over widespread human rights violations in the country, at a time Zanu (PF) was getting threatened by the emergence of the then united MDC.

President Mugabe was accused of repeatedly stealing elections, persecuting political opponents and violating property rights by forcefully ejecting more than 4000 commercial farmers from their plots to make way for thousands of landless blacks.

Pillay said there was a perception that the sanctions were ''in fact, having a wider impact on the general population''.

''While it is difficult to disentangle the specific causes of Zimbabwe's major social and economic ills, there seems little doubt that the existence of the sanctions regimes has, at the very least, acted as a disincentive to overseas banks and investors.

''It is also likely that the stigma of sanctions has limited certain imports and exports. Taken together, these and other unintended side effects will in turn inevitably have had a negative impact on the economy at large, with possibly quite serious ramifications for the country's poorest and most vulnerable populations,'' said Pillay.

She said Zimbabwe should be one of the most prosperous and highly developed countries in Africa.

Justice Minister and a perceived Zanu (PF) hardliner, Patrick Chinamasa, who addressed journalists after Pillay's departure and had received the UN envoy's speech in advance, described her position on sanctions as inadequate.

''We want the sanctions lifted unconditionally, not suspended as Her Excellency, Pillay, suggests. These sanctions should not have been imposed in the first place,'' said Chinamasa, whose party has been trying to petition the EU and US to lift the sanctions.

Tendai Biti, MDC-T Secretary General and Finance Minister, has publicly expressed disappointment with the West for maintaining the sanctions, saying it frustrated economic revival of the economy following a decade long meltdown that coincided with the sanctions.

The EU, however, despite trimming the list of people and companies on sanctions, recently vowed that it would retain the punitive measures until there were meaningful reforms in Harare, and it remains to be seen if it would soften its stance following the changed UN position.

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