Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga (center) and her colleague Julie Barnes hold placards as they are arrested during an anti-corruption protest march in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 31, 2020.   © 2020 ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP

The European Union is ratcheting up pressure on Zimbabwe over the lack of substantial reforms that has allowed for the humanitarian, economic, and social situation in the country to deteriorate, with persistent violations of human rights and limitations on democratic space.

Barely three weeks after the United Kingdom imposed targeted sanctions on four top Zimbabwe security officials for human rights abuses, the EU on Friday renewed its arms embargo and targeted asset freeze against Zimbabwe Defence Industries, a state-owned military company.

The EU said the restrictive measures were in light of the continued need to investigate the role of security force actors in human rights abuses as well as concern about “a proliferation of arrests and prosecutions of journalists, opposition actors and individuals expressing dissenting views, and the use by high-level officials of speech that could be interpreted as incitement to violence.” It explained that these measures would not affect the Zimbabwean economy, foreign direct investment, or trade, but that their purpose instead is “to encourage a demonstrable, genuine and long-term commitment by the Zimbabwean authorities to respect and uphold human rights and the rule of law.”

The EU urged Zimbabwe’s authorities to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses are brought to justice and the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry are implemented. The commission found that six people died and 35 were injured as a result of actions by the state security forces. It also recommended ensuring perpetrators are held accountable and setting up a special committee to compensate those killed and injured and those who lost property.

Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented how Zimbabwe’s authorities used harassment and arbitrary arrests and detention to crack down on critics of the government, journalists, anti-corruption activists, and opposition leaders. In July 2020, authorities arrested, detained, and tortured more than 60 people who participated in the protests.

In the face of mounting pressure from the EU and other international actors, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government should move swiftly to end rights violations, uphold the rule of law, and bring those responsible for abuses to justice. Such actions, coupled with substantial legislative and electoral reforms, could lead to better lives for Zimbabweans and an improved relationship with the EU and the wider global community.