28 May 2012

Zimbabwe: UN Rights Chief Criticised Over Call to Suspend Sanctions

Photo: ONU/Jean-Marc Ferré
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Navanethem Pillay (file photo).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been criticised for comments she made in Harare last week, calling for the suspension of targeted sanctions placed on members of the Robert Mugabe regime by the European Union (EU) and Western countries.

Speaking as she ended a five-day visit to assess human rights in Zimbabwe, Navi Pillay said the restrictive measures were now 'opposed' by all three parties in the unity government and, although the measures were targeted at specific individuals and companies, she said: "they are in fact having a wider impact on the general population." However, Pillay did not explain how this was so.

Her call for removal of the sanctions surprised many Zimbabwean activists and some observers, who said Pillay was aware of the continued arrests of MDC officials, state sponsored violence, the absence of independent broadcasters, repressive legislation and reforms in the GPA that ZANU PF refuses to implement.

"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," Pillay said to journalists on Friday.

But civil groups and the MDC formations, all of whom met with the UN rights chief last week, have said they are against the suspension because human rights abuses by the Mugabe regime have not stopped. And this would hinder Zimbabwe from conducting a free and fair poll.

Okay Machisa from the Crisis Coalition said we should not be concerned with political comments or games politicians play. He explained that he is more "worried" about the ongoing human rights abuses that could "slide the country" back to the violence that marred the 2008 elections.

"What is more worrying is that we have state institutions led by prominent individuals, especially the army, who make pronouncements supporting one political party. More worrying is that we have gross violations perpetuated by state machinery," Machisa explained.

He added: "I see people who committed these atrocities, known people walking around with impunity. What we have to do is make these people accountable for their crimes."

Machisa pointed to the fact that an MDC-T ward official was murdered in Mashonaland East the day after Pillay made her comments.

"These are the kinds of things on the ground that we should be concerned with before we ask whether we are we ready for elections," the activist explained.

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