The European Union (EU) is being urged to wait for real reforms in Zimbabwe before they consider lifting the targeted restrictive 'sanctions' in place against the Mugabe regime.
The leadership bloc has indicated it will consider lifting all the measures after the completion of a 'credible' constitutional referendum. The political parties in the coalition government have finally agreed on a draft constitution, bringing the almost four year process to an end.
The EU head of delegation to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Aldo Dell' Ariccia, has been quoted as saying last week that this is a step in the right direction.
"The EU stated that a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would justify a suspension of the majority of all restrictive measures," he said, adding: "In this context, the recent agreement on the Constitution draft is a welcome step in that direction."
The EU last year suspended some of its restrictive measures, which are targeted against key individuals within ZANU PF and companies linked to the regime. The Europeans had said the partial relaxing of the measures was as a result of "progress."
But there is serious criticism of this position, because of a lack of real change on the ground. The reforms promised by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) have not happened, human rights defenders continue to be targeted with intimidation and arrest, and there are worrying indications of a potentially violent election this year.
At the same time, the EU is basing its decision on a referendum of a constitution that analysts have said is fundamentally flawed, with some human rights being ignored. The enshrining of the death penalty into law is just one area the EU should be protesting, but they have made no mention of this or the fact that a hangman has finally been appointed in Zimbabwe to ensure this constitutional law is protected.
Dennis Benton from the London based pressure group the Zimbabwe Vigil said Monday that Europe's position is suspicious. He told SW Radio Africa that the "EU seems desperate top engage with Zimbabwe on any terms," saying it is no accident that European officials paint the Zim situation with a "positive gloss."
"They are desperately keen to get rid of sanctions and vie with the Chinese in terms of commercial interests," Benton said.
The Vigil has for years been pressuring the EU to stand by its restrictive 'sanctions' until there is evidence of real change, and Benton said that this should include waiting until after an election. He said international observers and real reforms need to be evident before there is even talk of lifting the measures.
The US ambassador in Zimbabwe meanwhile has reportedly expressed fear of another stolen election this year. Ambassador David Bruce Wharton, quoted by the Sunday Mail, cited the presence of government troops across the country and a campaign of intimidation against civil rights advocates by ZANU PF.
"We are concerned by the deployment of Zimbabwe Defence Forces throughout the country on nominal 'administrative service' duty who may seek to influence how community will vote," he told the newspaper.
He added: "We are also concerned that elements of the state have commenced with a concerted campaign to intimidate civil society and that the state-run media and various other state institutions show a consistent pattern of bias in favour of one particular party."