By Violet Gonda
07 February 2013
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr announced Thursday that his country has set up benchmarks for the removal of targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe, which include the holding of a free and fair constitutional referendum and an announcement of an election date. On the same day the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the increase in violence and intimidation of activists in Zimbabwe, in the run up to elections.
In 2002, Australia imposed financial restriction and a travel ban against 153 individuals and four companies, plus an arms embargo.
Carr told journalists in Canberra that Australia’s plan to review the targeted measures was consistent with the approaches made by the US and the European Union.
Both the EU and the USA imposed targeted sanctions on ZANU PF members, including President Robert Mugabe, accusing them of engaging in human rights abuses.
Australia’s Foreign Minister credited Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai with lobbying for the removal of sanctions.
ZANU PF has always accused the MDC-T of initiating the sanctions and spokesman Rugare Gumbo told SW Radio Africa that the sanctions have “always been illegal” and were not approved by the United Nations.
“We don’t accept conditional lifting of sanctions. We want total and unconditional lifting of sanctions and this nonsense about if this thing happens or if that happens is not helpful at all and we don’t attach great importance to it,” Gumbo said.
Ralph Black, the MDC-T representative in the United States and also the foreign policy advisor to party president Morgan Tsvangirai, insisted that his party did not initiate the sanctions and that the restrictions were mainly a response to the chaotic and violent land grabs and rights abuses committed by ZANU PF.
“ZANU PF has lied that we initiated the sanctions. No we did not. The sanctions were initiated by a number of advocacy groups and affected individuals, and the MDC were a fringe-benefit of these in our struggle for a democratic nation,” Black said.
The European Union is also set to review its policy in the next couple of weeks. Member of the European Union Parliament, Geoffrey Van Orden, said the EU will keep the possibility of suspending the sanctions under constant review.
He said Thursday’s resolution condemning the increase in intimidation in Zimbabwe is in response to the latest clamp down on rights activists.
“Very specifically we were concerned about quite a number of these human rights activists that have been arrested and very badly treated in recent days … and this is quite the opposite of what is required in order to see a suspension of our targeted measures.”
Human Rights Watch said the EU should first of all require tangible human rights reforms and free and fair elections before the restrictions on Zimbabwe are removed. Africa advocacy director Tiseke Kasambala said it is premature for western countries to lift the targeted sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and members of his inner circle, simply for holding a referendum on a new constitution.
“The referendum is a non issue and the main issue should be what happens before and after elections.”
Kasambala said repressive laws like the Public Order and Security Act should be repealed or amended and proper electoral reforms and changes in the security apparatus should be addressed by the coalition government, otherwise “conditions on the ground will not be conducive to the holding of free, fair and peaceful elections.”
Gumbo responded by saying his party does “not pay any attention” to what Human Rights Watch says.