All sanctions against Zimbabwe, which were imposed “following policy disagreements concerning the manner in which the land reform programme was handled”, must be removed immediately as they are affecting vulnerable people, a high-ranking United Nations (UN) official has said.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Ms Hilal Elver, made the call at the end of her mission to Zimbabwe last week.
It becomes one of the most emphatic exhortations made by an official of the world governing body for lifting the embargo.
In her preliminary observations made after an official 10-day visit which ended on Thursday, Ms Elver said she had “strong conviction” that far from affecting Government officials, sanctions hurt ordinary people.
This puts paid to claims by the United States of America and the European Union that the punitive measures do not affect ordinary Zimbabweans.
“I am also concerned about the negative impact of the economic sanctions and conditionalities imposed on the Government of Zimbabwe and their indirect costs on the overall civilian population, particularly on the right to food,” she said.
“Zimbabwe has been under some form of sanctions since 2001. These targeted sanctions and conditionalities were imposed on the country following policy disagreements concerning the manner in which the land reform programme was handled, reflecting criticism of the political situation and human rights abuses.
“It is my strong conviction, based on what I have learned during the course of this mission, that these economic sanctions worsen the existing inequalities and do not have any actual impact on their supposed targets.”
Ms Elver’s final report is expected to be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March next year.
The expert’s observations add impetus to the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s push to have sanctions lifted, as they are having a contagion effect on the region.
The country is currently in the throes of the worst drought in four decades, which has made many families food-insecure.
Cyclone Idai, which devastated the eastern parts of the country in March this year, also affected this year’s harvest.
Business, trade and opportunities for the country to receive aid are also being blighted by sanctions, Ms Elver added.
She said: “While sanctions target certain individuals and institutions, they contribute to creating a very adverse environment for business, international trade and foreign investment.
“The conditionalities under the ZDERA Act, coupled with the failure by the Government to clear its arrears, make it a serious challenge for the Government to access credit lines from international financial institutions.
“Such conditions clearly diminish the ability of the Government to meet its obligations to adequately feed its people.”
The Special Rapporteur implored the concerned member states (the US and EU), development partners and the international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, “to ease the conditions imposed on the deployment of funds to the Government”.
“For similar reasons, I urge the termination of all sanctions. In the same spirit, I also urge the Government to initiate the promised legal reforms to respect, protect and fulfil its human rights obligations, notably the rights to freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which are the necessary foundations of a human rights-based approach to food security,” she said.
During her mission, Ms Elver visited several parts of the country, including Harare and parts of Masvingo which have been the hardest hit by the drought.
She met Cabinet ministers, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, farmers’ unions and farm workers, lawyers, doctors and dieticians, as well as members of non-governmental organisations and activists.
UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures is the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system.
It is also the general name of the council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.