The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navanethem Pillay yesterday said illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe must be suspended until the conduct and outcome of elections.
She was addressing a Press conference to mark the end of her five-day visit to the country. But Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa addressed the same journalists, saying Ms Pillay’s suggestion was off the mark. He said the sanctions must be removed in totality because they were imposed illegally and were hurting the country.
“We want sanctions to be lifted unconditionally,” he said. “We do not want any talk of suspension because the sanctions were imposed unprocedurally.” Minister Chinamasa said no foreigners should interfere in Zimbabwe’s electoral issues.
On the illegal sanctions, Ms Pillay said it was clear from her meetings that they were opposed by the three political parties in the inclusive Government. She said the sanctions had a wide impact on the general population.
“I have yet to hear a single Zimbabwean inside the country say they definitely think sanctions should continue,” said Ms Pillay.
“While it is difficult to disentangle the specific causes of Zimbabwe’s major social and economic ills, there seems little doubt that sanctions regimes have, at the very least, acted as a serious disincentive to overseas banks and investors.” Ms Pillay said the stigma of sanctions had limited certain imports and exports for Zimbabwe.
“Taken together, these and other unintended side-effects will in turn inevitably have had a negative impact on the economy at large, with possibly quite serious ramifications for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable populations who have had to cope with the political instability and violence as well as severe drought.”
Ms Pillay said it was unfortunate that there was still polarisation in the country as that could affect future elections. But she said there were a lot of positives, including significant improvements since 2008.
Women’s rights, Ms Pillay said, were being observed as evidenced by the fact that half of the Supreme Court judges were female. A number of Government ministers and public officials were also women, she said.
“One very positive development during my visit has been news that the Government is proposing to sign and ratify the international treaty known as the Convention Against Torture,” said Ms Pillay. She said she was happy that many small farmers managed to acquire land during the land reform.
“The pride and enthusiasm of some of the small farmers I met, including several women, was a pleasure to see and I hope the Government will fulfil its promises to help them make their farms productive and profitable,” said Ms Pillay. She said President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai should continue issuing strong calls against political violence.
The new Constitution should be confirmed by a referendum for electoral reforms to be carried out before elections, said Ms Pillay. She welcomed the establishment of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission which she said should not be involved in historical investigations. The commission, said Ms Pillay, should “deal with the many pressing issues that face Zimbabwe today and in future and in particular all the human rights issues surrounding the forthcoming elections”.
“Instead, I have urged all parties to consider setting up another body or bodies such as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee or a Commission of Inquiry to look at major human rights violations that took place some time ago,” said Ms Pillay. She alleged some human rights violations such as the arrest of human rights defenders, journalists and political activists.
She called for the amendment of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act and the Broadcasting Services Act. “The corrosive effect of these laws and of other forms of past and current, albeit lower level, harassment and intimidation of political party activists, including restriction on their right to freedom of assembly, is deeply worrying,” said Ms Pillay.
She said the army should not openly support any political party. The Zimbabwe Media Commission, said Ms Pillay, seemed more concerned with controlling and censoring media than promoting freedom of expression.
But Minister Chinamasa said there was a tendency by outsiders investigating issues in Zimbabwe to bring pre-written reports. He said Ms Pillay’s statement on her visit was unfair since it regurgitated what has been said in the media on human rights without any proof.
“If they come with statements already written we will not co-operate with them,” he said. “We are not a perfect country and no country is perfect.”
Minister Chinamasa said Ms Pillay relied on information that has not been investigated and authenticated. “Our position is that we do not want any politicisation of human rights issues,” he said. “The issues should be reported accurately, but there has been a lot of fiction and distortions. “It is difficult to distinguish between facts and fiction.”
Minister Chinamasa said most violations of human rights in Zimbabwe were being taken care of by criminal laws. During her week-long visit, Ms Pillay met President Mugabe, PM Tsvangirai, Government officials and civic groups. She toured Boka Tobacco Auction Floors and visited a farm in Mashonaland Central.