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Twenty years of ruinous sanctions

The unilateral sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West in the last 20 years have, among others, adversely affected the country’s ability to boost its manufacturing sector, build health and education infrastructure, added transaction costs and led to massive brain-drain.

This is contained in the preliminary findings of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Alena Douhan, who visited Zimbabwe in October to assess the impact of sanctions.

The findings were released yesterday with the final report expected to be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September next year.

In part, the preliminary report says due to the lengthy period of imposition of unilateral sanctions, “it is complicated to identify their exact impact on the situation in the country as it is affected by a vast number of elements”.

The report says the unilateral sanctions, secondary sanctions and over-compliance in their complexity, have inhibited the building of essential infrastructure and international and inter-institutional cooperation necessary for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The designation of senior State officials as well as companies owned or controlled by them makes foreign companies and banks unwilling to do business with Zimbabwe’s public sector, preventing the Government from getting revenue for the exercise of its public functions and provision of essential services, resulting in the violation of labour and social rights of the people involved in the public sector, whose salaries are reported to be much lower than in the private sphere; this has led to rising unemployment, especially among the most qualified professionals (engineers, doctors, teachers, university professors), judges, police officers, which at times is reported to reach 30-50 percent,” reads the report.

“It has also prevented the Government from using resources to develop and maintain essential infrastructure, disaster response plans and for social support programmes, which has a devastating effect on the whole population of Zimbabwe, especially those in extreme poverty, women, youth, children, medical workers, and people with disabilities or life-threatening or chronic diseases, particularly in rural areas.

“It is reported that credit lines are periodically opened and humanitarian assistance provided for meeting urgent humanitarian assistance provided for meeting urgent humanitarian concerns (HIV, cholera, Covid-19), but less for development projects.”

Prof Douhan also found out that the readiness to impose secondary sanctions, and criminal and civil penalties against natural and legal persons circumventing the illegal sanctions, and the imposition of high fines on Zimbabwean banks such as CBZ, Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe and Barclays (which has changed to become First Capital Bank, have resulted in Zimbabwe being qualified as a “high-risk country, the adoption of zero-risk policies and the departure of 87 correspondent banks from Zimbabwe”.

Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe was fined US$18 million after its United Kingdom-headquartered parent company was slapped with a US$1 billion fine for violating US sanctions against Zimbabwe and other countries.

Between May 2009 and July 2013, Standard Charted Bank Zimbabwe had processed transactions to or through the US involving Zimbabwe-related Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) or entities owned 50 percent or more, individually or in the aggregate, by one or more Zimbabwe-related SDNs.

Last year, CBZ was cleared by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of having to pay US$385 million for allegedly flouting the sanctions regime after reportedly facilitating over 14 000 transactions for ZB Bank, which was then under US sanctions.

CBZ had appealed against the penalty.

Prof Douhan’s preliminary report says over-compliance by third-country banks and private companies has resulted in growing problems to transfer or receive money when natural or legal persons of Zimbabwe are participants in the transactions, including freezes on money in Zimbabweans’ bank accounts, closing long-established bank accounts (reportedly in the US, UK, Switzerland); extending the length and cost of bank transfers, and the need to do transactions via third-country nationals.

The report says the sanctions have forced the Government, banks, public institutions, private companies and individuals to look for alternative ways to participate in international trade by involving third parties, using alternative informal non-transparent mechanisms of trade and payments, “thus adding to corruption rather than suppressing it, preventing the participation of Zimbabwe and its people in international cooperation, adding to the isolation of the country, impeding Zimbabwe’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and undermining the right to development of the people of Zimbabwe”.

“Preventing Zimbabwe from participating in international cooperation by impeding its ability to pay membership fees for international organisations, or to interparliamentary cooperation, isolates Zimbabwe from international cooperation and prevents the fulfilment of the right to development,” reads the report in part.

Prof Douhan also noted that the lack of resources, limited access to development loans, and reluctance of foreign entities to deal with Zimbabwean partners or invest in the economy, makes it hard and expensive to buy necessary medical and technological equipment, reagents and spare parts for the repair and maintenance of water, public transport, telephone and communication systems, schools, hospitals, houses and other public services, thus undermining the enjoyment of many human rights including the right to a decent life.

Low salaries, unemployment and the growing involvement in the informal economy, has resulted in migration to other countries, drug abuse and human trafficking, reads the report.

The Special Rapporteur recommended that all parties observe their obligation under the UN Charter to observe principles and norms of international law, including principles of sovereign equality, political independence, non-intervention in the domestic affairs of States, and peaceful settlement of international disputes.

She welcomed the decisions of the European Union and Switzerland to minimise the number of active targeted sanctions to zero and called on the US, UK, Canada and Australia to review and lift sanctions on natural and legal persons in Zimbabwe in accordance with principles and norms of international law and human rights.

Further, Prof Douhan urged the US government to stop the state of national emergency regarding Zimbabwe that is not in conformity with the norms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to bring national laws into accordance with international law, including human rights law, refugee law and the law of international responsibility.

Banks and private companies were also called on to behave in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to avoid over-compliance and the consequent violation of rights of nationals and residents of Zimbabwe.

Prof Douhan, who was in the country from October 17 to 28, met a number of people including President Mnangagwa, Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya and a number of civil society organisations and human rights “defenders”.

However, Prof Douhan said she could not meet some NGO representatives due to alleged “hateful and intimidating messages that appeared on social media and news outlets, and an alleged fear of losing foreign donations”.

She is still open to getting more views and experiences on the impact of the unilateral sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights in Zimbabwe, ahead of her final report.

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