UN rights chief Navi Pillay has urged the West to suspend sanctions on Zimbabwe and its president to give the country a chance to implement reforms.
“I would urge those countries that are currently applying sanctions on Zimbabwe to suspend them, at least until the conduct of the elections and related reforms are clear,” she said in Harare after a five-day visit.
“Sanctions should be entirely suspended for people to entirely focus on economic issues that need to be addressed,” she said.
During her visit, Pillay met with President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who joined the long-ruling Mugabe in a unity government formed in 2009 to halt election-linked bloodshed that killed more than 200 of the premier’s supporters.
The unity government is meant to clear the way to new elections, but preparations are lagging years behind and no date has been set.
Western nations imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe following disputed presidential polls in 2002.
Mugabe (88) has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.
Zimbabwe has set out on the long road to ending its international isolation by hosting Pillay for the first time and holding talks with Europe.
But far from showing that Zimbabwe was moving ahead, the visit of the Pillay provided a platform for activists to claim that rights abuses were still continuing.
Three years ago Zimbabwe expelled UN human rights inspector Manfred Nowak, but this week it laid out the red carpet for Pillay.
Her visit came as the country was stepping up top-level efforts to engage Europe again, a decade after the European Union placed sanctions on top Zimbabwean officials.
Rights groups said Pillay was led up the garden path by government “minders”, headed by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa. A wide range of pro-Zanu-PF organisations were lined up to meet her and meetings with government critics were either cancelled or moved down the agenda.
President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party hopes Pillay’s visit will help to end the country’s isolation, but it is unlikely – a coalition of rights groups met and handed her what they said was a dossier detailing continued rights violations.
The Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations, which represent about 40 groups, described how activists were being detained and held for long periods without trial. It said Zanu-PF had deliberately blocked efforts to free its grip on broadcasting, the party’s militia in the townships and in the countryside were increasing a campaign of intimidation, and the military was taking an increasingly active role in public affairs. – Sapa-AFP
Additional reporting by Jason Moyo