ZIMBABWE: Transition Government Urged to Respect Human Rights

Friday, September 24, 2010
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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and other senior U.S. government officials told representatives of Zimbabwe's transitional government at a meeting at the United Nations that they should speak out against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, observe international standards of human rights and continue to make political progress that will sustain much-needed economic growth.

The U.S. delegation at the September 23 meeting also stressed that targeted U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe will remain in place against individuals and institutions that continue to engage in or derive benefit from the undermining of democratic institutions and violations of human rights.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Page described the meeting in a conference call press briefing. The U.N. meeting was also attended by Michelle Gavin, the senior director of African affairs at the National Security Council and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Daniel Baer.

Page told reporters that, during the meeting, Assistant Secretary Carson "talked a lot about human rights violations, land seizures and particularly the arrest of the women who had been peacefully protesting about the constitutional process." Additionally, Page said, the U.S. delegation called on senior officials of the transitional government to "speak out against these types of abuses and not be silent."

Asked about sanctions against Zimbabwe, Page said the United States rejects the claim that U.S. sanctions have had a broad effect on Zimbabwe's economy or the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans. "The sanctions are targeted. They are targeted towards a few individuals and towards a few institutions that we believe have been responsible for the policies and the actions that have led to Zimbabwe's economic and political decline."

Page said the United States regularly reviews its targeted sanctions. "We remove people and institutions when we believe that they are no longer posing the same kind of threat. But, frankly, as long as these violations of human rights, the lack of respect for civil and political rights of the people of Zimbabwe, as long as they continue, we really can't lift the sanctions at this time because people are looking to us as if we are the problem. And we are encouraging the Zimbabweans to look at themselves and address the problems that they've brought upon themselves."

Page said the targeted U.S. sanctions involve travel bans and asset freezes and affect 244 individuals and institutions or companies.

She termed the U.N. meeting "very cordial, very pleasant," and she sought to dispel what she called the "myth" that "we have suddenly re-engaged with Zimbabwe." Page said, "We have never stopped engaging with Zimbabwe. We have full diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe. They have an ambassador here, we have an ambassador there. We have a very robust program of assistance to the Zimbabwean people, so we have always been available to speak, to meet to try to advance our relations and we were pleased to see this meeting take place. But, again, it was hardly re-engagement. It's continuing engagement."

U.S. assistance to Zimbabwe last year, she said, equaled $300 million for health services, safe drinking water, education, agriculture, social protection and a range of other essential services, which were in line with the priorities of the new Zimbabwean transitional government. An additional $73 million of assistance was pledged by President Obama in June 2009, to combat HIV/AIDS and to further democracy and good governance.