BY SYDNEY KAWADZA
THE European Union (EU) this week dismissed government claims that the two decades-long restrictive measures imposed on individuals and state firms had triggered an economic meltdown, which has seen many ordinary people suffering.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Timo Olkkonen maintained the bloc’s position that there were no sanctions against Zimbabwe.
He said the restrictive measures would only be lifted after an assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe by the bloc’s council.
The top diplomat spoke as United Nations (UN) special rapporteur Elena Douhan concluded a 10-day tour of the country on Wednesday, after which she slammed Western powers for the devastation that the global embargo has caused.
Government has claimed the decimation of Zimbabwe’s currency, hyperinflation, foreign currency shortages and deteriorating living standards on the measures, which came after concerns over alleged rights abuses and electoral fraud.
Olkkonen said while there had been a move towards enacting laws to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, the EU was worried that Zimbabwe had moved too slowly to implement them.
“The question is on the proof that these consequences (suffering) are there. So far, we haven’t seen any proof as regards to EU restrictive measures affecting the people,” he said. “The EU’s restrictive measures are very targeted. They were all along targeted at individuals and entities and then there has been an arms embargo.
“Currently, there are restrictive measures (against) only one company, the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI).”
The EU diplomat said the measures also obliged the bloc’s companies not to export arms or deal with ZDI.
“We have seen some legislation and updating of some but what is important is what happens on the ground. That situation has been fluctuating,” he said.
“Of course, we have had those dramatic moments in August 2018 and in 2019, which have been very dramatic.
“We are talking about human rights. It’s not only about individual situations but the possibility of people to express themselves.”
The EU ambassador was referring to a bloody crackdown against protesters on August 1, 2018, when an opposition group rejected poll results following a Zanu PF victory.
Olkkonen said ambassadors had also met with the UN envoy and presented their report.
“We met with the UN Special Rapporteur. We have a structured dialogue with the government; we have political dialogue with the government so dialogue is taking place.
“For us it’s extremely important that we have this forum also to discuss issues. That is one of the reasons that we share these concerns and discuss them and we are engaged with each other.
“Lifting of the restive measures is a decision that would be taken by the EU Council which is comprised of all EU member states. The decision is taken on an assessment on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and what has been done.”
There have been sharp differences over the impact of sanctions on Zimbabwe since the UN envoy arrived last week.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Deputy minister, David Musabayana, applauded Douhan’s decision, but the MDC Alliance’s spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said the government must avoid rhetoric on sanctions and engage the West.
“The special rapporteur’s statement is an epitome of professionalism, realism, high standards of ethics, uncompromised focus to the research question and a wise appraisal of cause and effect of the so-called restrictive measures,” Musabayana told the Independent.
He said Douhan was not swayed by sideshows as has been the case with other actors.
Instead, she went on to meticulously demystify the semantics for “targeted sanctions”.
“Finally an independent observer has clearly articulated the entanglement of sanction-targeted individuals to political and economic risk of the nation,” Musabayana said.
“The research has pointed to the so- called targeted restrictive sanctions as the single largest perpetrator of human rights violations and not the government of Zimbabwe as previously alleged by some actors.”
However, Mahere sang a different tune and said Douhan had scorned the Zanu PF administration who use the sanctions as an advocacy tool.
“UN sanctions envoy Alena Douhan has told the Zanu PF regime to abandon rhetoric on sanctions as an advocacy tool and work with hostile Western nations and key national stakeholders to engage in a meaningful dialogue on political reform, human rights and the rule of law.”