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U.S. Imposes New Sanctions On Zimbabwe Top Officials for ‘Human Rights Abuse’

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and some of his inner circle remain sanctioned by the US, which has also paused its participation in talks to clear Zimbabwe's international debts.

President Joe Biden has scrapped the US’s 21-year-old sanctions regimen against Zimbabwe and replaced it with a new set of sanctions targeted more narrowly at Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and members of his inner circle.

Biden’s announcement has created confusion, especially in Zimbabwe, where some government supporters welcomed the “lifting of US sanctions” on social media. But the new measures could be just as tough, if not tougher, for those targeted.

Biden announced the new policy with an executive order on Monday, saying it was “part of an ongoing effort to ensure we are promoting accountability for serious human rights abuse and corruption in a targeted and strategic manner”.

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Biden’s order ended the sanctions which President George Bush had imposed in March 2003 on the then president, Robert Mugabe, and members of his government for undermining Zimbabwean democracy and which were expanded in November 2005 and July 2008.

In place of these measures, Biden ordered “a new set of tools in Zimbabwe, including the flagship Global Magnitsky Sanctions Program, to make clear that the egregious behaviour of some of the most powerful people and companies in Zimbabwe matches the actions of the worst human rights abusers and corrupt actors globally”, as National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson put it in a letter to Congress.

Biden said he continued to be concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe, “particularly with respect to acts of violence and other human rights abuses against political opponents and with respect to public corruption, including misuse of public authority…”

Watson said new sanctions would be imposed on three entities and 11 individuals, including Mnangagwa, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, the retired brigadier-general Walter Tapfumaneyi, and businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, “for their involvement in corruption or serious human rights abuse”.

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Visas restricted

Watson said these individual sanctions would build on other recent US government actions, including pausing US participation in the African Development Bank dialogue and restricting visas for Zimbabweans who undermined democracy in Zimbabwe.

The African Development Bank dialogue is being conducted between the government of Zimbabwe and its international creditors, including the African Development Bank, to try to clear Zimbabwe’s arrears to international creditors. The creditors are demanding certain policies in exchange, including reforms in economics and governance, and compensation to former farmers whose farms were seized with no compensation.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new measures were “part of a stronger, more targeted sanctions policy towards Zimbabwe.

“We continue to have concerns regarding serious cases of corruption and human rights abuse in Zimbabwe. Key individuals, including members of the Government of Zimbabwe, bear responsibility for these actions, including the looting of government coffers that robs Zimbabweans of public resources. Multiple cases of abductions, physical abuse, and unlawful killing have left citizens living in fear.

“The United States is committed to ensuring our sanctions are relevant, timely, and targeted against those most closely connected to corruption and human rights abuses. We continue to urge the Government of Zimbabwe to move toward more open and democratic governance, including addressing corruption and protecting human rights, so all Zimbabweans can prosper.”

The change to US sanctions may have been a response to growing demands from southern African leaders, who complained the sanctions were hurting Zimbabweans as a whole.

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema posted on the social media platform X that he was “Pleased to see President Biden terminate the Zimbabwe sanctions program. This is further evidence that Pres Biden listens to his African partners. We hope this is an indication for a new direction for Zimbabwe and regional engagement.”

But sanctions have been changed rather than terminated. And, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act which directs the US administration not to support assistance to Zimbabwe from international financial institutions, has not been scrapped.

‘No excuses’

​​US Senator Jim Risch, the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the Biden administration’s new measures as “a significant shift in approach on the use of sanctions related to Zimbabwe. In particular, the sanctioning of President Mnangagwa for both corruption and human rights violations is a damning indictment — he is notably the first head of state designated under the [Global Magnitsky] program.

“Sunsetting the previous Zimbabwe sanctions program and replacing it with GloMag robs the regime of excuses for its failed economy while ensuring Zimbabwe’s worst offenders remain held accountable,” he said.

“However, sanctions are just a tool, not a comprehensive policy. I have continuously called on the Biden Administration to vigorously implement the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, reevaluate all facets of our relationship with the Zimbabwean government, and use every diplomatic avenue to forge a coalition of regional and global partners to fight transnational corruption and support the people of Zimbabwe.

“Biden Administration officials have provided assurances that today’s GloMag designations are just the beginning of an ongoing process. I will hold them to this commitment.

“The United States must also do better in countering the Zimbabwean government’s propaganda about the role that the United States and our partners play in its failings.”

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