International

UN Human Rights Chief: Sanctions Against Zimbabwe Are Backfiring

Navi Pillay, the UN's Commissioner for Human Rights, wrapped up a five day visit to tense Zimbabwe this week, at the invitation of the coalition government. She has this startling advice for western nations that are punishing Zimbabwe over its poor human rights record: suspend international sanctions.

Pillay says the economic punishment has caused banks and investors to think twice about putting their money in Zimbabwe and that affects business. While the sanctions do target individuals, the overall effect hurts all poor Zimbabweans, who must also face political instability and crushing drought.

In a speech in Harare, Pillay related this example: since 2005, Zimbabwe's maternal mortality rate has zoomed up by 40 percent. She says during the same six year time frame, there've been more outbreaks of typhoid and cholera because fewer people can't get to clean water. Other factors may play a role in the disasters, but Pillay maintains the sanctions harm Zimbabweans.

This view is dramatically opposed by Human Rights Watch. In February, the group observed that while Zimbabwe began taking small steps toward political reform with the formation of a unity government in 2009, the country's human rights record is abysmal.

Daniel Bekele of HRW says Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's political party continues to commit "grave human rights abuses against all perceived opponents." He says lifting the sanctions will only reinforce repression.

The U.S. first imposed "targeted sanctions" on certain Zimbabwean businesses and individuals in 2002, as CNN notes. That's when Congress and the Bush Administration first blocked Mugabe's travel to the U.S., following his government's violent land reforms that seized farms from white Zimbabweans and reallocated them to blacks.

Pillay is fully aware of international outrage against Mugabe, pointing out that when white landowners were evicted, "tens of thousands" of black farmworkers also lost their jobs and were instantly thrown into poverty. Still, she says, a better place to address the land grabs and Mugabe's frightening human rights violations are through courts of law, as AP notes.

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