December 6, 2001

International pressure on Mugabe

The US House of Representatives easily approved a measure to step up pressure on President Robert Mugabe to ensure free elections and establish land ownership protection in his violence-torn southern African nation. On a 396-11 vote, the House backed a Senate-passed measure offering Zimbabwe a broad package of aid and economic enticements on condition that the government end its sponsorship of violence and commit to an equitable land reform programme.

"In Zimbabwe, we’re sadly seeing a dictator who is literally burning his country down," said Ed Royce of California, a Republican who chairs the House International Relations Africa subcommittee. The Bill, approved by the Senate in August, urges President George W Bush to consult with European Union countries, Canada and other nations on possible actions to be taken against those responsible for violence in Zimbabwe, including Mugabe. Those actions could include travel and investment sanctions against Mugabe, his family and associates.

The measure also authorises broad debt relief, support for new international loans and financial and technical support for Zimbabwe if the White House certifies Mugabe has restored the rule of law, held free and fair elections and committed to equitable land reform. The bill authorises foreign assistance funds to Zimbabwe to support the establishment of democratic institutions and the rule of law.

As a reaction, a senior official in Mugabe’s office vowed that the embattled administration would carry on with its controversial policies that have attracted Washington’s wrath, despite the looming sanctions. Dismissing the moves by the US to punish Mugabe as illegitimate and "criminal", Presidential and Cabinet Press Secretary George Charamba told the Financial Gazette "for us the struggle continues".

Meanwhile Commonwealth ministers will meet in London in about two weeks to discuss possible sanctions against Zimbabwe, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday. Straw told parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group would gather "in the week beginning December 17" but refused to speculate about what action might be taken against Mugabe. The European Union is also considering moves to impose sanctions against Mugabe and his administration again over the same concerns raised by Washington.

Meanwhile, on December 3, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court has ruled that President Robert Mugabe's land reform scheme to hand over white-owned farms to blacks is lawful and that the rule of law prevails in the countryside. The decision confirmed a interim ruling by the court in October and effectively overturns an order in November 2000 that land reforms were illegal and that occupiers should be evicted. Four of the five judges hearing the case said they were satisfied that the government had put in place a land reform programme that complied with the constitution. Last year the Supreme Court - then made up of four senior judges and former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay who eventually retired under pressure from the government - ordered the government to end violence on white-owned farms. In August, Mugabe appointed three additional judges to the court, after suffering a series of losses from the previous bench, which had described the government's land acquisition programme as unlawful and unconstitutional. (THE NAMIBIAN, FINANCIAL GAZETTE)

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