BRUSSELS – The European Union is expected this month to lift most of its remaining sanctions against Zimbabwe, the bloc’s top diplomat said yesterday. “I think we probably are now in the right place to do this, on the basis that if things go badly we can move back again,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told lawmakers at the European Parliament. The EU imposed sanctions on the southern African country in 2002, in response to a government crackdown on the opposition and the eviction of white farmers from agricultural land. These have gradually been lifted in recent years following political improvements, but measures have remained in place against key individuals in President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle. Ashton said yesterday that she had just given her approval for most of these to be lifted after holding lengthy discussions with EU member states and with politicians in Zimbabwe. The move could come on February 20 with sanctions directly targeting Mugabe likely to remain in place. “The sense is that Zimbabwe’s moving . . . and that we need to respond,” Ashton said. Meanwhile, Britain had said the sanctions against Mugabe and his Zanu PF party are working.
Mark Simmonds, Britain’s Under Secretary of State for Africa told the UK Parliament on Monday that contrary to perceptions the sanctions were aiding Zanu PF propaganda, there was evidence the embargo had positive results. “Although some have argued that EU financial sanctions — more properly known as restrictive measures — have served as anti Western propaganda for the Zanu PF party, we believe that asset freezes, as part of the EU’s targeted measures, have been an important tool in promoting democracy and reform in Zimbabwe,” he said. “Reforms, such as the new Constitution agreed in 2013, under the Government of National Unity and Global Political Agreement, highlight some of the progress made.” He said Prime Minister David Cameron’s government was worried about democracy in Zimbabwe following a contested election outcome last year.
“We continue to have concerns over the democratic environment in Zimbabwe, we have consistently made clear our views about the conduct of 2013 elections, which we do not judge to have been free, fair or credible, nor to have met Sadc’s own guidelines,” he said. “The EU is currently completing the review of Zimbabwe’s targeted measures and parliamentary scrutiny has been completed.” The EU will meet later this month and Zimbabwe would be on the agenda.
Mugabe and Zanu PF say the sanctions are unjust and were imposed to punish the country for embarking on a land reform programme that displaced thousands of white commercial farmers.