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Chinyoka on Tuesday: Brian Nichols and the hypocrisy of US sanctions

By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

The United States’ Department of State is the equivalent of what is called “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” in every other country. It is the department that runs American policy abroad, and is what was led by Henry Kissinger all those many years ago when he plagiarised Viscount Palmerston and said: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.”

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

Sadly, our people have forgotten to remember these prescient words, thereby ignoring what another American said: “when people show you who they are, the first time, believe them.”

The State Department (as it is known) publishes annual human rights reports on every country on earth bar their own. These give detailed information on how countries are rated by the USA regarding their respect for human rights.

Recall that according to Brian Nichols, the government of Zimbabwe has sanctioned itself by not respecting human rights. It seems very logical to see how a country can sanction itself, when you find that a 2018 country report says:

  1. Human rights [violations] included: unlawful and politically motivated killings; forced disappearances; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; an inefficient judiciary; arbitrary infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; censorship; lack of accountability in many cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.
  2. There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. In September [2018] eight nongovernmental organizations (NGO) based in the northern region jointly issued a statement listing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances at top of their list of human rights concerns.
  3. In September [2018] the NGO …… provided ….. a list of 34 youth whom police allegedly executed over nine months since the beginning of the year.
  4. In August IPOA reported a summary execution of a suspected carjacker. The police, who had allegedly shot the victim twice, hauled him from a church where he had sought refuge.
  5. NGOs and the autonomous governmental entity ….. National Commission on Human Rights reported in 2017 that authorities killed between 35 and 100 persons and injured many others in opposition strongholds following the ….
  6. A ….report released in November documented 201 cases of sexual assault in nine [districts] emanating from the post-election violence, primarily during periods of increased civil unrest.
  7. Observers and NGOs alleged members of the security forces were culpable of forced disappearances. In June [2018] media reported civilian protests ….. over the alleged disappearance of 14 residents. There were accusations of government involvement and use of police officers. On July 26, [a] human rights lobby group ….. reported that between January and June, the ….police abducted or forced the disappearance of 46 civilians.
  8. Police reportedly used torture and violence during interrogations as well as to punish both pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. According to human rights NGOs, physical battery, bondage in painful positions, and electric shock were the most common methods of torture used by police. A range of human rights organizations and media reported police committed torture and indiscriminate violence with impunity.

By all accounts, there are very serious human rights violations. It makes sense that the Ambassador would say that any government that practices these things should not consider itself a friend of the United States of America. That such a government should put its house in order and not expect to trade with the USA until it has fixed these very serious human rights inadequacies.

Except for one minor problem.

That report is not about Zimbabwe. It is the latest Human Rights Report on Kenya. Kenya whose president was indicted by the ICC on very serious crimes relating to politically motivated violence. Kenya, whose President was, oops, a guest at the White House in August 2018, just around the same time when Nairobi police were summarily executing that suspected carjacker.

Are there American sanctions against Kenya? I know that Trevor Ncube, in his interview with Brian Nichols, failed to ask this question, but we must ask. Where are the American sanctions against Kenya? Ever heard of them? Nor I.

And Kenya is not the only country. The report on Rwanda contains these gems: “There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.For example, according to media reports, on April 13, Kigali attorney Donat Mutunzi disappeared after leaving for work. His family made repeated inquiries of police but was unable to confirm his arrest until April 18.

At that time a police officer reportedly told them that Mutunzi was suspected of having defamed President Kagame by circulating false information on the internet. On April 22, prosecutors told an attorney and friend of the Mutunzi family that Mutunzi had been accused of rape. On April 23, police reported Mutunzi had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. An examination of the body revealed severe wounds on the face and temples.

Numerous reports. Not a few, not many, but numerous. A  comparable statement on the Zimbabwe report says “There were two reported incidents of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings.” Not that one should celebrate that we have been accused of two incidents, one is one too many after all, but it is much much less than numerous, no? Sanctions against Rwanda anyone? No, in fact the State Department has just recently cleared RwandAir to fly directly to the USA, a huge boost the Rwandese economy.

Contrast this then: “There were no reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities” with “There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.” If one follows Brian Nichols’ justification for US sanctions, one would think that the first statement was wishful thinking, and the second the reality in Zimbabwe, right?

Except that one would be wrong. The first statement is from the 2018 report on Zimbabwe, the second is from the 2018 report on Rwanda. Not that one wants sanctions on Rwanda but, wasn’t human rights violations touted as the basis for these sanctions?

The report on Saudi Arabia accuses that country of “unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents. There were also reports of arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions”, but there is nary a sanction in sight. Do I hear you ask: ‘but we have zero disappearances!’ I know! Turns out that counts for nothing in the general scheme of things.

I have said this before, and will say it again: the sanctions against Zimbabwe are about land reform. They are about the US$9 billion that the US government wants us to pay white farmers for “their land”. They are about warning South Africa what will happen if they go ahead and try to take away land without compensation. Any Zimbabwean who believes that the sanctions  are meant to reward them for their faked abductions and address their sour grapes at losing elections is deluding themselves.

Is there support for my views? I think so. Anyone can access the US State Department reports. Focus on the friends of America, and compare their reports with the Zimbabwe one. You will find that we are in fact doing much better in the human rights field than many of the Great Satan’s friends. According to Uncle Sam’s own State Department at https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. He is a member of the ruling ZanuPF. Follow him on @TinoChinyoka