US sanctions coordinator says they are not hurting ordinary Zimbabweans but admits he has not read the UN special rapporteur report which says they are


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So I sit in Secretary Blinken’s office and work across programs around the world. And it sort of depends how one counts, but as I look across the U.S. programs with sanctions – but also other items, like export controls and trade restrictions – we probably have between 26 and 30 of these programs that are active everywhere in the world.

The largest by far, at the moment, is about Russia over its two unjustified invasions of Ukraine. But they touch every continent and every part of the world. They’re rooted very often in a simple conviction: We want people to live in democratic governments, be able to pursue their own desires, be prosperous, and be free.

For that to happen, very often odious arrangements – whether they’re commercial contracts or corrupt government procurement arrangements, or really any form of corruption or human rights abuse – need to be called out and the people who commit them should be identified. And there should be some consequence to that.

So typically what our sanctions will do is forbid the person from traveling into the United States or from using transactions that are in any way touching the U.S. banking system. But there can be also export restrictions, or changes in tariff codes, other things that effect more public policy.

That’s what we do around the world. But just talking about in the U.S. context sort of fails to capture what we believe we are about. President Biden and Secretary Blinken have talked often about how important it is that we always be standing for the rule of law. And we’re attempting to build a community of countries that stand for a law-abiding international system, one that allows people to have faith that their complaints will be adjudicated impartially, that they’ve got the opportunity to make choices.

So for that to happen, we try not to work on our own. Obviously, as the largest economy, we often find ourselves leading, but we try to work closely with our partners. And that’s an important part of what we’re seeing happen with regard to the Zimbabwe sanctions today. So I’ll say a word or two about what we have been doing and where we’re going, and then I’ll turn it over to Jim Mullinax and, Jim, you can either speak now or we can listen to some questions and come in.

So what are we doing with Zimbabwe? And I know this program is something that all of you look at very carefully, so I won’t go into too much detail. But essentially, we are focused on the people who are responsible for and profit from human rights abuses, corruption, and antidemocratic actions. And that’s the limit of what we’re looking to do.

And I just want to emphasize that it’s very important that we call out those who are responsible for and who profit from abuses and corruption. And you can just see this from the general reporting about the situation in Zimbabwe. The country continues to have massive arrears to the international financial institutions. The economy is deteriorating. That may be partly just poor policy choices, but it’s also a result of corruption and economic mismanagement.

And here it’s not simply the U.S. Government using our own resources to say that. If you take a look at Transparency International and some really brave and intrepid investigative journalists and reporters in Africa – such as Maverick Citizen – they talk about billions of dollars in illegitimate, illegal cross-border transactions a year. And those cost the citizens of Zimbabwe a lot of their chance at having a more prosperous and free life. And so we’d like our sanctions to be part of a policy answer that begins to improve the management of public services and public resources, and makes things possible for the people of Zimbabwe to improve.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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