Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The USA's comouflaged regime change programme


Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic, but the government, dominated by President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) since independence, is now authoritarian. The 2002 presidential election and the 2005 parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair, and the government and its supporters intimidated voters, disqualified opposition candidates, constrained campaign activities of the opposition, and distributed food in a partisan manner. During the year the political opposition and civil society continued to operate in an environment of intimidation, violence, and repression. In December President Mugabe and his loyalists in the ruling party proposed extending his term for two years by deferring presidential elections to 2010, rather than holding them in 2008 as scheduled.

The government systematically violated human rights, and official corruption and impunity were widespread. Security forces selectively harassed, beat, and arbitrarily arrested opposition supporters and critics within human rights organizations, the media, and organized labor. The judiciary was subject to executive influence and intimidation. A government campaign of forced evictions, which left 700,000 people homeless during Operation Restore Order in 2005, continued, albeit on a lesser scale. The government regularly used repressive laws to restrict freedom of assembly, speech, and press. In an attack on the independent media, the government jammed broadcasts of the popular Voice of America Studio 7 program, one of the few sources of uncensored news throughout the country, and seized radios belonging to listening groups in rural areas. The economy continued to decline, with skyrocketing prices, widespread shortages, and rapidly deteriorating social services, primarily due to the government’s command and control economic policies.

The U.S. strategy for fostering democracy and human rights in the country is three-fold: to maintain pressure on the Mugabe regime; to strengthen democratic forces; and to provide humanitarian aid for those left vulnerable by poor governance. The U.S. Government utilized diplomatic efforts, public outreach, and technical and financial assistance to advance these goals. To maintain pressure on the regime, the United States emphasized international cooperation and coordination. U.S. officials engaged multilaterally and bilaterally to expand international support of sanctions against government and ruling party officials responsible for human rights violations. A growing number of like-minded donors now agree that fundamental political and economic changes are a prerequisite to reengagement by the international community with the government. U.S. officials regularly communicated to the ruling party the importance of lifting political restrictions and curbing human rights abuses. To encourage greater public debate on restoring good governance in the country, the United States sponsored public events that presented economic and social analyses discrediting the government’s excuses for its failed policies.

To further strengthen pro-democracy elements, the U.S. Government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media, and civil society to create and defend democratic space and to support persons who criticized the government. U.S. officials observed parliamentary by-elections and rural district council elections in several towns and cities throughout the country during the year. The observers concluded that the ruling parties’ restrictive registration procedures, partisan distribution of government food aid, and inappropriate pressure by traditional leaders served to unduly influence the election results.

The United States promoted freedom of speech and of the media during the year. U.S. officials participated in ceremonies commemorating World Press Freedom Day and delivered remarks on the relationship between freedom of expression and economic prosperity. The U.S. Government sponsored programs and supported organizations that promoted the free flow of independent and objective information, including several township newspapers that disseminated reports and advised residents of their rights. Voice of America's Studio 7 radio station provided uncensored and balanced news to citizens throughout the country and worked to expand its listener base during the year. Citizens had access to independent information through the U.S.-sponsored American Corners program, which operated libraries throughout the country, and a newsletter that provided information and articles on key U.S. policies and priorities. U.S. programs provided funding to NGOs that collected and circulated information on civil society, human rights, and government actions. The United States sponsored two Fulbright scholars during the year: one helped improve a leading undergraduate journalism program by facilitating workshops designed to foster freedom of the press, while the other taught conflict resolution and mediation at one of the country's top universities. Two journalists participated in U.S.-sponsored professional exchanges in the United States.

The United States supported the efforts of civil society to create and defend democratic space. The U.S. Government funded international and local NGO programs that promoted a wide variety of causes, including social welfare, democratic processes, human rights, peace-building, women’s and youth empowerment, and public advocacy. For example, a recipient organization involved members of all political parties, traditional leaders, and other local leaders in the establishment of peace committees that encouraged open dialogue on local issues by all community members. One grantee hosted a series of community forums in rural areas that provided a platform for discussing women’s issues. Another grantee supported workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies. The U.S. Government also sponsored an NGO leader on an exchange program to learn about activism by civil society groups in the United States.

The United States continued to promote rule of law in the country. Although the ruling party maintained its monopoly on the executive branch, other institutions--including Parliament, the judiciary, and local government--were at times able to exercise some independence. The United States encouraged the capacity of these entities to govern and, in some cases, directly supported their efforts. For example, a U.S.-sponsored program to strengthen parliamentary committees resulted in increased debate in Parliament--both from opposition and reform-minded ZANU-PF parliamentarians--and encouraged greater transparency through public hearings on legislation. In an unprecedented development, several bills that contained particularly repressive or ill-defined sections were publicly debated and sent back to committee for redrafting. Support for the portfolio committees also served to provide a greater check on the executive branch, as ministers and other high-ranking officials were held more accountable for their policies through vigorous questioning by committee members. U.S. funding and support enabled local citizen groups and select local authorities to improve transparency, accountability, and municipal service delivery. For example, local authorities throughout the country received training in financial management skills, including the use of participatory budgeting methods that requires public involvement throughout the entire process.

The U.S. Government was committed to combating human rights abuses during the year. U.S. officials continued to raise the country's human rights record in international fora and bilaterally with other governments. Statements by U.S. officials, including highly critical commentary on human rights abuses, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement, received prominent coverage in the local media; however, government-controlled outlets often distorted the message. U.S. officials emphasized in all substantive contacts with government and party officials the importance of ending human rights abuses in the country. The U.S. Government widely circulated human rights-related reports among civil society, government, and party officials. The United States supported programs providing critical assistance to human rights defenders and members of civil society who suffered abuse and torture at the hands of the government. One U.S.-sponsored program helped civil society organizations develop a rapid response support network for frontline human rights defenders and enhanced their ability to capture, document, and disseminate information about abuses. A prominent human rights lawyer participated in a U.S.-sponsored international visitor exchange program focused on promoting human rights in government policy.

The United States continued to be among the largest contributors of humanitarian assistance in the country. These programs provided persons who were vulnerable or displaced--including those affected by the government’s continuing campaign of forced evictions--with critical resources during the ongoing crisis, regardless of their political affiliation. U.S. Government assistance included support to the UN World Food Program, the International Organization for Migration, and NGOs.

In support of religious freedom, the United States widely disseminated relevant reports on religious rights, and U.S. officials privately and publicly emphasized concern regarding intimidation and harassment of religious leaders who criticized the government. The United States supported efforts by religious leaders to highlight human rights abuses and flawed economic policies and to sustain a dialogue to improve the country's political situation. The U.S. Government hosted an event in which a returning international visitor's program participant gave a speech and moderated a discussion session comparing local religious pluralism with that of the United States.

The U.S. Government continued to encourage the protection of worker rights. In response to the arrest and beating of 15 leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, U.S. officials publicly condemned the government’s brutal reaction to the peaceful assembly of its citizens. The United States funded programs on labor issues, including support for an NGO that assisted trade unions in responding to and representing their members’ interests and sponsorship of a labor leader's participation in a professional exchange program. The United States encouraged efforts by the government to combat trafficking in persons and supported a local NGO providing assistance to child trafficking victims. U.S. officials met with government representatives to share best practices and promote cooperation in combating trafficking. U.S. officials widely disseminated relevant reports and participated in local and regional meetings on trafficking.

Released on April 5, 2007

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