The true costs of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe

File photo: Zimbabwean Police Officers pulling a protester off the road in Harare

For individuals arbitrarily arrested, harassed or killed the costs are immediate and clear however to the country as a whole the costs of state sanctioned human rights abuses are rather opaque.

This opacity created an illusion that there are no collective costs for human rights abuses. In face of continuous abuses, and support thereof from some corners of the internet it is good to have a reflection on what these abuses are costing the country.

We will get into details in a moment but first, why does the Zimbabwean government abuse human rights be they economic, social or political? I’ve two umbrella reasons:

  • The need to cling to power in a country increasingly rejecting the status quo. According to their evaluation it is better to censor political activists, jail pesky opposition leaders and deny everyone else their rights to freely associate or assemble.
  • When pursuing well intentioned goals as we have seen with the case of Chilonga villagers, the government’s approach to development issues is from the “ends-justify-the-means” perspective hence not minding human rights considerations along the way.

Now that we know what drives human rights abuses, we can look at their costs starting with monetary costs then social and political costs.

Millions which have been poured to public relations firms BTP Advisers, Mercury International Limited, Ballard Partners and Avenue Strategies, in desperate attempts to spruce up the country’s battered global image are just the tip of the iceberg.

Instead of just putting up the work to respect human rights and earn a good record the government opts to spend millions in attempts to create a good image, the money splash on PR firms could have been used to fund the healthcare sector which desperately need attention.

Indirectly the rule of law whose breakdown has been interconnected with human rights abuses has costed Zimbabwe billions in missed investments, billions in possible financing from international financial institutions and billions in export trade opportunities.

The breakdown of tule of law in Zimbabwe led to the imposition of targeted sanctions which have had far reaching effects in the economic prospects of the country. In addition lack of respect of private property has shuttered investor confidence leading the country to miss on foreign direct investment (FDI).

If there is one thing political players have to understand is that money doesn’t stay where abuses are rampant the United Nations Human Rights Council wrote in 2015 to this effect that:

Human rights abuses are not just morally wrong, they are also bad for business.

Media business for example cannot flourish in a country where repression is the default mode. Foreign investors cannot invest where there is no certainty and local investors opt to invest somewhere else no wonder why many Zimbabweans have business in South Africa and other countries with better human rights and tule of law records.

Directly to that effect human rights abuses are part of the main reasons why the United States Congress passed the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), (which was amended in 2018). The Act restricts U.S. support for multilateral financing to Zimbabwe, making it impossible for the country to access funds which it desperately needs to come back on the positive economic trajectory.

Other US sanctions, UK targeted sanctions which were put in place in 2021 and EU sanctions including an arms embargo are all in response to human rights abuses. This in reality shows that the country’s isolation not only economically but also politically is directly linked to its well known record of human rights abuses.

As the Commonwealth continue to asses the possibility of readmitting Zimbabwe to the voluntary union, the last ditch will be on human rights. Diplomatically speaking, Zimbabwe cannot be viewed as a trusted partner because of the way it treats its own citizens. I cannot detail juman rights abuses known on record here for the sake of time but when independent international bodies highlight the problem of human rights abuses with regularity then the credibility of the country will be on the line.

On 27 September 2019, the United Nations Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association gave Zimbabwe an F for failure to implement reforms which guarantees citizens’ rights, in the same year the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, declared that;

‘Man-made starvation is “slowly making its way into Zimbabwe” and most households in the country are unable to obtain enough food to meet their basic needs’

This neglection of the population by the government also creates an image problem, a country dependent on handouts such as the one from Japan recently cannot be the country of proud and confident citizens.

Zimbabweans can testify how embarrassed and demoralised they feel when they are outside the country because of this image problem. Collectively we lose our dignity and pride due to failures by the government to respect human rights from political rights to social fights.

In short the cost of human rights abuses is too high not only to the people being abused but to the country as a whole, billions in missed opportunities, investments and financing could have made Zimbabwe an economic powerhouse a long time ago.

What can be done to unlock Zimbabwe’s economic power, comment with your thoughts in the comment box below.

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[ Development Practitioner • IR Postgraduate Student • African • Queer • Anti-Poverty ]

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