afrol News, 19 March - The Commonwealth has turned to one the strongest actions it can against a member country by suspending Zimbabwe. The country is to be suspended "from the Councils of the Commonwealth for one year with immediate effect," a decision from a committee composed of the heads of state of Nigeria, South Africa and Australia read. Switzerland is also introducing sanctions.
The "Commonwealth Chairpersons' Committee on Zimbabwe" that met in London today consisted of the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, the President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Surprisingly, and contrary to the signals given by the South African and Nigerian presidents in advance, the committee decided against Zimbabwe.
The Commonwealth had, however, obliged the committee to base its ruling of possible sanctions against Zimbabwe on the recommendations contained in the report of the Commonwealth election observer group.
The Commonwealth election observer group, led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar of Nigeria, had concluded that the Presidential Election was marred by a high level of politically motivated violence and that "the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors". Thus, the committee deemed these conclusions "to be an adverse reflection on the electoral process, requiring an appropriate Commonwealth response," the Commonwealth's statement reads.
The suspension of Zimbabwe was to for one year, with immediate effect. The issue further was to be revisited in twelve months time, "having regard to progress in Zimbabwe," according to the Commonwealth statement.
On the other hand, the Commonwealth hailed the reconciliation efforts by President Mbeki and President Obasanjo. This "determination" was to be adopted by the entire Commonwealth, which was to encourage "a climate of reconciliation between the main political parties in Zimbabwe." It was also seen necessary to "address the issues of food shortages, economic recovery, the restoration of political stability, the rule of law and the conduct of future elections."
Also other countries have stepped up their reactions against Zimbabwe. The European Union (EU), which together with the US has implemented "smart sanctions" against Zimbabwe's ruling elite, is to discuss further sanctions. The European Parliament, condemning the "blatant vote rigging," called for a "strengthening and consolidating of the measures already in place" against Zimbabwe. Observers expect the EU to adopt more ample sanctions against Zimbabwe at the next meeting of its Foreign Ministers, in April.
EU member Denmark yesterday went even further, deciding to close its embassy in Harare. The Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Per Stig Møller, issued a statement quoting a "long row of strongly criticisable conditions related to the preparations for and the execution of the elections" as the reason for its decision to close the embassy.
Switzerland today also announced it is to impose "smart sanction" on Zimbabwe, following the EU and US examples. Switzerland, known for its liberal banking services, is to freeze financial assets held by government officials in Swiss banks and hinder the same persons from travelling to Switzerland. The country quoted "manipulations of the presidential elections and enduring human rights violations" as the reason for this step, unheard-of in neutral Switzerland.
Reactions in Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth's suspension split with party lines. The Secretary-General of the opposition party MDC, Welshman Ncube, welcomed the decision. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, told state television it was a "bad decision" based on a "bad report".