TRANSCRIPT: Media Briefing by Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Dr. Reuben Brigety and Ms. Karen Hanrahan
TRANSCRIPT: Media Briefing by Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Dr. Reuben Brigety and Ms. Karen Hanrahan
US Embassy Harare
Public Affairs Section
TRANSCRIPT: Media Briefing by Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Dr. Reuben Brigety and Ms. Karen Hanrahan in Harare, February 22nd 2013
AMBASSADOR BRUCE WHARTON: Thank you for joining us this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the media. You guys are vitally important. So it’s a real pleasure whenever we have a chance to speak to you. My job today it to basically introduce the two visitors that have come from Washington to meet with, learn about and reach their own ideas about what’s going on in Zimbabwe today. To my left is Deputy Assistant Secretary Reuben Brigety. Dr Reuben Brigety is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southern African Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State. And to my right is Deputy Assistant Karen Hanraham from the State’s Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. They are two very strong colleagues both of them interested in Africa, both of them working on issues related to the US relationship with Zimbabwe. They arrived here at about midday on Wednesday and since then have had high level meetings with government officials, with political party leaders, with civil society organisations, with business people and other meetings inside the US Embassy. So it is a real pleasure to have them here. I told President Mugabe when I first arrived in Zimbabwe that one of my ambitions was to make sure that we have senior level policy makers from Washington coming to Zimbabwe to learn for themselves about what is going on here. So this is an important step in the right direction. With that let me turn it over to my colleague, DAS Reuben Brigety.
DAS BRIGETY: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. The year 2013 has the potential to be a landmark turning point in Zimbabwe’s history. With an up-coming referendum on the constitution, the UN World Tourism Summit, and elections, Zimbabweans will have the opportunity to set the foundation for a stable and prosperous future. Zimbabwe’s leaders also have the opportunity to move the country forward by breaking the cycle of instability and violence. As a friend, the United States is eager to support the people of Zimbabwe in seizing these opportunities. Over the past four years, Zimbabwe has been transformed in ways many thought impossible not so long ago. The road has been bumpy, but the trajectory of the past four years has clearly been positive. Leaders from diverse political perspectives have come together to bring stability back to the country and to set Zimbabwe back on the path toward economic vibrancy. Independent newspapers have proliferated; a Human Rights Commission has been established; instances of violence are down; companies are re-investing; schools are back in session; health clinics are again open and stocked; and government officials come together regularly to hash out their differences and devise compromises that move the country forward for the benefit of the people. Most commendably, the parties in the inclusive government, through commitment and perseverance, have found a workable compromise resulting in a draft constitution that all three parties can endorse. All Zimbabweans should be proud of these successes.
DAS HANRAHAN: Given these positive developments, the United States is concerned by emerging trends that put the progress Zimbabwe has made at risk. As we get closer to elections, some are attempting to push the country back into the vicious cycle of intimidation, violence, and instability. Elements among the Zimbabwe Republic Police continue to demonstrate a clear partisan bias in arrests, detentions, and investigations – or the lack of such actions – depending on one’s political orientation. Recent months – and, indeed, the past few days since our arrival – have seen a clear pattern of harassment of civil society organizations through spurious charges, extended detentions, and confiscation of materials that impede their activities. Zimbabwe Defense Forces soldiers have been deployed on “administrative support duty” to rural areas country-wide to pressure communities to support one political party. At the same time, police officials are being sent for political indoctrination at Shamva Battle Camp and police commissioners are visiting police camps around the country to exhort officers and their family members to chant pro-ZANU-PF slogans. Revenue flows into the Treasury from the diamond sector lack the transparency Zimbabweans need to ensure that Zimbabweans benefit from the country’s resources. These patterns demonstrate clear efforts to manipulate the rule of law and the electoral playing field. If they continue, it will be difficult to consider the electoral environment conducive to a process consistent with SADC election standards or that yields a clear and legitimate winner. The United States looks to Zimbabwe’s leaders to rectify these trends and to allow the people the opportunity to exercise their rights to self-determination and freedom from fear. As Zimbabwe seizes the opportunities that 2013 presents, the United States will respond in kind, matching action for action to recognize, reward, and support positive progress. The United States will respond in kind with tangible positive actions as the country conducts a peaceful and transparent constitutional referendum; as leaders honor the commitments for reform that they made in the Global Political Agreement, constitution, and SADC Roadmap; and as the country conducts and honors the results of a peaceful and credible election. As progress on the ground here merits, we are prepared to ease, and even end, targeted sanctions. We are prepared to expand our foreign assistance partnership. We are prepared to promote new and mutually beneficial business linkages between our countries. We are prepared to re-engage in all areas of bilateral collaboration and to work with any credibly elected government in Zimbabwe.
DAS BRIGETY: At the same time, we are also prepared to meet action for action if the destructive trends of those few elements – as noted above – are permitted to continue to deprive the Zimbabwean people of their rights and freedoms. We will not measure Zimbabwe against any externally imposed criteria, but on the laws and commitments that Zimbabweans have established for themselves or agreed to with their neighbours. Zimbabwe faces great opportunities in 2013. The country’s future is bright. We look to the country’s leaders to seize these opportunities as they did at the dawn of independence to empower the people through stability and unfettered self-determination. Through this process, the people of the United States will stand with the people of Zimbabwe. We look forward to your questions.
QUESTION (Q). You have pointed out that there are indications of violence patterns replaying themselves. Since you have had high level meetings with the government and civil society, what has their response been, especially political leaders, on those issues which you raised?
DAS HANRAHAN: So as Ambassador Wharton mentioned, we have met with a wide range of members of your community and leaders to civil society. We have gotten this information from many sources and when discussed with political leaders, we have heard an interest in getting to the bottom of the facts across parties; an interest in avoiding violence; but I think there is a way to go to have a more open discussion about some of these challenges that you might be facing.
Q: There is a clear roadmap to elections and the referendum dates have been announced. Are we going to see the US going to relax or ease on sanctions on Zimbabwe, like what the EU has done?
DAS BRIGETY: As we indicated in our statement, the United States is prepared it to meet action for action as result of positive developments here on the ground. The nature of our sanctions policy are unlikely to be changed unless and until each of the three critical benchmarks have been met positively. That is first starting with the peaceful referendum, secondly are the series of steps between the referendum and the election; and finally culminating in what we hope will be a credible and non-violent election. Should all three of those milestones be met, according to standards which Zimbabwe has agreed to with Sadc, then as we have mentioned, there is ample space that we are very likely to dramatically reconsider our sanctions policy. In the interim, as those initial steps take place, there are additional things; additional positive steps that we are prepared to take with regard to the nature of our business engagement for Zimbabwe, with regards to the nature of our stepped up health support and other steps that we are prepared to take, but our sanctions policy is unlikely to change unless and until there are credible and non-violent elections later this year.
DAS HANRAHAN: And to add a little bit to that, to be clear on what some of these benchmarks mean to us; one component is also more space, more safe space for civil society, a free media and political parties to operate without fear and intimidation.
Q: There has been debate in the inclusive government over the issue of international observers for the elections. We have on one side Zanu PF claiming they won’t be inviting western observers as well as the US for the elections and they are basing this on the argument that these countries have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and they might be having a sinister motive come election time in Zimbabwe. So I just want to know the US position concerning this issue of international observers during elections in Zimbabwe.
DAS BRIGETY: We think the proposition that international; western international observers may not be invited so long as there are western sanctions on Zimbabwe is an unfortunate, an unproductive formulation. As we have discussed with all manner of our interlocutors here, the United States is ready and prepared to engage with the government and people of Zimbabwe, we believe that as I have mentioned before, following with the action for action policy that we are prepared to turn the page on our bilateral relationship as conditions improve here in Zimbabwe. And the fact that we are prepared and indeed are eager to strengthen and improve our bilateral relations should be met, we hope would be met with goodwill by various political leaders here in Zimbabwe. We believe that so long as all parties are committed to credible and non-violent elections, that it is in the interest of all parties for the elections to be monitored as widely as possible, to include by election monitors from credible non-governmental organisations both from the United States, Europe and elsewhere. There are a number of organisations in the United States that are not affiliated with the US government and have wide experience in modern pre elections across Africa and indeed throughout the world that we think that extending invitations to such organisations would go a long way towards strengthening international confidence in the validity and credibility of the elections.
AMBASSADOR BRUCE WHARTON: ...again, I think that one of the messages that we heard from everyone in Zimbabwe, was that there is a great interest in engaging with the United States and the presence of DAS Hanrahan and DAS Brigety here is concrete proof of our interest in engaging with Zimbabwe. This is a conversation that must continue. We have otherwise agreed on all points with each other, but that is all common among sovereign nations. The conversation needs to continue and we are certainly committed to ensure that it does. Thank you all very much.
= END TRANSCRIPT=