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Unilateral sanctions are not illegal!

He raved and ranted about the US not being the prosecutor-general of the world and having no right to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States.

IT was so laughable listening to Information minister Jenfan Muswere fuming over US targeted sanctions on some Zimbabweans.

I could easily tell that he was trying his best to please his boss, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, by sounding as infuriated as possible.

He raved and ranted about the US not being the prosecutor-general of the world and having no right to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States.

Of course, not to be outdone was his principal (Mnangagwa), who made identical noises at a business forum in the capital Harare.

As much as Mnangagwa and Muswere’ theatrics were a bit comical — since it was quite clear they were merely playing to the gallery — there was, nonetheless, one truth to the diatribe.

Indeed, according to Articles 1(2), 2(1) and 74 of the UN Charter, the imposition of unilateral sanctions violates the principles of the charter.

This is the principle of equality of States, the development of friendly relations and good neighbourliness, and consideration of each other’s interests and well-being.

Please note that the operative words here are “violate the principles”.

Nowhere does it say that it “violates the law” or is “illegal.”

For a better understanding of what I am positing, let us rewind to the UN special rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights, Alena Douhan.

She is the lady the Mnangagwa regime loves to quote, especially after her visit to the country in 2022.

Her report appeared to back this assertion that “targeted sanctions were causing harm to Zimbabwe.”

She submitted her findings in a report to the UN Human Rights Council entitled “Secondary sanctions, civil and criminal penalties for circumvention of sanctions regimes and over-compliance with sanctions.”

Firstly, Douhan never specified which primary sanctions exactly affected what part of the Zimbabwean economy.

She, instead, elected to devote the bulk of her report to what are termed “secondary sanctions” — in reference to the “unintended consequences” of these targeted restrictive measures.

In other words, what the US and its allies imposed on a few individuals and entities in Zimbabwe has absolutely zero direct impact on our economy.

Her long-winding statement on “secondary sanctions” made a shoddy job of trying to link every little thing that had gone awry in Zimbabwe on the supposed “unintended consequences” of these measures.

It is akin to someone blaming his dismissal from his job for his descent into alcoholism.

Surely, we cannot then claim that sacking people from their employment is wrong simply because someone ended up drowning himself in liquor and ruining his life!

That is why she elected to place the “over-compliance” issue as the focus of her report — as she could really not identify any particular provision of the targeted sanctions that directly harmed Zimbabwe’s economy.

Let us say that a business mogul in Germany fails to understand that these sanctions do not prevent him from investing in Zimbabwe.

He then decides to “overreact” and “overcomply” by not establishing a company in the country.

Whose fault is that?

Here is another example.

Let us say there is a COVID-19 lockdown imposed in Harare only.

Then, someone in Kwekwe erroneously believes that he is also not allowed to travel in his own town and fails to turn up for work.

Can we honestly fault the lockdown in Harare for the Kwekwe man’s misinterpretation of the regulations and his absence from work?

Nonetheless, that was not the most telling part of Douhan’s report.

None of the resolutions cited by the rapporteur characterises unilateral sanctions as contrary to international law.

In most cases, her findings “objected to” or “condemned” sanctions, but in no way did they proffer a general rule of international law prohibiting unilateral sanctions.

Obviously, there is a consequential difference between lamenting these restrictive measures and asserting that they violate international law.

In other words, the imposition of “unilateral sanctions” may be regarded as “wrong”, in the sense that they go against the spirit of “good neighbourliness”.

Nevertheless, that is as far as this “wrong” goes.

It may be “wrong” for me not to greet my neighbour or refuse to help him financially in his time of economic distress.

However, there will be absolutely nothing illegal about my actions.

It is, therefore, stretching the truth for anyone to claim that the imposition of unilateral sanctions is illegal.

That is a huge fat lie — which has, unfortunately, been propagated and repeatedly regurgitated with reckless irresponsibility by the Mnangagwa administration.

There is absolutely nothing illegal about unilateral sanctions.

Going against the spirit of something does not, by any stretch of the imagination, render it illegal.

The UN Charter encourages good neighbourliness — and discourages any actions that may threaten this principle, including the imposition of unilateral sanctions.

However, there is nothing illegal about imposing unilateral sanctions.

Any country on the planet has every right to choose with whom it wants or does not want to associate.

Even Zimbabwe, as a sovereign State, has this same right.

That is why today, as we watch in shock events in the Middle East, between Israel and Hamas, there are those calling for the boycott of the former’s products.

If the Mnangagwa administration chooses to boycott Israeli goods in protest over its bombardment of Gaza, that will be its prerogative to which it is entitled.

It can even bar Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from coming to Zimbabwe, if it so pleases.

It is, again, its prerogative.

Similarly, it would never be construed as Zimbabwe appointing herself the prosecutor-general of the world.

The same right applies to the US.

If it does not want Mnangagwa and his wife to set foot on its soil or to do any business with it, then it is free to do so.

No one who understands international law will ever classify that as “illegal”.

There is nowhere in international law where these measures are mandated to be applied only by the UN Security Council.

Again, I repeat, every sovereign nation under the sun has the right to choose whom it wants or do not want to have relations.

There is no international law that forbids such a sovereign decision, which does not need to be justified to anyone.

  • Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: mbofana.tendairuben73@gmail.com, or visit website: https://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/

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