Zimbabwe's Mugabe: Lift sanctions, UN's Navi Pillay urges
Western nations should lift sanctions on Zimbabwe and its President Robert Mugabe, says the UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay.
Speaking on her first visit to the country, Ms Pillay argued that the sanctions are hurting the poor.
She also urged Zimbabwe to pass reforms to avoid violence in the next election which is expected within a year.
The European Union has already lifted some sanctions but restrictions on Mr Mugabe and his close aides remain.
The president and more than 100 others are still affected by the freezing of assets and travel bans in European countries.
Britain, the former colonial power, has long argued that the measures do not affect the poor but Ms Pillay is now questioning this, and would like sanctions suspended "at least until the conduct of the elections and related reforms are clear... for people to entirely focus on economic issues that need to be addressed".
Mr Mugabe has long blamed his country's economic woes on the sanctions.'Stigma'
Ms Pillay, from South Africa, said she had not heard a single Zimbabwean inside the country speak in favour of maintaining the restrictions.
End Quote Navi Pillay
There should never be impunity for serious crimes, and justice is essential if peace and stability are to endure”
"There seems little doubt that the existence of the sanctions regimes has, at the very least, acted as a serious disincentive to overseas banks and investors.
"It is also likely that the stigma of sanctions has limited certain imports and exports. Taken together, these and other unintended side-effects will in turn inevitably have had a negative impact on the economy at large, with possibly quite serious ramifications for the country's poorest and most vulnerable populations," she said.
Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a close ally of Mr Mugabe, welcomed Ms Pillay's call but said the sanctions should be removed "unconditionally".
"We do not want any talk about suspension of sanctions, they have to be lifted unconditionally because in the first instance they are illegal," he told journalists shortly after the human rights chief spoke.
The EU tightened sanctions after the 2008 election when Mr Mugabe's supporters were accused of killing, beating and torturing hundreds of people.
Since then Mr Mugabe has had to share power with his rivals, but there is a political deadlock and reforms to the security forces have stalled.'Swept under the carpet'
Earlier this year the campaign group Human Rights Watch said sanctions should remain "until Zimbabwe carries out concrete human rights and institutional reforms".
Over the past week Ms Pillay met Mr Mugabe and his long-time opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who joined a unity government in 2009.
In her speech in Harare she also brought up past human rights violations and warned that "devastating large-scale killings and other violations in Matabeleland and Midlands in the 1980s, or the 2008 election violence should [not] be swept under the carpet".
She made it clear that: "There should never be impunity for serious crimes, and justice is essential if peace and stability are to endure".
She said she had urged leaders to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Committee or a Commission of Inquiry to look at major human rights violations that took place some time ago.