Ewen MacAskill / Guardian – 2007-04-07 23:27:59
WASHINGTON (April 6, 2007) — The US admitted openly for the first time yesterday that it was actively working to undermine Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe.
Although officially Washington does not support regime change, a US state department report published yesterday acknowledged that it was supporting opposition politicians in the country and others critical of Mr Mugabe.
The state department also admitted sponsoring events aimed at “discrediting” statements made by Mr Mugabe’s government.
The report will be seized on by Mr Mugabe, who has repeatedly claimed that the US and Britain are seeking regime change.
The comments are contained in the state department’s fifth annual Supporting Human Rights and Democracy report. It sets out in detail actions the US government is taking worldwide to promote human rights.
The report has had a troubled history. Three years ago publication had to be hastily delayed when details emerged about US human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
The US, compared with the UK, was initially slow to criticise Mr Mugabe, but has since adopted an increasingly critical stance, most recently at the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month.
In an unusual piece of candour, the state department report says: “To encourage greater public debate on restoring good governance in [Zimbabwe], the United States sponsored public events that presented economic and social analyses discrediting the government’s excuses for its failed policies.
“To further strengthen pro-democracy elements, the US government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society to create and defend democratic space and to support persons who criticised the government.”
While the US and British governments still insist their aim in Zimbabwe is not regime change, they have been encouraging the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangarai, who was beaten up last month.
The report says that while Zimbabwe is nominally democratic, the government of Mr Mugabe is “now authoritarian”.
At a press conference to launch the document, the assistant secretary of state, Barry Lowenkren, said the US goal was not necessarily regime change but to create a level playing field for all parties. He added that where there was a country with record levels of inflation, denial of basic human rights and other abuses, the US had a duty to speak out so that people in Zimbabwe knew they had support.
Asked whether US efforts to promote human rights worldwide were being undermined by the hundreds of of people being held at Guantánamo, Mr Lowenkren insisted the issue was not raised by non-governmental groups at conferences he attended and participants were more interested in what the US could do to help them in their own countries.
He also denied the report was softer on authoritarian governments allied to the US, such as Belarus, than to Zimbabwe.
Mr Lowenkren said $66m was being spent on promotion of democracy and human rights in Iran, about half of which was devoted to broadcasts from outside the country and the rest spent on support for non-governmental exchanges, cultural exchanges such as the visit by the US wrestling team and a Persian internet service.
The report is critical of Russia, noting the killing of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
It says: “Political pressure on the judiciary, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, continuing media restrictions and self-censorship, and government pressure on opposition political parties eroded the public accountability of government leaders.
“Security forces were involved in additional significant human rights problems.”
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