The United States on Thursday placed on its sanctions list a former Zimbabwean army general who commanded troops accused of killing six civilians after a disputed election a year ago.
The listing of Anselem Sanyatwe signals U.S. frustration over the lack of accountability in the Aug. 1, 2018 killings in the capital, Harare. There was no immediate response by Zimbabwe's government to the U.S. announcement, which was likely to bring fresh anger from an administration that has pressed for the lifting of U.S. sanctions over past rights abuses.
Sanyatwe is the first to be sanctioned over the crackdown and the first Zimbabwean official listed since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe in November 2017. Sanyatwe and his wife are now barred from traveling to the U.S.
Soldiers were deployed to suppress a protest against delays in announcing results of Zimbabwe's first election without Mugabe on the ballot. The U.S. statement says it has “credible information” that Sanyatwe was involved.
The election had been peaceful, giving many people hope that the southern African nation was on the brink of change. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe's forced resignation and was declared the election winner, had promised sweeping post-Mugabe reforms and re-engagement with the West.
Sanyatwe later defended the soldiers’ deployment while appearing before a commission of inquiry into the killings, but denied the army shot the protesters and instead accused the opposition.
He later retired from the army and was appointed ambassador to Tanzania.
Zimbabwe's military has been sent into the streets since the killings. The U.S. sanctions statement also noted that “there has been no accountability for the excessive use of force by Zimbabwean security forces on civilians in January and February this year, which reportedly resulted in at least 13 deaths, 600 victims of violence, torture or rape, and more than 1,000 arrests.”
That crackdown came after protests in Harare over the country's collapsing economy.
The U.S. and the European Union, which imposed sanctions almost two decades ago over alleged rights abuses, have in recent months issued several statements warning against continued violations.
Mnangagwa's government has made the lifting of sanctions a top priority and has held several meetings with senior officials from the U.S. and EU to lobby for that and Zimbabwe's readmission to the Commonwealth.
The killings “demonstrated to the whole world the crisis of governance that has defined the character and the nature of the problem in Zimbabwe,” opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who placed second in last year's election and lost a court challenge to the results, told a prayer meeting on Thursday to remember the killings. “After the departure of Mr. Mugabe, nothing has changed. The old cannot renew.”