The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation aimed at promoting democratic change and economic recovery in Zimbabwe. The measure has been approved in the Senate and now goes to President Bush for his signature.

The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 sets aside $26 million in economic aid to Zimbabwe to be released only when the rule of law is restored and free and fair elections are possible.

Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold presidential elections next year.

But Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, a sponsor of the bill, says prospects for free and fair elections are increasingly remote. He condemned the country's worsening human rights record, particularly the treatment of the political opposition and the media by President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. "Mugabe has spared no means in his attempt to suppress democratic expression in Zimbabwe," he said. "His ZANU-PF party operatives have employed murder, mass beatings, systematic torture, gang rape, house burning, death threats, and every type of police brutality. While Zimbabwe police are quick to crack down on peaceful political protest, those violent ZANU-PF operatives are rarely brought to justice."

Sponsors of the bill also denounced Zimbabwe's land reform program, which the government says is aimed at redressing colonial era imbalances in land ownership. They took note of the widespread intimidation and beatings carried out by pro-government militants who have been forcibly occupying white-owned farms since February of last year.

Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, says the legislation seeks to promote democratic change in Zimbabwe. "Our bill provides a set of incentives for Mugabe and his government to move in the right direction, away from intimidation, violence, corruption, and draconian economic policies, towards land reform that reflects the rule of law, policies that restore an independent judiciary, allow political competition, and support a free and independent media," he said.

The measure suggests that the President work with U.S. allies to impose sanctions on individuals responsible for the breakdown of the rule of law and politically motivated violence.