Zimbabwe is a constitutional republic, but the government, dominated by President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party since independence, is authoritarian. Elections in 2002 and 2005 were neither free nor fair. Despite a regional initiative to improve the country's political environment for elections in 2008, the government's assault on democracy and human rights increased significantly during the past year. Security forces and ruling party supporters acted with impunity to target systematically the political opposition, democracy activists, labor unionists, independent journalists, human rights defenders, and ordinary citizens in an organized state-sponsored campaign to dismantle opposition structures and quell criticism. Numerous unlawful killings and politically motivated abductions occurred. Security forces used arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation, excessive force, and torture to create an environment hostile to dissent. The government selectively applied repressive laws to suppress freedom of speech, press, association, academic freedom, assembly, and movement. The executive subjected the judiciary to improper influence and interference, and law enforcement routinely ignored court orders that were not in the government's favor. Corruption was pervasive, and regime insiders acted with impunity.
The U.S. strategy for promoting democracy and freedom in the country focuses on three core activities: strengthening of democratic forces and institutions, maintaining pressure on the government to return to a path of good governance and economic prosperity, and providing humanitarian and other assistance to those left most vulnerable by declining socio-economic conditions and government oppression. The U.S. government utilizes diplomatic efforts, public outreach, and technical and financial assistance to advance these goals.
U.S. democracy and governance initiatives strive to support effective and transparent democratic systems and responsible sovereignty. These programs seek to promote free and fair elections, expand freedom of speech and independent media, encourage respect for human rights and the rule of law, and strengthen the capacity of nongovernmental actors to enhance civic participation and consensus-building. To maintain pressure on the regime, U.S. officials regularly state publicly and privately that fundamental political and economic changes are a prerequisite to reengagement by the international community. To reinforce this message, in January 2008 key government and ruling party officials responsible for human rights violations were added to the U.S. financial and travel sanction program. To encourage greater public debate on the restoration of good governance and economic growth, the United States sponsors public events that highlight how transparent democratic systems can empower citizens by leveling the political playing field and creating a market environment conducive to economic recovery.
To promote conditions for free and fair elections, the United States worked with prodemocracy civil society organizations dedicated to laying the legal and procedural groundwork for the conduct and monitoring of presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2008. U.S. officials participate in public speaking engagements and publish op-ed articles in newspapers emphasizing free and fair elections as the foundation of a democratic state. During his February 2008 trip to Africa, President Bush publicly noted the importance of holding free and fair elections and restoring human rights in the country. U.S. officials have conveyed to Zimbabwean leaders concerns over hostile preelection conditions and evidence of inadequate preparations, including the government's use of widespread intimidation, restrictive and limited voter registration processes, partisan distribution of government food and other assistance, and inappropriate pressure by traditional leaders to influence election results unduely. Embassy officials conducted pre-election assessment trips and observed local and national elections at polling stations throughout the country.
To strengthen the capacity of nongovernmental actors to enhance civic participation and consensus-building, the United States sponsors programs to assist civil society groups in improving organizational capacity, promoting strategic thinking and leadership, and assuring sound internal governance. The goal of these programs is to enhance civil society's capacity to demand more effectively accountability from government and bolster citizen participation in local and national decision making processes.
The United States defends freedom of speech and the independent media. The U.S. government supports programs and organizations that provide citizens with unbiased information about government policies and the right to petition their government for change. Voice of America (VOA) Studio 7 radio program broadcasts uncensored news throughout the country. Despite government efforts to jam the transmission and seize radios from listening groups, VOA Studio 7 is the principal source of independent news in the country. Citizens also have access to independent information through the U.S.-sponsored Information Resource Center and American Corners programs. The embassy regularly engages the independent media to encourage an accurate portrayal of U.S. policies and positions and to correct frequent distortions in the state-sponsored media.
The U.S. government promotes respect for human rights and the rule of law. The United States supports civil society organizations that comprehensively document and report on human rights abuses and provide critical assistance to the thousands of political opposition and human rights defenders who were victims of state-sponsored violence in 2007. U.S. officials continue to raise the country's deteriorating human rights record in international fora and bilaterally with other governments. Statements by U.S. officials, including the secretary of state, who awarded the 2007 Freedom Defenders award to a Zimbabwean human rights organization, consistently condemn the government's human rights abuses and receive prominent coverage by international and local media. U.S. officials emphasize in all substantive contacts with government and party officials the importance of ending human rights abuses in the country. In 2007 the United States published information spotlighting the government's escalating violence against its own citizens. The U.S. government widely circulates human rights-related reports among civil society, government, and party officials.
In response to the government's politicization of services, the United States remains the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance in the country. These programs provide food aid, HIV/AIDS services, and livelihood assistance to persons, regardless of their political affiliation, who are left vulnerable or have been displaced by the political and economic crisis. The U.S. Government conducts public outreach activities that promote economic recovery and growth through free markets and rule of law. In 2007 the United States supported a conference that featured regional and international economic and business experts who addressed the importance of property rights and stabilization of inflation for economic growth. U.S. officials also participate in roundtable discussions and speaking engagements with members of the business community, civil society, and academia on themes of combating corruption and finding economic solutions that guarantee rights of the private sector.
In support of religious freedom, U.S. officials widely disseminate relevant reports on religious rights and promote the benefits of religious pluralism. U.S. officials privately and publicly emphasize concerns regarding intimidation and harassment of religious leaders who criticize the government, condemn human rights abuses and flawed economic policies, and seek to sustain a dialogue to improve the country's political situation. In 2008 the U.S. government sponsored a lecture series by a prominent American civil rights activist who addressed diverse religious and civil society groups about the role of faith-based communities in social change. To encourage the protection of worker rights, U.S. officials publicly condemn the government's repressive restrictions on freedom of assembly. The United States supports programs on labor issues, including activities to promote international labor standards and build capacity within labor unions. Labor leaders participate in U.S.-sponsored professional exchange programs on civic activism, organized labor, and conflict resolution. The United States shares best practices and promotes cooperation to combat trafficking in persons and supports programs providing assistance to trafficking victims.