Zimbabwe advised to improve human rights, pay debts to win relief

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One of Zimbabwe’s biggest creditors rejected a government request for debt relief until it improves its human rights record and pays arrears on outstanding debt.

The southern African country’s plea for relief was rebuffed in a June 12 letter to Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube from Odile Renaud-Basso, chair-lady of the Paris Club.

The group, to which Zimbabwe owed $3.26 billion in 2018, represents creditor nations including members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The letter, seen by Bloomberg, was in response to an April 2 appeal by Ncube to the heads of the International Monetary FundWorld BankAfrican Development Bank, Paris Club and European Investment Bank seeking an arrears-clearance program and debt relief.

Zimbabwe’s relations with multilateral lenders have been strained for almost 20 years as it failed to meet payments and a series of elections were marred by violence and irregularities.

“Zimbabwe’s desire to normalize its relations with the international community can only advance following the implementation of substantive economic and political reforms,” Renaud-Basso said. The required reforms are “regarding the respect for human rights, especially freedom of assembly and expression,” she said.

Winning debt relief was a key plank of Ncube’s strategy to kickstart the economy after two decades of stagnation. But attempts to drive economic reform and improve relations with lenders have been thwarted by the violent suppression by Zimbabwean security forces of a series of demonstrations.

Schwan Badirou-Gafari, secretary-general of the Paris Club, declined to comment, as did Clive Mphambela, a spokesman for Zimbabwe’s Treasury.

(With input from Bloomberg)

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