Zimbabwe forcibly removed USAID officials on assessment mission, US says

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday said Zimbabwean officials last month "abruptly detained and deported" U.S. Agency for International Development officials who had been in the country on an assessment mission.

The U.S. State Department said Zimbabwe's actions undermined its claims of wanting to pursue international reengagement following human rights concerns in the African country. Representatives for Zimbabwe's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in recent years have alleged democratic backsliding, rights abuses including torture by state security forces and government corruption in Zimbabwe.

The U.S. has also expressed concerns, with Washington imposing sanctions on the country's president earlier this week. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa won a second term in August in a disputed vote that the opposition described as a "gigantic fraud" and election observers said failed to meet regional and international standards.


"Members of the assessment team were subject to aggressive handling, prolonged interrogation and intimidation, unsafe and forced nighttime transportation, overnight detention and confinement, and forced removal from the country," the State Department said in Friday's statement.

"The Government of Zimbabwe has said it wants to pursue international reengagement and democratic reforms. Its actions undermine those claims," it added.

In a separate statement, USAID administrator Samantha Power described Zimbabwe's actions as a "grave development." She said the USAID mission had been "assessing the development and governance context in Zimbabwe" to help the agency's efforts to support human rights.


Power noted that U.S. government officials and U.S. citizens have experienced harassment and improper treatment from the Zimbabwean authorities in recent years.

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions against Zimbabwean officials, citing steps that he said undermined democracy and repressed civil society advocates.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and David Ljunggren; editing by Rami Ayyub and Susan Heavey)