The European Union has eased sanctions against Zimbabwe, lifting travel and banking restrictions against a number of members of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party.
"We don't believe that there have been enough reforms in Zimbabwe to allow the easing of sanctions, of restrictive measures by the EU, the reforms that have taken place to date are 'purly cosmetic' types of reforms, arrests and beatings continue in Zimbabwe."
- Tiseke Kasambala, the advocacy director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch
It is see as a reward for progress over political reforms, and further encouragement for a country preparing for what is hoped to be free and fair elections.
Furthermore, a deal has been reached to lift more sanctions within a month of elections, if the polls are seen as peaceful, transparent and credible.
But Zanu PF has dismissed the measure as 'outrageous and preposterous', arguing that the sanctions are illegal anyway.
And rights groups accuse the EU of putting economic interests ahead of human rights.
They are concerned that freeing up the country's controversial diamond trade, could help fund Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party and help keep him in power.
Economic hardship and a series of disputed elections have been at the root of much of Zimbabwe's troubles.
Simmering frustrations boiled over in late 2006, as inflation exceeded 1,000 percent. Public demonstrations were quickly banned.
"These sanctions are illegal because the people and institutions who were put on these restrictive list were never afforded procedural rights, they were never given the right to reply to any accusations made against them."
- Tafadzwa Musarara,the chairman of Resources Exploitation Watch
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and badly beaten at a rally in March the following year.
Elections were held in March 2008 and Robert Mugabe was declared the winner in polls marred by allegations of ballot-rigging and voter intimidation.
An uneasy power sharing deal was forged in September 2008, with Tsvangirai later sworn in as prime minister.
In June 2009, a review of the constitution began but little progress was made.
But talks resumed this year and now March 16 has been set as the date for a referendum on a new draft constitution. This is seen as a key reform ahead of elections scheduled for July.
So, did Mugabe constitute enough reforms for the EU to ease sanctions? Is the EU putting economic interests ahead of human rights?
Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, discusses with guests: Tafadzwa Musarara, the chairman of Resources Exploitation Watch - an NGO which backs Zanu PF; Tiseke Kasambala, the advocacy director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch; and Daniel Hammet, a lecturer on human geography at the University of Sheffield.
"Sanctions are an important part of international diplomacy in trying to tackle events and situations that go against the norms of what we expect as a global society in terms of things like human rights abuses and democracy."
- Daniel Hammet, a human geography lecturer
Source: Al Jazeera