Zimbabwe

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 16th July 2008.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:30 am, 16th July 2008

What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement [This section has been corrected on 21 July 2008, column 4MC — read correction].

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

Mugabe's destructive policies continue to devastate the lives of millions of people in Zimbabwe. Half the population will need food aid by the end of the year. An estimated 36,000 people have been displaced internally, more than 100 killed and thousands injured. The decision by the Government of Zimbabwe to ban the work of many humanitarian agencies has added to people's suffering.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have had a number of harrowing discussions with Zimbabweans about the situation, so I have heard descriptions of innumerable atrocities, which are perhaps being underestimated, involving people having their limbs lopped off and being thrown alive into a fire. It is reminiscent of the discussions I had with people who survived the atrocities in Rwanda. Following the so-called election, we hope that the violence will decrease, but it is possible, with Mugabe's back against the wall, that it will increase. What contingency plans does the Department have if the violence and humanitarian situation worsen?

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

It is indeed a very grave situation. What we all want to see is a reforming Government based on the results of the March election, in which the people said what they wanted. Within that, we look to the stabilising of the economy, the upholding of the rule of law and the restoration of human rights. It is worth saying that, despite the ban on non-governmental organisations, we have still managed to help more than 9,000 victims of violence and displacement, many of whom were teachers and election observers. Despite that compromise, we have continued our work. On the issue of contingency, we are making every effort to get the ban on NGO activity lifted, while at the same time pursuing contingency plans to support the people of Zimbabwe in ways that we all want.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Robert Mugabe leads a criminal and illegitimate regime and should be treated as such. With millions starving and one in five children dying before their fifth birthday, is it not time that the Southern African Development Community and the African Union did more? Is it not very saddening indeed that Russia—a country that seeks to be part of the modern world—supported by China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution? What are we going to do about it?

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I certainly agree that the Security Council decision was more than disappointing. The majority wanted action and I believe that those who voted against it have a responsibility to ensure that mediation does not falter. That means being unstinting in our efforts, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier. On SADC, we know that AU leaders have been quite clear in their mandate to deliver a negotiated settlement and it is our belief that we need a UN envoy on human rights to support it. In the end, an African solution is needed to this problem, which is the absolute responsibility of Mugabe and his Government.

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Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

Can my hon. Friend reassure me and my constituent, Brian Chiwara, who is from Zimbabwe, that the aid that we are giving to that country is getting through to the people and not going into the back pocket of a dictator?

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I can assure my hon. Friend's constituent of that. Indeed, this morning, I spoke to our team in Zimbabwe, who are making sterling efforts despite the ban on non-governmental organisations. We are still managing to have essential medicines and supplies delivered to clinics and hospitals. We are ensuring that family planning commodities and condoms are available across the country. We are supporting HIV prevention programmes, which are continuing, and our support to UNICEF's orphans and vulnerable children programme is still helping to pay school fees for thousands of children. Indeed, 1.4 million children are being vaccinated against preventable diseases. I assure my hon. Friend's constituent and the House that no funding whatever goes through the Government of Zimbabwe.

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Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth

Is it not the case that the Chinese would not support the UN resolution because they are busily buying up land and assets in Zimbabwe at knock-down prices? What discussions has the Minister had about that?

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

As I said earlier, we are disappointed that China, along with Russia, vetoed the UN Security Council resolution. Our work is to continue to persuade China to use its influence positively and to ensure that its economic trade engagement is in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

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Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State), Department for Transport

A number of my constituents have contacted me with their concerns about the effect of sanctions on Zimbabwe on the ordinary people of that country. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, but should continue to condemn Robert Mugabe?

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I certainly can agree with my hon. Friend, because the test of any sanction is that it must target Mugabe and his elite, and not harm the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, whom we are here to support. We have EU measures in place, targeting the regime through a visa ban, an asset freeze on Mugabe and 130 named individuals, and an EU embargo on arms.

With the EU, we are putting together a package of measures for the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which meets next week, to extend that to include more individuals, add companies linked to key members and tighten the exemptions to the visa ban. I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that all those are targeted on Mugabe and his regime, not on the people of Zimbabwe.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Will the Government consider the possibility of publishing details of the specific support that Britain will provide for Zimbabwe once the criminal and illegitimate Mugabe regime is over? Would not that set a good example to other prospective donor nations and encourage the surrounding countries to look to the future while offering some hope to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe for an end to their nightmare?

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

Our job is to get help to the poorest people in Zimbabwe to see them through this extremely difficult time. As part of that, we are using sanctions to bring people to the table, but in terms of recovery, as I said earlier, we need to work with a reforming Government. That will include full humanitarian access, the rule of law, human rights and democracy. The principles for re-engagement will be agreed by donors, and we estimate that, when it comes to it, there will be about £1 billion a year for five years. The UK stands ready to play its role, but will work with its international partners to do so.

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