Zimbabwe

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:35 pm on 12th December 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 5:35 pm, 12th December 2001

My Lords, first, the SADC standards were set by SADC parliamentarians. We have urged acceptance of those standards by SADC governments. Independently of that, we as an international community must be absolutely clear about the norms and standards by which we will judge whether the people of Zimbabwe have had an opportunity to exercise their democratic right in an environment free from harassment and intimidation.

I am conscious of the time, and should like to address all the questions that have been raised.

The Government of Zimbabwe know that they are heading for international isolation if they continue on their unsustainable course. I hope that noble Lords will agree that we act most effectively when we act together. Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, talked about the importance of Zimbabwe's economy. Unemployment is at 60 per cent and rising; inflation is at 86 per cent and is expected to reach 100 per cent this year. The Government of Zimbabwe's policies are extremely damaging to business and investor confidence—both within Zimbabwe and across the southern African region.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about smart sanctions and mentioned recent US legislation in particular. That was picked up by several other noble Lords. The US legislation does not mean immediate sanctions. It invites the Administration to consult on and co-ordinate international action against Zimbabwe. As such, it puts significant further pressure on Zimbabwe's ruling party. It means that the Administration can use smart sanctions if they wish to. But the passing of the legislation does not mean an automatic move to smart sanctions.

The noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord St John of Bletso and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about our relationship with the EU and its work. Since March, the EU has tried to conduct a dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe. Our approach did not work, so we had no option but to consider stronger measures. Article 96 was the logical next step. It is a formal mechanism that sends the Government of Zimbabwe a clear political signal and gives them 75 days to address EU concerns. Article 96 does not mean sanctions. It provides an implicit threat, but the purpose is to find solutions with Zimbabwe and a return to Cotonou's essential elements: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. A meeting under Article 96 for dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe is scheduled for 19th December.

With respect to general sanctions, we will consider other measures as and when appropriate. We consider concerted international action to be the most effective. UN sanctions binding on all member states are the most effective option, but those would require consensus in the Security Council, which is unrealistic at this stage. However, efforts under way in the Commonwealth and the EU will receive our continued support.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, all spoke about food shortages and the possibility of a humanitarian crisis. It is already clear that Zimbabwe will be seriously short of staple grains. Those shortages have been made more certain by Zimbabwe's imposition of untenable price controls. The government confirmed to donors on 23rd October that they face a major shortfall in maize and appealed for donor support.

The United Nations Development Programme is preparing a package of measures for consideration by the donor community later this week. The Department for International Development and other donors pre-empted the Government of Zimbabwe's appeal and are providing supplementary feedings through NGOs to children and adults in the worst affected areas. There are obvious concerns that any donor response reaches the needy and will not be used for political purposes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, Lord Avebury, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Howell of Guildford, raised the subject of asylum. Members of the MDC have been seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. However, we have received no representations from the MDC on the issue. As far as we know, it is satisfied that our procedures for assessing asylum claims from Zimbabwe is fair. I will write to noble Lords on that subject, as time does not permit me to go into more detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, spoke about some difficulties facing other countries on the African continent. Noble Lords will know that the Government are committed to working in partnership with leaders in Africa who are committed to reform, to forge a new partnership to support sustainable development on the continent. That will not be easy, but that is our commitment. The comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, about the regional conflict in the Great Lakes region and Zimbabwe's relationship to it, are important to remember.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, spoke powerfully about the situation facing journalists. We protested to the Government of Zimbabwe in the strongest possible terms about remarks describing some journalists as terrorists. That is clearly absurd. We will continue to make our views clear, but, in reply to the noble Lord's specific question, I am not aware of the Government of Zimbabwe having blocked access to external broadcasting services with which they do not agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked me if we were considering what we would do if the MDC won the election. Of course, we are considering all possibilities. I thank the noble Lord for his sympathy for my position, but I hope that noble Lords recognise that my shoulders are broad enough to carry the weight of criticism from the Government of Zimbabwe and President Mugabe. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said in a slightly different context, it is like water off a duck's back.

In a more serious vein, I thank noble Lords for their recognition of the Government's work in seeking to bring about real change in Zimbabwe and their kind words on my role in that work.

In conclusion, let me make our position absolutely clear. The Government have worked tirelessly to build international consensus. We have made our views about violence and intimidation known in the strongest possible terms. The Government have not been apologetic in our handling of relations with the Government of Zimbabwe. I have sought to ensure that Members of this House understand that there are limits to our influence with the Government of Zimbabwe and that is why we have said consistently that it is important that Zimbabwe's neighbours need to make their views known to the government. That is now happening.

Let us not forget that our concern should be for the welfare of all Zimbabweans. The vast majority of the victims of violence are black Zimbabweans. At least 32 have been killed this year. Thousands have been attacked and threatened. Many live in towns and have no connection with the land occupation. Their only interest is a job, enough food to feed their families and the desire for their opinions to count. They are the reason we remain committed to finding long-term solutions to Zimbabwe's problems. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that the people of Zimbabwe must find a solution. They have a right to matter in their own country.