Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:46 pm on 9th March 2005.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Affairs 4:46 pm, 9th March 2005

My Lords, once again I congratulate my noble friend Lady Park on returning to this vital issue. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lord Caithness were quite right to say that she is a true friend of Zimbabwe.

My noble friend Lady Park alluded to the lack of engagement on the part of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Will Her Majesty's Government make representations to Mr Annan about this? The plight of the people of Zimbabwe should not be left off the UN agenda.

I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said concerning the harm that will be done to humanitarian relief and human rights monitoring as a result of the NGO legislation in Zimbabwe. Major international NGOs must be persuaded that they are not operating in a politically neutral country. The Government should communicate that fact to agencies supported by DfID so that matters of governance and democracy are not excluded from the agenda of those organisation. Their public statements can carry enormous weight internationally.

The noble Baroness's comments on the reluctance of the Anglican Bishops to face up to this horrific situation within their own communion are well made. I am very sorry that there are no Bishops here for this important debate. The Church is not reluctant to prescribe solutions to crises elsewhere in the world. I hope that they will attend to their scandalous brother, the Bishop of Harare.

My noble friend Lord Blaker made important points about the impact of the crisis on the economies of the entire region. Will Her Majesty's Government engage in dialogue with the IMF to ensure that the crisis is seen in this context and that Zimbabwe's neighbours are warned of the full consequences of their failure to help bring about a resolution? Many in the United Nations, especially in the African bloc, have said that the situation in Zimbabwe is an internal one, that it does not involve the rest of the world. But I agree with what my noble friend said, and I agreed entirely with my right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary when he said:

"I don't believe it is internal. I think what we are seeing now is a crisis which is spreading beyond the borders of Zimbabwe. Refugees are pouring into Botswana, in the north part of South Africa, and the humanitarian crisis is not one that is going to be specifically restricted to Zimbabwe".

The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, drew the House's attention to the shocking case of Roy Bennett. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, gave a masterly overview of what might happen after the election in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have continued to commit serious human rights abuses since their last so-called electoral victory in 2002. The systematic persecution of civil society activists and political rivals has left the nation, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, in a shambles. Sadly, there is little reason to suppose that the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe will not resemble those of the past, as a mockery of democratic rights and governance.

Yesterday I received a communication from the acting deputy representative of the UNCHR. Since the March 2002 elections, he writes,

"There has been no detectable abatement of political violence against the opposition, particularly the MDC. Indeed, it would seem that instances of violence have continued to occur and that members and supporters – real or perceived – of the MDC or any other opposition party reportedly continue to be the target of human rights violations, including ill-treatment, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention. The same applies to other persons who, because of their background, might otherwise be considered to be critical of the current regime".

Under Mugabe's leadership, the nation has undergone massive economic regression, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said. According to the Government of Zimbabwe's own statistics, inflation now stands at 133 per cent, having reached a peak of 622 per cent in January last year. Astonishingly, the governor of the central bank, Gideon Gono, who was unwisely allowed into this country last year on a fundraising visit, forecasts that inflation will be below 10 per cent next year. The negative trend in the economy has caused rises in disease, food insecurity and a general feeling of unease among the population.

I am appalled that it was possible for ZANU-PF fundraisers to visit this country, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will pay urgent attention to tracking down the donors and conduits of these funds, and to cutting off the fountainhead of ZANU-PF's electoral bribery and patronage.

Furthermore, the Government have shown very little vigour in pursuing funds that should be frozen under the EU-targeted sanctions. This is an area where they can show they mean business, if indeed they do. What does this say about the Government's commitment to Africa? Are we working to improve conditions there, or are we attempting, as we have done so often in the past, to look like we are?

An election is looming, described by Mugabe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, as an anti-Blair election. The Zimbabwean Government have stepped up their campaign of fear. The Zimbabwean, a magazine published by refugees living in this country, reports that ZANU-PF youth militias have been ordered to "crush the opposition". During elections in 2000 and 2002, these militias committed many human rights abuses, which have been thoroughly documented by numerous NGOs and governments alike.

It will be impossible, however, to expose abuses in this election. As my noble friend Lady Park said, all foreign journalists have been kicked out. Without any unbiased reporting, the elections can proceed in any manner the government see fit. SADC election observers are supposed to be granted access to the country 90 days before the election, yet they are not due to depart for Zimbabwe until next Monday, barely two weeks ahead of polling day. The bribery and intimidation of the electorate have all been taking place for months now. The SADC Parliamentary Forum, the only African observer group to issue a scathing verdict on the 2002 elections, has this time been banned from sending a mission.

Both President Mbeki and Foreign Affairs Minister Zuma of South Africa are on the record as saying that they believe the Zimbabwean election will be free and fair. Earlier this year the South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said:

"There is no reason to believe that there is anyone who would want to infringe on the rights of the Zimbabwean people to express their will fully at these elections".

And yet these are the very people to whom the leaders at the G8 Gleneagles summit are expected to entrust leadership of Africa's renaissance through good governance and respect for human rights.

G8 Ministers ought to be pressed on how they are using the leverage of their meeting. At the very least, they should be charged with the creation of a report detailing what has been achieved in Zimbabwe since the previous G8 meetings. The report ought to include an honest assessment of press freedom, electoral processes and human rights in general. There is no reason for the G8, EU, UK or anyone else to increase aid to southern Africa unless governments of the region can show that they are serious about ensuring reforms towards good governance in Zimbabwe.

The Prime Minister has made Africa a priority issue. He has created the Commission for Africa, in addition to putting the easing of misery there high on the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit and the British EU presidency. I welcome these ambitions. So far, there have been too many fine words and resolutions and not enough evidence of engagement.

I have doubts whether the Africa Commission will be able to create meaningful reform in southern Africa. One of its members is President Mkapa of Tanzania, the African leader favoured with more British aid than any other country—most of it, I must say, well spent. On 17 February, President Mkapa made statements exonerating Mugabe for any wrongdoing, saying,

"I don't see Zimbabwe as an illustration of bad governance. I don't buy it".

Mkapa also claimed that the opposition MDC was somehow responsible for the violence in Zimbabwe. Such statements can only give comfort to Mugabe and help drag Africa down. Her Majesty's Government must denounce such outrageous statements loudly and clearly.

President Mkapa and SADC also opposed the recently extended EU sanctions on 95 members of the Mugabe government, and used the opportunity to support Mugabe's land redistribution policy, despite the fact that Mugabe himself has recently admitted its failure as much of the land has been left idle.

The sanctions currently in place focus predominantly on travel restrictions on those in the regime. They have been in place for three years, but have not done enough to deter widespread government abuses. Zimbabwean refugees living in this country tell me that, without broader scope, these sanctions cannot achieve their desired ends.

The international community must take a stronger stance with Robert Mugabe and SADC. The UK is well placed to spearhead this, given our central roles in the EU, the Commonwealth and G8. We must transfer the responsibility from Mugabe alone to the rest of the African states as well. It is their responsibility to foster good governance, as they accept through the creation of SADC, NePAD and the African Union.

Now is not the time to fall silent. We must not allow Mugabe quietly to steal yet another Zimbabwean election. We will be seen as utterly hypocritical by the millions of voiceless in Africa if we stand alongside those fighting for fair elections in Ukraine, only to watch Mugabe get away with murder—literally. Together with the people of Zimbabwe, who deserve freedom and prosperity, Britain can help set the agenda. We must use all the leverage and influence at our disposal to gain support for progress from the international community.