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Zimbabwe

– in the House of Lords at 3:22 pm on 7th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 3:22 pm, 7th May 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What new policies they have towards Zimbabwe.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the Zimbabwe crisis must be resolved quickly and in accordance with the will of the Zimbabwean people. We are engaging with leaders in the region and the international community to promote a resolution, including the deployment of sufficient international observers if a second round takes place. We are pressing for a UN mission to investigate state-sponsored violence and intimidation. We are also supporting the call for a temporary arms moratorium until democracy is restored.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, is not the choice of the observers, and the question whether they serve both before the election and during the election, absolutely vital? Is it not doubtful whether SADC observers only should be recruited? They are likely to be biased in favour of Mugabe, as they have been, and they are briefed by the SADC Secretary-General, who is very strongly in favour of Mugabe. Do we not have a good opportunity, now that we are this month in the chair of the Secretary-General, to go wider in the appointment of members of the monitoring group? Should we not also think of the African Union as a suitable reservoir of people to act as observers? Lastly, should we not be having a debate on Zimbabwe in the present situation?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Lord's points are very well taken. We want to internationalise the observer pool as much as possible within the constraints of time—one could, after all, face a second round as soon as 21 days from now. There were non-SADC observers in the first round; there were certain observers from the Caribbean. There are also other possibilities to broaden the pool and sharply increase the numbers. As I have also said, we are pressing the UN Secretary-General to send an envoy of some kind to look into both the human rights situation and the intimidation. The previous Secretary-General's envoy played a critical role in stopping the violence around slum clearances.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise the concern about South Africa's silence on this question? Does he agree that the statements made in London last week by Mr Zuma, the newly elected ANC chairman, and the action of the stevedores and COSATU members in Durban, who, in solidarity with Morgan Tsvangirai, would not unload the small arms shipment, so that the ship had to go back to China, are very encouraging new voices in the southern Africa scene?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I certainly would agree. There has been a lively debate in South Africa, less about the need for change in Zimbabwe and more about the means to achieve it, with voices more openly calling for more robust action. That is widely to be welcomed.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, no doubt the Minister will have noticed that the African Union currently has a mission in Harare reviewing the whole electoral process, and he will have seen the comment by Dumisani Muleya in this morning's Business Day that the regime has neither the money nor the logistical capacity to run a second round. In these circumstances, does not the international community have some leverage to provide not only the management of the second round, if it takes place, but the protection needed in the form of security for the members of the opposition who have been subject to repeated violence so far?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, this is a critical moment where it appears that the regime is indeed considering its options and whether it can either afford a second round or win a second round. When we talk about observers, it is clear that it is not enough to protect just the sanctity of the ballot; human lives must be protected as well. I should add that those who seem most at risk are the ordinary party members and election observers. Therefore, there will need to be peace in the country at large. This is not an issue of supporting just a handful of the leaders; we must try to secure peaceful conditions across the country. The noble Lord is right to say that an African Union mission is in Zimbabwe, led by the new head of the AU, Jean Ping, who is looking at the election situation. I think that the AU will play a critical role between SADC at one end and the UN at the other.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, what is the position on the arms shipment from China? Is there any truth in the claims being made by ZANU-PF that the arms have actually entered the country? If that is so, it is deeply important in the context of what the noble Lord has been saying. I know that the trade federation workers in Angola said that nothing had been landed and I am sure they meant it; they are very reliable. But it would be helpful to know the Government's view on this. Have those arms entered Zimbabwe? They would only make the situation far more dangerous.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to be concerned. We have absolutely no evidence to suggest that the arms have entered the country. We believe that the boat is being refuelled and will return from Luanda to China, based on assurances given to us by the different Governments involved.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in the present situation it would be quite wrong to return Zimbabwean asylum seekers back to that country? Will he confirm that none is being sent back? Moreover, in the mean time, would it not be humane to allow them to work while they are here?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Several cases are currently going through an appeals process, but it has always been the case that the British Government would not want to return people to a country where conditions like this prevail.

Photo of The Bishop of Norwich The Bishop of Norwich Bishop

My Lords, will the Minister join me in recognising that in the present crisis, the leaders of the churches in Zimbabwe have come together in a quite new way to express a moral lead and a spiritual voice on behalf of the Zimbabwean people? When riot police begin to break up prayer meetings of the Mothers' Union, you realise that a dictatorship has discovered where real power actually lies. As well as the solidarity and prayer so notably led by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, I wonder whether there are other ways in which the international community could enhance the resolution of the leadership of the churches in Zimbabwe in the present crisis.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate might be able to suggest ways in which that could be done. We all applaud the stand of the churches in Zimbabwe, as we do its civil society more broadly. If this situation is resolved, it will be because the churches, civil society and ordinary Zimbabweans have acted with tremendous courage, as have the rest of the southern African civil society and religious community.

Photo of Lord Acton Lord Acton Labour

My Lords, following my noble friend's comments on SADC observers, is it British policy to back as strongly as possible the diplomatic efforts of the more positive SADC countries?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, what has got lost in this is that a growing group of SADC countries is playing a real leadership role. The leaders of Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia and other countries are all pressing for a resolution of the situation in the same direction as I think the House would wish to see.