Zimbabwe — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 10th December 2008.

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Asked By Lord Blaker

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their current policy towards Zimbabwe.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 3:24 pm, 10th December 2008

My Lords, our immediate priority is to alleviate the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. The UK has provided £47 million in aid this year, but humanitarian relief cannot provide a sustainable solution to Zimbabwe's problems. Only a stable and democratic political settlement can do that. We continue to press for this outcome, including through the EU and the UN, and we are working with the states in the region to that end.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, very recently said:

"We won this country through the barrel of the gun and we will defend it the way we won it"?

This challenges the course, which is favoured by President Kikwete of the African Union, that dialogue is a better way forward than force. Is the Minister aware that an increasing number of African leaders see that Mugabe must go? Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister of Kenya, said recently of Mugabe:

"It's time for African governments ... to push him out of power".

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

My Lords, we welcome every such statement by African leaders. Africa has demanded that it should lead on this issue, and we should all expect them to lead and to take whatever steps are necessary to resolve a crisis in a country that is both a humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Zimbabwe as well as its neighbours and a terrible scar on the reputation of Africa in the world.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the advice given to Her Majesty's Government is that, in light of the fact that Zimbabwe is more a state in institutionalised chaos than it is a functioning sovereign state, it would be legitimate under international law for the UK to intervene for humanitarian reasons?

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

My Lords, let me adamantly say that we have not received such advice. Let me remind the noble Lord that, as recently as July, a resolution, which certainly did not even call for force but called for a much milder set of sanctions against Zimbabwe, failed in the UN Security Council. The Security Council resolution, which is normally taken as the basis for such intervention, is, in our view, not achievable at this time.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, surely all Members of the House will commend my noble friend on his valiant efforts in this field, and will recognise that British over-involvement will be used against us by the Mugabe regime. Would my noble friend agree that this is a test case of the principle of the international right to protect citizens against their rulers, and that the international community is falling at this first hurdle?

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

My Lords, let me say two things. First, I certainly think it is a test case for Ministers to be careful about what they say, because, as I have repeatedly said in this House, everything that we say here appears the next day in the government-controlled press of Zimbabwe. Already last weekend, there were stories to the effect that the British Government were calling for a colonial invasion of Zimbabwe. That does not help us advance this to the solution for which we all devoutly hope.

The second part of the noble Lord's intervention was about the responsibility to protect citizens. Increasingly, the humanitarian catastrophe and the role of that country's Government in generating it pose a direct challenge to the will and integrity of the international community as a whole and to Zimbabwe's neighbours in particular. How long do they have to see this go on before they act?

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

My Lords, it is reported that the Minister is going to South Africa tomorrow to discuss the cholera crisis. Will he take the opportunity to ask South Africa whether it is preparing to send in rescue forces to protect the enormous numbers of aid workers who will need to be sent into Zimbabwe to save the people from starvation and disease and to begin the process of reconstruction?

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 am actually leaving straight from this House to South Africa to carry the sentiment of, I believe, the whole House that South Africa must act. It is up to the leadership of South Africa to construct the most effective way to do that. I know the motive and purpose behind the noble Lord's question, but I would just say that humanitarian access is being achieved and that food aid is being distributed to 4 million people as we speak and it will be to 5 million people by next month, which is almost half those remaining in Zimbabwe. There has been some success in recent days in responding to the cholera outbreak. Yes, I agree with his sentiment, but I reassure him that humanitarian workers are currently able to do their job without much restriction.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, I am sure that we all give my noble friend the very best of good wishes for his mission to South Africa. He quoted the reaction of the United Nations in July, which predated the outbreak of cholera. Does not the inability of the Zimbabwean Government to cope with the spread of cholera beyond its borders mean that there is now an extra incentive to get the countries of the region behind doing something serious about 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, I completely agree with my noble friend. The UN Security Council will meet in closed session at the beginning of next week precisely to discuss the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe and the implications to which she has drawn attention. The fact is that cholera has now spread from Zimbabwe into South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. How much further must it spread before the region acts?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as quiet diplomacy reaches its tragic conclusion, does not what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the Minister have just said confirm that this is no longer a Zimbabwe problem? This is a problem of cholera spreading, with disease and unrest, through the whole of southern Africa. We wish him well in his mission from this House today, but would he stop in Botswana to give it encouragement for its proposals to cut off fuel and petrol supplies to the Zimbabwean police and army, who seem to be on the rampage and arresting innocent people on all sides?

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 President of Botswana was here just two weeks ago when the Prime Minister had the opportunity to express on behalf of all of us our enormous support to that country for its brave and principled leadership on this issue. The matter of trying to hold back fuel is very difficult. Fuel is critical to those relief trucks which are distributing food to the 4 million people, and to the ambulances and the healthcare system which are addressing cholera. I do not know how we could stop fuel reaching the powerful military and security forces without them seizing it from the humanitarian workers. We have to weigh that suggestion carefully.