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Zimbabwe - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 2:51 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, I too thank the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, for initiating this timely debate. As he rightly said, there was great hope that the departure of Robert Mugabe would usher in a new era for Zimbabwe. However, any optimism has now evaporated. Since the presidential elections, we have seen the killing of protesters, the arbitrary detention of opposition activists and further curbs on the freedom of the press.

As Harriett Baldwin said in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has recorded a wide range of human rights violations since the fuel protests and general strike that began on 14 January. She said that at least eight deaths and many injuries were reported. There are credible reports that arrests may exceed 1,000, and many are still detained. She expressed particular concern at the targeting of opposition and civil society in the wake of the protests. Has the UK specifically raised with the Zimbabwean authorities the violent repression and targeting of trade unionists by the police and security services which has resulted in the general secretary and president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions being arrested and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected Government? They are on remand until 8 February, with bail hearings this week.

On his return to Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa committed to holding his security forces to account for human rights violations and spoke of the urgent need for a national dialogue and reconciliation. However, as Harriett Baldwin said yesterday, words need to be followed by deeds. I hope the Minister will urge the Government of Zimbabwe to immediately release the trade union leadership so that they can engage in good-faith negotiations with them on a peaceful and constructive way out of the economic crisis, with full respect for human rights and workers’ rights.

The Minister assured the House last week, during the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, that the UK was working very closely with international partners such as the SADC and the African Union and in particular with South Africa to urge the Government of Zimbabwe to stop their disproportionate use of force. We know that Harriett Baldwin, the Minister for Africa, attended the EU/AU ministerial in Brussels on 21 January to discuss Zimbabwe in particular. Yesterday, she reported that she met the African Union commissioner for peace and security to raise the UK’s concerns. The African Union is an imperfect but important organisation for influencing change and exerting pressure on Governments to adhere to the provisions in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As we have heard, Harriett Baldwin is travelling to the region this week to urge a co-ordinated international approach to the crisis. Can the Minister set out how the Government intend to work with the African Union on ensuring that the human rights, protections and freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe are upheld?

As Harriett Baldwin also reported yesterday, and as we have heard mentioned in today’s debate, targeted EU sanctions remain in place, including on Vice-President Chiwenga. Can the Minister indicate whether our discussions with allies there involve any plans to extend those sanctions, or indeed introduce new ones, to put more pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe?

On development aid, I acknowledge DfID’s long-standing decision not to channel funds directly, which, as we heard from the noble Viscount during the debate, flows from concerns about the role of the ruling party, ZANU-PF. Taking it sector by sector, 50% of DfID spending in 2018-19 will be on human development, with economic development the second biggest sector on 24%, while 18% will be spent on governance and security. I understand that there are currently 19 active UK aid projects. What assessment has been made of the governance and security projects? Can the Minister assure the House that no funds are ending up in the hands of the Zimbabwean Government or their agents?