Zimbabwe — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 3:41 pm, 30th January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate Kate Hoey on securing this important and timely debate. We have had excellent and well-informed contributions not only from the hon. Lady, but from my hon. Friend James Duddridge, Jim Shannon, Peter Grant and Liz McInnes. We also had interesting interventions from other colleagues who get credible information from a range of different sources. I pay tribute to the long-standing interest of the hon. Member for Vauxhall in Zimbabwe, including as chair of the all-party parliamentary group. I add my voice to those of colleagues who have spoken so highly of her ongoing engagement.

I can only add the Government’s view to the many examples that have been cited about the situation on the ground. The recent developments in Zimbabwe are cause for significant concern for Her Majesty’s Government. The response of Zimbabwe’s security forces to protests against the petrol price rise has been disproportionate and all too reminiscent of the darkest days of the Mugabe regime. Security forces have used live ammunition, carried out widespread and indiscriminate arrests and unleashed brutal assaults on civilians, with clear disregard for the due process of law.

I have the up-to-date figures that we have sourced. We pay tribute to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, which has recorded a wide range of human rights violations since the protests began on 14 January. We recognise at least eight deaths and many injuries. There are credible reports that arrests may exceed 1,000. Certainly, 873 arrests or detentions were documented by 29 January. Many are still detained. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reports at least 470 cases of assault, 80 of which have been gunshot-related. Many of us have seen footage of young men, and even children, allegedly scarred from beatings by soldiers. We have also seen atrocious accounts of security forces raping civilians during their violent crackdown, with indications of least nine reported rapes, some of which appear to be politically motivated.

On the subject of rape and sexual assault more generally, I confirm that DFID has extensive programming to support victims of rape. That includes shelter, counselling, case management, medical treatment and access to justice services. That includes some of the most recent cases linked to the suppression of protests. That addresses some of the points that Members raised.

We have been absolutely clear that the abuses and the failure to follow the due process of law contravene the fundamental tenets of international human rights standards and have no place in a democratic society. President Mnangagwa’s return to Zimbabwe was a full 10 days into the crisis. He committed to holding his security forces to account for human rights violations and spoke of the urgent need for a national dialogue and reconciliation. I am sure colleagues would agree that words are good, but that they need to be followed by deeds.

President Mnangagwa must act to stop the abuses and make good on those commitments. We are particularly concerned by the targeting of opposition and civil society in the wake of the protests. The abuses have continued since his return to the country. His Administration must act now and learn lessons from the events and the tragic violence that followed the election on 1 August 2018. The President must, as he promised, implement the recommendations of the commission of inquiry into the 1 August violence.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]