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Volume 688: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they expect the European Union targeted measures against Zimbabwe to be continued when they expire in February 2007.

My Lords, the Government expect that targeted measures against Zimbabwe will be renewed in February. Since their rollover last February, the situation in the country has only worsened: peaceful demonstrations have been violently disrupted, the economy continues to be grossly mismanaged and the opposition and independent media remain suppressed. Until democracy, the rule of law and full human rights are restored in Zimbabwe, it is right that Mugabe and his regime should continue to be isolated by the international community.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there is any substance in media reports of the past few weeks that a number of European Union countries, particularly Portugal and France, are in favour of abandoning the sanctions? Have not the people of Zimbabwe shown enormous courage in the past few weeks in demonstrating peacefully on the streets against the Mugabe regime? They have suffered from being thrown into prison cells and having their legs broken and have been beaten up.

Is it not also true that other countries have subscribed to the sanctions against Mugabe which the European Union has adopted? Does that not mean that if sanctions were to be abandoned, we would be letting down both those countries and the people of Zimbabwe with whom we should have solidarity? The European Union would be letting itself down by spoiling its own reputation and authority in the wider world.

My Lords, the Government wholeheartedly agree that we must maintain solidarity with the brave people of Zimbabwe. Regarding the weakening of the European Union position, I maintain that the EU stands firmly in agreement on the crisis in Zimbabwe. We fully expect the ban to be renewed in February. Other countries, as the noble Lord rightly says, impose sanctions; but from our perspective as members of the European Union, it is particularly important to maintain the solidarity of the European Union as a whole.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm the importance of sustaining the established and consistent policy, both of Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union, on targeted measures against the Mugabe regime? Will she and her ministerial colleagues try to ensure that there is no breach of established policy under any EU presidency? Is my noble friend aware that if, for instance, Mugabe were to go to Portugal for the EU-Africa conference in the second half of this year, it would hold up the EU policy to derision and give his regime an unwarranted propaganda victory? That would hugely dismay and demoralise the courageous members of the Movement for Democratic Change, who are trying to secure peaceful change in their country. Consistency is essential; consistency from the whole Union is vital.

My Lords, the Government agree that we absolutely must maintain the targeted measures that have been agreed and will continue to be agreed. There must be no breach of established policy. My noble friend is right to say that consistency is essential.

My Lords, will the Government propose to the German presidency that additional measures be taken to inform African leaders and the public in African states, particularly in SADC, that there never have been European Union sanctions against Zimbabwe, but that there are sanctions against 126 named individuals whose policies are to undermine human rights, freedoms and the rule of law? Has the Minister seen the remarks attributed to ex-Minister Jonathan Moyo last week on radio SW Africa, when he said that even Zanu-PF leaders are beginning,

“to ask fundamental questions about the state of the economy, the state of the country, and … the state of their party”?

Is it not therefore time to strengthen the restrictions on the ability of those people to travel out of the country or to secrete in foreign banks the assets that they have stolen from their people?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to say that when talking of sanctions we are talking of a travel ban, not of economic sanctions. We will certainly make that clear to our colleagues in the African Union. Indeed, the travel ban has been strengthened four times since 2002, to include others who have supported the Government of Zimbabwe’s efforts to suppress the people. As the noble Lord said, nothing has changed and the situation, as Jonathan Moyo pointed out, is worse. We will discuss with our European partners how the renewed common position should reflect this.

My Lords, can the Minister suggest any ways in which Zimbabwean civil society organisations, particularly those in this country, might play a role in helping to sustain or maintain the European Union sanctions against Zimbabwe?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the Government are absolutely firm regarding other Governments who will, I am confident, sign up to the renewed travel ban. If they are perceived to be, as it were, a bit wobbly then perhaps partner civil society organisations in other member states could lobby their own Governments to ensure that they do indeed remain firm.

My Lords, the need for support from civil society is an important dimension. In a letter to EU Commissioners before Christmas, John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, and Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, wrote:

“It would send completely the wrong signal if the EU backed down on sanctions now”.

They went on to point out that whether the sanctions should be revoked or renewed ought to be determined by measuring Zimbabwe’s progress toward the benchmark originally set by the EU under the EU-ACP Cotonou convention. Will Her Majesty’s Government ensure, as I hope they will, that these representations by the international trade union movement are circulated to all members of the Council of Ministers and that we ensure proper consideration is given to their concern?

My Lords, the Government welcome the strong statement by John Monks and Guy Ryder on behalf of the International Trade Union Confederation. I see no problem in ensuring that each member state receives a copy to ensure that they remain firm on the issue of sanctions.

My Lords, in view of the fact that the EU sends the lion’s share of the international community’s $250 million aid to Zimbabwe, most of which goes on emergency feeding programmes, would it not be irresponsible to expect the people of the EU to continue to provide aid at that level and yet lift restrictions on those who engineered the disasters that that aid is meant to respond to? Will my noble friend and the other members of the Government remind our more reluctant EU allies of the huge amount of humanitarian aid needed as a result of the Zimbabwean regime’s wanton destruction of housing, industry and agriculture?

Yes, my Lords, it would indeed be irresponsible if the European Union were to renege on its sanctions now. I am confident that it will not, but I am sure that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to make the very strong case in favour of sanctions. In respect of aid being given to Zimbabwe, of course we must maintain that aid, but it should be balanced by sanctions, and we must ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are not harmed in any way.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness ensure that in discussions with our European Union colleagues the depredations of the regime are not lost sight of, not least the reduction in life expectancy in Zimbabwe, especially among women, and the levels of child mortality and malnutrition in the country? Will she ensure that the remarks of the Archbishop of Bulawayo, who spoke to Members of both Houses just before Christmas, are drawn to their attention? He said that while the regime continues its depredations against the people of Zimbabwe then the targeted restrictions should continue.

Yes, my Lords, it is indeed deplorable that life expectancy in Zimbabwe is the lowest in the world at present. I believe it is 34 years for women and 37 years for men, which is quite extraordinary. It is incumbent on us in the European Union to make those abominable facts known to the widest possible community and to ensure that sanctions are maintained. We keep repeating that in our discussions with our European partners.

My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that those who have been involved in political activity in Zimbabwe will not be returned or deported to Zimbabwe if they are very likely to be persecuted by the Government of Zimbabwe? Does she recognise the extraordinary courage that many of those men and women have shown and how unfortunate it would be for our appearance in the world if we were to deport people who had been involved in that way in the battle for democracy?

My Lords, I certainly pay tribute to the extraordinary courage of those men and women. Of course, the UK must be allowed to operate a robust and fair asylum system, but it must be fair, and we strive to ensure that our asylum system is fair in every way. I am sure that all noble Lords agree that it is right that we provide protection to those in genuine fear of persecution.

My Lords, under the sanctions as they have operated in the past, we have become accustomed to hearing of people on the stop list being in other European countries and their presence being explained by the fact that they are attending some exempt conference or other. When the sanctions are rolled over, can the Minister undertake that the Government will attempt to close as many of the loopholes as possible, to prevent the ludicrous situation suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, just a moment ago, developing?

Yes, my Lords, I can ensure that the Government will do their utmost to minimise the loopholes. It is extraordinary that such loopholes exist, but they do. The EU Zimbabwe travel ban contains standard exemptions that enable travel to the EU by banned Zimbabweans in a few, narrowly defined cases. We do our utmost to ensure that they are narrowly defined, because to see people such as Grace Mugabe stomping up and down the streets of the Côte d’Azur is an affront to humanity.

My Lords, is it not clear from this valuable discussion that, while we must be consistent and keep up the pressure, the so-called targeted sanctions are not very effective in hitting the right target? It appears on the contrary that, while the ruling tyranny in Zimbabwe is maintaining its position and even strengthening it, more women and children are dying, there is more starvation, more and more other horrors and atrocities are being committed, the country’s economy is less than half the size it was a few years ago, and a great deal of suffering is going on? As we renew pressure on Zimbabwe, should we not look at the other, shadow sanctions which are hurting the poorest people, particularly the withholding of some loans from international institutions and development banks and other investment? Should we not try to refocus the whole of our operation vis-à-vis Zimbabwe in ways which hit the criminals who are ruling the country and do not hit the poor people who are starving in very large numbers and longing for greater help, as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly identified?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the sanctions must hit the regime and not the poor people of Zimbabwe, who have to suffer continual atrocities. However, the EU sanctions put real pressure on the regime. They ensure that Mugabe remains isolated—hence his attempts to seek financial lifelines from China and Iran to buy time. It is important to point out that the targeted sanctions have the support of the democratic opposition and the NGO community in Zimbabwe. Mugabe and his regime detest the restrictions on their movement. Therefore, they can be only a good thing. However, I hear what the noble Lord says, and I shall take back his comments to the Foreign Office.