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Zimbabwe: International Crisis Group

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 13 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the recommendations contained in the recent report of the International Crisis Group entitled Zimbabwe: An End to the Stalemate?

My Lords, we welcome the ICG’s latest report and agree with a number of its recommendations, including the need for greater regional engagement. The situation is appalling. I condemn last Sunday’s beatings and arrest of opposition leaders. What is needed now is negotiation between Government and opposition on new, democratic, constitutional agreements and an economic recovery programme to lift Zimbabwe out of the disaster resulting from Mugabe’s policies. Instead, Mugabe has resorted to further violence and intimidation, clinging to power as Zimbabwe crumbles around him.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that very full reply, with which I agree entirely. I would add only that the demonstration two days ago involved the leader of the opposition being assaulted so severely that he had to be hospitalised. Does the Minister agree that the report makes it clear that the Mugabe regime is actually crumbling? I agree with him that the report makes valuable suggestions, and I am glad that the Government are going to take up some of them.

Discussions should begin, as proposed in the report, about taking the question of Zimbabwe to the Security Council of the United Nations. It is relevant that South Africa is now a member.

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord’s point. If we can secure enough of a basis in the Security Council for a good discussion without it being blocked, that will be valuable. I hope that people understand the urgency for doing so. Morgan Tsvangirai appeared in court this morning, plainly seriously injured, and has been returned, as others have, to prison. These circumstances call for a robust international response. If anyone needs to learn the lessons, they have only to turn on the television and see the footage of those injured—and very heroic—people.

My Lords, will Zimbabwe be high on the agenda of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting—in particular, the possibility of Mr Mugabe remaining as president beyond the 2008 elections?

My Lords, I would be surprised if it were high on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth, arguably just moments before it was removed from it. I know of no intention to re-admit it. It is completely out of line with, paradoxically, the Harare principles for good governance.

I have also heard that Mugabe anticipates carrying on in power well beyond 2008. I do not know whether that will happen, because his economy has more or less imploded. The World Bank is anticipating a rate of inflation that may be approximately 5,000 per cent by the end of the year. These are circumstances from which I believe no economy in peacetime, or probably in wartime, has recovered.

My Lords, will my noble friend take delivery of a message of solidarity from the House to Morgan Tsvangirai, given the appalling treatment he has received? He is a former friend of ours, a trade union official and a great democrat, and that is the least we can do in these circumstances.

My Lords, I welcome that, and I will do so. I am hopeful that trade unionists and others throughout the world will convey that message, and that in doing so they also convey it to COSATU in South Africa, where I should like to see the trade union movement also stand shoulder to shoulder.

My Lords, in the circumstances described by the Minister of Zimbabwe imploding, does he think that the recommendation made by the ICG—that the European Union should engage with SADC in formulating and implementing a strategy for a peaceful transition to post-Mugabe democratic rule—now stands a better and more realistic chance of success? If these discussions do take place between the EU and SADC, will the Minister ensure that one of the matters to be taken up is the humanitarian situation of the victims of Mugabe’s tyranny and in particular those who have been severely injured in the recent attacks on peaceful demonstrators?

My Lords, I believe that when these matters are resolved the suffering of people in recent days—and over a considerable period—must feature in those discussions. SADC has a responsibility as the regional part of the African Union and plainly ought to play more of a role. In answering the question I am cautious, not because I disagree with the sentiment that lies behind it, but because I have been frustrated on too many occasions by witnessing the fact that leaders in SADC have not been prepared to play that role. We should urge them to do so.

My Lords, cannot Her Majesty’s Government bring more pressure to bear on President Mbeki to criticise Mugabe; in fact, to condemn him?

My Lords, a number of African presidents—President Obasanjo, former President Chisano of Mozambique and President Mbeki—have probably said rather more privately than is recognised. I am among those who would prefer some of those comments to be made more openly and on the record because they would have a greater effect.

There are deep concerns in South Africa that the current economic implosion may well displace up to 6 million people across the Limpopo into the poorest part of South Africa. That would be a humanitarian and regional security disaster as competition for land, water and other resources would become acute. I believe that everybody wants a robust solution, but one which does not lead to an even worse disaster.

My Lords, given the failure of President Mbeki and others to speak out vocally against what is happening in Zimbabwe, would not the visit this week by President John Kufuor of Ghana, who has just taken over the presidency of the African Union, be an ideal moment to raise this issue with him and to engage a nation such as his in trying to broker a way forward in a country that is seeing not only the imprisonment of opposition leaders but the use of tear gas on innocent demonstrators? As the noble Lord told us, the country is sliding into famine and the mortality rate for women is now said to be in the mid-30s. Surely this is a moment to raise this matter during the state visit of President John Kufuor and to bring African leadership behind everything that the noble Lord mentioned.

My Lords, President John Kufuor has a very good record in this regard. I should be extremely surprised if this matter were not discussed during the state visit, which I welcome. President Kufuor is an outstanding leader who can play a very important role. When statements are made at the end of the visit, I hope it will be apparent that some of the noble Lord’s wishes will be gratified.

My Lords, the noble Lord told us that if enough votes could be obtained in the Security Council a resolution could be passed. What will it take to obtain those votes? How engaged are Her Majesty’s Government in trying to persuade the different embassies and High Commissions in the region to be proactive because dictators know no other language than a very robust response?

My Lords, I frequently put precisely those points to high commissioners and ambassadors of the region. We want to see this matter expressed in the clearest possible terms. The problem at the Security Council is slightly more complex than the most reverend Primate expressed. Were it to be a matter of simply trying to get the votes, it would be tough but we would have a very good go at it; the difficult task is knowing in advance that you have enough support to make a credible stab at it. I am keen to avoid Robert Mugabe believing that we cannot even get off first base, because if anybody will use that, it is him.

My Lords, I suggest to the Minister that the report recommends that something should be done to prevent a second Murambatsvina—“clearing up”—like the awful operation about two years ago, which Anna Tibaijuka criticised so justly and severely. Is it possible for this Government to at least raise in the United Nations the question of requiring the secretary-general, who I hope is quite distinct from the Security Council, to send a personal representative and a representative to ensure that the follow-up to the Anna Tibaijuka report should not be a second operation of the same kind? Surely that is clear-cut and simple, and is something that could be done and need not rest on votes?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very important point. Ban Ki-Moon has taken account of the fact that the first of these appalling events should not be repeated. He is engaged, and we should press him to continue to be engaged. Even that will not turn out—as I know the noble Baroness knows—to be as simple as it is to say it here. Kofi Annan intended to go there to follow those matters up and to see whether there was a prospect of change before he left office. He was told by Mugabe to stay out of the country. He announced at the African Union conference that he would have no prospect of success in attending. Very few countries in the world tell the secretary-general not to come, and they do so only, in my view, because they have appalling crimes to hide.

My Lords, if it is right to invade Iraq to get rid of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, who was making life hell for the citizens of Iraq, why is it not right to invade Zimbabwe to get rid of the tyrant Mugabe?

My Lords, I do not think that there is a prospect of the invasion of Zimbabwe, and I do not want to encourage that thought. The circumstances of the people of Zimbabwe require of us a very high measure of aid and a possibility of reconstruction. The noble Lord may say that that is true in other places as well, but the prospects of being able to do it successfully are bound to be part of what is taken into account.