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Zimbabwe: UN Commission on Sustainable Development

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the election of Zimbabwe to the chair of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

My Lords, the Minister of State for Climate Change and the Environment and I have already condemned publicly the decision to appoint Zimbabwe as the chair of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The United Kingdom, with 20 other EU and like-minded states that are members of the commission, voted against Francis Nhema’s candidacy. On behalf of all EU member states, including the United Kingdom, the EU presidency then made a statement expressing deep concern that a representative from Zimbabwe should become chair. It will undoubtedly damage the commission’s work and credibility.

My Lords, noble Lords will be glad to hear what the Minister said. However, is not the farcical situation described in the Question the result of the fact that certain African countries are determined to vote for Mugabe on any motion, whatever the question may be? If it is suggested that the remedy for this situation is to be found in the mandate recently given to President Mbeki of South Africa by the SADC countries to facilitate dialogue between the two sides in Zimbabwe, should not the following two points be borne in mind? President Mbeki regards his appointment as meaning that he will choose who will represent each side in negotiations; and neither side will be allowed to report back to its own leaders what is happening in the negotiations. The MDC would also have to accept that President Mugabe was correctly elected as the president of Zimbabwe. Should not this situation be discussed by the G8 when it meets in a couple of weeks’ time, when the item of Africa will be on the agenda and African leaders will be attending?

My Lords, it is very likely that the G8 will look at these matters, and it is as yet a little early to draw any conclusions about how President Mbeki’s mission will be conducted. Others in SADC have a rather more robust view on what is needed than the view that has just been described. In general, it is worth noting that in the recent election, which we have deplored, there were groups, and not only of African states, that believed that nobody should interfere with the decisions of regional groupings on who should be elected, because it had not been done in the past. I differ from that view. Some people plainly cannot add to any realistic or credible discussion because their own record and that of their country is beyond the pale.

My Lords, this is not the first time that the principle of Buggins’s turn adopted by the African countries has led to absurdities. One thinks of Libya going into the chair of the United Nations human rights organisation and the President of Sudan almost becoming president of the African Union. Can we not make clear to our friends in Africa that they are devaluing themselves and international organisations by this practice? But are we not in danger ourselves of being accused of hypocrisy if we allow the EU-Africa summit in December under the Portuguese presidency to issue an invitation to President Mugabe?

My Lords, on the last point, just for clarity, there is no change in our position: people who are on the list of those not allowed to travel to the EU remain on that list. On the more general question, that point is consistently made in diplomatic discussions with African nations and it has a real impact. President al-Bashir has quite rightly not been elected as chairman of the African Union. That resulted from all the work that was done in Africa by friends in Africa, by the European Union and by many in the United Nations. Such an unfortunate election should not be taken as the norm or as something that we would not resist in future.

My Lords, was not Francis Nhema, the Environment Minister appointed to the commission mentioned by the Minister, also a Minister at the time of Operation Murambatsvina, when 700,000 people were thrown out of their homes and lost their livelihoods? Has the noble Lord seen the report by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions which declares that this was a crime against humanity justiciable by the International Criminal Court? On the basis of its legal opinion and the report made by the UN envoy, Anna Tibaijuka, would it be possible for the International Criminal Court to issue indictments against this gentleman?

My Lords, let us start with a slightly more practical point: he is also on the banned list. That is one of the reasons why, in my view, he will be incapable of properly fulfilling the responsibilities of the post to which he has just been elected. Some people probably should be indicted, and he may well be one of them, but no Government can simply indict people whom individual NGOs suddenly decide should be indicted. The list of indictees would be very extensive and probably beyond the scope of any Government.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Mugabe has betrayed his own country and blamed all his problems on colonialism, which is long past? African leaders would best serve their own people on the continent by turning and following the inspired leadership of Mandela who, when President of the Republic of South Africa, always put the interests of his country first.

Absolutely, my Lords. If we had that kind of ethical standard, these problems would not arise in the way in which we have described them.

My Lords, I have two questions. First, I see that Zimbabwe will also be on the executive of the African Development Bank. It is also the vice-chairman of COMESA. Will any G8 funds be used to support those enterprises, which might be at risk from being dealt with, I am sorry to say, by the Zimbabwean Government? Secondly, can we ensure that, now that the United Nations has appointed Zimbabwe to a post, the latter will let in UN inquirers and special representatives such as Anna Tibaijuka to report on the internal situation in that country, which so far Mugabe has refused to allow?

My Lords, I do not think that there is any chance that Robert Mugabe will decide to let in further observers, nor do I think that any conditions imposed on him are likely to change his view on that. International funds go into multinational institutions where, generally speaking, they are used for policies that apply right across Africa. I hope that the poverty programmes run by the bank, which reach the poorest people on the continent, will not be impeded simply because Africans have not stopped Robert Mugabe and his cohort from occupying these positions.