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Zimbabwe: Human Rights

Volume 696: debated on Monday 12 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that the political situation and the position with regard to democratic freedoms and human rights in Zimbabwe are on the agenda for discussion at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda.

My Lords, as Zimbabwe is no longer a member of the Commonwealth, those matters will not be on the formal agenda of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda. The issue is, however, likely to be discussed at the margins of the meeting. My noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown, who is today at the Commonwealth meeting discussing Pakistan, and his ministerial colleagues will certainly raise the issue in bilateral discussions with regional leaders.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness not aware that at the Millbrook conference in New Zealand in 1995, the Commonwealth declared that it may concern itself with the affairs of a country that is no longer a member? Does the noble Baroness recall that the SADC countries eight months ago gave a mandate to President Mbeki of South Africa to facilitate negotiations between the parties in Zimbabwe? When the Prime Minister is in Kampala, will he ask President Mbeki what progress he is making in pursuit of that mandate, bearing in mind that a long time has elapsed, that conditions in Zimbabwe are as bad as they have ever been and that elections are due in March?

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord for keeping the subject of Zimbabwe on the agenda. He does that consistently and we are grateful. Although the situation has changed, I note what the noble Lord said regarding Millbrook. In respect of the SADC countries, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to have discussions with President Mbeki, but whereas the president had hoped to report on the outcome of his discussions by 15 November, we are now looking at the end of the month.

My Lords, my noble friend will have noticed allegations in the weekend press that Barclays Bank has been giving subsidised loans to leading members of the Zimbabwe regime, such as Didymus Mutasa, who are under sanctions. Have these allegations been investigated and with what result?

My Lords, we have seen the reports and we are absolutely determined that EU sanctions should be properly enforced. This is a complex area and we are investigating urgently to see whether loans represent a breach of the EU assets freeze. If so, we will of course act, and report to the House accordingly.

My Lords, now that Mozambique has joined, almost all Zimbabwe’s neighbours are members of the Commonwealth. Clearly, working with Commonwealth members in southern Africa, not just South Africa, has to be the most effective way of bringing pressure to bear on Zimbabwe. Is that not, in effect, what Her Majesty's Government need to do—and, we hope, will do—at CHOGM?

My Lords, that is indeed what Her Majesty's Government will be doing at CHOGM, not in the main plenary meeting, but certainly on its margins. We also want to use the opportunity afforded by the Commonwealth People’s Forum and the civil society organisations affiliated to the Commonwealth to provide the people of Zimbabwe with greater support. We want to work not only on the margins of CHOGM, but with those other civil society organisations.

My Lords, I know that the Commonwealth action group meeting in London today is concerned mainly with Pakistan, but, given what my noble friend Lord Blaker rightly said on the role of the Commonwealth—even though Zimbabwe has left it—and given that Mr Mbeki is proving a damp rag in trying to bring the parties together, is there not a case for taking a lead and suggesting that we should find a new candidate who might be much more effective in bringing the parties together, and be less fazed, as apparently Mr Mbeki seems to be, by the dominant personality of Mr Mugabe, as this is getting us nowhere?

My Lords, I note the views of the noble Lord and I understand and share his frustration at the time that this is taking. However, it is important to note that President Mbeki has a task and a timescale in which to deliver. We must wait until the end of November before looking for other candidates. I am afraid that that is the situation. That does not prevent us having discussions with other countries in southern Africa on the margins of CHOGM.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that Ministers of Mugabe’s Government are restricted from coming here? Does that apply to their children, who, I understand, are in education here?

My Lords, Ministers from the Mugabe Government are restricted: they are not allowed to come here. We are currently looking at whether their children should be allowed to continue to study here, and that issue is ongoing.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that for those of us who feel that the Commonwealth has figured very low on the Government’s list of priorities and, indeed, in the Queen’s Speech, it is very encouraging to hear that the Government now propose to use our membership of that very important organisation? Will they use it on many other occasions in order to breathe new life into an institution that the world cannot afford to lose?

Yes, my Lords. I think that the Commonwealth, with members from north and south, rich and poor, is an ideal organisation to pursue the values that we share.

My Lords, will the Government take advantage of CHOGM to have discussions with President Kufuor of Ghana, the president of the African Union, about inviting Zimbabwe to the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December?

My Lords, I am sure that that will be one of the matters discussed. I am told that invitations to that meeting were issued last week, so it is still too soon to know who has accepted. However, the invitations have been issued.

My Lords, if it is found that Barclays Bank, of which I am a customer—that is a declaration of interest—

My Lords, perhaps I may start again. If it is found that Barclays Bank has been lending money to Zimbabweans against the EU sanctions policy, what action will be taken against it? As questions have been raised about Barclays’ abilities in finance, can we be assured that Bank of England money has not been used to finance these loans?

My Lords, I shall have to come back to the noble Lord in writing because, although I am told that we will act—as I am sure we will—I am not sure in what way we will.

My Lords, the noble Baroness said that President Mbeki has a timescale. Can she tell us what it is?

My Lords, I understand that he was supposed to deliver his report by 15 November but I am told that we now expect it at the end of November. It is very important that we go no further than the end of November because, as noble Lords know, we in the EU are hoping to have a special envoy, who we hope will be able to visit the region between the publishing of President Mbeki’s report and the EU summit on 8 and 9 December.