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Zimbabwe: EU-Africa Summit

Volume 697: debated on Monday 17 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What discussions their representative at the European Union-Africa summit had with regard to the situation in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, raised Zimbabwe and the appalling human rights situation during her intervention at the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon on behalf of the United Kingdom. She also spoke to numerous African leaders at the summit, including President Wade of Senegal, President Mbeki of South Africa and the Tanzanian Foreign Minister, to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe and underline UK concerns. I might add that a discussion on the human rights and governance situation in Zimbabwe in the summit proper was a precondition in allowing President Mugabe a visa for the summit.

My Lords, was it not a terrible disappointment that despite these protestations there was actually very little reaction from Zimbabwe? It does not seem to have made any impression whatever on President Mugabe.

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct although I am sure that, like me, he is hardly surprised. President Mugabe has repeatedly shown himself to be immune to the protests of any of us in Europe and blind to the dreadful human rights situation confronting his people.

My Lords, will the Minister elaborate on the reported settlement which President Mbeki has facilitated with President Mugabe that outlines the conditions for free and, one hopes, fair elections in Zimbabwe in March next year?

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to accept that it is a little premature to elaborate, because repeated deadlines for the announcement of this settlement have been missed. We are still not aware of its full details, but it is a facilitated negotiation between President Mugabe and the MDC opposition. However, there are still sticking points. The latest word that we have heard is that President Mugabe may not be willing either fully to implement the agreement or to postpone the elections to allow the MDC the opportunity to campaign effectively. We are still awaiting further details. Our hopes will remain unrealised until then.

My Lords, in the Strategic Plan 2008-12, the summit agreed to priority action 1 on,

“Common positions and specific initiatives on key aspects of the governance and human rights agendas”.

What specific initiatives did the summit agree to take against Mugabe in respect of his destruction of the rule of law, human rights and good governance? Is it not the reality that the platitudes of Lisbon held out no hope whatever to the people of Zimbabwe that they will not suffer probably another five years under the yoke of Mugabe?

My Lords, the noble Lord should take some comfort from the fact that there is an EU envoy reporting to the Foreign Ministers, who, like the Heads of Government, realise that when the Mbeki plan is announced, Europe will have to have a position on it and on whether any elections that follow are honest and fair. Europe recognises that if the elections are not fair it will have to ratchet up its pressure on the regime.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the cutting up of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York’s clerical collar live on television as a protest was a helpful gesture?

My Lords, I think that we were all hoping for a rather fuller statement from the Government on this EU-Africa summit which appeared to go rather badly wrong, not only with the sinister presence of Mr Mugabe but with the complete misunderstanding about the economic partnership agreements which many people in Africa felt were going to make things worse and not better. We all know very well and greatly admire the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, of course, but what was her precise status at the meeting and what did she actually say? Did she remind Mr Mugabe that 80 per cent of people in his country are unemployed; that four in five of them are living below the poverty level; that famine is spreading; that he has reduced this once rich country to the most appalling misery; and that he is using torture and murder against the opposition? Did she tell him that face to face? If not, is there not more opportunity ahead to be a little more bold and forthright against this horrible man?

My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s desire for an opportunity for a fuller discussion of the summit, as I have indicated to him before. However, on his specific question, my noble friend Lady Amos spoke at the summit plenary session on Sunday and used very similar statistics to those that he has just used to lay out unequivocally the country’s disastrous economic and human rights situation. There was no ambiguity. Equally, in the opening session, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and the leaders of Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal as well as the President of the European Commission, Mr Barroso, and the High Representative, Mr Solana, all also spoke to the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the report in the Times this morning that the divisions within the Movement for Democratic Change are being overcome and that the movement is more united? As a result, if Robert Mugabe gerrymanders the elections proposed for next year, will our Government be prepared to respond positively to any demand or request made by Morgan Tsvangirai?

My Lords, the Government will stand four-square behind honest and fair elections in Zimbabwe. It is not enough for President Mugabe to agree to a piece of paper as a result of this mediation; he must be seen to change the laws and respect them and to allow genuinely free and fair elections. If those do not occur, we will in no way lessen—rather, we will increase—our objections to the Government of President Mugabe.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how Zimbabwe can have free and fair elections if no vote is given to the 4 million Zimbabweans in the diaspora? Is there the slightest possibility that, even if that were agreed to, it could be organised by March?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness is no doubt aware, votes for those in the diaspora is one of the conditions on which Morgan Tsvangirai is still insisting. That is one reason—along with other amendments to laws in the constitution that the agreement would require—why he is insisting that the elections should be postponed until June, so that there is time to make the arrangements.