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Volume 700: debated on Thursday 24 April 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the recent protest action called by the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the crisis in Zimbabwe continues. It is understandable that opposition parties and civil society organisations should call for peaceful protest. In a country with inflation at more than 165,000 per cent and unemployment above 80 per cent, it is not surprising, however, that many people who have jobs continue to go to work if they can in order to support their families. This crisis will continue until credible presidential election results are announced that reflect the will of the people.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Some members of the defeated party are already using violence to try to hang on to power. What action can be taken through the region, the African Union or the UN to stop additional weapons getting into Zimbabwe? Given the quantity of arms already in Zimbabwe, which from what we are hearing are clearly being used, what can be done, particularly by those in the region, to try to bring this situation to a peaceful conclusion?

My Lords, the noble Baroness focuses on the current arms shipment on a Chinese ship, which still remains on the waters off southern Africa and has been refused entry to South Africa and Mozambique for unloading. I met the ambassador from Angola this morning and I believe that the ship will not be allowed to unload in Angola, either, so it will effectively be sent home. We will see huge action by civil society and the Governments of the region, if necessary through the UN and elsewhere, to make sure that no more arms arrive and reach this illegitimate Government to allow them to suppress their people.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has just awarded a seat in Parliament to Mugabe’s party on the ground of an alleged miscount? Should we not bear in mind that the Electoral Commission is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mugabe’s party? The proposal that a number of people have put forward for a rerun of the election is regrettable at this time, because the violence of Mugabe’s party to the population is as fierce as it has been at any time in recent years. That had a bad effect on the turnout of MDC voters before the recent election and on previous occasions and it is likely to have a bad effect for some time ahead unless the violence stops.

My Lords, while it remains the position of the Opposition to press for the immediate announcement of a presidential election result, the news that the noble Lord brings of an election seat being turned over and awarded to the government party, ZANU-PF, is a further indication that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the election process itself lack credibility. After a month of silence, we can conclude only that.

My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied with the actions and the words of the South African Government in relation to this crisis?

My Lords, as I have said before in this House, President Mbeki deserves credit for having created the conditions in which this election took place, which has begun the process that will lead to the departure from power of President Mugabe. The people of Zimbabwe have voted and the putting of ballot tallies on the doors of the polling stations, a reform for which President Mbeki pressed, means that it has been impossible to hide the result. Obviously, we would have wished for clearer public statements since the election from the leaders of the region that this stalemate cannot be allowed to last. We are impressed by a number of private statements that are being made, but the time has come for ever clearer public statements by the leaders of the region, including President Mbeki, that this election stalemate must be ended in favour of the people of the country.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the Minister’s comments, did he get the impression from talking to Mr Zuma, who is now in London, that South Africa will back an international arms embargo to prevent the coming genocide? That is an important part of the jigsaw building up to prevent the horrors to come. Secondly, the American authorities say that they would like to see Nigeria and, indeed, any country that has some influence on the situation weigh in to try to control the deteriorating situation. Does the Minister agree with that approach, which is outside the UN? What links can we establish with the Indian authorities and, indeed, with the Chinese authorities, as well as over the shipment issue, in order to bring global pressure on to this situation before it turns into a major bloodbath?

My Lords, the American position, like ours, is that it is important to engage the broader AU beyond the immediate neighbouring countries of SADC and, within the AU, countries such as Nigeria that are traditionally leaders in the region. It is clear that more straightforward public statements about the situation in Zimbabwe can be made by those countries not immediately adjacent to it. The initiative to press for broader AU engagement is very welcome. Just last week I raised in Beijing the broader issues of Zimbabwe with the Chinese authorities. I am confident that no Government—not the Chinese or any other—believe that this situation can be allowed to last. A month has passed without a result being announced. That is almost unique in the annals of elections. I do not think that any serious person anywhere can say that the status quo is sustainable. We need a result. Everybody needs to press for that in their own way.