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Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What discussions they held with the United Nations Secretary-General about Zimbabwe, other than the humanitarian issues already debated in the United Nations Security Council.

My Lords, in recent days both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to the UN Secretary-General about Zimbabwe. In addition to discussing the humanitarian situation, they spoke of the need to deploy international observers in sufficient numbers to deter continuing state-sponsored violence and intimidation ahead of the 27 June election, the current visit of the UN envoy to Zimbabwe, and other support the UN could provide at this critical time.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I take this opportunity to thank him for his obvious concern for Zimbabwe and, indeed, for his regular briefings. Mugabe has said that he would rather go to war than allow Morgan Tsvangirai to take office, so the future is likely to get even uglier. Does the Minister agree that now is the time for the UN to call some kind of summit of the leaders of neighbouring countries and donor nations, and possibly also of Commonwealth countries, to pre-empt a civil war in that country?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite correct to say that the situation in the coming weeks looks appalling. We still hope that democracy will prevail on 27 June and that the likely very large lead that the Opposition enjoy in the polls will be enough to overcome whatever intimidation and violence is put their way. However, the noble Baroness is correct: we cannot count on that. We are therefore pressing heavily for not just the UN but the AU and SADC to be active. Just yesterday, the AU, which has often been criticised in this House for not being sufficiently forthcoming on Zimbabwe, put out a statement calling for free and fair elections and announced that it was sending 70 observers. Therefore, by the end of this week, we expect there to be 350 international observers in the country, with more arriving next week.

My Lords, the hope for democracy on 27 June is of course very slim, with Mugabe, his team and his military men arresting and beating up opposition leaders. However, can the Minister expand on the very interesting and constructive idea put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza? Has not the time come for more vigorous action and perhaps a resolution at the UN? Is there not also a need to work with the Commonwealth, as she suggested, with SADC leaders, and with the chairman of SADC, the President of Zambia, in organising a really forceful message to the Zimbabwean people and the Zimbabwean junta, which seems to be running the election, that their time has come? Is there not currently a need for more vigour in this whole operation? I should like to hear more from the Minister on that approach.

My Lords, first, as we speak, a UN envoy, who was accepted by the Government after some delay, is in the country. He will return to New York and we are pressing for him to give a Security Council briefing in public so that his views of the situation will be disseminated as widely as possible. Secondly, as I pointed out, the AU is sending in a delegation and has backed it with a strong statement. It will be led by a former president, whose party stepped down in Sierra Leone after it lost an election, and therefore he knows, and can convey the reality of, that situation. Equally, we should understand that, even now, there are only just sufficient votes in the UN Security Council to ensure a debate on the issue. Several powerful countries are still resisting action in the council. We must press for it through all available means but not assume that we yet have a united international community on this point.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that you can build all kinds of resolutions in the United Nations and the Commonwealth but that the country that will have the greatest effect is South Africa? We should talk sincerely and firmly to South Africa and ask the South Africans whether they realise what harm they are doing to themselves and their colleagues by not bringing pressure to bear in the way that they should.

My Lords, my noble friend is right: South Africa has a pivotal influence on the situation, but I regret that it is one of the countries in the Security Council that is still resisting action. However, on the other side, South African public opinion has been inflamed by reports of the violence coming out of Zimbabwe and the country has faced its own difficulties in relation to Zimbabwean immigrants. Increasingly, we are seeing politicians and civil society take the lead in South Africa in an attempt to block arms shipments, to protest against what is happening and possibly to send trade union and civil society observers directly to oversee the elections. Therefore, I think that the people of South Africa are on the right side.

My Lords, was it decided in the Security Council last Thursday that only humanitarian and not political issues should be discussed? How does the Security Council manage to disentangle humanitarian from political issues when there are massive internal displacements, armed action by ZANU-PF thugs and prevention of the feeding of starving people, including 170,000 orphans, who have been deprived of UNICEF aid? How can you disentangle political from humanitarian issues?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right; it beats me. I do not know how you can disentangle the two. I think that it is holding on to a fig leaf to prevent a full discussion of the horrific situation in Zimbabwe in front of the council that calls a spade a spade and says that there is a political breakdown in the country. We will continue in the forum allowed to us in the council and elsewhere to insist that where the presidential candidate of the Opposition has already been arrested four times since his return, where his number two remains in jail on treason charges since his return, where almost 60 people have died, tens of thousands have been displaced and several thousand injured and temporarily imprisoned, the conditions are not in place for free and fair elections. President Mugabe needs to understand that elections held on those terms will not be recognised anywhere around the world, least of all in Zimbabwe, as free, fair and legitimate.