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Zimbabwe: Elections

Volume 702: debated on Monday 23 June 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place on the situation in Zimbabwe. The Statement is as follows:

“I am sure that the whole House will unite in its condemnation of the depravity of the Mugabe regime; in grieving at the needless loss of life; in wanting to send a clear message of support and solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe at this time; and in supporting new African efforts to find a resolution to the crisis. We share both their demand for a democratic future and their belief that they should not be denied this by violence or intimidation. Our primary concern has always been for them.

“Since 29 March and the extraordinary scenes of courage shown then by those ordinary people who put their faith in democracy and the ballot box, we have seen a regime that has reverted to type. President Mugabe and his key generals use changes to the law as a means of identifying people who chose to vote for change. From then onwards, a campaign of violence was inflicted on those people, intend to punish them for having the temerity to say no to Robert Mugabe and no to ZANU-PF. We know that 34,000 people have been displaced, 2,700 injured and 84 murdered since that day. Two thousand of those people are sheltering in Harare, in MDC headquarters.

“This is not British propaganda. NGOs have documented the existence of torture camps. Independent media have published the names of those who have directed and orchestrated that violence. African election observers have seen the violence with their own eyes. Thousands of teachers and public servants had volunteered as presiding officers in the first round but have withdrawn their names for fear of violence and intimidation.

“By Sunday, only 84 local election observers had been accredited when more than 10,000 had applied. It is a matter of public record that Morgan Tsvangirai has been detained five times in the past 10 days and that MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti has been in prison and charged with a trumped-up treason offence since arriving back in Harare. The stage was set for the most rigged election in African history.

“Robert Mugabe and his thugs have made an election impossible. It is clear that the only people with democratic legitimacy are those who won the parliamentary majority on 29 March and took most votes in the first round of the presidential election—the Opposition. Zimbabwe needs a Government who are broad-based and command the confidence of the majority of Zimbabweans. In addition to stopping the violence, that must be the focus of regional and international efforts. Since the announcement yesterday, the Prime Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown and I have spoken to Foreign Ministers and key figures in southern Africa and around the world. This is a crucial moment for Africa and the region. Ahead of the election, 40 senior Africans underlined their concern at the conditions in Zimbabwe.

“The AU Commission has called for violence to end. The head of the Pan African Parliament Observer Mission said that violence was now at the top of the agenda of this electoral process. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who is currently chair of the Southern African Development Community, has said that,

“the current political environment in Zimbabwe falls far short of (SADC's) ... principles and guidelines”.

He said yesterday that the situation was scandalous and that what was happening in Zimbabwe was embarrassing to all Africans in the region. It is now for SADC and AU leaders to convene in early session and to establish a clear basis for regional engagement on the issue.

“At the European Council last week, the Prime Minister and other leaders underlined their readiness to take further measures should President Mugabe attempt to steal the election. On behalf of the EU, the Slovenian Foreign Minister has issued a clear statement condemning the violence and the conditions which forced Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. I spoke to Foreign Minister Rupel last night to welcome that statement and to discuss with him now the need to consider urgently how we can put further pressure—a widening and deepening of the EU visa ban and targeted financial measures—on Robert Mugabe and his elite which can be actioned at the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. Javier Solana and Commissioner Michel have both now issued statements condemning the violence and supporting Morgan Tsvangirai's decision.

“I have spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and I welcome his statement yesterday. Later today, the Security Council will discuss Zimbabwe. I am sure that our permanent representative will speak for the whole House when he says that the UN must contribute to the resolution of this crisis before the entire region is destabilised further. It is right and it is necessary that the Security Council, the African Union and SADC work together on this. The UN agencies have prepared for the many more refugees who may now flee Zimbabwe.

The UN Secretary-General’s envoy remains in the region and should be allowed to return to Zimbabwe. But the burden will still be borne by the region and by Zimbabwe's neighbours, and the role of their leaders is vital. Britain has long and historical links with Zimbabwe. I have never believed that the rights and wrongs of history should prevent us from speaking clearly and frankly about the situation today. Robert Mugabe's misrule does not invalidate the struggle for independence: our colonial history does not mean we cannot denounce that which is wrong. The test at all times should be whether our commitment and action can help the people of Zimbabwe.

“The cynical decision to suspend NGOs delivering vital aid shows how far Mugabe has gone in abandoning Zimbabwe's people. Our foremost duty is still to press for humanitarian space to be re-opened and for those NGOs to be allowed to restart operations. One and a half million people have been affected by the ban. As the second largest bilateral donor, we will continue to provide aid and assistance as we can. The Secretary of State for International Development has chaired a meeting this morning to consider what more we can do to support urgently those in Zimbabwe. I have spoken to our ambassador and he and his staff are working hard to maintain a full suite of diplomatic amenities. Travel advice remains under review and recommends against all but essential travel.

“We will continue our efforts publicly and privately press for a solution to this crisis that reflects the will of the people in Zimbabwe. I am sure that honourable Members will agree with me that such a solution cannot come quickly enough. Mr Mugabe says that only God can remove him from office. Let us hope that the people of Zimbabwe get there first”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement on Zimbabwe, a subject on which we touched a few moments ago in the earlier Statement.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I say that, having listened to the Statement and recalling the long list of Statements by his predecessors over the past seven or eight years, I am visited by an overwhelming feeling of it all being too little and too late. Have we not now reached the point at which quiet diplomacy is finally at an end and where the UN and/or the democracies working together should finally move decisively? Is not the terrorising and murder of MDC members, of which the abduction, torture and murder of the young wife of the mayor of Harare is perhaps a hideous apogee, the ultimate call for more decisive collective action? Have we suggested, for instance, that the UN set up a commission of inquiry into the atrocities of Mugabe’s criminal regime? Can there be a referral to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity? Was not that the purpose, among others, of setting up the court?

Is the Minister aware that South African lawyers have now pointed out that under Zimbabwe’s own laws, since there is no run-off election within 21 days of the previous presidential elections, Robert Mugabe is holding office unlawfully, having not had a voting majority first time round? By this clear law the first round winner, the courageous Mr Tsvangirai, who is now sheltering, I understand, in the Dutch embassy in Harare, and whose life is in danger from the ZANU-PF mobs, should now be declared president. Is the noble Lord aware that the clear illegitimacy of the Mugabe regime requires SADC by its own rules to disbar Zimbabwe from membership? Has that point been discussed with the President of Zambia, who is chairman of SADC? Should not the UK now consider, first, the withdrawal of recognition from what is clearly a gangster regime? Secondly, should not the UK urge much tougher sanctions and a tougher application of existing EU sanctions against Zimbabwe and individuals and extend the visa ban to families and relatives of regime leaders, as we have repeatedly urged? That seems to have been ignored the other day when Mugabe turned up at the FAO meeting in Rome and where a UN official had the temerity to say that Mr Mugabe stood “in good stead” with the UN? Thirdly, should we not start putting together clearly and visibly the post-Mugabe programme of rescue and support for recovery which the people of Zimbabwe—it was once a prosperous country and could be again—will urgently need?

No one pretends that any of those moves is easy or can be undertaken unilaterally—that would be absurd. Is it not essential to ensure that China, which is also involved in the area, faces its responsibilities in southern Africa and that Beijing, Moscow and Tokyo are just as necessary a part of the collective action needed as Washington or Brussels? I hope that our diplomats and policy makers have grasped that point at least and that we shall go forward from here in a positive direction to prevent an even greater tragedy.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. Before I comment on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, has gone to the limits of his endurance and capacity in trying to find some answer to Zimbabwe’s problems. When I speak about the limits of his capacity, I have to say that that is very great indeed. I do not believe that any single individual could have done more. Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that there is a case for declaring loudly and clearly the election of Mr Mugabe when it happens, which will be soon—in the next few days—to be unlawful and to consider withdrawing our recognition of Zimbabwe in the light of that illegal position.

We could and should take further the issue of freezing the bank accounts of families and relatives of the regime and of making it clear that we will not help them in obtaining educational positions for their children in the universities of the western world. It is not unusual—I say this in my capacity as a professor emerita—to find the sons and daughters of some very disagreeable international figures benefiting from their parents’ position in order to obtain what one might call plum situations in the best-known universities of the world. The universities have a certain responsibility in that regard.

I have two other points. First, we might consider whether there is room for a Commonwealth meeting with SADC. It is striking that, of those African countries which have clearly spoken out about the dreadful situation in Zimbabwe—such as Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana—all but Angola are members of the Commonwealth, which has not had the kind of problem that the UN has had with Russia, China, and South Africa defying attempts to debate the situation. South Africa would undoubtedly be isolated in the Commonwealth, but that might currently be no bad thing.

Secondly, it is easy for us to be eloquent without always following actions we might take. I plead once more for the Minister and the Leader of the House to consider whether we should not look again at the absolute ban on Zimbabwean refugees being allowed to work in this country other than in the most exceptional situations. We now know that they cannot be sent back for some time to come; I wish that I could say that it will be next week but, as realists, we recognise that it will be at least several, perhaps many, months before Zimbabwean refugees in this country can be safely returned to a country that will otherwise undoubtedly torture and kill them if they are. In those circumstances, we cannot continue to refuse to allow Zimbabwean refugees to find some way to sustain their livelihoods and families. In the light of the Prime Minister’s statement, I ask that the refugee situation be considered case by case and that such people, many of whom have been persecuted and tortured, should be allowed to work in this country and to return to their own in some better future to give the benefit of their education and experience in this country to their long-suffering people.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her first remarks. I say to her and to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we all share the frustration that we have not been able to do more. This unites us; it is not a matter of pride that we should still be discussing President Mugabe as an individual in office, despite all that has happened. Use though he does the word “decisively”, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does not envisage military action. No parties in Zimbabwe have asked for military action. There is a full understanding that at this time that would be counterproductive for all sorts of reasons. We are discussing the most effective way to bring pressure on a rogue regime, the illegitimacy of which is quite beyond doubt. In that regard, we are probably in much the same place and can learn from each other what we might do to enhance those pressures.

First, during the end of last week and the weekend, Zimbabwe’s neighbours in southern Africa went to the press one after the other and said that the intimidation level was making open and free elections all but impossible. That has created a potential coalition of SADC, the AU and the UN to allow us to take action against Mugabe on a scale that was previously impossible. For all his talk of sanctions, they were, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, says, actually quite limited, against a handful of 130 individuals, and not particularly deep and wide. We now have the opportunity, first in the European Union, to dramatically deepen those sanctions and target bank accounts held not just in Europe, but globally, and look at the possibility of preventing the families of those who have committed these crimes being able to enjoy scholarships or travel aboard.

Each individual who has had a hand in this illegitimate second round must realise that they are open to the possibility of European and other international arrest warrants. None of them can travel easily without the possibility, at a customs point somewhere, of the hand of the law coming down on their shoulder and their being told that a European or other arrest warrant has been issued for them. Their actions are making them isolated criminals who have very few places to go outside Zimbabwe.

I reassure the noble Lord that this is an illegitimate regime in the view of this Government. As I said to the press this morning without the benefit of knowing what the South African lawyers said, by going beyond the constitutional requirement for a second round within 21 days because of efforts to manipulate the result, President Mugabe was governing on borrowed time and no longer within the bounds of his own constitution. He now faces the fact that the African Union does not under its own rules allow presidents who are not elected by democratic means to take their seat. President Mugabe faces the fact that most of his SADC neighbours have confirmed that his conduct of this election has not been within its own principles. We therefore face a different context, where the possibility of new pressure is real.

There remains the prospect of Commonwealth discussion of this matter. I have been in repeated contact with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, but as I have said previously, we are a little impaired by the fact that Zimbabwe is not suspended from the Commonwealth, as are, for example, Pakistan or Fiji, but has resigned from it. African countries hesitate to bring the Commonwealth back into something that they think is better solved by SADC, the AU and the UN.

We are looking at the support that we may need to give Zimbabweans in this country, particularly at the ban on refugees taking up work.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, although we speak of Mugabe as the author of this outrage, he may be little more than a front for the joint operations council—the military junta—that may effectively be in power in Zimbabwe? Does he not agree that, although exasperating difficulties are involved in international intervention, be it by way of blocking electricity supplies, the restriction on foreign currency flowing into Zimbabwe, or the indictment of Mugabe or others before the International Court of Justice, the very worst consequence of this tragedy could be that the world took away the message that tyranny and murder had succeeded in Zimbabwe? I echo the Minister in asking whether, as the former colonial power in that country, we do not have a massive moral responsibility to do whatever we can within justice and reason to help those people who are so oppressed and enslaved.

My Lords, I affirm that everyone in Britain feels that sense of moral responsibility and desire to see the people of Zimbabwe able to choose their own Government, live in peace and recover the prosperity that was previously theirs. On whether power resides in the hands of President Mugabe or the members of the joint operations centre, our suspicion is both. We look at President Mugabe as still very much responsible for the actions taken in his name, but it is undoubtedly the case that it is the joint operations centre, rather than the ZANU-PF party apparatus, that has run the second round of this election in such a brutal and militarised way.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in congratulating the Minister on his forceful leadership on this issue. We are looking for that kind of leadership across the whole of southern Africa. Would it not be helpful if ex-president Nelson Mandela, who is in London this week to celebrate his 90th birthday—for which I am sure the whole House will send its good wishes—could speak out about the appalling situation in Zimbabwe? His authority would surely carry some weight, even with the dreadful regime there.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her kind remarks. I am sure she has noticed that Mr Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, was one of the signatories to the open letter published last week. We need to be very careful not to appear to put pressure on Mr Mandela to come out publicly while he is here for his 90th birthday celebrations. He must be fully conscious of how powerful his words would be if uttered at the right time. Despite his extreme reluctance to involve himself in political issues at this stage in his life and career, I have no doubt that he must be weighing the pros and cons of this. However, were he to deliver a statement in London, apparently as a result of pressure from us, I think that it would lose a lot of the force that it might otherwise have.

My Lords, on the radio this morning, the Minister said that Australia had expelled the children of one of Mr Mugabe’s henchmen and confiscated money. Will we follow suit?

My Lords, one of the proposals we shall make to the EU is that we should adopt a similar regime of sanctions against not just individuals but their families.

My Lords, last week we heard about election observers who were lined up to be sent to Zimbabwe, and we discussed their paucity. It seems to me that observance should still take place. Does the Minister have any insight about whether those election observers will now observe what is happening, or will they be banished?

My Lords, more than 200 international observers have arrived in the country. Some of them are expected to report on what they see to a meeting of SADC leaders later this week and possibly to the AU summit at the weekend. It is important to keep as large an international observer presence in the country as possible because this violence is not at an end, as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai had to seek asylum in the Dutch embassy this afternoon.

My Lords, I add my compliments to those offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington, to my noble friend, who has proved such a great asset in regard to Zimbabwe since he came to this House and to government. He pointed out how crucial SADC is in the present situation. I have already described him as a great asset; I cannot do better than that. Will he consider visiting South Africa in person—not forthwith, because that is a dangerous word, but very soon—and as many other SADC countries as possible to co-ordinate policy and to use his own standing with SADC to achieve something better from South Africa?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Rarely has a Minister received so many congratulations when his policy has failed to deliver results. I hope that my noble friends will be as generous when we finally bring this terrible regime to an end and Zimbabwe gets the Government it deserves. As I reported in the Statement, I, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister are in frequent touch by telephone with all the leaders of southern Africa. It is our judgment at this point that that discreet, private contact is more effective than a formal trip to the region, but I will certainly keep it in mind. My noble friend has my word that, the moment it seems opportune and unlikely to backfire, I will be on the plane.

My Lords, there is one person who, by virtue of his position in his own country and its geographical situation, could have prevented this whole terrible saga if he had acted decisively and with determination years ago, and that is President Mbeki of South Africa. He could have prevented the whole thing happening. Why did he not do it? It was he who said that Africa’s problems should be solved by Africans, so the rest of the world backed off. I remember it happening a few years back; we did what he suggested.

The role that he has played has not been helpful in any way. His quiet diplomacy became a sort of mirage behind which a lot of things were suggested to be happening, when not very much was actually happening. If people agree, we should bear that in mind, and we should in some way show that this is our belief; it is certainly my belief. The G8 is about to hold a conference, to which he has probably been invited. If that is the case, could not the invitation be withdrawn?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, deserves some of the commendations that I have received today, because he has been at least as dedicated a supporter of change in Zimbabwe. I hope that there will be a further opportunity one day to exchange compliments when our policy has succeeded.

Obviously, here in this House and elsewhere, we have expressed our frustrations with the lack of results from President Mbeki’s mediation, but this is probably not the moment to go further than that. He has once more inserted himself into the dialogue in Zimbabwe, and he is part of various proposals that are being made. We have to see how that goes. We are very determined to see fuller involvement by the AU and the UN to make sure that a fuller set of players is engaged in trying to bring change in the country.

My Lords, may I take the Minister back to two questions that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, put to him earlier? The reports that said that Morgan Tsvangirai has been taken into refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare also said that more than 60 people, including women and children, had been arrested at the MDC headquarters today. What do we know about their safety and about the events that occurred earlier? Can the Minister tell us more about that?

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also asked about a referral to the International Criminal Court. Is the evidence that is already available being systematically compiled with that view in mind? The noble Lord will recall the example—he mentioned it earlier—of the six year-old boy who was incinerated only a week ago because he was in the home of his father, who was an opposition politician. Since then, there have been appalling reports of the systematic mutilation of members of the opposition, with many atrocities occurring. Surely, enough evidence is there already for a referral to the ICC, as the noble Lord intimated.

My Lords, on the first point, we are trying to follow the fast-changing developments in Harare. I cannot comment on people being removed from the MDC headquarters, because I do not know the facts. We do know that Mr Tsvangirai is secure in the Dutch embassy. Both events make clear that the violence has not stopped but is continuing, and the need for monitoring and documenting it for later action remains as important as ever.

On the second point about the ICC, I did not answer that point earlier only because it is a complicated and long answer. Because Zimbabwe is a non-signatory, it would require a referral by the Security Council. My view is that that is by no means impossible, but it is likely to come only at the end of a process where the Security Council despairs of an early, speedy political resolution of the issue and feels obliged to move to an ICC indictment. Even without an ICC indictment, the possibility of European arrest warrants and other legal proceedings internationally against the regime grows closer by the day. Let me reassure the noble Lord that there are many NGOs and others, including our embassy, that are documenting abuses as they occur.

My Lords, on the last point, about the relationship between the Security Council and the various members—China, Russia, and so on—does my noble friend recall that in the African Union-European Union communiqué from Lisbon at the end of last year, there was a lot of strong language about governance and criminality? There was much less of such language in the communiqué from the African Union and the Chinese. Would not a campaign to take this to the Security Council, with a view to a reference to the ICC, be a way of engaging with the Chinese on this question? When the vice-premier was here, he said he thought that that would be a useful way of establishing a better dialogue on Africa between the European Union and China.

My Lords, let us be clear: in the case of Darfur and Sudan a similar path had to be followed for ICC indictments, and it happened. It is not an impossible path to proceed down. There is a possibility of winning Chinese acquiescence as well as Russian acquiescence—to take the two countries which have at times shown diffidence and resistance to these approaches. We have had success with China on Zimbabwe. As noble Lords may remember, I was able to secure a commitment from the Chinese last year in Beijing to cease development assistance to Zimbabwe. This year we received a commitment from the Chinese that the arms on the Chinese arms shipment provided by a state company would not be unloaded but would instead be returned to China rather than used for internal repression in Zimbabwe. So this is not a dialogue of the deaf; it is a dialogue where we are making progress. But my noble friend is correct. We need to make a lot more progress to try and align China with our vision of good governance and human rights in Africa.

My Lords, earlier today the Prime Minister said that no one should recognise the regime in Zimbabwe. If the European Union acts in unity on that policy, would it mean the closure of the Dutch embassy, and thus put at risk the leader of the opposition?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. It is a reason why—as noble Lords may remember from the case of Kenya at the beginning of this year—we do not recognise Governments, we recognise states. When there is a Government whose legitimacy we do not accept, we make it clear that we do not accept that Government as representative of the people of the country and therefore that we will not do business with them. That is the formula that we are seeking here. I would just ask whether, in addition to the case of Mr Tsvangirai and the Dutch embassy, we would really want to close our embassy and leave the 14,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe unprotected?

My Lords, first, can the Minister confirm that there are now more Chinese than British nationals in Zimbabwe? Secondly, he said that the heavy arm of the law may very well pick up the people in Mr Mugabe’s regime when they come to Europe. Some of us heard that with a little cynicism, because Mr Mugabe seems to go to the rest of Europe with impunity. He has been there recently and has been welcomed.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl is right: there are certainly more Chinese than British citizens in Africa. I therefore suspect that there are more Chinese in Zimbabwe. There are 1 million Chinese in Africa today.

On the second point, it is worth saying that President Mugabe was not in Europe on a state visit to a European capital; he was there under the same provision which has allowed Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat and President Ahmadinejad to go to UN headquarters in New York at a time when they were not on good terms with the United States. It is just part of the terms and conditions—the agrément—of UN offices. As a membership organisation available to all countries, the heads or official representatives of those countries can travel through the national territory of the country where the UN headquarters is located to attend a meeting. So please do not believe that there was support in that case. At the EU Lisbon meeting at the end of last year, there was a judgment that letting him come was a lower profile way of handling the situation than having a confrontation around it. It was not necessarily a judgment we shared, which is why our Prime Minister did not attend the meeting.

My Lords, I, too, join noble Lords in welcoming the Statement. I also wish to record my recognition of the Minister’s work over a long period on finding some sort of solution and a degree of international support.

In the light of the MDC’s decision not to contest what will be a bogus election, the thoughts of this House are not so much on the Government of Zimbabwe as for the people of Zimbabwe. The current situation is damaging not just the people of Zimbabwe but the reputation of the international community, which is seen as impotent and over-reliant on South Africa, for example. However, we have drawn some strength from the way in which we as a country have dealt with African dictators in the past. When Idi Amin evicted the Ugandan Asians this country gave support and, in many instances, shelter to those who lost their homes, their community and their citizenship.

As we celebrate this week—

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but I wonder whether he could come to his question.

My Lords, I will do so. I want particularly, as we celebrate refugee week, to commend the statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that we should afford to Zimbabwean refugees at least the right to have a job and to support their families.

My Lords, I confirm to my noble friend Lord Morris that we will look into this to see what can be done. I thank him for his long and hard work on this same issue of Zimbabwe and particularly on workers’ rights.