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Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress they have made at the United Nations on securing international action on the situation in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the UK strongly supports the draft UN Security Council resolution tabled by the United States which introduces targeted measures against the Zimbabwean regime. That is currently under discussion and will be a further powerful expression of the international community’s concern about the crisis in Zimbabwe, already expressed in the UN Security Council presidential statement of 23 June.

My Lords, if South Africa was to join in support of that resolution, would that not impose a travel ban on Robert Mugabe and 11 of his cronies? What would that mean in practical terms? Will it bring to an end the distasteful spectacle of Mugabe gallivanting around the world visiting UN conferences?

My Lords, we will have to wait to see the final words of the resolution but our purpose is to make sure that Robert Mugabe and his henchmen can no longer leave Zimbabwe. The resolution also intends to make sure that their banking assets and properties, wherever they hold them in the world, are subject to seizure. The purpose of this resolution is to tighten a global noose around an illegitimate regime.

My Lords, what has been the response of African countries to the clear warning from the G8 issued just recently that their own interests will be adversely affected if they do not adopt more robust opposition to the Zimbabwean regime?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that my own visit to the AU summit last week convinced me that few African Governments do not fully share our view that this regime is not legitimate and that for the sake of Africa as well as the people of Zimbabwe it must be brought to an end as soon as possible. The disagreement, as always, is about how to achieve that, with a certain caution still about reinforcing diplomacy with sanctions. We have made it clear both at the G8 meeting today in Japan and in the Security Council that we have reached the point where negotiations must now be backed by the teeth of sanctions.

My Lords, will the noble Lord seek to ensure that the final texts of the Security Council resolution and the G8 insist that no interim Government be formed of which Mugabe is a part? Secondly, does he not see some incongruity between the Foreign Secretary addressing 2,000 victims of Mugabe’s terrorism in Johannesburg while at the same time the Home Secretary is causing letters to be sent to their counterparts in the UK cutting off their benefits and forcing them to return to Harare?

My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord raised that last point. I would see a large incongruity in that situation and am pleased to be able to reassure him that nobody is being returned against their will to Zimbabwe at this time. The Home Office is looking at what steps it can take to help support those who, because of circumstances in Zimbabwe, are forced to stay here.

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the reports in today’s newspapers that rape is being increasingly used, often leading to HIV infection, as a weapon of war against supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change? Does he recall our recent exchanges about the possibility of referring these many crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, overcoming the technical objections he said might exist in doing that?

My Lords, unlike six months ago, there is now no doubt that Mr Mugabe and those around him have committed crimes which deserve referral to the ICC. In the past, the crimes were of such ancient origin that they preceded the establishment of the court and were not covered by it. Any referral of a non-signatory such as Zimbabwe would be via the UN Security Council. At this stage, the Security Council is seized with sanctions. If the object of those sanctions—a change of Government in Zimbabwe—is not achieved, I suspect that this is one of several steps we would want to bring to the council as a possible next round of pressure.

My Lords, we are all agreed what should ideally be part of the response to this appalling situation in Zimbabwe, as quiet diplomacy finally fades and Zimbabwe slides into a gangster state. I have two practical questions for the Minister on what we are doing and perhaps what we should have been doing long ago. We have been arguing for a long time that we need to assemble, or encourage the assembly of, an international package for the recovery of Zimbabwe on the other side of Mugabe. Have we made any progress with that? It is important that it is put in place as soon as possible. Secondly, exactly what advice are we giving to major companies planning new investment in Zimbabwe? There appears to be a bit of ambiguity about that, and a clear lead is required.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to clarify both points. On the first, planning has been led by the World Bank and other multilateral institutions, and has been co-ordinated on the bilateral side by Sweden, to make sure that plans are in place for the hoped-for period of recovery of the country. There has been an estimate that that would cost at least $1 billion a year for five years. Not having seen the books of Zimbabwe, that is still a bit of a rough estimate. There is no doubt that any new Government will face an immediate crisis in trying to establish their political authority while ending a hyperinflation running at millions of per cent. That would make ruling Weimar Germany look positively easy by comparison.

Secondly, we are trying to be very clear with companies, specifically on new investment. I can give a very simple answer; we would discourage any company from undertaking new investment at this time on political, commercial and ethical grounds. If there was more time, I would be happy to provide the noble Lord with the arguments that we are making on sanctions, which, at their simplest, remain about how we can target the companies and individuals around Mr Mugabe, while protecting the people at large. Not all the activities of every British company fall into the second category. Some preserve jobs and well-being for Zimbabweans without directly supporting the regime.