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Volume 711: debated on Thursday 11 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they will make to the Government of Zimbabwe concerning recent death threats to opposition members of the joint Government.

My Lords, in view of earlier comments, I am substituting for my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown, who is abroad, in answering this Question. It will be the last time I answer Foreign Office Questions for the foreseeable future, but who knows what opportunities may open up in a fourth Labour term? We remain deeply concerned about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe—harassment of human rights defenders, arbitrary arrests and intimidation, repressive legislation and the lack of press freedom.

The inclusive Government have, in the global political agreement, committed to ending human rights abuses and violence and to restoring the rule of law. We and the international community continue to urge the inclusive Government to respect these commitments and adhere to international standards.

My Lords, the Minister sounded like a permanent Foreign Office Minister in his reply, for which I thank him. Does he agree that this matter is deeply shocking news? It is on a par with Mike Thompson’s tragic BBC reports about a country that is now ruined, devastated and in a terrible state as a result of the self-indulgent madness and brutality of the government majority party. Now that it is a joint Government, will the Minister reassure the House that the UK will make every effort, following the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, on the previous Question, closely to monitor these matters, especially with the United States, other EU countries, particularly Germany, Spain and France, and leading Commonwealth countries to make sure that these democratically-elected politicians who join the joint Government are not threatened in this way?

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation and crisis in Zimbabwe and we will do all in our power to relieve that position. We are doing two things in particular. The House will appreciate that the UK is one of the largest donors to Zimbabwe. There is some improvement in the economy. Public officials are being paid, which was not the case a short while ago. The Zimbabweans are sending to London the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, who has still to obtain a visa, to meet our ministerial team. We will be pressing on these issues and others and we are involved in making as constructive an effort as we can for Zimbabwe under its inclusive Government to recover from the appalling disasters of the past.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the root problem behind the continued farm seizures, as well as the death threats on MDC members of the Government of National Unity, stems from the Youth Brigade, which is controlled by the Central Intelligence Organisation, which is controlled by several of the military chiefs? Until that is tackled, the threats will continue. On a more positive note, three months ago the country suffered from hyper-inflation, with a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note being worth 20 pence. However, since the MDC took control of the Ministry of Finance, the country now has deflation with food back on the supermarket shelves.

My Lords, I accept the first point of the noble Lord’s contribution; namely, that there are institutional reflections of what has been an unlimited dictatorship over very many years, capable of the most appalling affronts to human rights, which will need to be eradicated for the country to develop along any lines of international acceptability. We must place a great deal of hope in the inclusive Government making progress in these areas; hence the meetings that are taking place shortly.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for reflecting the fact that there are some encouraging signs in the Zimbabwean economy. That economy was in a quite appalling position, even worse than the Weimar Republic some 80 years ago, but it is showing signs of some degree of recovery. That is why I mentioned the fact that public servants are being paid. But the country has a very long way to go.

My Lords, if noble Lords are quick in asking questions, we can hear from the noble Lord and then from my noble friend.

My Lords, the Minister speaks of an inclusive Government in Harare, but is not the problem that there are two parallel Governments? We are all anxious to help Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai but, at the moment, the ZANU-dominated police and army forces are attacking, arresting and reportedly killing people in the other party, which is supposed to be their friend and colleague. Is it not time that Zimbabwe’s neighbours, which all signed up to the global political agreement, should be pushed into being much more vigorous in correcting this situation and ensuring that the Government really work as a joint effort rather than one gang trying to murder its colleagues? That is an important change. Until that has happened, we can give aid and find that it is useless.

My Lords, of course the noble Lord is right. The Southern African Development Community brokered the new, inclusive power-sharing agreement and Government and has some responsibility for its success.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I indicate at this earliest opportunity that in the heat of the moment I omitted to declare my interest as a dairy farmer when posing my supplementary question to my noble friend. I apologise to the House for this failure.