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Volume 724: debated on Thursday 27 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to assist the Government of Zimbabwe to expedite the processes enabling free and fair elections under the new constitution.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has contributed to UN funding of the constitutional review process, with a referendum due to be held in the summer of this year. We are also working with international partners, particularly the Southern African Development Community, on a process to seek to ensure that elections, when held, will not see a repeat of the violence of 2008. The prospects for credible elections will be greater if sufficient time is allowed for important reforms to be implemented.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that, while there have been considerable advances in the revival of the economy in Zimbabwe, it is vital that there is, for the future sustainability of the country, a clearer political road map? In this regard, while I appreciate that there should be African solutions for African problems, does the Minister not agree that it is highly unlikely that there will be free and fair elections in the country until such time as the new constitution is agreed by referendum by the peoples of Zimbabwe, with a complete overhaul of the rigged voters’ roll and, finally, a cessation of the ongoing intimidation tactics of the hard-line ZANU-PF supporters?

Yes, I agree with the noble Lord’s assessment. On the economic side, things are looking much better. There was 8 per cent growth last year, with a similar rate of growth or even higher this year, albeit from a very low base. On the political side, however, the progress has not been so good. Mr Mugabe seems to be pressing for early elections, but at the same time there is very clear evidence of intimidation and violence rising again. We strongly believe that, as the noble Lord has said, the constitutional process must be carried right through, with the support of SADC, with the new commissions being formed and a system being created in which elections can take place. Those, more properly, should be later on.

My Lords, what action is being taken by the AU, SADC or Mr Jacob Zuma about the growing violence and intimidation? Also, what action is SADC taking against the illegal diamond smuggling by the army into Mozambique, which is being carried out to fund the ZANU-PF campaign of violence?

Mr Jacob Zuma has said, while leading SADC’s support programme, that he will take personal responsibility to see that the constitutional process goes forward and that the country is properly prepared for elections. We support him in those aims; that must be the right way forward. As to the diamond smuggling and the influence of diamond sales on the whole scene, we have continued to push for compliance with the Kimberley process standards, which include the continued supervision of exports. Frankly, our European Union colleagues have not been so helpful lately in upholding the supervision of exports, which is needed to check the kind of smuggling to which my noble friend refers. Obviously, as far as this country is concerned, we have our smuggling controls at our ports, but the overall supervision of smuggling needs to be strengthened. We are continuing to push for that to happen in the Kimberley process.

My Lords, I accept that the problems of Zimbabwe have to be solved within Africa itself, but is the noble Lord aware of the reports of violence and intimidation growing day by day? While it is right that President Zuma has accepted responsibility, does the Minister agree that there is an important role for the Commonwealth in this? What is he doing to pursue that?

I am indeed aware of the reports that there is, once again, growing violence. That is very disturbing indeed. Like the noble Lord, I am constantly raising the role of the Commonwealth. At the moment, SADC is leading in these matters but there is considerable Commonwealth interest and, if we are able to get some improvement not only on the economic side but on the political side, the Commonwealth could collectively play a much more forward role in the recovery of that great and potentially prosperous but sadly depleted country.

Can the Minister kindly tell the House what technical assistance Her Majesty’s Government are giving to the Electoral Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Media Commission in Zimbabwe?

There is a lot of assistance, although it is not, of course, to the Government of Zimbabwe—no assistance goes to them. However, considerable assistance goes through the UN and the non-governmental organisations. Indeed, our programme of aid for the kind of developments that the noble Lord has described is substantial; I think that it is in the region of £66 million in the past year. While I cannot go into the precise technical details of that now—I will certainly write to him with more information—the overall thrust of our aid is considerable and rightly focused on those kinds of improvements.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is highly unlikely that Zimbabwe or, indeed, President Mugabe will issue an invitation to the European Union to observe any future election and that any such election, if and when it occurs, will be credible only if it involves having that EU observation mission there? Also, is the noble Lord aware that, in the forward planning that the EU has already done for 2011, Zimbabwe appears only as a country to follow?

I most certainly agree with the noble Baroness that there must be proper monitoring by the EU, and perhaps by other organisations as well, when these elections take place. The issue at present is when that will be. The sensible view, from the point of view of all the reformers and those who want to see Zimbabwe prosper, must of course be that that comes after the constitutional process has been completed. We are all entitled to be worried at the suggestions that Mr Mugabe may try to push for much earlier elections, particularly in the light of all the violence. However, EU monitoring must play a part. The noble Baroness is absolutely correct on that and, when the elections come in sight, that is something that we will certainly be urging.