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Volume 819: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2022


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the political situation in Zimbabwe; and in particular, the ability of political parties to campaign freely in forthcoming by-elections in that country.

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, due to her leg being in plaster, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper, and in doing so wish her a speedy recovery.

My Lords, while we welcome the scheduling of by-elections, the UK remains concerned by the political situation in Zimbabwe, which includes efforts to frustrate the political opposition’s right to free assembly and incidents of violence at political rallies over recent weeks. We regularly urge the Zimbabwean Government to live up to their own constitution, by ensuring that the opposition are allowed to operate without harassment, and to ensure accountability for perpetrators of violence. The Minister for Africa emphasised these messages when she met President Mnangagwa on 1 November.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, at a ZANU-PF rally on 27 February, Vice-president Chiwenga said of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change,

“you see how we crush lice … You put it on a flat stone and then flatten it to the extent that even flies will not make a meal out of it. That is what we are going to do to CCC.”

The following day, a CCC rally was attacked with iron bars, machetes and spears. One opposition supporter was killed and many more were hospitalised. Will the Government condemn the vice-president’s violent incitement and work with the international community to hold the Zimbabwean Government accountable for the safety and security of all Zimbabweans, who should have the right to freely elect their leaders without fear of violence or intimidation?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I agree that such language, inciting political violence, has no place in any country, including Zimbabwe. We urge the Government of Zimbabwe to live up to their constitution in ensuring that all political parties are allowed to operate and campaign without harassment. As our ambassador publicly stated after the death of a CCC supporter at the rally on 27 February, we urge the police to fully investigate any acts of political violence and bring the perpetrators to justice.

My Lords, given that the Russian Government have been heavily investing in the Zimbabwean economy, and also bankrolling ZANU-PF, what assessment have Ministers made about the fact that Russia is now a pariah state?

My Lords, I am glad my noble friend has brought that to the attention of the House. We were particularly disappointed to see that Zimbabwe abstained during the UNGA vote on Ukraine. We call all states to push for a ceasefire and urge de- escalation. It is also important that it is up to the Zimbabweans themselves to make many of these decisions.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Minister who originally agreed in your Lordships’ House to the signature by the Patriotic Front, and announced it to your Lordships, was me, and that the senior official in the official Box on that occasion was the then Mr Charles Powell, now, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Powell?

I must admit that I was not aware of that. My noble friend is, I think, referring to the Lancaster House Agreement, which was a very important agreement in the formation of Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the noble Earl will understand the importance I place on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. Last week in Geneva, during the conclusions of the 40th universal periodic review, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, expressed concern about the harassment of civil society in Zimbabwe. Does the Minster agree that a free civil society must include trade unions, and what steps have the UK Government taken to ensure that the right to organise takes place in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, the British embassy in Harare regularly engages with a wide range of stakeholders to improve our understanding of the political and economic issues in Zimbabwe. This of course includes trade unions, but the UK does not fund trade unions or involve itself in industrial disputes between the Government and civil servants. However, as the periodic review of human rights involving Zimbabwe shows, we are concerned by restrictions on freedom of assembly and the harassment of journalists, opposition supporters and civil society, and that the PVO amendment bill could be used to restrict civic space.

My Lords, with clear evidence of manipulation of the voters’ roll and intimidation of CCC supporters by ZANU-PF militia, what measures can be taken in conjunction with the South African Government to encourage a compromise solution and the possibility of a Government of national unity in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned South Africa. As he is perfectly aware from his deep knowledge on this area, there is a deep and long-standing partnership with South Africa; we speak often and candidly about a range of issues. One must realise that free elections without violence would be good for Zimbabwe, its people and its economy.

My Lords, noble Lords have mentioned elections. There will be by-elections shortly and major elections next year. A key element will be an electoral register with integrity and openness. In previous elections, whatever the integrity, the registers were not available until very close to the election and therefore were not available for scrutiny or use by the opposition. What are the Government doing to encourage the Government of Zimbabwe to have those registers available soon?

My Lords, as I said, we engage with Zimbabwe on all these matters. We welcome the scheduling of these by-elections, but as I said, we are concerned with attempts to frustrate the political opposition’s freedom of assembly, the use of roadblocks and the degrading of internet speed. We are working alongside our international partners to call on the Zimbabwe Government to live up to its constitution and commitment to electoral reform, including the recommendations from the 2018 electoral monitoring reports.

My Lords, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe had one of the highest rates of violence against women, with one in two women reporting intimate partner violence. As we mark International Women’s Day, can my noble friend tell me what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the pandemic on gender-based violence and what they are doing to help?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. Violence against women remains a serious issue, as she said, with gender-based violence prevalent across all parts of society and reports of it increasing during Covid-19, but Her Majesty’s Government’s support for women and civil society has amplified the voice of women’s organisations within the national Covid-19 response. I should also say that the UK continues to lead the way on what works to prevent violence against women and girls through our flagship SAFE programme, which will test and generate learning on how to prevent gender-based violence, including domestic violence and child marriage.

My Lords, given what the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said to the House about the systematic and considerable attacks that have been made on CCC candidates, can the noble Earl tell us whether election monitors from the international community and the diplomatic corps will be on hand during the forthcoming by-elections but also in the 2023 general election in Zimbabwe? Will he also draw the House’s attention to the admirable statement by the Government of Kenya, which the Government of Zimbabwe should take careful note of, with its condemnation of the occupation of Ukraine by Russian troops?

My Lords, yes, we are concerned about the recent incidents of violence targeting CCC rallies. As I said, our ambassador in Harare tweeted to called on the Government to ensure that perpetrators of violence are brought to justice and that all parties can campaign freely without fear of violence. I am aware that two rallies took place peacefully last weekend. The noble Lord asked about election monitors. I am afraid I do not have that information to hand, but I will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, it is universally accepted that the solution to the very serious human rights situation in Zimbabwe lies locally with regional leaders. Could my noble friend tell the House what assessment has been made of the economic benefits that would flow not just to Zimbabwe but to the wider SADC region from an improvement in human rights in Zimbabwe?

My Lords, my noble friend makes some good points. We also have to recognise the important role of the African Union and SADC, as well as South Africa, in relation to Zimbabwe. We must continue to engage with all three, given our shared desire for a prosperous Zimbabwe that respects human rights. I was looking for something else to give to my noble friend, but it escapes me.

My Lords, when the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union, the EU took its lead on Zimbabwe policy from the UK. In our absence, do Her Majesty’s Government note any softening of the EU’s line towards Zimbabwe?

My Lords, the noble Lord asked about the relationship between the EU and its line on Zimbabwe. As I understand it, the EU is softening some of its sanctions, but the noble Lord will be aware that the largest amount of sanctions are made by the United States. We have a number of sanctions as well.