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Zimbabwe: Sanctions

Volume 836: debated on Thursday 7 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to revise the Zimbabwe sanctions regime in the light of the recent announcement by the government of the United States that it will adjust and tighten its sanctions.

My Lords, our Zimbabwe sanctions hold to account four individuals and one entity responsible for serious human rights abuses. They do not target the people or economy of Zimbabwe. We note the US’s recent steps and continue to engage closely with our US partners. We continue to keep all sanctions, designations and regimes under review and do not comment on any future sanctions plans.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware that the war in Ukraine and recent events in Gaza have taken the world’s attention away from some of the various crises in Africa, including the dreadful situation in Zimbabwe. Indeed, having stolen last year’s election, Emmerson Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF have harassed, threatened and imprisoned opposition figures, including the very brave Job Sikhala, closed down civil society, and undermined the rule of law. Obviously, there is no appetite in this House for economic sanctions, which would really bear down on the people of Zimbabwe, but surely we should now look at tighter and wider smart sanctions, targeted at the ZANU-PF Cabinet, their wives and their cronies. Surely the people of Zimbabwe, which was originally a net exporter of food, deserve better and a brighter future. Would the Minister agree?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. We have been deeply seized by and concerned about the targeting of civil liberties. We engaged with the Government on the PVO amendment Bill before the 2023 elections, and we have seen the so-called patriot Bill, which has limited freedom of expression. My noble friend will also be aware that the introduction of the global human rights sanctions regime in 2019 allows us to do exactly that: we can specifically target the people who commit egregious abuses of human rights rather than citizens or, indeed, a country.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the existing sanctions in Zimbabwe have not curbed President Mnangagwa’s repressive regime and left a vacuum for the Chinese and the Russians, who are occupied in mining strategic minerals? Is it not time to convene an all-party parliamentary conference in Zimbabwe to help pave the way for the incumbent Government to be more inclusive and address the reduction of poverty for millions of long-suffering Zimbabweans?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that part of our approach on sanctions is one element of that: using the levers that we have, in working with key partners, to ensure that the current Government adopt that inclusive approach. The noble Lord is correct: looking at what Africa and particularly Zimbabwe provide, their critical mineral resources are a major opportunity. Zimbabwe is the biggest provider of lithium, along with the DRC. There are opportunities ahead, but it needs a Government who are inclusive and protect the rights not just of those coming in but of their citizens.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that ZANU-PF has used the cover of the Zimbabwe-specific sanctions regime as a propaganda tool to excuse its economic mismanagement and corruption, which caused the economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Will the Government consider ending the specific geographic sanctions regime and focusing on the global human rights and corruption sanctions regimes? Will the UK make efforts to step up communications, particularly in the SADC region, to make clear the message that the Minister just gave: that we want to see prosperity for the people of Zimbabwe and that our sanctions are aimed not at them but at the corrupt and the human rights abusers of the ZANU-PF regime?

I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work on the APPG. I agree that Zimbabwe has great opportunities, from looking at the people-to-people links with the United Kingdom. Again, it is demonstrable that the sanctions that we and other partners apply are not aimed at either the people or the economy. For example, our trade was £539 million in 2022-23, which is a direct challenge to what is sometimes said—that the sanctions have impacted the economy. What is needed is openness, transparency and accountability. I agree with the noble Lord; we will continue to look at our sanctions regimes. That is why I alluded to the global human rights sanctions regime, which allows us the very targeted sanctions, not just in countries such as Zimbabwe but across the world.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister says about targeted sanctions. They are important, but what are we doing to investigate the electoral commission, particularly after the irregularities in the election last year? What are we doing about the security leaders, who have been targeting opposition activists? The other thing I will raise again—I know the Minister will expect me to raise it—is the importance of civil society, particularly representation of workers in Zimbabwe, because international trade unions have been concerned about that. If we work with them as well, instead of it being just a British Government voice, we will have a better response in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the noble Lord knows I agree with his last point, not just in Zimbabwe but everywhere. Countries—indeed, Governments—can learn and progress much faster and more inclusively with the engagement of civil society. In that sense, the British Government and others are sometimes accused of interference in domestic politics. That is not our intention. Our politics is to ensure that the rights of people and communities are protected. That is the approach we take.

The noble Lord is right to raise the elections. He will be aware that several election observers were there, including from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth’s report is still awaited, but some of the other points that were made—the EU report, for example, concluded that the elections were

“marked by a curtailment of rights and freedoms”—

really lay out the current challenges. Of course we will work with partners on how we can strengthen things. SADC has been raised, but Zimbabwe also has aspirations for the Commonwealth. That provides an opportunity to raise human rights as a key component.

My Lords, I was impressed by my noble friend the Minister’s response to the noble Lord, Lord Oates. Sanctions must be a scalpel, not than a sledgehammer, but I wonder whether he has made any assessment of the attitude of the Government of South Africa. Any sanctions regime in Zimbabwe depends on the collaboration of that Commonwealth state, and so far the ANC Government have been conspicuous in their opposition to any sanctions, even against the worst kleptocrats in ZANU-PF. Is this just regional solidarity, or is there a danger that they would like to do something similar at home if they thought they could get away with it?

My Lords, I often say about sanctions that I will not speculate about what we are going to do; I will not speculate on the intention of another Government. We have a strong relationship. We do not agree with South Africa on everything we do or it does, but I recently met with the Foreign Minister of South Africa and we had a very productive and candid exchange.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said about the importance of targeted rather than indiscriminate sanctions, and support what the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, said to him. I will ask the Minister two things. First, is it not important that when we place sanctions on individuals, we do so with our allies? Given what the United States did on Monday in the context of Zimbabwe, and the identification of things such as diamonds and gold, how satisfied are we that they are not flowing through British markets and sources? Secondly, will he look again at the opaque way in which Magnitsky sanctions are imposed? Parliament has no oversight of that process. Does he not think that there should be some ability by parliamentarians, at least in camera in the Intelligence and Security Committee, to understand why some people are sanctioned and others are not, and why some countries are in the headlights and others are not?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, as I said, the global human rights sanctions regime was introduced in 2019. It allows for regular reviews. We debate particular sanctions as they are imposed on individuals or entities. I will certainly reflect on what he suggests; it is a practical suggestion. On working with partners, I have said consistently that the best sanctions come when we work together and are aligned. We continue to review what we may do next in the light of what others are doing.

My Lords, I think the State Department described its latest move in relation to sanctions as fine-tuning, aimed at easing the situation for the majority of the Zimbabwean people but hitting harder at the corrupt leaders. On this occasion, did it engage in talks with us on these measures? Everyone agrees that Zimbabwe is a long way from trying to join the Commonwealth again, although, as the Minister knows, it has been pressing very hard. Will he generally accept that the desire of a number of countries in Africa to join the Commonwealth—two did recently, and three more are on the list—is good for Africa in the future, for our influence, and for the general development of greater peace and development on the African continent?

My Lords, on my noble friend’s first point, I assure him that we are finely tuned and attuned with our colleagues across the pond. They shared their intent in advance. On his second point, only this morning I had an early-morning phone call with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Samoa, and the Foreign Minister of Rwanda—the current chair; the former chair, the United Kingdom; and, of course, the host of CHOGM. That shows the importance of the Commonwealth family. When countries join the Commonwealth it is a great testament as to how they aspire to the future. This is not a legacy or colonial issue; it is about the future of how countries work together. My noble friend knows my view that we need to strengthen the Commonwealth advantage in the years ahead.