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Volume 807: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of their policy in respect of Zimbabwe.

My Lords, sadly we have not seen sufficient progress towards the economic and political reforms that the Government themselves set out. The onus must be on the Zimbabwean Government to deliver that progress. Our policy remains to support the people of Zimbabwe in moving towards a more democratic, stable and prosperous country.

My Lords, do the Government recognise that, if we continue with our current policy, we will see the same results—injustice and repression continuing to be visited on the Zimbabwean people by their Government, a growing humanitarian crisis and the need for ever-increasing amounts of emergency aid to prevent starvation? So will the Minister consider convening a round table of experts to develop a more strategic political and economic approach, including looking at how a post-Covid Marshall plan for the region, accessible to countries that met specified governance and rule-of-law standards, could stimulate both economic recovery and democratic renewal in Zimbabwe and further afield?

My Lords, as I said, we have not seen the progress that we want and, like the noble Lord, we want to see both economic recovery and democratic renewal. So I am very happy to meet with the noble Lord to discuss that idea and to help bring that about.

My Lords, Zimbabwe continues to have high rates of gender assaults throughout the country. Can my noble friend say what progress has been made by a DfID-launched programme, started 18 months ago, called Stopping Abuse and Female Exploitation?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for highlighting this issue. Even before the pandemic, Zimbabwe already had one of the highest prevalence rates of violence against women. We are investing in trying to help stop gender-based violence: as my noble friend said, we have funded a preventing sexual exploitation and abuse co-ordinator within Zimbabwe, and we are also working hard on a programme to stop abuse and female exploitation.

Would the Minister agree, first, that, with over half the population facing food insecurity, family farms deserve much greater priority and need more international support? Mozambique was a good example of that. Secondly, would she agree that the UK has a historic responsibility to join Zimbabwe in resolving the land reform issue, along with compensation for evicted farmers, so that, in time, the country can return to food self-sufficiency?

My Lords, we note the signing of a recent $3.5 billion compensation deal between the Zimbabwean Government and farmers for improvements to land, but we remain concerned that the agreement is not underpinned by the finance necessary to deliver the agreement. Officials at the British embassy in Harare speak regularly with a full range of stakeholders, who are interested in reaching an agreement on compensation.

My Lords, the Zimbabweans are a people of truly democratic spirit who are ruled by a venal and vicious mob of soldiers and policemen who have survived the demise of Robert Mugabe, to whom they owe their positions. Now they are systematically robbing and suppressing the nation. This country has profited greatly from an influx of Zimbabweans, who work as nurses, doctors, teachers and others. Will the Government acknowledge this debt and give sanctuary to those such as journalists, authors and churchmen who now find themselves in peril?

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the contribution that people from Zimbabwe have made in this country. As I said, we are still working to try to see the promised reforms. We have been clear that a lack of meaningful economic and political reform, as well as the ongoing human rights violations, means that the Government of Zimbabwe are far from achieving the level of reform that we need to see. We will work closely with like-minded partners to continue to raise concerns, press for respect of the constitution and see the sustained implementation of the reforms that have been committed to.

My Lords, last weekend an extravaganza in Zimbabwe to launch a people’s protest against sanctions resulted in demonstrations outside German embassies and 14 likes on Facebook. More telling, I think, was the action, led by South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, calling for their unconditional removal, which received the robust UK response that corruption has driven investors away, not sanctions, leaving Zimbabweans struggling in poverty. Will the Minister recognise that eminent Africans such as the past President of Botswana, Ian Khama, are calling for a special SADC summit to address poverty and human rights abuses in the region, and will the Government work with other donors to support this initiative?

My Lords, the UK is committed to working in partnership with the African Union as well as the Southern African Development Community and other international organisations. We will continue that work, alongside the international community, to help support good governance, respect for human rights and genuine political and economic reform in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, I return to the point that the noble Baroness has just mentioned in terms of how we build support in civil society to defend human rights and stop the abuses. Have the Government got a strategy for working with civil society, including faith groups? I specifically ask the Minister whether she can work with the TUC and its international affiliates to ensure that we support workers who are organised in Zimbabwe to defend their own human rights.

My Lords, the UK supports the political and human rights of Zimbabweans through reinforcing our diplomatic engagement, but also specifically supporting civil society organisations. We work with Zimbabwean citizens to help hold the state to account for its use of resources and respect for human rights, and we provide support to over 50 civil society organisations focused on the defence of human rights. I will certainly follow up on the noble Lord’s suggestion of directly engaging with the TUC on this matter.

My Lords, my noble friend just made reference to democracy in Zimbabwe, which is clearly sadly lacking. Could she give an indication of the work that this Government are undertaking with the EU and Commonwealth in relation to preparations for the next elections because, if the groundwork is not done now in relation to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, constituencies and free access to the media, the next elections will be stolen like so many others?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. As we look forward to the elections in 2023, a lot needs to be done to ensure a level playing field. The 2018 elections were an acknowledged improvement, but our observer mission still highlighted significant shortcomings. We will continue to engage with the Commonwealth and the EU, alongside the Government of Zimbabwe, on the observer-mission recommendations.

Is the Minister aware that President Mnangagwa’s niece was arrested in Harare yesterday for attempting to smuggle six kilograms of gold to Dubai? At a time when there have been no prosecutions for corruption, despite overwhelming evidence of gross corruption by ZANU-PF government officials, what measures can Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union take to ensure the independence of the judiciary in Zimbabwe, and what measures can be taken to encourage the South African Government to use their political and economic leverage with Zimbabwe to help resolve the crisis?

My Lords, I am afraid that I was not aware of the noble Lord’s information on the arrest yesterday. We are working closely with our partners in the EU to try to avoid corruption and we will continue to do so with the African Union and South Africa to try to reduce corruption in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, what specific steps have the Government taken to sanction those responsible, including government Ministers, for massive human rights violations in Zimbabwe, such as the abduction and torture of Joana Mamombe and her colleagues in June? She continues to be viciously harassed through the criminal justice system, and police brutality is continuing with impunity: for example, throwing tear gas into a crowded bus on 12 October.

My Lords, the UK remains aligned to the EU’s restrictive measures on Zimbabwe. Suspended targeted measures are in place against three current and former security sector chiefs, and Grace Mugabe. The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 now provides the legal basis for the UK to impose autonomous sanctions, and we are in the process of considering our approach to the future sanctions regime in Zimbabwe.

My Lords, the FCO has tended to look at things by country and DfID has often looked at things across the region. Given the effectiveness of the African Union in the coronavirus crisis in getting countries to work together, is the new department looking at how best to help the region and, with it, Zimbabwe?

My Lords, the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office does offer further opportunities to help integrate development and diplomacy into a single new department that aims to bring together the best of our diplomatic and development efforts. We will continue to work with the African Union—I agree with the noble Baroness that it has done a sterling job on Covid-19—in order to try to bring about long-lasting change.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed and we now come to the second Oral Question. I call the noble Lord, Lord Rose of Monewden.