My Lords, the UK remains concerned about the political situation in Zimbabwe. We regularly urge the Zimbabwean Government to live up to their own constitution by ensuring that the opposition, civil society and journalists are allowed to operate without harassment, and that due legal process is respected. The Minister for Africa reinforced these messages when she met President Mnangagwa on 1 November. Our embassy is also in touch with Mr Haruzivishe’s lawyers as we await the outcome of his appeal.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, yet despite the Government’s efforts, MDC youth leader Mako Haruzivishe remains incarcerated and the political and human rights situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate. In the light of this, do the Government agree that regional leaders have a critical role to play in encouraging the Zimbabwean Government to respect human rights and the rule of law? Can the Minister tell the House what discussions the Government have had at ministerial level with the Government of South Africa and the newly elected Zambian Government in this regard?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s role on the APPG. He is of course right that it is important that regional Governments have a role to play. In this regard, we have engaged directly at the highest level with the South African Government and we continue to engage with other regional partners, as well as regional associations, including the African Union, on this priority.
My Lords, in the Government’s view, which country has the clout to bring effective pressure on Zimbabwe on political oppression? We probably have less influence than China, which is most unlikely to bring any such pressure. Zimbabwe’s conduct clearly tarnishes the image of the whole region. Is this recognised by its neighbours, particularly South Africa, and are they playing a positive role in this regard?
My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord’s final question is that we are engaged very much with South Africa and, yes, it wants to see a progressive, inclusive Zimbabwe as part of the region and the wider world. Zimbabwe holds ambitions to join the Commonwealth as well. It is a collective effort. I do not think that one country alone can influence the progression and inclusiveness of democracy. It is therefore important that we, together with key partners, continue to play this role.
In response to the last element of what the Minister indicated, Zimbabwean press promoted the fact that President Mnangagwa met our Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in Glasgow at COP 26. As the Minister is also the Minister for the Commonwealth, can he say whether we are making clear that, while we want the Commonwealth to be inclusive and open to Zimbabwe being a member, the conditions of a free and fair political system and the restoration of the 2013 constitution and the rule of law are essential criteria for membership and rejoining the Commonwealth?
The British Government have already expressed their concerns over the continued incarceration of a pro-democracy activist and MDC Alliance youth leader, who has now been released on bail having been in jail for 202 days for allegedly inciting public violence when he whistled at Harare’s busy Copacabana terminus. This is despite the fact that he has filed an appeal against both conviction and sentence in the High Court. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has advised that the British Government and embassy in Harare are in touch with his lawyers while awaiting the outcome of his appeal. The UK regularly urges the Zimbabwe Government to meet their international and domestic obligations by respecting the rule of law and the freedoms enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution. What else might be effective?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to point out that our ambassador is engaged directly in raising various human rights issues, including the case he mentioned, and will continue to do so. What more can we do? We continue to work with key partners on ensuring that human rights are upheld according to the constitution.
My Lords, the simple fact is that the messages from the UK Government are not being heard by the Zimbabwean Government, and certainly not being acted on. Just over a year ago, I raised with the Minister the Government’s strategy for working with civil society groups in Zimbabwe to defend human rights. I specifically asked whether the Foreign Office would
“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.”—[Official Report, 27/10/20; col. 125.]
The Minister at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, outlined the support we were giving to civil society groups. She also promised to follow through on meeting with the TUC. Has that meeting taken place? What is the outcome? What support are we giving to those sorts of civil society groups in Zimbabwe?
My Lords, I do not believe the specific meeting took place directly with the TUC. We certainly have been meeting in Harare with various unions, including teaching unions, most recently in September 2021 on salaries and the impact of Covid-19. Trade unions form an important part of civil society in any country, and we engage with them at all levels.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that last week the Zimbabwe cabinet signed off on the patriot Bill, which would make it a criminal offence for anyone to criticise President Mnangagwa and for any member of the opposition to speak to any foreign Government in a negative way about Zimbabwe? At a time when Zimbabwe is considering rejoining the Commonwealth, can the Minister make it clear that our Government will support this only when the rule of law is restored and freedom of speech and political freedoms are protected?
My Lords, will the Minister outline what discussions Ministers have had with their Commonwealth counterparts about the continuing political repression in Zimbabwe and about the need to build local economies and political democracy?
My Lords, we continue to engage with Commonwealth partners on a range of issues concerning human rights. On the specific question of Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth, we are clear that we would only support readmission to the Commonwealth if Zimbabwe met the admission requirements. We continue to articulate that in relation to fundamental human rights to our Commonwealth partners as well.
My Lords, Zimbabwe will only become a democracy when the people have a genuinely free and fair election. We have seen that recently in Zambia. Can the Minister go further and actually say what more could be done to get Zambia and other countries within SADC to put the pressure on Zimbabwe? It has to come from those countries. We can help, but we must make sure that they do their bit so that we can get back to a situation where the people of Zimbabwe genuinely have a free and fair election in 2023.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness: she is quite right to say that. SADC and other organisations—including, more broadly, the AU—have a key role to play and must lead on these discussions, as people want to see an inclusive, progressive Zimbabwe. Within Zimbabwe, we must see rights restored, constitutions respected and human rights—which includes the rights of other political parties to participate fully in the democratic process—guaranteed. Those will form part of our current and future discussions with key partners.
My Lords, the US embassy in Zimbabwe has issued some devastating reports on conditions in prisons in that country, including ill-treatment of activists, violence against women and rape. Does the UK embassy confirm these reports? Can he confirm the continuing harassment of Hopewell Chin’ono, who is a highly respected figure, as reported by the American Bar Association?
My Lords, on the noble Earl’s final point on the case of Mr Chin’ono, yes, we are very much engaged on that particular case. I have not seen the details of the report to which he referred, so if I may, I will write to the noble Earl in that respect.