HL Deb 24 January 2002 vol 630 cc1565-8

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made by international bodies of which the United Kingdom is a member to ensure that the forthcoming presidential elections in Zimbabwe are free and fair.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, on 11th January, the European Union insisted on invitations to and accreditation of elect ion observers at least six weeks before the Zimbabwean presidential election. It asked the Government of Zimbabwe to respond to those concerns by 18th January.

In their reply, the Government of Zimbabwe did not give specific answers on a range of issues of concern. The EU has therefore requested further clarification from the Government of Zimbabwe. EU Ministers will consider the outcome of those representations at their meeting in Brussels on 28th January.

On 20th December, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) expressed the expectation that formal invitations would be issued to Commonwealth election observers well before the election. The next CMAG meeting, on 30th January, will assess progress.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I welcome what the European Union and the Commonwealth are doing, so far as it goes. However, does the Minister recall that, in 2000, almost all the international observers appointed then reported adversely, saying that the elections to the Parliament were not free and fair? That was not followed by any action by the world community, only by expressions of concern. May that have led President Mugabe to believe that he could get away with action in connection with the presidential elections, which are only just over six weeks away, similar to the action that he got away with in relation to the parliamentary election, only worse? That is what is now happening.

Is it not important that the Commonwealth, the European Union, the Southern African Development Community and the United Nations make it clear now that if the forthcoming elections are not free and fair, they will take action and not simply say, "Tut, tut"?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the matter has been discussed in the House several times. The international community, including ourselves, has made it absolutely clear that we want to see free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. We have made that absolutely clear to the Government of Zimbabwe through our representations through the European Union, but also through the Commonwealth. We have worked with our partners in Africa, particularly in southern Africa, who have made that absolutely clear through the Southern African Development Community.

This is not about allowing President Mugabe or the Government of Zimbabwe to get away with anything. We are interested in making absolutely clear the concern of the international community and in pushing the Government of Zimbabwe to take action. However, I must say to the noble Lord, as I have said in the House before, that in the case of a government who have been elected but do not put the concerns of their own people at the top of their agenda and refuse to take on board the concerns of the international community, there is a limit to what the international community can achieve.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, seven Movement for Democratic Change activists were murdered in December and gangs of ZANU-PF thugs are going round areas that are presumed to be MDC-supporting beating people up, destroying property and intimidating anyone presumed to belong to the MDC. There have been attacks on the press and on freedom of assembly. Is the Minister now in a position to say that there cannot be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe? Would it not be useful for the international community to admit that, at this stag, and to try to do everything possible to ensure that ZANU-PF does not get away with the atrocities that it is committing against its own people?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, in the representations that were made by the European Union to the Government of Zimbabwe in the dialogue process, the European Union insisted on international election observers and insisted that those observers should be in Zimbabwe six weeks before the election. We are, of course, mindful of the need for observers not only to be there on the day of the election but to be able to see what happens in the run-up to the process itself. We are entirely clear about the need for observers to be on the ground and monitoring events in plenty of time. That is one the issues that will be taken up by the General Affairs Council on Monday, as the Government of Zimbabwe have not given us the assurances in that regard.

I would also say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we have made the strongest possible representations to the Government of Zimbabwe about the violence, harassment and intimidation that we have seen. We will continue to do that.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is it not crystal clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, that the elections are already being seriously distorted, that opposition rallies are being broken up by police thugs and that every effort is being made to see that the election is not free and fair? In the past year, there have been 48 political murders, 329 abductions, 2,245 cases of torture and 992 cases of unlawful detention in that country. Foreign journalists have been labelled as terrorists.

Is it not already too late—far beyond the right time—to take serious action? Far from waiting any longer, the Government should move off their snail's pace and put real effort behind bringing the EU's targeted sanctions against the élites to fruition quickly, encourage the Commonwealth quickly to remove Zimbabwe from that body and take all other actions with SADC and other countries to stop this turning into a major tragedy and a new rogue state that will threaten all of southern Africa.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is really important that we listen to all the key stakeholders. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, the concerns that he expressed. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday described the situation in Zimbabwe as a disgrace. I said categorically that we have made representations about the kind of violence and intimidation that we have seen. However, it is important that we listen to what the people of Zimbabwe say, to what the opposition parties say and to what civil society says about the nature of their election in March and take that into consideration, when we make decisions about the point at which we can determine whether we feel, as the EU, that elections can be free and fair.

We have said clearly to the Government of Zimbabwe what we expect. They have said back, in no uncertain terms, that they have not met the terms presented by the EU. That will be discussed on Monday. It is important that the process that we have gone through in bringing together the international community is recognised.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, Mr Mugabe himself said at the meeting in Malawi that he would welcome observers. As far as I know, that is the only time that he has said it, as distinct from his Ministers. Is there no possibility of planning with the African countries and other members of the United Nations, who cannot be described as colonialists, for them to send observers, accompanied by the press, to Zimbabwe? They should go in as ordinary travellers but be observers. That could surely be organised. It would be entirely proper and would be welcomed by the people of Zimbabwe.

We must call Mr Mugabe's bluff sensibly. We should take him at his word and behave very surprised if he does not want those observers, now that he has said that he would have them.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. At the recent meeting of the Southern African Development Community, President Mugabe made several commitments to his SADC partners. They were set out clearly in the communiqué that was issued after the meeting.

We have been talking to our southern African partners about the timetable for SADC election observers to go into Zimbabwe. They have the matter in hand. The noble Baroness will recall that the SADC Parliamentary Forum has published norms and standards which set a very high standard indeed with respect to the issue of free and fair elections. Indeed, they are the norms and standards that we are discussing with our EU colleagues so that, as part of the European Union, we can judge whether we consider the elections to be free and fair.

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