HL Deb 11 July 2002 vol 637 cc820-2

3.22 p.m.

Lord Blaker

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their current policies towards Zimbabwe.

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

My Lords, there is a strong international consensus opposed to the actions of the Zimbabwe regime. We shall work to strengthen that consensus, while supporting credible regional efforts—in particular the joint initiative of South Africa and Nigeria— to restore democratic legitimacy to Zimbabwe.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that at their June meeting, the European Union foreign ministers decided not to intensify the sanctions against Mr Mugabe and his cronies? Can she also confirm that at the recent G8 conference in Canada the documents issued by the conference contained no reference to Zimbabwe, nor did the Statement on the G8 conference given by the Prime Minister last week in another place?

Is the disappearance of Zimbabwe from the Government's radar screen the result of the fact that in the new treaty for the African union great importance is attached to human rights and good governance and not least to peer pressure to remedy any backsliding? Is the Government's policy now to leave any effort towards remedying the situation in Zimbabwe, which is causing ruin in most of Southern Africa, to African countries alone?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, Zimbabwe has not disappeared from the Government's radar screen. We have discussed Zimbabwe on many occasions in this House and sought to make clear the UK position. Clearly, I have not been successful in that. Perhaps my communication skills are at fault.

I shall repeat the Government's position. We deplore the violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe. We deeply regret the economic mismanagement 'which has led to a food crisis. That means that nearly 50 per cent of the population could need supplementary feeding by the end of the year. We have worked consistently to ensure international consensus on the issue. At the Commonwealth "troika" meeting, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Council of the Commonwealth. We have pressed the importance of human rights and good governance through the G8 process. The G8 Africa action plan contains several strong statements about the importance of good governance and the rule of law. I hope that noble Lords will read that.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the Government's policy on Zimbabwe is broadly right. However, a solution to the problem will have to come from the African countries. Is my noble friend aware that our efforts should therefore be concentrated on trying to influence the African countries which can put pressure on Mr Mugabe to change his policies? I refer in particular to the South African Government. They persuaded Mr Smith to change his policies. Perhaps they will have the same effect on Mr Mugabe.

My noble friend spoke of starvation in Southern Africa. Which policies are the Government in a position to implement in relation to the starving people in Zimbabwe? How will we get the food to them?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The leadership shown from within the African continent is essential in helping to resolve the issue. I have spoken on many occasions about the importance of peer pressure from the countries around Zimbabwe, particularly as they suffer from the economic mismanagement in Zimbabwe. In that context, the Southern African Development Community, including South Africa, is important.

As regards the food crisis in southern Africa, and in particular Zimbabwe, it is important that a different kind of economic management and a sustainable and transparent land reform process are put in place. Clearly, distribution of food will be a problem. However, we remain committed to working with our international partners, including the World Food Programme, on that issue.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, did the Minister note the action of the southern African churches on the UN international day in support of victims of torture, at which numerous testimonies were given of rape, violence and torture? Did she note also the suggestion made in South Africa that sooner or later there will have to be a truth commission to deal with those events? Will the Government support an international initiative to collect and validate witness statements so that in due course such a truth commission would be armed with the fullest possible facts?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware that not only the South African churches but other NGOs are concerned with the situation in Zimbabwe and, in particular, victims of torture. At present, our focus is not only on creating a political consensus but on dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis. I am aware that discussions are ongoing, particularly in the NGO community, about the possibility of a truth commission. Those are not discussions in which we as a government are currently engaged. However, once we get through the current crisis, we shall seriously consider the matter.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I am not sure that she was when we pressed her on sanctions earlier in the week—that the Foreign Secretary undertook to review the whole operation of travel sanctions at a meeting to be held on 22nd July, which is the week after next? Is she also aware that he stated there is a strong case for an extension of the measures? We agree with that. I urge the Minister to urge her colleagues, as vigorously as possible, to get on with an extension of the sanctions, which have not worked well. We must bear in mind that we are dealing with personnel led by Mr Mugabe, who are heading for the destitution of Zimbabwe, the undermining of the entire region's prosperity and the starvation of millions of people.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is referring to the GAC meeting on 22nd July. The sanctions are EU sanctions. There will be discussion at that GAC meeting. It is for that meeting to reach a decision on whether or not it wants to extend those sanctions.

I do not agree with the noble Lord that the sanctions have not worked well. I have been pressed in this House on the attendance of Robert Mugabe, for example, at the World Food Summit meeting in Rome. I hope that I have made it clear to the House that there is an exemption for attendance at international UN meetings. That applies across the board. It does not apply only to Robert Mugabe, but to other world leaders who face travel bans for other situations.