HL Deb 14 March 2002 vol 632 cc950-61

3.43 p.m.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission I should like to make a statement on Zimbabwe.

"Yesterday Robert Mugabe was declared the official winner of the presidential election. This result should surprise no one. ZANU-PF has been bent for months on achieving precisely this outcome, by any means and at all costs.

"The Zimbabwean Government have subjected their electorate to two years of violence and intimidation. They have harassed opposition candidates and supporters, manipulated the voters' roll and restricted access to polling stations. They have exploited every instrument of the state to distort the outcome of the election —military, police, media, youth militias and the bureaucracy.

"ZANU-PF has also done its utmost to conceal the extent of its violence and malpractice from the eyes of the world. It excluded European Union election observers, monopolised domestic TV and radio and restricted international media organisations, including the BBC. None of those was the action of a party confident of its ability to win a free and fair election.

"These elections can only be judged by agreed international standards, not least the declaration signed by Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare itself in 1991. In December of last year, on the basis of evidence already available the Commonwealth concluded that, 'the situation in Zimbabwe constitutes a serious and persistent violation of the Commonwealth's fundamental political values and the rule of law'. That conclusion was reinforced in January and again a week before the polls closed. And the situation got worse during the election itself.

"A key yardstick by which any electoral process must be judged is impartial electoral administration. There was nothing impartial about the process in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe staffed Zimbabwe's electoral supervisory commission with partisan army officers. The issue of the names of who could and could not vote was not settled until just days before the election, amid allegations of fraudulent malpractice.

"During the election itself the electoral commission reduced the number of polling booths in urban areas in order to restrict the opposition vote. In many rural areas, the opposition say their polling agents and monitors were prevented from inspecting ballot boxes before voting started. Others were not allowed inside polling stations. Many opposition workers say they were abducted, detained or arrested by supporters of the ruling party or the security forces.

"I have today received the preliminary report of the Commonwealth observer group. It says: 'The violence and intimidation created a climate of fear and suspicion'. It says: 'Thousands of Zimbabwean citizens were disenfranchised'. It says there was, 'a systematic campaign of intimidation'. It concludes: 'The conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors'. I will be placing this report in the Library of the House as well as the full text of the Southern Africa Development Community parliamentary forum report, which was equally damning. The SADC delegation concluded that the, 'election was neither free nor fair'. Zimbabweans have plainly been denied their fundamental right to choose by whom they are to be governed. I am sure I speak for the whole House in expressing my huge admiration for the people of Zimbabwe whose faith in democracy was so strong that they queued for days, and in the face of police violence, to vote—in some cases queued for days, only to be denied the right to vote. They are true democrats. They deserve better.

"Zimbabwe was until recently the pride of Africa, the breadbasket of the continent. But Robert Mugabe's disastrous economic policies have already severely damaged his own country. Now there is 70 per cent unemployment, 112 per cent inflation, and a decline last year in GDP of 10 per cent. This year is expected to be the same.

"The failure of the electoral process in Zimbabwe is a tragedy not just for Zimbabwe but for the people of southern Africa as a whole. The South African rand has depreciated by 40 per cent in the last year. The people of southern Africa deserve better too. Their governments will inevitably bear most of the responsibility for helping the region to recover. We shall continue to work with them in this task.

"The House will know that the European Union decided on 18th February to impose sanctions targeted against the leadership of ZANU-PF. These include a travel ban, an assets freeze and a ban on arms sales. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I will be travelling to Barcelona this afternoon where we will review the position with our European partners at the EU summit to be held in that city.

"We are also working closely with the US Government who have already announced a travel ban on the ZANU-PF leadership and are considering a possible broadening of sanctions along the lines of those which the EU has already enforced. We will continue to work closely with them, our G8 and SADC partners.

"The House will know that Her Majesty's Government took the view on the evidence available at the new year that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth. What has happened since has simply confirmed that judgment. In the event— and we regret this—Commonwealth governments decided not to follow that course of action. They appointed a troika of South Africa, Nigeria and Australia to decide on Zimbabwe's status in the Commonwealth. We await their conclusions in light of the strongly worded Commonwealth observers report to which I have already drawn the attention of the House and of the more detailed conclusions that the report promises.

"It is crucial that we and the international community stand by the people of Zimbabwe in the face of the deprivation and hardship heaped on them by their government. We will therefore continue our programme of humanitarian assistance and our assistance in the fight against HIV/AIDs. But I can tell the House today that we will continue to oppose any access by Zimbabwe to international financial resources until a more representative government is in place.

"Robert Mugabe may claim to have won this election but the people of Zimbabwe have lost. We are faced here with a leader who is determined to ignore the international community, ignore his people and ignore the grave consequences of his actions.

"Change will have to come to Zimbabwe. One day—I hope soon—we shall all look forward to a democratic government of Zimbabwe, acting in the interests of its people and taking its rightful place in a modern Africa.

"There are those who have sought to suggest that this is a conflict between Africa and the West, black against white or the south against the north. I reject that totally. At its heart, this is a matter of universal principle—of the right of people freely to determine their own future. It is that principle which has been flouted in Zimbabwe, and all democrats should speak with one voice in condemning what has taken place".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that important and sombre Statement. As I said at the beginning of last week's debate on Zimbabwe, we on these Benches view the situation that has emerged with sadness and anger. We view it with sadness because we see a great and prosperous country destroyed and democracy clearly brought into contempt. I fully endorse the noble Baroness's tribute to the stamina and courage of the people of Zimbabwe, who stood in long queues for many hours, intimidated and challenged, to make their democratic choice—which many of them were then denied.

We feel sadness because the election has now officially been recognised as seriously flawed and the Commonwealth, in which I always believe strongly, has been hideously tarnished. We feel sadness also because European Union officials have been humiliated, SADC standards have been flouted in almost every respect and the whole scene for southern Africa has been darkened.

We are angry because all that was utterly predictable, and was predicted more than two years ago. There were repeated warnings to the Government and others that we were heading towards a tragedy. The Government now use firm and tough language, which I respect—but it is late, late, late. The truth is that the quiet dialogue, which we said would not work, has been an utter failure.

For Zimbabwe, there is probably worse to come. There is a strong whiff of the police state as gangs and armed forces hunt down defeated political opponents, then harass, arrest and imprison them—and worse. Predictable is the mealy-mouthed response from some African states, which will lead to validation and approval of what has happened from the appointed group of three. Predictable also is that the next speech from the tyrant Mugabe will probably be on the lines of reconciliation and sweet talk—about getting together and forgetting the past. That will go on even while his henchmen are closing down freedom and promoting the worst kinds of racism and hate as they did—people forget this—on a hideous scale in 1983.

What is to be done? Having let things drift so far, what will the British Government contribute to rescue the situation? First, there must be a coalition formed of the determined democracies, including the United States of America, Denmark, New Zealand and some of the wiser African and Asian leaders. That coalition should come together and speak with one voice. It should seek to include— the most difficult task of all—a dithering South Africa whose leadership does not yet seem fully to understand the dangers that the Zimbabwe situation now threatens for that great country. The sooner South Africa understands those dangers and uses its influence, the better.

Secondly, all possible international pressure, including financial and travel restrictions, should be put on Mugabe and his cronies. I was glad to learn that some of that is going forward, although hearing again the words "review" and "consider" fills me with unease.

Thirdly, fresh elections should be demanded. The President of the United States does not recognise the latest elections. I would like to hear the same words from our Government. We believe that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth until there are new elections and a representative government in place.

The Prime Minister's words have been well flown on two fine wings. He is quoted as saying: The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it And if we don't, it will become deeper and angrier". He was right. And the Commonwealth is right in saying that its core principle is that, people should be free to exercise their life choices and pursue their lawful engagements without fear of intimidation, arbitrary arrest or loss of their civil rights". We need not more fine-spun words and feebleness. We have words and rhetoric aplenty. We need principled and focused action, which is what we now expect from the Government.

3.57 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, in welcoming the Statement it would be appropriate for the House to recognise the enormous efforts to mediate made by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, in the run-up to the Zimbabwe elections. No doubt she will be much concerned with the situation over the coming weeks and months.

What happens now in terms of British policy towards refugees and the opposition? I refer not only to those whose grandparents were born in the United Kingdom but all those people, black or white, who have shown so much courage in attempting to conduct a democratic election against overwhelming pressures from the Mugabe regime. It is important that we do not abandon those people and take only those who are white or who are, without question, entitled to residence in the United Kingdom.

There is also a broader Africa question and a large question about the future of the Commonwealth. The Statement contains some strong language about the Commonwealth's fundamental values and universal principles. One of the reasons other Commonwealth African governments have not been strongly on our side is that they do not entirely share those universal principles or fundamental values, which is part of a broader problem. Not many African states have successfully had democratic changes of government in the past 10 to 15 years—and not many of those are Commonwealth member states.

What does that mean for the future of the Commonwealth? Are we confident that in using such broad and idealistic language as in the Statement, we can nevertheless hold the Commonwealth together? Or must we recognise that we may be facing a breach or further weakening of the Commonwealth as an institution?

Chaos in Zimbabwe—probably involving famine and certainly involving refugees flowing into South Africa, Mozambique and other border states—will add to chaos in a region in which the Congo and Zaire are in considerable disorder, Angola is not fully pacified and there are severe problems in Rwanda. Other states have also been involved in the Congo.

The American Government are now preoccupied with the problems of west and central Asia. The previous American administration made it clear that they thought Africa a problem for the Europeans to deal with, while the Middle East and Eurasia were areas in which the United States led. It is important that the British Government try to focus the attention of other states within the EU and at the United Nations on the long-term problems for the world of weak states in Africa and how we rebuild not only their economies but their societies and administrations.

4 p.m.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked about feeling sadness and anger. We all share those sentiments, although I could probably add frustration. I must admit to the House that I personally feel a great deal of frustration, having worked on these issues for many months.

I strongly disagree with the noble Lord that our policy has been an utter failure. I considered his proposals and listened carefully to those made on Zimbabwe during the past few weeks by the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs in another place. All that the noble Lord talked about today and what his right honourable friend suggested in another place is action that we have taken.

We have built an international consensus. There has been strong condemnation from the European Union, leading to targeted sanctions. Strong statements have been made by the Commonwealth ministerial action group. We were disappointed that we were unable to get Zimbabwe suspended from the Commonwealth, but we were entirely realistic about that, because the Commonwealth is an organisation of 54 countries that operates by consensus. We established a mechanism to deal with the situation if the observers' report stated that the election was flawed; we must now look to the troika.

We achieved unanimity in the European Union, which I must say, with respect to the noble Lord, would have been extremely difficult for his party if it had been in power. My right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and I have all spoken to colleagues not only in southern Africa but across Africa about these issues and we shall continue to do so. Let us not forget that the blame here lies with Robert Mugabe. We are talking about a man and a party who care nothing for their own people. The House should not forget that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his kind remarks about me. He asked what will now happen to refugees and those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Noble Lords will know that on 15th January, taking account of public concern, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary suspended removals until after the presidential election. I can tell the House that the Home Office has no immediate plans to recommence removals.

The noble Lord then asked two related questions about the fundamental values of the Commonwealth and went on to raise some wider questions about what is now happening in Africa. I do not entirely share the noble Lord's views about democratic changes in Africa, because during the past two years there have been examples such as Ghana—and we hope for a peaceful transition in Sierra Leone in May. But I recognise that the shift towards democracy is fragile and vulnerable and I entirely agree that we must support those emerging democracies. Within the Commonwealth context, it is important that we talk about our shared values and beliefs. For too long, we have all assumed that those values are shared because we sign up to them. We must tackle the fact that we approach them in quite different ways. One way to do so is through the process emerging through the New Partnership for Africa's Development. The fact that within that process is a recognition that African leaders and governments must tackle issues of political and economic governance is a glimmer of hope.

I entirely agree with the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about working with colleagues in the United States and other European Union countries on the issue of weak stakes, in particular, but more generally on the impact of conflict in Africa. The United States has made clear that its priority in Africa is Sudan and we hope to work closely in resolving the conflict there. Of course, we shall do all we can to ensure that the policies that we are promoting in Africa not only through the New Partnership for Africa's Development but through our bilateral relations with African countries are shared by European Union colleagues. The noble Lord will know that recently my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited the Great Lakes with his French counterpart.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the credentials of the Opposition would be purer if they had been more consistent about Africa and its policies—especially the former apartheid regime in South Africa? Would it not be good if the invigilators could be brought together to consider the evidence of the impropriety that has been suggested—in my view, rightly? We heard today on the BBC the view of some observers that the way in which the election had been conducted was fair. I do not share that view, but will my noble friend consider calling them together so that they can take a joint view on the matter?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend's opening remarks. With respect to his question about bringing the observers together, we considered that during the run-up to the election, but it has been made difficult by the fact that the European Union delegation had to leave Zimbabwe. Strong statements have been made by the SADC parliamentary forum delegation and the Commonwealth observer team, but noble Lords will know that the South African observer team, for example, judged the election result legitimate. Given the emerging differences among different observer groups, it would now be very difficult to bring them together.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, the Statement referred to the Harare declaration of 1991. The noble Baroness also referred to the mechanism established at the recent conference for deciding the issue. Despite the hopeful comment in the Statement about awaiting the conclusions of the troika, are we not now in a total mess? On 6th June, the noble Baroness and the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that the decision is to be taken by the troika, with no need to refer it to the Commonwealth heads of government. The leaders of Nigeria and the South Africa have stated clearly that they believe that the election is valid. What on earth are we now to do to rescue the Commonwealth from what appears to be a disastrous situation?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the troika was mandated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to make a decision on the basis of the Commonwealth observers' report. I quoted extensively from that report. That interim report will be placed in the Library of the House. It is our view that the evidence in that report is clear but we have to await the outcome of the judgment of the troika.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I welcome the Statement made by my noble friend Lady Amos and pay tribute to her work. Does my noble friend agree with those of us who have witnessed two elections in South Africa—the joyous people turning out to vote, the enormous lengths to which the authorities went to ensure that people did vote with ballot places open until two or three in the morning, an extension of days, and every effort made to promote democracy—that in contrast the shameful procedures in Zimbabwe bring the whole of southern Africa into disrepute? Will my noble friend take every opportunity to make sure that President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is involved in early discussions? If the Commonwealth is not to disintegrate entirely and if Zimbabwe is not to slide into utter chaos, it is clear that this matter will have to be resolved in southern Africa. Will the Minister ensure, therefore, that President Mbeki and the presidents of Angola and elsewhere are engaged in discussions at the earliest opportunity?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. I agree with him that we need to work closely with President Mbeki and other leaders in southern Africa. Noble Lords will agree that President Mbeki carries a heavy burden. The prosperity of South Africa is affected by what is happening in Zimbabwe, but so is the prosperity of the whole region. President Mbeki has played a leading role in NePAD. He is keen to ensure that the reputation of Africa as a whole is not blighted by what is going on in Zimbabwe. I agree with my noble friend that early discussions with the South Africans are critical.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister three questions. First, I assume and hope that an extensive aid programme will need to be carried out, whether within Zimbabwe or the countries around it. I assume that that will be a general issue within the UN, the EU and ourselves. In Sudan, the Government took over the aid and distributed it themselves for a while on their own terms. That was accepted for a time. Can we be sure that any aid mounted is monitored so that it is not possible for the Zanu-PF to use aid to strengthen further its hold and to deprive the most needy?

Secondly, we have heard nothing about what is happening in the UN. I hope that that is an area where we shall be able to speak to Africans outside the context of the Commonwealth. Because of the split that is developing in the Commonwealth, that may be important.

Finally, on a purely housekeeping point, I hope that the High Commission in Zimbabwe is being considerably strengthened. It will be extremely important to have immediate, detailed and reliable knowledge of what is happening as our policies are defined.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the focus of any aid to Zimbabwe would be humanitarian assistance principally in relation to food aid. For example, we are working with the World Food Programme. Since last year we have been engaged in a supplementary feeding programme in Zimbabwe. The other two aspects of our aid programme relate to HIV/AIDS and rural development, the bulk of which is through NGOs. The noble Baroness will know that we monitor all our aid programmes because we wish to ensure that the aid goes precisely to the targets that we have identified.

We have been in constant contact with the UN Secretary-General. The noble Baroness will know that before and since the elections he has appealed for calm. We shall continue to engage with the UN. Prior to the elections, the UNDP considered the land reform programme in Zimbabwe. Its view was that it could not proceed further given the situation on the ground.

The noble Baroness's third point gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to our staff in the High Commission in Zimbabwe who have done a very good job indeed. I spoke to them recently. They already give us detailed and reliable information about what is happening on the ground and I am sure they will continue to do so.

Earl Russell

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the present policy whereby asylum seekers are not returned to Zimbabwe will continue in place unless or until Parliament is informed to the contrary?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, on 15th January the Home Secretary suspended removals. The Home Office has no immediate plans to commence removals. I am sure that we shall inform Parliament at the appropriate time.

Lord Biffen

My Lords, the entire House will sympathise with the Minister for having to bear such grievous news from southern Africa, particularly as it reinforces the compelling article in The Times today by the noble Lord, Lord Renwick.

How will the policy of sanctions now be viewed? Is it not likely that the background for sanctions will be coloured by the action of the South African Government and other governments in southern Africa? Can we be reassured that we shall not degenerate into a policy of gesture which will have no meaning but will enable Mugabe to demonstrate his invulnerability to such action, even if it means that we have to discontinue sanctions?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the European Union has moved to targeted sanctions: a travel ban, an assets freeze and a ban on the sale of military equipment. On the latter, it follows the United Kingdom's action in 2000. The United States has imposed a travel ban. It has made it clear that given the results of the election it will consider strengthening those areas. We have made clear that we shall not move to broader economic sanctions which we think will hurt the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. We want sanctions which are targeted on the elite.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the British press have not given the correct picture of the opposition of many of the democratic governments of Africa to the Mugabe victory? For instance, The Times today states that the observers from the Southern African Development Community concluded that the poll was substantially free and fair, which is absolutely not the case as the Independent reported. The Southern African Development Community observers were all parliamentarians. As my noble friend's Statement says, also the Commonwealth observers found that the election was flawed. Is it not right that the British press should give credit to those African governments who regard this as an African problem and are making fair comment about it?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend's comments. It is important that the press report as accurately as possible. That is even more important with regard to the SADC Parliamentary Forum report.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I shall take up the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside. The reports of the two observer groups to which the Minister referred—the Commonwealth observers and the SADC observers—are important and surprising, given that the leaders of so many African countries have said that the election was legitimate.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, that it is important to engage with, in particular, President Mbeki and President Obasanjo, who is the other African member of the troika, which also includes Prime Minister Howard of Australia. They have both expressed the view that the election was legitimate, or words to that effect. We should urge on those leaders, in whatever manner may be most effective, the importance of their voting for stern measures against Zimbabwe. The future of the Commonwealth is at stake, and, if the troika does not support such measures, the Commonwealth will be badly damaged.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is important that I say to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that the credibility of the Commonwealth is a matter that has constantly been raised in this context. It is important that we all adhere to the principles that underlie membership of the Commonwealth and ensure that they are continued. I remind the House that the Commonwealth observers' team is led by a Nigerian.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the determined way in which she has handled the matter. Of course, the result is extremely disappointing.

Can the Minister confirm that we need unanimity in the Commonwealth before any action can be taken? Secondly, will she, with others, renew approaches to the Government of Zimbabwe to remove the restrictions on the ability of the BBC to report events in that country?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can confirm that, as an organisation, the Commonwealth operates by consensus. We have urged the Government of Zimbabwe to lift the restrictions on the BBC and will continue to do so in relation not only to the BBC but to other media organisations. We think that freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet of democracy.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, I welcome the reports of the attitude of the Home Office to the removal of people to Zimbabwe at present. However, there has been considerable concern that people from Zimbabwe—black people—have been subjected to immediate detention on arrival here, in contrast to most asylum seekers, who are not detained.

In view of the fact that people will not be returned for the time being, will the Minister have words with her colleagues in the Home Office to end the process through which people from Zimbabwe are invariably detained on arrival? Will she also take on board the concern that some people who are not being returned at the moment are, nevertheless, still being detained?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are in constant dialogue with colleagues in the Home Office. I will take on board the points made by the noble Lord and put them to the Home Office.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords—

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords—

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, noble Lords on the Cross-Benches wanted to intervene and have not yet done so.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the Minister referred a moment ago to the freezing by the European Union of Mr Mugabe's assets. Have Her Majesty's Government any knowledge of exactly where the bulk of Mr Mugabe's assets are stashed away?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord any detailed information in answer to that question. However, if there is anything that I can put in writing to the noble Lord, I shall happily do so.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, to clarify totally matters, particularly in the light of the American decision, can the Minister confirm whether we will recognise Mr Mugabe's apparent victory—yes or no?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thought that I had made it absolutely clear in the Statement that we did not recognise the result or its legitimacy.

Lord Richard

My Lords, with great respect, I must say that we recognise states, not governments. There is no question of not recognising the state of Zimbabwe. It is there, and we have recognised it for years.

I shall return to the election. Something that gives rise to immense frustration on all sides is how little leverage we—the United Kingdom—have. The only way in which we can influence the position is to try to persuade the countries that have influence and leverage ill Harare to begin to exercise it. The key to that will be the South African Government. I hope that the Government here will quickly, immediately and vigorously try to mobilise a body of opinion that might have some effect on the attitude of the South African Government. Short of that, Mr Mugabe will not be impressed by expulsion or suspension from the Commonwealth or sanctions on some parts of his regime. He may be impressed by economic leverage from South Africa.

It is ironic that, when Ian Smith was in charge in what was then Rhodesia, it was pressure from South Africa that, in the end, persuaded him that there should be a change of regime. I hope that history will repeat itself.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we must persuade the countries with leverage to exercise it. That has been the cornerstone of our policy, and it is the reason why we have sought to work closely with SADC colleagues on the matter. Since the election, we have, of course, been in touch with colleagues in South Africa, for example, and we will continue to work closely with them and other governments in the SADC region and with other countries throughout Africa. The leverage must come from within Africa.