HL Deb 19 March 2002 vol 632 cc1229-32

11.7 a.m.

Lord Blaker

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What their present policy is towards Zimbabwe.

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

My Lords, our policy is to work for a peaceful, prosperous, stable and democratic Zimbabwe where human rights and the rule of law are respected. We are working intensively with our friends in the region and elsewhere to secure this outcome for the people of Zimbabwe.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that Fiji and Pakistan were suspended from the Commonwealth for breaches of its principles which were much less serious than the breaches that we have seen in Zimbabwe, which were condemned by the Commonwealth observers? If the troika decides not to act equally firmly, will it not give the impression that there is one set of principles for most of the Commonwealth and a different and lower set for Africa? Will that not be bad for the Commonwealth and for Africa?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, knows, the troika meets this afternoon. It is important that I do not prejudge the outcome of that meeting. The noble Lord will be aware that the British Government have argued consistently—indeed we did so before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting—that there was sufficient evidence that Zimbabwe had violated the Harare principles. We argued for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth. That was not a position that was agreed unanimously by other members of the Commonwealth. As I have said in this House before, the Commonwealth consists of 54 countries which operate by consensus. But we have made our views absolutely clear. It would be a great pity if the Commonwealth and its values were undermined, but we must await the outcome of the troika meeting.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the South African observer mission's report into the recent election was politically rigged? If that is the example that is being set by South Africa, does it not put the New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative in jeopardy? What pressure can Her Majesty's Government put on President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to lead by example to try to achieve a government of national unity in Zimbabwe, thus averting a further deterioration of the situation in that country?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have a situation where observer teams from the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum, from Norway, Japan and the Commonwealth have concluded that the electoral process in Zimbabwe has not met the Southern African Development Community norms and standards and that the official outcome does not reflect the will of the people. Indeed, the South African parliamentary observers team has dropped its conclusion that the elections were substantially free and fair.

On the other hand, the South African observer mission concluded that the election outcome was legitimate. So we have a situation where there are different views being expressed through The Observers reports. Noble Lords will know from the Statement that I made last week, where we quoted extensively from the Commonwealth observer report, that it was made absolutely clear that there were flaws to the electoral process.

With respect to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, it is important that we do not punish an entire continent because of the behaviour of Robert Mugabe. We have discussed Africa extensively in this House. We are well aware of the issues. We need to ensure that the reputation of the entire continent is not blighted. That is why the work that we are doing through the New Partnership for Africa's Development is so important.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, as the murders continue in Zimbabwe and as the evidence of vote rigging and other manipulations pour in, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, has rightly made clear, does the Minister agree that this really is the moment of truth both for the whole of southern Africa, the Commonwealth and indeed for Zimbabwe? Does she further agree that any arrangement which legitimises Mugabe is unacceptable? Will she therefore accept that any ruling this afternoon from the troika which seeks to legitimise and to favour Mugabe would threaten the end of the Commonwealth as a body of principle?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is important that I repeat that the troika was established by the Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting. The troika decision is not our decision. A clear mechanism was established. This afternoon the Presidents of Nigeria and of South Africa and the Prime Minister of Australia will consider the report from the Commonwealth observer team.

It is important that we recognise that the Commonwealth is a strong organisation. It does extremely good work; for example, with young people and with NGOs. I have said in this House before that I think that the decision that was taken not to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth undermines the credibility of the Commonwealth. Our position has not changed in relation to that. Last week, when I answered questions in this House, I also made it absolutely clear that we did not consider the current government in Zimbabwe to be legitimate because of what we knew about what happened in the run-up to the elections and during the election process itself. I have made those views absolutely clear. Those views have not changed.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, may I press the Minister a little further on the implications for NePAD? Many of us have welcomed the New Partnership for Africa's Development. However, we have understood that this would very much depend on improving practices of good governance across the continent. Nigeria and South Africa, together with Senegal, have been among the countries which have pushed most actively for this initiative. What does the Minister think may be the implications for the principles of good governance, which are so important to NePAD?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there can be absolutely no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe has cast a cloud over the entire New Partnership for Africa's Development process. We all recognise that. The key elements, with which all have agreed, were the economic and political governance aspects of NePAD, to which African governments will need to sign. The Economic Commission for Africa is currently undertaking detailed work on governance issues for the NePAD steering committee. However, it is important to remember that NePAD is a process. We never thought that we would be able to solve Africa's problems overnight. If we could do so, then the debates that we have held in this House over the lack of progress in meeting millennium development goals would not have taken place. What Zimbabwe has done is to demonstrate how much further we have to go, but it also shows us exactly why our efforts are so critical.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, given the food shortages in Zimbabwe, what is the Government's present position with regard to sponsoring land reform in Zimbabwe and the clearing out of the highly productive white farmers?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there are two elements to the noble Lord's question. As regards food shortages, the Department for International Development has been involved, for example, in supplementary feeding programmes. Furthermore, we are funding the World Food Programme because there is a serious humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

On the question of land reform, our position has not changed. Last year, we brokered a deal through the Abuja process during which we made it absolutely clear that our support for land reform would depend on the Government of Zimbabwe abiding by the commitments they had made. It would also depend on the UNDP making a report on the ways in which we could put the land reform process back on a transparent basis. That has not happened. The UNDP has published a report which makes it quite clear that it can go no further because of the current situation on the ground.

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