HL Deb 03 June 2003 vol 648 cc1158-60

2.44 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps to remove Augustine Chihuri, the Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, as honorary Vice-President of Interpol.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am happy to say that we have learnt that Zimbabwe's police commissioner announced in a letter to Interpol dated 28th May that he would step aside from the position we are discussing.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, we very much welcome the resignation. The appointment was seen as support by Interpol for a repressive police force that yesterday viciously beat and shot at peaceful protestors.

The Prime Minister's statement in Evian expressed strong support for NePAD in which African leaders assume responsibility for democracy, human rights and good governance throughout the continent. May I therefore ask the Minister what has been the reaction of governments in the region to Morgan Tsvangirai's arrest and to the court order banning this week's protests—both issued on affidavits in Chihuri's name?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I very much join the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, in welcoming the resignation. The noble Lord is quite right, the Prime Minister made clear in his speech at Evian that there has been significant progress on NePAD, with many countries within the African continent now agreeing to review mechanisms which lie very much at the heart of the NePAD initiative. It is true that Zimbabwe casts something of a shadow over NePAD. None of us can disguise that. But it is our strong view that we cannot hold an entire continent to ransom on the basis of what is happening in one country.

During the G8 summit President Mbeki of South Africa detailed the continuing efforts of African leaders to start interparty dialogue between ZANUPF and the MDC. However, we have not had any specific feedback on the arrest of Mr Morgan Tsvangirai or, indeed, on the way in which the Zimbabwean courts have outlawed the week of action which is currently under way. We shall have a much clearer view of that over the next couple of days.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, with the ever increasing condemnation of Mr Mugabe and his brutal regime in Zimbabwe is it not time for Her Majesty's Government to put pressure on the United Nations Security Council to initiate a full debate on Zimbabwe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government do not hang back from wishing to see this matter debated in as authoritative a forum as possible. We wish to see it debated in the EU and in the Commonwealth. We also very much wish to see it debated in the UN. I hope that the noble Lord will understand that not all our partners on the United Nations Security Council take the same view as we do as regards robustly exposing the dreadful shortcomings of the Mugabe regime. There are those who do not wish to have the matter debated with the robustness that the noble Lord and I would like to see.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister initiate an inquiry into the manner in which the Interpol rules provide for the appointment of its vice-presidents so that this kind of thing does not happen again? Is the Minister aware that Mr Chihuri was the subject of a court order two years ago for facilitating the illegal seizure of farms and that the latest exploits of the force to which he belongs include not only the arrest of Mr Tsvangirai but also those of the mayor of Bulawayo and the secretary-general of the MDC, Mr Welshman Ncube? Is the Minister also aware that the police force is accused of beating Mr Edwin Dzivaresekwa MP to within an inch of his life and that he is in intensive care? Does the noble Baroness agree that even if we cannot refer those matters to the Security Council, they should be the subject of a rigorous examination by the High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord said. As regards the way in which the police commissioner was awarded the honorary vice presidency, Her Majesty's Government were not involved in Interpol's decision. I believe that it was a matter of precedent that those who had been elected in the past were then given an honorary vice presidency, as happened in the case that we are discussing. I agree with the noble Lord that where the situation changes on the ground there should be a mechanism for reviewing exactly that automaticity. The police force in Zimbabwe has become something of an instrument of state terror, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, described in the examples that he cited. As I say, I have a great deal of sympathy with the points that he made and I shall relay them to my right honourable friends.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is it not the case that as well as those who have already been mentioned as having been arrested yesterday, no fewer than four other MPs were arrested, all members of the main opposition party, and that at least one of them is said to have been held without food for 24 hours? Can the noble Baroness tell us a little more about the regime which Mr Chihuri represents and of any other effective action we can take to discourage this kind of atrocious behaviour?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, reports are still coming in as to the full extent of what happened. The noble Lord cites arrests made yesterday. I do not yet have any information about what has gone on today. The Zimbabwean high court issued a provisional order on 31st May declaring that the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai were, interdicted from holding the mass stay away and public demonstrations scheduled for 2 to 6 June". The order was given by Justice Hlatshwayo following an application made, as has been pointed out, by Commissioner Chihuri. As we know, Mr Tsvangirai was arrested yesterday morning for contempt of court, in so far as he defied that interim order. He was then released an hour and a half later to attend his treason trial.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, the Minister will remember that when this country tried to raise such an issue last year, the African Union voted it down. Have the Government considered asking Mr Mbeki, in his character as chairman of the African Union under President Gaddafi, what it intends to do? At the G8 last year, we were told that good governance was not really in the gift of NePAD, but an issue for the African Union. What have we done to try to use that, and to put the African Union on the stand and ask what it is doing about that situation in an African country where Africans are murdering Africans?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that is a difficult question, as I am sure that the noble Baroness understands. It is difficult to ensure that we get the support that we need from African Union countries while still having a robust position ourselves, and to try to avoid putting anyone else in the dock other than those in the Mugabe regime who should be there.

The noble Baroness is quite right: the EU tabled a resolution in the 59th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and it fell to a no-action motion proposed by South Africa on behalf of the Africa group. We were enormously disappointed by that reaction from the Africa group. On the other hand, Presidents Mbeki, Obasanjo and Muluzi visited Harare from 5th May for meetings with Mr Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, and we very much welcome their continued engagement in trying to tackle the problems facing Zimbabwe.

We are talking to those in the African continent whom we believe can bring pressure to bear on the Mugabe regime, but there is a delicate balance to strike to ensure their full engagement and that they put pressure on the regime in the way needed.