HL Deb 08 October 2003 vol 653 cc285-8

2.44 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have had with the governments of the other European Union countries about the recent closure by force by the Government of Zimbabwe of the Daily News newspaper of Harare.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, with our strong support, the EU issued a declaration on 18th September condemning the closure of the Daily News and describing it as a serious attack on freedom of information in Zimbabwe. With EU partners, we are discussing making further representations to the Zimbabwean Government regarding our wish that press freedom should be guaranteed in Zimbabwe.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, as this is my first attendance in the House since the event, may I congratulate the noble Baroness on her new appointment?

Following the forcible closure of the last independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe, can the noble Baroness confirm the report this morning that Mr Mugabe has now arrested all the members of the executive of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions? While President Obasanjo has confirmed that Mr Mugabe will not be welcomed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in December in Nigeria, should not the European leaders be urging on the African leaders their obligation to use peer pressure to enforce human rights, the rule of law and good governance under the several treaties they have signed? Without their doing so, those treaties will lose all credibility.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, for his good wishes. I can confirm that Wellington Chibebe, who is the Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and 53 others have been arrested by police. No charges have yet been made. I presume that that is linked to the calls for action today and the handing-out of flyers in town.

As regards EU leaders pressing African leaders to use peer pressure, we have continued to do this, as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, is aware. EU leaders and others have talked to their African counterparts, not only in the context of the New Partnership for Africa's Development but in the context of the Harare principles, which govern the relationship of Commonwealth countries with each other, and in the context of the UN.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, what approaches have Her Majesty's Government made to the South African Government to inquire why they are not speaking out on press freedom in Zimbabwe, which is one of the very cornerstones of the democratic constitution of South Africa?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, will know that we have continued to talk about Zimbabwe not only with the President of South Africa but with others in the South African Government. President Mbeki is absolutely clear that the view of the South African Government is that dialogue between the MDC and ZANU-PF is the only way forward. The South African Government, with the Nigerians and the Malawians, have sought to facilitate that. Through their Foreign Minister, the South African Government previously made comments when there were concerns about attacks on MDC supporters as a result of a mass "stayaway", but I am not aware of any comments having been made in this particular instance.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, perhaps I may add our warmest congratulations from these Benches on the noble Baroness's appointment. It gives us great pleasure to see her still at the Dispatch Box dealing with the question of Zimbabwe.

Bearing in mind that the key player in this affair is the Southern African Development Community, what exchanges has the EU had with SADC since the ministerial summit of November 2002, when it was not possible to reach agreement between the parties? In particular, has the EU now sought to take a common line with SADC on the new press law and the banning of theDaily News? Has the Minister noted that yesterday the Media Institute of Southern Africa sent a delegation to SADC headquarters in Gaborone demanding strong action in respect of the threats to press freedom in the region generally and in Zimbabwe in particular? Would not this create a new opportunity for dialogue between the EU and SADC for that purpose?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It does not matter how many times I change jobs, I still end up answering questions on Zimbabwe.

With respect to a dialogue between the European Union and SADC, there have continued to be discussions at troika level between SADC and the EU and, of course, between individual EU member states and individual SADC member states. I agree with the noble Lord that there is an opportunity for the EU and SADC to look again at issues relating to the press laws in Zimbabwe. However, given what happened in August at the SADC meeting, when there was a statement about EU sanctions and a complete misunderstanding of their role in Zimbabwe, those discussions may not necessarily result in the kind of initiative that we would like to see.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, while we are talking about discussions with other EU members about Zimbabwe, is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure she is—that this coming weekend, heading for an EU-ACP meeting in Rome are two members of the Zimbabwe Government, Mr Kangai and Mr Mangwana. Mr Mangwana is one of the chief suppressors of liberty in Mugabe's regime, and is on the EU travel banned list. What steps are we going to take to prevent him coming to Europe in defiance of that ban?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will know, because we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions in this House, that while there is a travel ban, exemptions apply to those countries which have international obligations with respect to UN or other international organisations being based there or UN-related meetings. I am very happy to look into this, but I imagine that the two individuals to whom the noble Lord referred are going because it is an ACP meeting, which allows them to enter Italy. I shall also tell the House that today and tomorrow the Africa Working Group, an EU working group at official level, will be talking about Zimbabwe.

Lord Acton

My Lords, may I add to what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said to my noble friend? I am delighted that she is continuing to answer questions on Zimbabwe—and, indeed, that she is the Leader of the House. I much look forward to my noble friend and I continuing to play a duet on this subject.

Can my noble friend say whether the Nigerian Government have had anything to say about the banning of the Daily News? If not, have Her Majesty's Government raised this matter with Nigeria and, if so, will they continue raising the matter with Nigeria?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments, although I am not so sure about the duet.

I am not aware of the Nigerian Government having raised this issue. I will check this with our High Commissioner in Abuja, and I will write to my noble friend specifically about whether we have raised this with the Nigerian Government. I am not aware that we have.