§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy towards Zimbabwe in the light of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Abuja.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in March last year, I spoke of Zimbabwe as a country that until two years before was the breadbasket of southern Africa, with a sophisticated, successful economic and public infrastructure, with no race problem and blessed with the rule of law. The collapse of all that had brought inflation at 280 per cent and widespread poverty and misery—a humanitarian nightmare. One year on, inflation has reached 600 per cent and rising. The country does not have enough foreign exchange to pay for fuel, electricity, water, or raw materials for industry. Meanwhile, South African businessmen are buying up firms and plants at knock-down prices, in a process described as the cannibalisation of the country.
§ People are eating grass; and a teacher's monthly wage might buy him one day's ration of mealie meal, but only if he is a member of ZANU-PF. HIV has wiped out whole families and black agricultural workers are disenfranchised and denied food. The plight of the African population is dire, not only because of starvation, but because they are defenceless against daily brutality and violence. The free press and the courts have both been destroyed. One aspect of Mugabe's rule that should give us concern is the youth militia, which was the subject of a powerful "Panorama" programme, and on which the regime is spending considerable sums. The Sierra Leone war left 50,000 dead, 500,000 homeless and 10,000 mutilated. In Zimbabwe, by decision of the state, all boys and girls from the age of 11 must join the militia. No one may move to tertiary education unless they have served in this force, and no one may train as a teacher or nurse if they have not gone through the camps. The camps are producing moral cripples, who know nothing but brutality and hate, and they will be a terrible legacy.
In a powerful statement, Archbishop Tutu said what has long needed saying by an African about the deafening silence and denial of the African leaders. He attacks their policy of defending Mugabe to ensure the "sovereignty" of African nations, to find,
African solutions to African problems",
and to resist the,
Use of human rights by Western nations to put Africa into shape".
He said that the peer review system of the African Union will be,
A futile exercise if we are not ready to condemn human rights unequivocally without fear or favour, whatever the struggle credentials of the perpetrator".
§ He said that there are no peculiar African rights, and what is happening in Zimbabwe is wholly unacceptable.1101
§ I propose a course of action for Her Majesty's Government in the aftermath of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Abuja. That course was foreshadowed by the Prime Minister's statement there, rightly rejecting charges of racism and neo-colonialism, when he said that Britain wanted change for Zimbabwe's black people who make up the majority of Mugabe's victims, as well as for the white farmers driven from their land. This is nothing to do with old-fashioned colonialism, it is simply to do with regimes that do not treat their people properly. I hope very much that he will ensure that the Commission for Africa shares this view, and takes active steps to enable OSCE-type observers to enter the country soon to assess the position. The Catholic Church in South Africa has done this, and has made a devastating report. Why do we hear nothing from the Church here? I am glad to see that a bishop is speaking tonight.
§ I do not suggest UN observers, because that institution has proved powerless, or unwilling, to bring the issue of Zimbabwe to either the Security Council or the General Assembly in four years, and has allowed the block vote of the African Union to prevent any discussion in the UN Commission on Human Rights. What have Ministers said to the AU, while discussing the peace facility, the African Army, which we are to pay for from development funds? What have they said about Zimbabwe, what did the Prime Minister say to Colonel Gaddafi?
§ Let us be under no illusion that observers must be on the ground soon. It will be useless to send them in a month before the next election. No elections can be valid until a free press is restored, the green bombers are disbanded, much of the Public Order and Security Act is repealed, and the many black farm workers who are disfranchised regain their vote. In a recent by-election, the MDC was unable to hold even one rally, and the tribal chiefs warned that anyone voting for the MDC would be evicted, and that they, the chiefs, would lose their jobs if the MDC won. Maize was distributed by government officials and—surprise, surprise—the ZANU-PF candidate, a retired air chief marshal, was elected. All confidence in the voting procedure has collapsed, and will have to be restored in a country that has seen every single one of the 58 opposition MPs attacked, threatened in their homes, tortured, and in two cases murdered.
§ I urge Her Majesty's Government, working with the Commission for Africa, the United States, Denmark, Sweden and perhaps Holland, to begin to plan both for observers and for the urgent measures that will need to be taken, apart from economic support, to restore and maintain order in a country whose police is demoralised and whose judiciary has been decimated. If they can act eventually with the UN, the European Union and the African Union, so much the better. However, the EU/AU relationship is likely at present to make the European Union deferential to the very sentiments that Desmond Tutu has denounced, and to be concerned to follow a political agenda that would not serve the people of Zimbabwe.1102
§ The same is true of the UN. A small group could work with DfID, the World Food Programme, the World Bank, and the NGOs including the Armani Trust, and such important figures as the African church leaders. Archbishop Ncube, in Bulawayo, and Archbishop Tutu in South Africa have spoken our against tyranny and have valuable non-political contacts at the grass roots. What is needed now is to follow Archbishop Tutu's campaign for the world to give the people of Zimbabwe the same support that it once gave for the fight against apartheid. If the Secretary-General of the UN cannot do that, there is something wrong with the UN.
§ When Zimbabwe is freed from the present tyranny, it will need to rebuild and restore the sophisticated, non-racial infrastructure of skilled professionals that once made it such a successful country, and which could do so again. Many of those people sought asylum here. Many are former teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors, and others with skills that we need. Unlike asylum seekers from Kosovo, Afghanistan or China, they speak good English, were educated in the British system, and came here because they had been arrested, often tortured and persecuted without redress, because they supported the opposition party or simply because they were natural leaders. Getting here was not easy, but they had the naïve belief that England meant sanctuary as it had done for the Ugandan Asians and for many others fleeing to freedom in our long history. They thought that they would find sanctuary here—not so. First, we instituted a visa system. Under pressure, the Government agreed that no one would be deported back to Zimbabwe by force. However, asylum seekers, some of whom had been tortured but whose applications to stay had failed, often because of grossly inadequate legal advice, at once lost accommodation and benefits, were denied the right to work and, in 2003, were urged to apply for voluntary repatriation as the Home Office considered Zimbabwe a safe place. That letter was eventually withdrawn. Now they are merely told that they must at once leave the country. Where can they go?
§ The Home Office argues that refugees should seek shelter in neighbouring countries. Very many do. But it is the most sophisticated and skilled, and the most threatened, who manage to come here—people such as the brave air force warrant officer who reported to the police after seeing ballot boxes being tampered with during the 2002 elections, and was promptly arrested and tortured. What are Her Majesty's Government doing to help small countries such as Botswana to deal with the influx of refugees? What pressure are they bringing on the United Nations to do something in the region and to monitor the often brutal treatment of refugees in the camps in South Africa?
§ Zimbabweans here only want to work. They do not want benefits and they have real skills to offer. There are teachers among them who could be really valuable in inner-city schools where it is difficult for young black boys to resist the gang culture in favour of education. Indeed, the Home Secretary expressed that anxiety when he was the Secretary of State for 1103 Education and Science. There are mechanical engineers, clerical officers, people skilled in labour relations and in marketing, who could and should be working. When Zimbabwe is free and those who came here—many of them among the potential political leaders—return to their country, if they have survived their treatment here, what do you suppose their views on England will be? What will have happened to their skills?
I urge the Government to recognise that these people have nowhere to go and to grant them either humanitarian protection or discretionary leave and, above all, the right to work. The Government should implement the recommendation of the House of Commons report in January this year that,
in the case of failed asylum seekers who are unable to return to their countries because of the human rights situation there, the Government should make appropriate use of the power to grant a temporary right to remain in the United Kingdom".
§ This is something immediately within the power of Her Majesty's Government to do when so little else can be done for a suffering country. Let us have some joined-up government. The Home Office should not be frustrating our declared national commitment to helping Zimbabwe when and where we can. What is happening now is a scandal and a disgrace. It is also extremely short-sighted.
§ 7.42 p.m.
My Lords, recent reports have it that Mr Mugabe plans to announce his retirement date at the ZANU-PF congress in December. I doubt it. Mr Mugabe has spent most of his life seeking and exercising power; such people do not retire easily.
Another reason for my doubts is that in 1983–84 Mr Mugabe sent the 5th Brigade into Matabeleland. Its members massacred between 6,000 and 20,000 Ndebele and threw their bodies down disused mine shafts. They tortured, raped and beat the Ndebele people at will. I suspect that Mr Mugabe fears that if he gives up power the Ndebele may seek revenge on him.
But supposing Mr Mugabe retires, the main contenders to succeed him are said to be Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa, Speaker of the Zimbabwean Parliament, and Mr John Nkomo, the ZAN U-PF national chairman and Minister of Special Affairs. Mr Mnangagwa is Mr Mugabe's choice of successor, but Mr Mugabe's failure in every other respect makes this endorsement highly suspect. Mr Mnangagwa is not popular and in 2000 lost his parliamentary seat. He was at one time a singularly intimidating Minister of State for Security. I would fear a Mnangagwa presidency.
Mr John Nkomo is Ndebele. I knew him in the early 1980s when he tried bravely to stop the Matabeleland horrors. We shared a love of horseracing and he visited me at my Harare home. I would cheer at the thought of the presidency of the John Nkomo of 20 years ago. But since his party, ZAPU, fused with ZANU-PF in 1988, he has helped take the decisions which have wreaked havoc upon Zimbabwe, as the noble Baroness has described.
My former father-in-law, the late Sir Garfield Todd, once Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, said that he could never forgive Mr Mugabe for what he had 1104 done to good men like John Nkomo. A presidency of today's John Nkomo would be that of a man steeped in the horrors that ZANU-PF has perpetrated in recent years. Whether it is led by a Mugabe, a Mnangagwa or an Nkomo, this is a ZAN U-PF regime, and ZANU-PF is responsible for Zimbabwe's tragedy.
Britain's policy is, first, to give the people of Zimbabwe the chance to decide democratically whether they want to continue rule by ZANU-PF or prefer another party. Secondly, Britain generously pours food aid into Zimbabwe for the 7.5 million people at risk, something of which I am very proud.
This is not a struggle between a former colonial power and a former colony. Britain and other concerned nations, especially the African giants Nigeria and, above all, South Africa, must work together. Britain's diplomatic goal must continue to be a truly democratic choice by the voters. Ultimately, this is not about a Mugabe, a Mnangagwa or an Nkomo; it is about the nearly 12 million people of Zimbabwe who have surely suffered enough.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Blaker
My Lords, there is much bad news out of Zimbabwe but the Commonwealth decision was good news, not only because it rightly continued the suspension of Zimbabwe but because of the way in which it was reached. I understand that President Mbeke tried to persuade the African members of the Commonwealth to support Zimbabwe's immediate readmission. As we know, this was rejected and all of the African members of the Commonwealth supported its continued suspension.
Does the Minister detect in that decision a change of mood among the African countries, away from automatic support of Mr Mugabe, because of the damage he is doing to the prospects of southern Africa? This was not the first time that President Mbeke had rallied the African countries in support of Zimbabwe. He did so in the Human Rights Commission of the UN and in the Non-Aligned Movement in Malaysia last year.
The other piece of good news is the role of the bishops in Zimbabwe, to whom my noble friend Lady Park—whom I congratulate on securing the debate—referred, and the work of three other bishops who are busy spreading the word in neighbouring countries about what is really happening in Zimbabwe.
As to the question of what should be done, we must clearly continue to press for an appropriate resolution in the UN Human Rights Commission, which is sitting at the moment in Geneva. A resolution proposed by the EU will be presented by the Irish representative.
We should also use other forums to deal with the Zimbabwe problem. I still take the view that African problems should preferably be solved by African countries, especially in the light of the undertakings given by them in respect of good governance, the rule of law and human rights.
1105 But the developed world does have a role to play through international organisations. Before long, we shall hold the presidency of the European Union; we shall hold the chair of the G8 next year. Both organisations have the ability to influence the actions of African countries but so far there is little sign of their doing so. The time has come when they have a positive duty to do so apart from any question of self-interest.
The economies of the SADC countries will surely suffer more and more severely the longer Zimbabwe is an economic ruin. Apart from South Africa from time to time, the SADC countries will not be good places in which to invest nor with which to trade. The G8 countries should make it clear to them that it is very much to their advantage to restore Zimbabwe to health.
As to the third organisation, the Commission for Africa, which was proposed by the Prime Minister, can the Minister clarify whether its remit will cover Zimbabwe? If it does, noble Lords will wish it well. We will regard it as important, especially if it covers Zimbabwe. We will follow its work with hope and wish it success.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the opportunity for your Lordships to consider the situation in Zimbabwe once more. Sadly, the latest information that we have received from Church sources in Zimbabwe tells of political crisis, economic collapse, social disintegration and a state of near despair.
A fortnight ago a bishop from one of our linked dioceses in Zimbabwe spoke at my diocesan synod. He told of a government determined to continue in power and now supported by legislation. Any opposition is repressed by the Public Order and Safety Act, which prevents people demonstrating in any way, and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which prevents people saying or publishing anything critical of the leader. The bishop spoke of a new generation being caught up in the power games through the use of National Youth Service training. Young people who fear going into the National Youth Service flee from their homes but there is no access to higher education without a certificate saying that the service has been completed. The result is the loss abroad of some of the best young people who will not return while the present regime is in power.
The country can ill afford the loss of such talent because the economy is in a dire state, with shortages of raw materials and currency and the collapse of public services, except the army and the police. Food distribution has been politicised. People have to show the right party card to have access to supplies. The financial hardships are contributing to the disintegration of society, but this is made worse by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is now affecting one in five Zimbabweans.
What is to be done? In December, the leaders in Abuja spoke of the desire to facilitate an early return of Zimbabwe to the councils of the Commonwealth, to promote national 1106 reconciliation and assist towards a return to normality and economic prosperity. It will be of interest if the Minister can indicate whether any progress has been made or is likely to be made in the foreseeable future. Noble Lords will quite understand that pressure from the British Government, as the former colonial regime, can easily be discounted by the Government of Zimbabwe and their allies. One of the disappointments of the past months has been the lack of challenge on the Government of Zimbabwe from the leaders of neighbouring African countries, particularly South Africa. They surely hold the key to the Abuja recommendations. Perhaps the Minister can indicate whether she has discerned any positive signs there.
The sensitivity of the British Government's position is mirrored by that of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. The noble Baroness asked why we do not hear of the Church here. She is obviously not aware of the diocese of Rochester's action in breaking official links with the diocese of Harare because of the craven support its bishop has given to President Mugabe. Conversely, the three bishops of the twin dioceses with which my diocese is linked have been courageous in challenging the ruling powers. We have been supporting them vocally and financially. Yet their criticisms can easily be discounted as the unpatriotic words of puppets of a Church holding allegiance to the Church of England, the Church of the colonial power. It is conveniently ignored that today each province is independent and the majority of the Anglicans in the world are African, with clear minds of their own.
I believe that it is in such people of all denominations in Zimbabwe that hope lies. On Saturday, in Southwark Cathedral there were some 50 Mothers' Union members from Zimbabwe. They inspired us with song and dance, but they inspired us even more with their stories of taking in of AIDS orphans, their help with primary health care, their teaching of the next generation, and their unofficial distribution of food and aid.
Bishops may talk and preach, and they do; government Ministers may negotiate and pressurise, and they should; and progress often seems slow. But the future of Zimbabwe is hopeful because the MU members on Saturday are more typical of their fellow Zimbabweans than those who hold temporary power, and they and their children will be there helping with the task of nation building, when today's oppressive powers have gone to their reward.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Lord Skidelsky
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for giving us a chance to discuss this increasingly tragic subject. Mugabe is on the way to establishing a fully-fledged dictatorship in Zimbabwe. Like any dictator he has abandoned the pretence of ruling through Cabinet or Parliament. The onslaught on the political opposition, the free press, and private enterprise has been cranked up. ZANU-PF militia and police batter opposition supporters in rural areas to death on a regular basis, newspaper editors are imprisoned for any criticism of the president or the Government, the legal system is unravelling. Just recently a law was passed allowing people to be imprisoned for 30 days without seeing a judge.
1107 Licensed torture by so-called "veterans" includes beatings on soles of feet, burning, electric shocks and sexual torture, including the rape of children. The Zimbabwean economy is in meltdown, with inflation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned, at 600 per cent, mass starvation looming, most farms abandoned and the few remaining commercial enterprises subject to illegal or pseudo-legal seizure.
In short, Zimbabwe has become a classic example of the "failed" state. While academics and, indeed, Kofi Annan himself demand a "right to intervene" to prevent humanitarian disaster, the international community has done almost nothing to bring this particular disaster to an end. The EU travel ban on Mugabe and his henchmen is full of holes. The EU refuses to impose economic sanctions as,this would have a negative effect on all Zimbabweans".Until now the strategy has been to encourage constructive dialogue between Mugabe and the Opposition. But it is as plain as a pikestaff that Mugabe is not interested in national reconciliation or constructive dialogue with anyone. In December, he showed his contempt for the Commonwealth, which had suspended Zimbabwe, by quitting the organisation voluntarily.
Her Majesty's Government have a particular responsibility in the matter, for reasons that I need not elaborate. In my submission, the time has come for much tougher measures and I would urge tougher measures than noble Lords have previously been prepared to contemplate. I should like HMG to go to the UN Security Council for a Chapter VII resolution, on the ground that the Mugabe Government is a threat to regional peace. Certainly a combination of starvation and state criminality is highly destabilising. I would favour a resolution that would call on Mugabe to give up, say within six months, the power that he fraudulently obtained in the election of March 2002 and has been using to ruin his country ever since, to be followed by elections for a new president and parliament under international supervision. If the Zimbabwean Government reject this, the Security Council should apply the measures allowed under Article 41, which include,complete or partial interruption of economic relations … and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations".As a final step, which I mention only with great reluctance, Her Majesty's Government should suspend food aid. Reprisals by the regime against Zimbabweans and foreign nationals would be treated as criminal acts for which officials would be held responsible and brought to trial. That is the punitive part.
At the same time we should be ready to offer Mugabe an exit strategy. In return for giving up power, he and those on the EU's named list should be given a guarantee of immunity from prosecution and a right of sanctuary. Why should we not construct a modern St Helena—assuming that the original is no longer available—as a place of exile for deposed tyrants? At least it would give them an incentive not to hang on to power for ever as the only way of escaping criminal prosecution and it would also avoid the embarrassment of having to ask someone 1108 to take them in. The conditions of such a retirement home could be made reasonably pleasant, with courses of lectures in political science and healthy outdoor activities.
To return to the seriousness that the topic demands, unless we improve on the puny measures that we have taken so far, the slide into horror will continue and we will bear a large share of the responsibility.
§ 8 p.m.
§ The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park for again giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. In the past four years we have debated it quite a lot and in the past four years Zimbabwe has moved from a prosperous county to a failed African state. GDP is down 40 per cent and is still declining rapidly, probably by 10 per cent this year. Three and a half million people have fled the country: at least 2 million have gone to South Africa, where they now dominate the shanty areas and threaten South African stability. Infant mortality and maternal mortality are at record levels.
It was in Abuja in 2001 that the African leaders signed up to a programme on AIDS, saying that it was an epidemic that needed urgent attention from everybody. Yet AIDS has continued to increase. It is in epidemic form and is being spread by forced migration, poverty and a collapse of the health services.
AIDS is Zimbabwe's largest export. Deaths from AIDS are running at 3,000 a week and, together with normal deaths, have seen a decline in the national population by 2 per cent per annum, and a decline in life expectancy to 36 years—down from 59 years in 1990. The death rate is becoming similar to that resulting from the plagues which ravaged Europe in the mid-1600s.
Current economic problems have been made worse by the recent steps by the state to criminalise the activities of the foreign exchange and gold markets. Twelve out of the 17 commercial banks are in dire straits and at least four have failed.
What does this mean in real terms? Let us take, for example, the situation of a girl born today. She has a one in four chance of dying by the age of five. Her mother has a 16 per cent chance of dying in childbirth. She has less than a 30 per cent chance of going to school. She has a 60 per cent chance of becoming HIV-positive before the age of 18. On average, she will not live beyond 32 years of age. It is more than 50 per cent certain that she will flee the country and try to make a living elsewhere. That is the human situation in Zimbabwe now.
Part of the problem in Zimbabwe is compounded by the President of South Africa. In Abuja in 2001 and in 2002, the graveyard for President Mbeki was dug and, sadly, he went into it. He is no more worthy to be considered a great African leader, let alone a world statesman. What he has done is to the huge detriment of the whole of southern Africa.
1109 The situation today is somewhat similar to the situation in the mid-1970s, when Smith was in power. The then President of South Africa, President Vorster, told Mr Smith the realities of life, and what he did was for the benefit of South Africa. Mr Mbeki has not told President Mugabe the realities of life. It has taken the South African Communist Party to point out the home truths to their own president.
May I ask the Minister what has happened to the committee established at Abuja to examine a way forward, comprising Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Mozambique and South Africa? May I also ask the Minister what has happened with the IMF compulsory withdrawal procedures over Zimbabwe's failure to pay its arrears?
President Mbeki has quite deliberately let Zimbabwe down. The cynical are saying that it is because he wants the South African businesses to be able to buy up the Zimbabwean businesses on the cheap.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Bletso
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for introducing this important debate. It is now all the more important that, following the news blackout in Zimbabwe, this issue is raised in a public forum, and it is particularly gratifying that it is again being raised in your Lordship's House.
I recently returned from a few days' visit to South Africa, where I was fortunate to be able to hear at first hand the post-Abuja views on Zimbabwe of several political, media and business leaders.
For several years I have advocated an African solution to this African problem and have maintained that megaphone diplomacy from this country has had a limited effect so far. To a large degree, this view was founded on certain high-level assurances I received last year from within the region that a deal had been brokered to move Mugabe into a ceremonial role, and to install a new prime minister by changing the constitution, which would lead to a government of national unity to start rebuilding the nation.
In view of my recent discussions, however, I believe that we can no longer stand by and watch the fast-deteriorating situation while we wait for this promised deal to materialise. I entirely agree with the approach of my noble friend Lord Skidelsky. It is now more essential than ever for Britain to rally her partners in the European Union and to press the United Nations to pass a resolution that unequivocally condemns the total and repeated breach of human rights in Zimbabwe. I feel that such a move would increase the pressure on other African leaders, particularly President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, to take a firmer hand.
We must not underestimate the gravity of the situation in Zimbabwe. We must ensure that the last four years of horrendous events in this decimated country do not produce a kind of mental fatigue and 1110 an uninterested shrug of the shoulders. Yes, we have heard these stories before and, yes, the situation continues to deteriorate.
There is no doubt that the news blackout has been an effective tool for the Mugabe regime. It is not only people around the world who now have no clear picture of what is happening: even Zimbabweans living in the cities are oblivious to what is happening around them. Daily breaches of human rights go unreported; appropriation of food aid by officials of the ruling Zanu PF goes unreported; anarchy and mob rule go unreported. Day by day, this country of enormous potential slides into chaos, and poverty has become endemic.
Mugabe retains his grip on power by ingratiating the party and military elite by giving them confiscated farms. Rumours that Mugabe is seriously ill continue to circulate, but I am reliably informed that, despite a bout of mild food poisoning several weeks ago, the President remains in fairly good health.
President Mbeki of South Africa remains a central and key figure in the search for a solution. His inexplicably meek and mild attitude towards Zimbabwe at the recent CHOGM meeting in Abuja was alarming, particularly in contrast to the strong stand of President Obasanjo of Nigeria. Indeed, Mbeki's approach is almost impossible to reconcile with his status as an architect of NePAD. Mbeki has occasionally talked tough, but his policy remains soft diplomacy.
As long as President Mbeki sits on the fence and tinkers at the fringes of the issue, Mugabe will remain unmoved. Some suggest that the origins of his caution might lie in South Africa's general election next month but this is hard to believe, since the ANC is running at 70 per cent in the polls and his re-election is assured. President Mbeki's stance in Abuja was in part based on the premise that Britain had reneged on its agreements to bring about land reform in Zimbabwe. But the Lancaster House agreement clearly stipulated that farmers would be paid in return for their land. That is the key issue. No one disputes the need for land reform. I still believe that we are approaching the endgame in Zimbabwe. Let us take action now to bring about a satisfactory solution and quickly.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, we have heard a number of constructive suggestions in this short debate. I want to concentrate on a matter where the Government have a direct responsibility; that is, the continuation of the investigation by the expert panel into the illegal exploitation of natural resources in DRC in which the Government of Zimbabwe had a despicable role to play.
The Security Council urged:all States concerned … to take appropriate steps to end these illegal activities, by proceeding with their own investigations".That is a legal obligation under Article 25 of the UN Charter. I ask the noble Baroness: have the Foreign Office and the security forces been working to implement that undertaking? It was alleged that Oryx, a UK company, was used as the vehicle for plundering the 1111 diamond resources of the DRC by the Zimbabwe defence forces, who were offered mining concessions in return for their co-operation in the DRC civil war. They pursued those interests through Osleg, a company incorporated in Harare in December 1998. The directors included the permanent secretary for defence, Job Whabira, and the ZDF commander, General Vitalis Zvinavashe.
In November 1999, Osleg entered into a partnership with Comiex, a DRC government company, to form Cosleg, which became the owner of 98.8 per cent of shares in Sengamines, a company formed in Kinshasa on the same day. That company was awarded an 800 square kilometre concession to mine diamonds in the neighbourhood of Mbuji-Mayi, one of the richest deposits in the whole of Africa.
Oryx was brought in to carry out the operations. A prospectus for a reverse listing on the London market by sale to a Bermudan company, Petra Diamond Ltd, stated that Oryx Zimcon had been "given" the concession. The flotation was called off because the regulatory authorities had made it clear that a London listing was unacceptable for a company involved with the Zimbabwe military in the exploitation of diamonds in a zone of conflict.
Will the Government ask those authorities what information they had on file to see whether that threw more light on the transactions which led Oryx to obtain the concession and what stake the ZDF still had in the operation? Have the Government seen the "documentary evidence" that Oryx was being used as,a front for the ZDF and its military company Osleg",and that,Osleg nominated Oryx to hold its 49 per cent interest in Sengamines"?If not, will they take steps to obtain it? Oryx brought a libel action against the Independent in respect of an article published by the newspaper in November 2002. Last Thursday it was announced that the two sides had agreed to settle; effectively Oryx had climbed down. The courts had ordered it to produce documents that could have established the connection with the ZDF. The only way that it could avoid that was to settle. Will Ministers ask the company for those documents or an explanation as to why they were not produced?
This is an opportunity to provide Africans and particularly our Commonwealth partners with evidence that the 11,000 soldiers who were sent to the DRC—and many of them did not come back—were there to generate profits for the military kleptocrats in the worst traditions of colonialism.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, we are all extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Park for securing this debate as part of the unending and marvellous fight that she maintains for justice in the unhappy country of Zimbabwe.
I have stood at this Dispatch Box so often pleading for a stronger policy and for stronger action against the Mugabe regime, and especially against those 1112 bankrolling Mugabe's hideous and illegitimate rule; and I have pointed so often, as have my noble friends, to the obvious failures of quiet diplomacy and the feebleness of the South African leadership, again referred to this evening; and we have warned so often that the Harare principles are being flouted and disregarded, ironically in Harare, that repetition of these points, which have all been touched on by my noble friends, seems almost useless and in vain. In the few minutes available, it would probably be better and more useful to confine myself to four precise and practical points about government policy towards this tragic area and arena.
First, our foreign policy today seems to lean so heavily on the European Union, I shall begin with the EU Commission—the supposed driving force of Union policy. Do the Government see the Commission as playing a more effective role in resolving the Zimbabwe crisis? We have the EU/Africa ministerial meeting and the EU/SADC conference coming up, and lots of preparations by officials in the mean time. So what proposals will we be putting forward to increase the pressure on the ZANU-PF thugs and their manipulators? Will we suggest improving the targeted sanctions, which the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, rightly said are full of loopholes? Have we raised—this is a new suggestion—the question of South Africa cutting off the electricity supplies from Eskom, which supplies all the electricity in Zimbabwe? Eskom briskly cuts off non-payers in South Africa in the townships—they are blacked out quickly enough—so why not the non-payers in Zimbabwe? That really might bring the regime to its senses fast enough. It was used previously by China against North Korea and it certainly brought that country to the negotiating table, so why not consider that?
Secondly, what about pressure at the UN, which my noble friend Lord Blaker and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, raised? There is an EU resolution before the UN Commission on Human Rights, which is very strongly supported by the MDC leadership and, I believe, by Ireland. Is it now possible to detach some of the usual bloc African vote at the UN and gain support for this? It is becoming increasingly clear that many African leaders are fed up with Mugabe and the disastrous impact he has on the whole of southern Africa and its development. Or why do we not propose a UN regional conference on the crisis? There must be ways forward without getting bogged down in the UN labyrinth of disagreement.
Thirdly, I return briefly to the role of Libya. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said this afternoon that Libya's role in supporting Mugabe had been raised when the Prime Minister met the eccentric Colonel Gaddafi. Raised—yes, but is it being followed up? What is now proposed? Does Mugabe's access to oil still depend on Libya or has it been or will it be stopped? Or was that something that was just left hanging in the air? I am quite surprised that those very urgent matters did not figure more prominently in the Prime Minister's report on his visit this afternoon.
1113 Finally, I turn to that cricket tour matter which has rather gone out of the headlines now that it seems to be inevitably going ahead next month—to my personal shame. The other day the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, became—could I call it, a wee bit irate? She spoke strongly, shall we say, when someone suggested that the Government could do a sight more to have halted the tour, which is now going ahead. I still cannot understand why the Government did not simply point to the appalling security situation—which is obviously getting worse by the day—and give the English Cricket Board cover for calling off the tour. If she could explain when she winds up why that did not happen and why, sadly, the tour is going ahead, I would be grateful.
I have little hope that any of these suggestions will be heeded, despite all the protestations about helping Africa, despite all the commissions and despite all the fine rhetoric that comes from ministerial sources. But if this debate leads to some of these issues being examined it will achieve something in an appalling and increasingly dangerous and shameful situation.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for introducing today's debate on Zimbabwe. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, she has been a strong and very faithful friend to the people of Zimbabwe for many years, as she demonstrated so eloquently again this evening. I congratulate all your Lordships on dealing with such an important subject in such brief and cogent terms.
The Government's objective for Zimbabwe has not changed. We want to see the early return of a democratically accountable government who respect human rights and the rule of law while pursuing sound economic policies aimed at alleviating the suffering of the Zimbabwean people.
The political, economic and humanitarian crisis inside Zimbabwe continues to deepen, as many of your Lordships described. In response, we and our partners in the international community are doing all we can to increase the pressure on the ZANU-PF regime to enter into a process of dialogue with the opposition, as a first step towards finding a solution to the enormous problems besetting the country.
As we have heard again this evening, there are many who say that in the face of this deepening crisis Britain should speak out more loudly and that we should make our outrage at the situation in Zimbabwe felt at every turn. That was very much the tenor of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. It is very tempting to say "yes" to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and to say "yes" unequivocally. But your Lordships need to be very clear about why we do not do this.
The fact is that we have very real responsibilities in Zimbabwe. We have the responsibility of our colonial history, which is at the same time the force that binds 1114 us to the interests of the people of Zimbabwe and also the burden in the current situation—because President Mugabe attempts constantly to use that for his own ends. We have to stay fully engaged, as the right reverend Prelate said, but we must never play into President Mugabe's hands when he tries to point at the United Kingdom as the cause of Zimbabwe's woes, or, worse, when he portrays our interests—our deep sense of concern for the people of Zimbabwe—as the selfish interference of the white former colonial power. That is why we are working so strenuously with our international partners; South Africa and Nigeria stay engaged and we strongly encourage their efforts. But—and it is a very big "but"—it is of course enormously disappointing that they have not previously supported us on a UN Commission for Human Rights resolution. We hope that they will seize the opportunity presented to them again this year.
We need our friends in the region to live up to the high standards of humanitarian concern and care that the United Nations and the Commonwealth espouse, so I agree very much with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said, and I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Park, that UN action can be taken only with the consent of the nations in the United Nations, in which South Africa and Nigeria are key players. I say very gently to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that the question is not whether Zimbabwe would respond to a UN resolution, but whether we could get that UN resolution, and whether in attempting and failing to do so we would give some terrible comfort to Mr Mugabe.
In current circumstances, I think it very unlikely that the point of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about electricity being cut off or light failing to go into certain homes in Zimbabwe would be taken up. If noble Lords had difficulty getting the right words on paper, how much more difficult will it be to get the right action on the ground? I am afraid that I thought that the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, was right when he said that the attitude of African governments will be absolutely crucial in this argument. I disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said. The repetition of such points is absolutely vital; we cannot repeat them often enough. In this Parliament, and very particularly in this House, the arguments are repeated over and again. Even if we are not successful, they are still worth repeating.
I shall move on to the meeting with Mr Gaddafi. The Prime Minister raised our concerns, as my noble friend pointed out this afternoon, and we shall follow up the discussions. However, as has been pointed out in this House before, very often such matters are better done quietly rather than being blazed through loudspeakers.
Last month, in our effort to build up our international consensus, the EU showed its determination to keep the pressure on Zimbabwe's leadership when it agreed to continue its targeted measures for another year. Despite the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, we were able to get a reasonably good result. Indeed, the list of those targeted by the travel ban and assets freeze has 1115 been extended from 79 to 95 people. Those who have been added to the list include several of the individuals who bear very particular responsibility for the abuses of human rights in Zimbabwe, such as those responsible for the closure of the Daily News and the hounding of other independent media, those closely associated with the fraudulent elections which have become the rule in Zimbabwe, the leader of the so-called war veterans, and the new set of Ministers appointed by Mugabe in his most recent reshuffle on 9 February.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, that the UK Government have been a consistent advocate of a robust EU approach on Zimbabwe. We believe that the EU has sent a clear message to the government of Zimbabwe that we want to see an end to economic mismanagement and repression and a return to democratic government which respects human rights and the rule of law. The MDC has certainly welcomed the new EU measures, and described them as,a clear indication that the international community will not fold its arms while the regime in Zimbabwe continues to trample upon people's basic needs".Much has been said about the human rights situation, which is very grave and continues to deteriorate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the right reverend Prelate reminded us. As the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, said, we have seen repeated use of draconian legislation to crush the independent media and silence democratic voices. Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, remains closed, leaving the daily print media, like the broadcast media, a government-controlled monopoly.
The noble Baroness spoke of last month's "Panorama" programme covering Zimbabwe's national youth training programme. It was indeed a truly horrifying account of the militarisation of Zimbabwe's youth and an insight into how it is being exploited to meet ZANU-PF's objectives. The UK and our EU colleagues have made it clear that we expect to see the disbanding of that training programme. Although there seems little hope of that at this stage, the documentary clearly hit a nerve in the Mugabe regime, because last week saw the arrest of an independent film-maker in Zimbabwe who has been wrongly charged with having helped to make it.
Earlier this month, we also had the report Playing with Fire, which stated that 90 per cent of opposition MPs had been subjected to human rights violations since 2000, including 24 per cent who have survived assassination attempts, and 16 per cent who have been tortured. I am sad to say that three died following such disgraceful treatment.
A further worrying development has been the passage of a new regulation which will allow the Zimbabwe authorities to hold people in prison without bail for 28 days before bringing charges—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker. Opposition figures described the new regulations as the "imposition of a state of emergency by stealth". Quite clearly the Government of Zimbabwe are devising new powers for themselves to make it easier to stamp out all legitimate opposition.
1116 The UK, with our EU partners, has been at the forefront of the international condemnation of these abuses in Zimbabwe. We will continue to press South Africa and other countries in the region to raise their voices in condemning the regime for its appalling record on human rights. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said recently, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, reminded us, democracy and human rights are not western values, they are universal values. Zimbabwean citizens are as entitled to benefit from them as citizens elsewhere. I have mentioned that we are taking forward another motion at the UN Commission on Human Rights, which is currently meeting in Geneva. We will be lobbying hard in support of that resolution.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Nigeria last December and agreed, by consensus, to continue with Zimbabwe's indefinite suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth. That decision was right for the Commonwealth and right for the people of Zimbabwe. It reaffirms the Commonwealth's commitment to its core principles of good governance, enshrined in the Harare Declaration. The Prime Minister gave a full account of those events in another place on 9 January.
The Commonwealth's decision was not made by white neo-colonialists, as Mugabe would have us believe, but was reached by a committee of six Commonwealth leaders—Australia, South Africa, Jamaica, Canada, India and Mozambique—which considered the whole of our approach. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked whether there had been any change in the heart of some African countries on such issues. I can tell the noble Lord sincerely that the jury is out. Regarding the noble Lord's point about the UN Commission on Human Rights, which is currently meeting in Geneva, we will be lobbying hard on that, but we have faced disappointment in the past and we shall be watching closely to see what happens. We shall be looking at who does what on this issue.
My noble friend Lord Acton was right to ask us to concentrate on the 2005 elections. For those to be seen as free and fair and for the results to be accepted as reflecting the will of the Zimbabwean people, we will need to see a change in the wider political environment to ensure that the ordinary people can vote freely and that the opposition, civil society and independent media are allowed to function without fear of violence and intimidation for a significant period in advance of the elections. In that respect the UN has a role to play in monitoring Zimbabwe's elections. I am sorry to say that when the UNDP offered to send an assessment mission to Zimbabwe, the government withdrew their request for its monitors. Quite clearly they do not want the elections to be subject to external scrutiny. But I assure the noble Baroness and those of your Lordships who have expressed concern that we will continue to push for independent monitoring. That will be 1117 essential if the results of the elections are to be accepted as reflecting the will the Zimbabwean people, freely expressed.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, painted a terrible, but, sadly, accurate picture about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe and I thank my noble friend Lord Acton for his remarks about UK efforts in our aid for the people of the country. An appalling statistic that I will give your Lordships is that the EU cares for more people in Zimbabwe than their own government, as seen by the fact that the EU has donated humanitarian assistance worth £184 million between 2002 and 2003. Within the EU, the UK is by far the largest bilateral aid donor to Zimbabwe and the second largest overall, after the United States. We have contributed some £65 million in humanitarian programmes since September 2001. We are continuing our efforts on HIV/AIDS prevention and have set aside £20 million for that over the next five years.
Latest estimates are that up to 7 million Zimbabweans will require food ahead of next month's harvest. This year's harvest is unlikely to provide even half the food needs of the population, mainly due to lack of seeds, fertiliser and agricultural inputs. It is a tragedy for a country that, up until a few years ago, was able to export grain to its neighbours. It is now the fastest shrinking economy in the world. I draw to your Lordships' attention that we are worried that the grain might be used in advance of next year's elections as a political lever. Again, we have raised such questions with the Zimbabwean Government through our multilateral fora and shall continue to do so. We shall also continue to work with the European Commission, the US and the World Bank to consider how we can best get Zimbabwe back on its feet once democratic government has been restored.
I want to address briefly the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, about asylum. I know how passionately she feels. She chaired a meeting on the issue last month which was attended by officials from both the Home Office and the Foreign Office. The statistics show that we are giving protection to Zimbabwean asylum seekers who come to the UK—some 870 in the recent period since 2003.
If an application is refused, there is a right of appeal. Should the right of appeal prove unsuccessful, that means that for the individual a return to Zimbabwe is assessed to be safe. But as the noble Baroness knows, our view at present is that it is inappropriate forcibly to return individuals to Zimbabwe. That is why, as a result of our concerns about deterioration, towards the run up to the presidential elections we announced the suspension of the removal of those returning to Zimbabwe.
I know how passionately the noble Baroness feels about the matter. There is not time to go into all the detail that I might have wished, but I will make sure that her remarks go before my right honourable friend.
There is a good deal to say on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I know how strongly he feels about them and he was kind enough to give us 1118 some advance warning. We have made repeated requests to the UN to release the information relevant to UK companies and individuals that was collected by the panel to which he referred. A formal letter requesting that information has been hand delivered to the office of the legal adviser at the UN in New York and we are awaiting a reply. I shall write to him in further detail on those points. I shall write to your Lordships about the Commission for Africa, which was raised by two noble Lords.
We have had our exchanges on the question of cricket. I believe that we all have responsibilities and that no one can exculpate themselves from those responsibilities—that was the point I was making in the House the other day. It is the point I make about the cricket board, the Government and the Opposition. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, speaks as passionately to his friends on the cricket board, if he has them, as he did just now in the House.
We are looking to be actively engaged with our international partners. We want the return of a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe. We will continue our efforts. I know that there are differences in the House about how we do that, but I hope that there is no difference about the sincerity of what we are trying to do. We may vary in our analysis of the best approach, but I hope that I have been able to convince your Lordships that in the Government there is a strong determination not to let the issue go off our agenda or from the agenda of the multilateral fora to which we are affiliated.