HC Deb 11 January 2000 vol 342 cc132-3W
Mr. Gapes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of human rights concerns in Zimbabwe; and what action Her Majesty's Government are taking to address these. [104573]

Mr. Hain

Respect for human rights in Zimbabwe has improved since the low point of the Matabeleland atrocities in the 1980s. Zimbabwe has an active civil society and independent press (albeit harassed at times). However, there have been some serious lapses in the last two years which have coincided with the decline in the economic situation. The arrest and torture of the twoStandard journalists in January shocked Zimbabweans as well as the international community.

Freedom of assembly is enshrined in the Constitution. The Government have previously used emergency powers to ban strike action, although a Parliamentary Legal Committee subsequently declared the ban to be unconstitutional.

Zimbabwe is a party to all the international human rights conventions, except the convention against torture. Torture, mainly beatings, is regularly used by the police (understaffed and lacking in training) to secure criminal convictions. There is an independent judiciary.

Where there is evidence of human rights abuses, we raise our concerns with the Zimbabwe authorities. In addition, we actively promote freedom of expression by training journalists in the UK. Earlier this year we held a conference on media freedom in Harare. We support a number of NGOs working with the Zimbabwe police to enhance their respect for human rights. We also support good governance projects, and provide equipment and research material to NGOs working to improve people's access to law. We are encouraging the Zimbabweans to accede to the convention against torture.