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Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Since 11 September, the world's attention has been, first, on events in America, and, thereafter, on events in the middle east and Afghanistan. That is understandable but it is important that we do not forget the current crisis in Zimbabwe and the descent of that country into virtual anarchy. It has been removed from the front pages; indeed, it has pretty well been removed from the pages of every newspaper. In spite of events elsewhere, we must now look carefully at what is happening in that troubled country, and, above all, at the plight of the Zimbabwean people. Britain has an important and almost unique role to play, and Ministers have to show a great deal of initiative and imagination.

When President Mugabe first won office, Zimbabwe seemed to have everything—an efficient infrastructure, hugely rich mining reserves, a thriving agriculture, a robust and independent judiciary, and a free press. Above all, people of all races and political persuasions had a remarkable determination to make a success of that new nation. To be fair to President Mugabe, he helped to foster the mood of national reconciliation and good will, and his early years were characterised by pragmatism and magnanimity. In many ways, Zimbabwe was rightly held up as an example to the rest of Africa.

However, this is a tragic tale of self-inflicted disaster. Twenty years on, Zimbabwe, which was once the bread basket for Africa, is now a basket case, and many parts of the country face starvation. Having once exported food to many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe is now unable to feed itself. Inflation is at more than 100 per cent., unemployment is at more than 60 per cent., exports have collapsed, foreign investment has dried up, and international lenders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have, essentially, cut Zimbabwe off. Three quarters of Zimbabwe's population live in abject poverty. It is not Mugabe and his cronies who are suffering—they will always be okay—but the people of the country, who face not only poverty and starvation, but, as they have done for several years, state-sponsored anarchy, human rights abuses and a regular breakdown in the rule of law.

I shall touch briefly on the land question and the issue of farm invasions. I then want to talk about the rule of law and the judiciary, and consider the forthcoming presidential elections.

The Zimbabwean Government understandably regard land reform as an emotive issue. Money was on the table in the early years of Mugabe's presidency to address that issue. However, those farms that were repossessed and compulsorily purchased were not handed to small farmers or black Zimbabweans. Five were handed to Mugabe's cronies, and several others were left derelict.

That was the background to the farm invasions, which began in 2000 and gained momentum in the run-up to the parliamentary elections last year. Those invasions have been well documented, and I shall not go into a great deal of detail now. Much of the press emphasis has been about white farmers and the dispossession of white farms. However, it is the black

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workers who have suffered most of all. Eight white farmers have been murdered, but thousands of black workers have been evicted, and more than 100 killed. There was overwhelming evidence that the army and police had equipped and directed the war veterans, who, apart from one or two, were not veterans at all, but members of the ZANU-PF militia and youth wing. As in so many documented examples, the police refused time and again to take any action.

We are talking about a human and environmental tragedy, which has been a disaster for the economy. The agriculture sector has been pushed into ruin in many areas, and tourism, which is another important foreign currency earner, has also been demolished.

The other day, I received a moving e-mail dated September from a constituent, Sheila Breen. Her great-niece farms near Bulawayo. She writes:

She goes on to say:

The e-mail also states:

That moving e-mail sums up the sheer lunacy of what has taken place. President Mugabe will not forgive farmers and their workers for supporting the MDC. His bent and twisted logic demands scapegoats and revenge. Everything is happening because he is desperate to win next year's presidential elections at any cost.

As the Minister well knows, the issue was discussed at the recent conference in Abuja. An agreement was reached there, but, unfortunately, Mugabe has not honoured his pledge. I would like the Minister to talk about that and about Abuja when he replies to the debate.

The farm invasions represent a breakdown in the rule of law, but we must also consider the wider context. Last year's parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe were

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plagued by intimidation, violence, murder, ballot-rigging and fraud. Even by Africa's pitiful standards, they were far from free and fair. I have seen the July 2001 report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum, as I am sure the Minister has. That non-governmental organisation is supported by several eminent bodies, including Amnesty International of Zimbabwe, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

The report examines in great detail the events running up to the parliamentary elections last year. In the opening paragraph it points out that between February and June 2000 ZANU-PF was engaged in a systematic campaign of intimidation, aimed at crushing support for opposition parties. It has identified 200,000 cases of political violence, 40 murders, and 704 serious assaults, including torture. One example that I found really appalling was that of the infamous late Dr. Chenjarai Hunzvi. It refers to a Patrick Chipunza.

There are other examples of political intimidation and violence, including a petrol bomb in the constituency of Bahera, North, which killed two MDC officials. When that case was considered in court a few weeks later, there was an electoral challenge in that constituency. The High Court Justice James Devittie requested the Attorney-General to arrest the suspected murderers for their role in the petrol bomb attack on the two MDC officials, but he refused to take any action.

It has been obvious for some time that the rule of law has been breaking down and that the independent judiciary has had its independence taken away. I have read the remarks of the former Chief Justice, Anthony Gubbay, who spoke last Monday evening at the John Foster human rights trust lecture. He spoke of his utter frustration as decisions taken by the highest court in the land were ignored by the Government. His court was occupied by so-called veterans. Every time he insisted on police action, all he received was police inaction. He feared for his life. There were threats to his pension and, not surprisingly, he resigned. President Mugabe has replaced him with Godfrey Chidyausiku, who has now appointed two new Mugabe supporters to the Supreme Court. That court has recently overturned an earlier decision on fast-track land seizures.

Any pretence that there was an independent judiciary in Zimbabwe has now been totally undermined. That does not bode well for the presidential elections that must be held by 17 March 2002.

The second report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum has looked carefully at events in Zimbabwe since last year's elections. It is not an encouraging picture if we are hoping to see free and fair elections. In February 2001, Joe Sikhala, MDC MP for Harare, and his pregnant wife were severely assaulted by army personnel who invaded their home. In May, in Harare, ZANU-PF militias attacked and injured Willias Madzimure, another MDC MP. A few days later, his home was ransacked and looted. Also in May, Roy Bennett, one of

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the four white MDC MPs, had his farm raided and his house trashed. His food store, where grain was being stored to dispense to local people, was raided and the food was stolen by Government supporters. There are numerous other examples of torture and attacks on party workers. Is it any wonder when President Mugabe has, in speech after speech, incited that type of hatred and violence?

In July 2001, the Zimbabwe Minister of Foreign Affairs, said at a conference attended by trainee teachers:

We know that there is no longer a free press in Zimbabwe. BBC reporters have been flung out of the country and eminent journalists and editors have been arrested and imprisoned. It is vital that the elections be free and fair next year. We must insist on certain basic minimums, including an up-to-date electronic electoral roll that can be checked. There must be secure ballot boxes, so I urge that metal ballot boxes, which are much easier to secure, replace the existing wooden ones. An independent electoral commission is needed, and it is essential that foreign observers be put in place in good time. There must be impartial policing and free access to the media.

Given Britain's unique position, it is vital that Her Majesty's Government use all possible pressure and influence to persuade Mugabe that those conditions be put in place. He must be told that if he does not agree to them and to free and fair elections, Zimbabwe will be dismissed from the Commonwealth, and there will be a freeze on foreign assets and restrictions on travel.

We know that Mugabe is a bully and a tyrant. He does not understand the language of compromise. I was disappointed—I hope that the Minister was as well—by the supine communiqué issued by the eight-member Commonwealth delegation that recently went to Harare. It is no wonder that it was so lame, as it was a joint communiqué with the Zimbabwean Government. Why could it not have issued its own communiqué stating clearly what it had seen and the evidence that it had collected?

I have great respect for Baroness Amos, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, but she could have been more robust in her remarks. She said that Mugabe was a difficult man and that he must not be pushed into a corner, but he is a bully who understands only tough action and tough language. The time has come to send a special envoy to Zimbabwe to talk to President Mugabe and explain to him clearly that he has a last chance to play fair and to deliver free and fair elections. There are eminently qualified politicians in the United Kingdom whom Mugabe respects, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). His late father, Lord Soames, was the last governor-general of Zimbabwe—Mugabe attended his funeral six years ago—and his mother Mary Soames is a personal friend of Mugabe.

My hon. Friend was an outstandingly able Minister of State for the Armed Forces in the most recent Conservative Government, and is ideally equipped and suited to go to Zimbabwe as a special Government envoy. The Prime Minister believes in special envoys—

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he uses them all the time in the middle east—and there is surely an opportunity to use one in this case to point out to President Mugabe what will happen if he does not allow free and fair elections. The world has moved on, as Pinochet's case showed. Milosevic has been arraigned before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Mugabe must be told that, unless he delivers free and fair elections, win or lose, he will be treated as the mass murderer and brutal tyrant that he is and arraigned before a war crimes tribunal at The Hague. His assets will be frozen and restrictions will be placed on his foreign travel. He will never be able to walk in safety again, because the clutches of the world's international legal systems will be after him, but he has a last chance.

We owe it to the people of Zimbabwe to ensure that they have a free and fair election next year. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

1.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw) : I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) on proposing the debate. We are all aware of his long-standing personal interest in Zimbabwe, and I thank him for giving me the opportunity to update hon. Members on Government policy. His speech was excellent, thoughtful and constructive. He quoted a moving e-mail from one of his constituents, and many of us have had similar worrying e-mails from people in Zimbabwe and their relatives in this country.

All Zimbabwe's friends are deeply saddened by events there. Free speech is imperilled. Democracy is undermined by Government violence. The rule of law is threatened by intimidation and manipulation of the judiciary. There is a growing culture of impunity. Anyone who ever doubted that human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential in a prosperous modern economy need look no further than the crisis that has befallen Zimbabwe in the past few years, where, as the hon. Gentleman said, the economy has continued its dramatic decline. Worse still, Zimbabwe's tragedy threatens to infect all of southern Africa by weakening business and investor confidence in the region.

Britain is, and will remain, committed to helping the people of Zimbabwe. As the hon. Gentleman reminded us, we worked with all shades of opinion at Lancaster house in 1979-80 to end white minority rule by negotiation. We have given Zimbabwe substantial support—£500 million since independence. We will not walk away now. We want to continue working in partnership with the Zimbabwean people towards a just society in which all the people enjoy fair access to opportunity.

By contrast, Zimbabwe's Government seek to limit international scrutiny of what is happening there. They blame the west, and the United Kingdom in particular, for their problems. The reality is simpler and more brutal, and the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on it: a Government facing difficult re-election. That has led to the undermining of Zimbabwe's democratic system; widespread abuse of human rights; the rapid decline of the economy; and severe damage to commercial agriculture, the country's main foreign currency earner.

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On top of that, recently introduced price controls can only create shortages in a country already facing a serious shortfall in basic staples by the end of the year. Such a fall from grace is unnecessary. It is wasteful and must be halted and reversed.

Five principles underpin our policy on Zimbabwe. The first is Britain's interest in seeing a stable, prosperous and democratic country. The second is that Zimbabweans deserve and should get the help of the international community which is increasingly concerned at events in Zimbabwe. The European Union signalled its concerns on 29 October, when it invited the Government of Zimbabwe to begin formal and time-limited consultations on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law under Article 96 of the Cotonou agreement.

Commonwealth Ministers, in an initiative of President Obasanjo of Nigeria already referred to by the hon. Gentleman, brokered an agreement at Abuja on 6 September. Among other things, the Zimbabwe Government committed themselves to respecting the democratic and human rights principles contained in the Harare Commonwealth declaration and the Millbrook action programme. They committed themselves to no further occupation of farms; the removal of illegal occupiers; the restoration of the rule of law to the process of land reform; respect for freedom of expression; and firm action against violence and intimidation.

As the hon. Gentleman said, two months on there is little evidence that the Zimbabwe Government are honouring any of those commitments. My noble Friend Baroness Amos, who has ministerial responsibilities for Africa, saw that at first hand during her visit to Harare between 25 and 27 October. In their communiqué of 27 October, the Commonwealth Ministers called on the Zimbabwean law enforcement authorities to investigate violations of human rights and press freedoms, and called on the Government to implement land reform in accordance with the law and constitution. We look to the Commonwealth to press the Government of Zimbabwe to take the action they agreed.

The hon. Gentleman expressed his disappointment with, as he described it, the weakness of the communiqué, but it did talk about monitoring. It should be remembered that all the opposition parties and civil society in Zimbabwe value the Abuja process and want it to continue.

Our third principle is that Zimbabwe's future prosperity depends on respect for the rule of law and an end to political violence. We will not be deflected from pressing the Zimbabwe Government on their abuses of fundamental rights, many of which the hon. Gentleman has reminded us of, or from drawing international attention to those abuses. We have already taken a number of measures. We have imposed a complete embargo on arms sales to Zimbabwe and cut non-humanitarian aid. These processes cannot be open-ended, but they must be given a chance. The European Union's article 96 process, for example, sets a strict time limit of 75 days.

We also need effectiveness. Further unilateral UK measures would not be effective and, more importantly, they would play directly into the hands of those, including Mr. Mugabe, who wrongly seek to portray

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Zimbabwe's internal problems as the product of a bilateral dispute with the United Kingdom. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his idea of a special envoy and will consider it. However, we must do what we can to avoid playing into Mugabe's hands, as it helps him for the issue to be seen as an old colonial dispute. A co-ordinated international approach is the best course. It should be enough, for now, to say that the international community is increasingly alive to alternative measures against the Zimbabwe Government.

A further reason for resisting some of the proposals is the reality of the modern Commonwealth. The suspension of Commonwealth members has up to now been confined to a narrow set of circumstances such as coups. We and others are working to broaden the criteria. Although concern is growing in the Commonwealth at Zimbabwe's disregard for the principles of the Harare declaration, no consensus yet exists on suspending it from the organisation.

We are determined to pursue our fourth principle, that Britain will help a democratic Zimbabwe to achieve prosperity through successful land reform. That is central to fair and equitable economic development in Zimbabwe and the righting of any remaining wrongs of the colonial period and white minority rule. As I have noted, since Lancaster house we have provided over £500 million in bilateral aid to Zimbabwe and have already provided around £40 million for land reform. However, let me emphasise that we shall not write blank cheques. The Abuja agreement made it clear that land reform would need to be based on the United Nations development programme proposals of December 2000.

Our final principle is that the future must be left in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe, which will hold a presidential election in a few months' time. We, the EU, the Commonwealth and others will work to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are given a genuine opportunity to make their voice heard. They showed courage and dignity in parliamentary elections last year, when they voted in large numbers despite systematic intimidation and violence. They have the right to expect that the scenes that disfigured those elections will not be repeated. If President Mugabe truly believes that he enjoys the backing of his people, he need not fear the outcome of a genuine democratic process and should have no difficulty in inviting international election observers in good time. Sadly, however, the omens are not good. The violence and intimidation continue, and the Zimbabwe Government are obstructing efforts to observe at first hand the conduct of the election campaign.

Let me stress one thing for the record. Our policy is not about Britain versus President Mugabe but about helping Zimbabwe against its real enemies: poverty, disease, hunger, oppression and social injustice. I hope that the present Government of Zimbabwe and their successors will one day get back on the side of their own people and respect the rule of law. If they do so, Britain and Zimbabwe's other friends in the international community stand ready to help.

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