Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Baroness Amos, on behalf of the Committee may I warmly welcome you to what I think is your first appearance before the Committee?

  (Baroness Amos) Thank you. It is my first appearance.

  2. The subject, Zimbabwe. I think it would generally be agreed that were it not for the events of September 11th Zimbabwe would be much higher up the agenda of national concern and world concern. Baroness Amos, I recall your speech to the ACTSA annual conference on 17 November when you said that the European Union's attempt to conduct a dialogue "has not worked". You said in respect of the Abuja Agreement of 6 September that effectively Zimbabwe had not honoured its commitments under that agreement of 6 September which was confirmed by the Commercial Farmers Union in their evidence to the SADC meeting in Harare yesterday. You went on, also, to look at the pressure from the region, from the SADC countries, which was to be maintained but equally there seemed at that time, when you gave your speech on 17 November, to be very little movement. With your knowledge, you have been with the Foreign Secretary to Harare, you have been involved in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, do you emerge with total despair? Can you point out to the Committee which areas, if any, of pressure are likely to have a significant effect on the President and his country?
  (Baroness Amos) Chairman, thank you. Can I say, first of all, that I went with the Secretary of State to Abuja and I went with members of the Commonwealth Group to Harare and I think that is an important distinction that the Committee will want to know. As the Secretary of State said to the Committee last week, we remain deeply concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe. I think the very important thing that has happened is that the attempts which have been made by the Government of Zimbabwe to say that what is happening in Zimbabwe and the concerns which are being expressed by the British Government—which are purely matters between the Government of Zimbabwe and Britain—have changed dramatically. We have seen the concerns being expressed by the Commonwealth, not only through the Abuja process under the direction of President Obasanjo, but the concerns, as you rightly expressed, of SADC, also of the European Union and also of the United States and other international partners. In terms of the pressure which I think will have most impact on the Government of Zimbabwe, I think the concerns which have been expressed by the Presidents of South Africa, of Malawi and Mozambique and other SADC partners are extremely important in this process because it remains our view that the pressure which is being put by SADC and the concerns which are being expressed by Zimbabwe's neighbours is the thing which the Government of Zimbabwe will listen to most but that other international pressure coming behind that, in the sense of the Commonwealth process, the European Union process and other international pressure also has an important role to play.

  3. That concern has been expressed, it has been expressed over a long time period, as the President of Malawi on behalf of SADC, President Mbeki as a neighbour, clearly very concerned at the effect on investment in the region and also as South Africa is effectively the major creditor, ESKOM, and the energy supply of Zimbabwe, have there been any results?
  (Baroness Amos) I am not sure if the Committee saw the press today but there are reports in the press today which have been confirmed by our own staff in Harare that President Mugabe has indicated that the elections will be held in March, although a date has not been agreed. He has stated, also, that election observers will be welcome although it has been made clear from those reports in the press that EU observers will not necessarily be welcome, although observers from individual European countries will be welcome. Our concern in relation to the elections has always been to say, with our international partners, that if the Government of Zimbabwe has nothing to hide then a commitment to having election observers and ensuring that those election observers are able to be in the country in sufficient time so that they are able to see that not only the election itself on the day but the processes leading up to the election are not marred by violence and intimidation is extremely important. I think the fact that international election observers will be allowed into Zimbabwe is important but I think that the timing of that remains a concern.

  Chairman: We will be coming back to the elections later but Mr Olner has a series of questions.

Mr Olner

  4. Good morning. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will be meeting in London next week to discuss possible action against President Mugabe. What do you anticipate will come out of that meeting or what would you like to see come out of that meeting?
  (Baroness Amos) As the Committee knows, CMAG has the ability to make recommendations to the Heads of State of the Commonwealth. There has been increasing concern within the Commonwealth about what is happening in Zimbabwe. CMAG has discussed Zimbabwe on a number of occasions and indeed made a recommendation that a team from CMAG should itself visit Zimbabwe. This was not agreed by the Government of Zimbabwe and it was as a result of that the broader Commonwealth process emerged which was facilitated by President Obasanjo. So there has been ongoing concern within CMAG and I think what we would like to see happen is that there is a discussion of Zimbabwe at CMAG and out of that discussion will come a recommendation to Heads of State of the Commonwealth about the way in which CMAG has seen the process in Zimbabwe and perhaps some recommendations with respect to the elections in particular.

  5. At what point do you think the Government will consider advocating the expulsion of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth?
  (Baroness Amos) As Members of the Committee know matters of expulsion from the Commonwealth are very narrowly defined so that Commonwealth Heads of Government would themselves have to consider this but the terms of the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme make it clear that that this can only be considered in cases where a legitimate democratic government has been overthrown. This has been a cause of some concern in Commonwealth countries and there has been a High Level Group which has been looking at the role of the Commonwealth in general and in particular as to whether or not the remit of CMAG, for example, should be broadened and whether the grounds on which Heads of the Commonwealth would make a decision about possible expulsion of another Commonwealth country would be considered. That report will be considered at the March meeting.

  6. Surely we should be looking at it? If law and order has broken down, if the courts are not sufficiently strong enough to ensure some of the agreements which have been reached are actually carried through then that is very serious for all the Commonwealth countries.
  (Baroness Amos) It is extremely serious for all Commonwealth countries but I think it is important, also, for the Committee to remember that the Commonwealth operates by consensus. Commonwealth members are very keen to ensure that they do not work outside their terms of reference, as it were, which is why the High Level Group's review is such an important part of this process.

Mr Chidgey

  7. Good morning, Lady Amos. As recently as 7 November your colleague Ben Bradshaw told the House that the five principles underlining British policy are, and I will paraphrase them for speed. Firstly, Britain is interested in seeing a stable, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans deserve and should get the help of the international community. Their future prosperity depends on respect for the rule of law and an end to political violence. Fourthly that Britain will help Zimbabwe to achieve prosperity through successful land reform. Finally, the future of Zimbabwe should be left in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe and that they should be given a genuine opportunity to make their voice heard. I have set that out, Lady Amos, because as far as this Committee can see none of those principles is being progressed with any degree of satisfaction or success. My question to you is to what extent can Britain start to invoke those principles into reality? What influence can we put to achieve these principles by influencing the government of President Mugabe?
  (Baroness Amos) I think the first thing to say is that those principles remain the corner stone of our policy towards Zimbabwe. I think the other thing I would want to make absolutely clear to the Committee, which I said in my very first answer, is that it is important that we are working in concert with our international partners because there has been such an attempt by the Government of Zimbabwe to make this into a bilateral issue between the Government of Zimbabwe and ourselves. In terms of the influence that we have with the Government of Zimbabwe, I think that we have to appreciate that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state, that politically the Government of Zimbabwe has used what it sees as its bilateral difficulties with the United Kingdom as a corner stone of its own domestic internal politics so that Britain is often held up as the country which is working to subvert the way that other countries and international partners see the Government of Zimbabwe. The influence that we have, I think, comes through the work that we do with our SADC partners, with our Commonwealth partners, with our European Union partners. We do have, I think, a minimal degree of influence with the Government of Zimbabwe itself in that they would wish us to support through resource flows the land reform programme in Zimbabwe. What we have said absolutely clearly, and which is part of the Abuja Agreement, is that if the Government of Zimbabwe meets the commitments that it has made with respect to the restoration of the rule of law, freedom of expression and adhering to the Harare principles then we, as the UK Government, following a UNDP visit to actually look at the technical aspects of land reform, would consider supporting that land reform process. We have made it absolutely clear that we would only do that if the Government of Zimbabwe met its commitments. So I think I am saying to the Committee that our bilateral influence depends on the Government of Zimbabwe wanting us to support that land reform process but that the influence is minimal in that respect and that our influence is greater when we are working in concert with our international partners.

  8. Thank you. That is on the record. Certainly I understand the issue on land reform and, of course, the issue of the pre-colonial situation. However, there must be a question here, Lady Amos. It is quite a convenient defence for Britain to say we cannot engage directly with Zimbabwe because of the action from Mugabe. What I would like, therefore, to ask you more specifically is in pursuit of these principles, to improve the situation in Zimbabwe, what progress are we making with our international partners to achieve those aims? I accept we cannot do this directly for obvious reasons but what progress are we making with the international community?
  (Baroness Amos) Can I say, first of all, that I hope the Committee did not take my remarks to mean that we cannot engage directly. The question I was asked was specifically about the degree of influence that we have with the Government of Zimbabwe. We really continue to engage directly with the Government of Zimbabwe. The Secretary of State, for example, most recently, through our High Commissioner in Harare, made a very strong démarche with respect to the treatment of journalists in Zimbabwe, for example, so we continue to engage on an almost daily basis with the Government of Zimbabwe through our High Commissioner and also through the work that we do here in London which is different, I think, from the specific point about the degree of influence that we then have as a result of those bilateral relationships. I really do not want the Committee to go away with the idea that we do not continue with our bilateral relations, we do, and we have given some very hard messages to the Government of Zimbabwe with respect to this. I think the other side of it, which is to what extent do the Government of Zimbabwe then listen and what influence do we have, is a slightly different point. Coming back to the more specific question about what degree of influence do we then have in relation to these five principles—

  9. With the international community.
  (Baroness Amos)—with the international community, clearly the countries in the SADC region are increasingly concerned about the economic instability in Zimbabwe and the impact of that economic instability on their own countries. We have seen what has happened to the South African rand which today is standing at something like 15.8 rands to the pound. So quite a fall in the value of the rand, some of which is attributable to the situation in Zimbabwe. So, working with our SADC partners we are working to try and ensure that the kind of prosperity and stability that we want to see economically in Zimbabwe comes to fruition. We are working with our Commonwealth partners on issues like the rule of law, ending political violence and these are areas which are also of concern to our SADC partners. On land reform, we have seen the UNDP mission, who have recently completed that mission, they are now back in New York, and we are expecting their report shortly. Of course, we are working with all the stakeholders in Zimbabwe, NGOs, human rights' activists, members of the opposition who really want to ensure that the upcoming elections are free and fair, free of harassment and free of violence.

Sir John Stanley

  10. Minister, I think you will agree that the prelude to the elections in March is extremely disturbing so far and as you will be well aware the opposition MDC's headquarters in Bulawayo has been set ablaze, allegedly by ruling Zanu PF supporters and significant numbers of the opposition MDC's political figures have now been put in jail or have gone into hiding and in large parts of the country it appears that the opposition has, to all intents and purposes, had to go underground. In addition, Mr Mugabe has introduced into the Zimbabwean Parliament radically new changes for voter registration and as to the implication of those, if I can just refer to what was said in The Daily Telegraph on 1st December. "Mr Mugabe is now pushing a series of laws through parliament which serve only one purpose: guaranteeing the outcome of the election. All Zimbabweans who live abroad are being denied the right vote, except those in the diplomatic corps or the army, who are assumed to back Mr Mugabe. Everyone else is facing entirely new requirements for voter registration, carefully constructed to bear most heavily on MDC supporters. In the cities—Mr Tsvangirai's heartland—people will have to produce a plethora of documents before they will be entered on the roll: proof of address in the form of title deeds, rental agreements or utility bills will have to be shown. When you live in a shack in a heaving township this is quite a challenge. Hundreds of thousands of Mr Tsvangirai's voters will be disenfranchised. In the countryside, village chiefs will have to vouch for everyone who registers. Each headman is paid a grant by the government and almost all support Zanu PF. None will vouch for anyone he suspects of backing the MDC. Any chief foolish enough to do would be severely dealt with. Other laws are designed to give Mr Mugabe a free hand to run the election with one outcome in mind." Minister, can I ask you, against that background of violence, intimidation and apparent rigging of the electoral registration rules in favour of Mr Mugabe's ruling party, does the Government have any confidence that this election in March can produce a fair democratic outcome in Zimbabwe?
  (Baroness Amos) First of all, can I say that the MDC are going to court today to challenge some of the provisions which have been made in that new electoral law. We are, of course, waiting to see the outcome of that challenge. What we, as a Government, are doing and will be doing with our European Union partners, with our Commonwealth partners and with the United States is clarifying exactly what needs to happen for us as an international community to be able to judge that the elections are free and fair. I think it is extremely important that in the run up to the elections we have been saying to the Government of Zimbabwe that it is very important that observers are there in advance to meet the concerns which have been expressed internationally about violence and intimidation, if this does not happen and if international observers are only allowed in to Zimbabwe at the very last minute then I think it is important that we have very clear standards against which we can judge, as an international community, whether we have considered those elections to be free and fair. We have a very good model to work from which is the SADC model which was agreed by the SADC parliamentarians which make it absolutely clear the basis on which they consider that elections should be run in the Southern African region. I think it is very important that those kinds of very good standards are coming from within the Southern African region itself.

  11. Would you agree that if the present level of violence and intimidation against the opposition party continues and if Mr Mugabe is able to get his way substantially in bringing into law the present registration proposals, if that was the situation the election would be fatally flawed in terms of being a fair and proper democratic mandate for whoever is successful?
  (Baroness Amos) The Committee will know that we have and will continue to deplore the violence and intimidation which we have seen in Zimbabwe. I think it is very important Bulawayo in particular has been mentioned, although there has been violence and intimidation in other areas as well. We were particularly concerned in the Bulawayo context that the violence was not just limited to one political party. We made it absolutely clear that we deplore all political violence regardless of party. What we have to be absolutely clear about is the basis on which we would judge elections in Zimbabwe to have been free and fair. It is very important that we do that with our Commonwealth partners, with SADC, with the European Union, with the United States and other countries which have expressed deep concern about this. I would be very happy to come back to the Committee at the point at which we have looked at all of those guidelines and we have made some decisions with our partners following, for example, the CMAG meeting next week, following the meeting which is happening today between Presidents Muluzi and Chissano where they are going to talk about the situation in Zimbabwe, following the meeting which the SADC security organisation is having in Luanda next week. It is very important that all of those processes come together and as an international community we have an agreed basis on which to judge the outcome of those elections and I will be very happy to come back to the Committee once we have done that.[1]

Sir John Stanley

  Chairman: Obliged.

  12. Do you anticipate, Minister, that Britain and other members of the international community may wish to reach a judgment before the elections take place as to whether or not the outcome can be regarded remotely as being fair and democratic? Clearly the international community will reach a judgment after the event but do you anticipate from the remarks you have just made the international community might take the view, even before the election takes place, given whatever goes through the Zimbabwe Parliament on registration, given the level of violence and intimidation, that the election still to be held cannot be regarded as being a proper democratic expression of opinion in Zimbabwe?
  (Baroness Amos) I think that the international community will want to set some standards against which it will make that judgment but would have to think very carefully about making those judgments even before an election had taken place.

  13. Could you clarify a point in relation to international observers. Is it your understanding or not that Mr Mugabe's latest announcement includes a specific ban on observers from Britain?
  (Baroness Amos) I think that I must put a caveat to the Committee which is that my understanding is partly as a result of what is reported in the newspapers and partly as a result of what we are hearing from our own staff on the ground in Zimbabwe but what is coming out of Zimbabwe continues to be a little unclear. My understanding is that the Government of Zimbabwe have done two things. They have said that the election monitors will be Zimbabwean public servants, that election observers can include international observers from the Commonwealth, from SADC and other African countries and also from Europe but not from the European Union. That is my understanding today as a result of the reports which have been coming out as a result of the statement made by President Mugabe. We are still waiting for confirmation of that from our High Commission in Harare.

  14. Minister, would you be able to give the Committee a follow up note, as soon as possible, when the position is clarified, as to whether or not the Zimbabwean Government is making a ban on observers from Britain or indeed from any other EU country?
  (Baroness Amos) I will happily do that.[2]

  15. Thank you. Could I just follow this a little bit further. If Britain was singled out for a unique ban amongst the members of the EU on sending observers to Zimbabwe, do you consider the response of the British Government would be in the context of the European Common Foreign and Security Policy that the EU should take a position that if one individual Member State is going to be banned from sending observers then no EU Member State should send observers to this election or do you think the British Government's response would be "It is better that there are some EU Member States who send observers to this election and though the ban, say, on Britain is unacceptable, it would be better overall for the EU to have some Member States represented as observers at the election"?
  (Baroness Amos) Our interest is in ensuring that the people of Zimbabwe are able to exercise their democratic right in a way which allows them to express that right in a situation where they are free from harassment and intimidation. If the Government of Zimbabwe say to the British Government "We do not want any British citizens to be part of an international election observer team", I think we would go back to look at the core part of our policy which is to work to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are able to exercise their democratic right in a way that is free and fair and we would use that as the test.


  16. Just one point of clarification. Would you confirm, Minister, that the press reports this morning, which you say you have relied on, state specifically that Britons have been excluded from that observing process?
  (Baroness Amos) There is one press report that I have seen which states that but the information that I have coming out from the High Commission in Harare is not as clear as that, which is why I am unable to give the Committee a definitive answer in relation to that.

  17. It would be consistent with the attacks on Britain made at the Victoria Falls Conference recently?
  (Baroness Amos) It would be consistent with the attacks on Britain which have been a consistent part of the Government of Zimbabwe's attitude to the British Government.

Mr Hamilton

  18. Minister, the International Crisis Group has called for Milosevic treatment for Robert Mugabe. Now because of its historical links with Zimbabwe, Britain is constrained in its capacity to provide assistance to the remaining independent media and political parties in Zimbabwe. To what extent is the EU able to provide such assistance to democratic forces in Zimbabwe?
  (Baroness Amos) Can you clarify when you say assistance what form of assistance you are talking about?

  19. I am assuming not just moral support but obviously financial assistance and assistance to them by lobbying the Zimbabwe Government, saying that they should indeed allow an independent media and an independent democratic opposition?
  (Baroness Amos) Well, the British Government have consistently made it clear to the Government of Zimbabwe, and we have not been popular for doing this, that we think there should be an independent media, that there should be an independent judiciary because these are all institutions which are an important part of a transparent democracy. Our European Union partners have done the same. Through the Abuja discussions and the discussions that the Commonwealth team had in the follow up visit to Harare this was made clear also. I think this was something that we have made clear in our bilateral relations with the Government of Zimbabwe as well as making clear through our involvement in other international processes.

1   See Evidence, page 17. Back

2   See Evidence, page Ev16. Back

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