Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
STRAW MP, MR
CMG, MR KIM
1. Foreign Secretary, may I welcome you and
your colleagues to the Committee? I see Mr Mark Lyall Grant, Mr
Kim Darroch and Mr Stephen Wright. The agreement is that we start
with some questions on Zimbabwe. The Committee will be meeting
Baroness Amos next Wednesday for a fuller coverage of Zimbabwe.
We then go on to preparations for Laeken and there will be a debate
in the House today for which these questions will be highly relevant.
We then go on for the remaining part of the morning to the foreign
policy aspects of the campaign against terrorism. Clearly, we
see that the crisis in Zimbabwe mounts both politically and economically.
We have the land expulsions, the rule of law threatened with friendly
judges appointed, the free press challenged and manipulation of
preparations for the presidential elections in March. On the economic
side, inflation and unemployment climb. Half a million Zimbabweans
face hunger and a fall in investment confidence which affects
the region as a whole with the South African rand falling to historically
low levels. When you attended the Abuja summit on 6 September,
you welcomed that agreement. Do you now admit on reflection that
you and your colleagues were in effect taken in, played along,
to gain time before the Commonwealth summit, the CHOGM meeting
at Brisbane, and it is now clear that President Mugabe had no
intention to change and no intention to honour the promises made
on his behalf at Abuja; he has now had his chance and now is the
time for the international community to take tougher decisions?
(Mr Straw) I do not accept the assumption
behind your question at all. We all went into the Abuja negotiations
with our eyes open. The crucial thing that I said, once the Abuja
text had been agreed in the hotel in Abuja, was that we would
judge its effectiveness by whether it was put into action, not
by the words on paper. If you are asking me were those negotiations
worthwhile, yes, they were very important and they remain very
2. Do you accept that President Mugabe had no
intention of honouring the agreement?
(Mr Straw) Let me deal with why they were important
and then I will deal with what was in President Mugabe's mind.
They were important in two respects. First, in breaking out of
the parody that President Mugabe and the others in Zanu PF had
tried to erect, that what he was involved in was a bilateral dispute
between the old colonial, imperialist power, the United Kingdom,
and the former colony, once Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and
that all the problems which had faced Zimbabwe to an increasing
degree over the last 20 years could be placed at our door step.
We changed that from it being seen as a bilateral dispute to being
a multilateral dispute, critically, one in which South Africa,
Nigeria, Kenya, along with Jamaica and then Australia, Canada
and ourselves were involved. Secondly, we laid down in the Abuja
text a clear framework for judging whether progress was going
to be made in Zimbabwe following it and for judging the behaviour
of the Zanu PF Mugabe government. Both of those are very important.
Do I believe that Abuja has been followed? No. I said exactly
that in the House last Tuesday in parliamentary questions. There
is little in the Abuja text that has been followed. What has happened
as a result of Abuja, however, is that international pressure
on a multilateral basis on Zimbabwe has intensified and I do not
believe that that would have happened without Abuja. To cast my
mind back to June/July, there was hesitation inside the European
Union as to whether action should be taken under the Cotonou Agreement
to move from Article 8 to Article 96. Indeed, although we thought
there was a good case for moving straight to Article 96 that was
not a general view and it was agreed therefore to give the Zimbabweans
another few months. The result of Abuja and what has not happened
since then was that, when this came before the GAC on 29 October,
they reached this agreement that we should move to Article 96.
And, more importantly, the move to do that was led by the Netherlands
and Finland, not by ourselves. This was widespread recognition
of the problem. Secondly, within the Commonwealth, the failure
by President Mugabe and Zanu (PF) to implement the spirit of Abuja
and its letter in terms of the restoration of the rule of law
has led to increasing frustration elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
I called a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group,
CMAG, on Monday. As it turned out, it had to be an informal meeting
on the telephone because Nigeria was unable to take part, but
six members of CMAG took part in this, all very concerned indeed
about the situation. We have agreed to meet in London in the week
beginning 17 December. The date is still to be agreed.
3. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group
is likely to meet roughly at the time that the 75 days under the
Cotonou Agreement expire.
(Mr Straw) No; in advance of that. The 75 days expire
in January, but it is up to 75 days. Cotonou says you have 15
days to give notice of the shift from Article 8 to Article 96
and up to 60 days for confirmation.
4. What proposals by way of sanctions would
you and the British Government favour?
(Mr Straw) I am not going to speculate about what
exact sanctions we may or may not favour because for me to speak
publicly about that without agreement of colleagues would be to
re-bilateralise the matter. One thing, however, I would rule out
is economic sanctions against Zimbabwe because they would not
hurt the leadership of Zimbabwe; they would hurt the people of
Zimbabwe who have already suffered.
Sir John Stanley
5. Foreign Secretary, I think you would agree
that one of the very few bright features of the situation in Zimbabwe
is the limited remaining number of extraordinarily brave journalists
who are doing their best to uphold press freedom and objective
press reporting in that country. You will also be aware that the
Zimbabwean Government has introduced their Access to Information
and Protection of Privacy Bill, so-called, under which all journalists
in Zimbabwe are going to be made subject to a one year, renewable
licence, renewable by the state. You will also be aware, because
you have reacted to it, that President Mugabe has threatened to
dub individual journalists, including some British journalists,
as "terrorists" which potentially carries the death
penalty in that country. Against that background, could you tell
the Committee what steps the British Government is taking through
the international community to make it absolutely clear to President
Mugabe that attempts to shackle, intimidate and carry out any
extra judicial action against the remaining independent journalists
in Zimbabwe will be regarded as absolutely unacceptable?
(Mr Straw) I entirely share your view about the absolute
unacceptability of what Zanu PF have done here. It is further
evidence of their desire to rig the system and further evidence
of their desperation about the degree to which, over the last
five or six years, they have patently lost popular support. They
are now trying to reinforce what support they have by the usual
methods of people who are desperate undemocratically to cling
on to power. There were two big moves. One was to brand a number
of journalistswho are not foreign citizens; they are Zimbabwe
citizens who are working for foreign newspapersas assisting
in terrorism, which was preposterous, and then to bring in this
new law which is designed to license journalists presumably on
the basis of good behaviour as far as Zanu PF is concerned. I
issued a very strong statement against that and made protests
to the government in Zimbabwe through our High Commissioner, Brian
Donnelly. What you by implication raise is the bigger question
of what can the United Kingdom do unilaterally about these things.
We do not run Zimbabwe. It is an independent state and, in the
6. I said internationally.
(Mr Straw) Internationally, we use this to build up
the case against Zimbabwe very strongly, particularly with the
African nations. You will have seen remarks from President Mbeke
of South Africa which are increasingly critical and hostile to
the Zimbabwe regime. That is of very great importance in the politics
in southern Africa. Those remarks are reflected by similar concerns
by the government of Botswana. It was the Foreign Minister of
Botswana who chaired this teleconference that we had on Monday
and there is a delegation, as he was telling me yesterday, from
SADC, the Southern African Development Community, which is going
back to Harare on 10 or 11 December.