Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 37)



  20. Do you think that targeted sanctions will be proposed at the December General Affairs Council?
  (Baroness Amos) I think that when the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Committee last week he said that he thought it was important that we did not speculate about the possibilities of the end of the Article 96 process. That process has given 75 days for dialogue between the European Union and the Government of Zimbabwe. There is a meeting scheduled for I think the 19 December between the European Union and the Government of Zimbabwe as the first part of that dialogue process. I think it is very, very important that we actually await the outcome of that meeting. Dialogue failed under Article 8 which was why we moved to Article 96. What Article 96 allows is for that 75 day period and at the end of that period, depending on the outcome of the dialogue process, for the European Union then to consider and—I quote—"appropriate measures". So at the December meeting I think it is very, very important that we see what the outcome of that meeting is between the EU and the Government of Zimbabwe.

  21. Chairman, with your permission, can I press you further on the sanctions issue. If the EU and, say, the US agree on smart sanctions surely they would have no effect whatsoever unless SADC also impose those sanctions. Do you think there is any chance that SADC will adopt sanctions should the elections go badly wrong?
  (Baroness Amos) First of all, we have made it clear that we would not in any way consider economic sanctions against Zimbabwe because of the dire impact this would have on the people of Zimbabwe.

  22. Which is why I say smart sanctions.
  (Baroness Amos) I am now going to come to your point about smart sanctions or targeted sanctions. Individual members of SADC have expressed a concern about the possibility of sanctions, be they economic or smart or targeted sanctions. Since the United States Act went through, towards the end of last week, those concerns have been expressed even more strongly. We would have to work extremely hard with our SADC partners if targeted or smart sanctions were considered to be an appropriate part of the agenda.


  23. In response to Mr Hamilton, Minister, you said "We will have to await the outcome of the European Union meeting" as if we are mere passive observers on that meeting. We shall be full participants and that meeting will take place within the next week. So will we be passive spectators or will we argue for targeted sanctions at that meeting? What line will the Government take?
  (Baroness Amos) I would really like the Committee to understand the distinction that I am making. We are now in the process of Article 96 dialogue which is a process between the European Union and the Government of Zimbabwe. It would be inappropriate in the meeting of 19 December on Zimbabwe, which is the first meeting between the European Union and the Government of Zimbabwe, for the European Union side to be saying to the Government of Zimbabwe "We are going to be moving to smart or targeted sanctions" because that meeting is the first part of the dialogue process which is due to be completed towards the end of January. Independently of that, and dependent on the outcome of that dialogue process, the European Union will consider what appropriate measures it should take as a result of what happens through that dialogue process. That is why I am making the distinction between the initial meeting as part of that dialogue process between the Government of Zimbabwe and the European Union and the action that the European Union might choose to take as a result of the outcome of that dialogue press. Might I just answer, Chairman, your question about us being passive observers?

  24. Yes?
  (Baroness Amos) We are not passive observers in this process. What happened when the European Union made the decision to move to Article 96 was that concerns were being expressed by a number of European Union countries about the situation in Zimbabwe reflecting the concerns which we have as the British Government. This is why the thread that I think has been an important part of what I have been saying throughout this morning is that this is not just the British concern, it is international concern about the situation in Zimbabwe, not just in the European Union but in the Commonwealth and elsewhere. What the Government of Zimbabwe has consistently tried to do and has said publicly is that the British Government are the ones who are going around in international fora and making the European Union or the Commonwealth or indeed SADC do these things which is a great disservice to the independence of those countries and the independence of those institutions.

  25. We obviously cannot make our partners, whether in the European Union or in the Commonwealth do certain things but we must have certain things of our own. Are we or are we not in principle in favour of targeted sanctions?
  (Baroness Amos) What we are in favour of is looking critically at the situation at every point and as a result of the evidence we have of what is happening on the ground in Zimbabwe to then make decisions within the European context or with our Commonwealth partners. So we have not ruled out any part of the strategy, including the possibility of looking at targeted sanctions, but I am not able to say to the Committee today that the British Government have made a decision that this is what we should do. There are an array of possibilities in terms of where the international community go next. The United States, through passing their legislation, have made it possible for them as an administration to move to the point of targeted sanctions but with a piece of legislation that is very much focused on incentives for the Government of Zimbabwe if they take the right decisions. We will, of course, discuss these matters with our European Union partners and with our Commonwealth partners because what is important to us is that the international support which exists in relation to the situation in Zimbabwe in terms of trying to ensure that the Government of Zimbabwe takes its responsibilities very seriously, that international support and consensus is maintained.

Mr Olner

  26. Minister, given that on 4 December the International Herald Tribune reported an "Anti-Mugabe Chorus" from South African leaders, including the presidents of Botswana and South Africa, what actions do you think that SADC have taken, to date, that have affected the behaviour of the Mugabe regime? Have words of condemnation meant anything to him?
  (Baroness Amos) I think that the one key thing that will have an impact on the Government of Zimbabwe is the reaction of its nearest neighbours to what is happening in Zimbabwe. On 11 and 12 September SADC Heads of State visited Zimbabwe and saw a number of key stakeholders and they expressed at that point deep concern about the situation in Zimbabwe and, in addition, pressed the Government of Zimbabwe to enter into dialogue not only with the opposition but with other stakeholders because there was a strong feeling from SADC leaders that things would not improve in Zimbabwe if there were not greater dialogue between key stakeholders, like the Commercial Farmers' Union, like members of the opposition, like the Government of Zimbabwe. What we now have is a follow-up mission from SADC foreign ministers and others which finished yesterday and those members of SADC who visited Zimbabwe are now going to give a report to President Chissano and President Muluzi about what they saw and what they found. As a result of that I think that SADC will then make some decisions about their own next steps. I know that some of the things that they have themselves been looking at include the election process.

  27. Is there any evidence so far, Minister, that those wise words have been listened to? Have they made any impression whatsoever?
  (Baroness Amos) I think that they have made an impression on the Government of Zimbabwe. We know that there are some differences in the government about the steps that should be taken next, but I think the difficulty for us is that the public statements which are made by the Government of Zimbabwe, by President Mugabe, by the Information Minister, for example, and by the Minister for Foreign Affairs continue to be extremely robust. Members of the Committee will know when President Mbeki made some very strong statements about what is happening in Zimbabwe initially there was a very negative response from the Government of Zimbabwe and an implication that President Mbeki was somehow speaking as a result of pressure from the British Government. I think that these statements are having an impact but it is very hard for us to judge the extent of that impact because the public statements continue to be so robust. What I would like to say to the Committee is that I think the fact that SADC leaders have actually spoken out, and spoken out publicly, about their concerns is a very, very important step because the Committee will know that historically when things are considered either within the context of the OAU or within any of the regional organisations within Africa, what has tended to happen is that very strong things have been said in private but not in public. So the fact that there have been public statements from SADC leaders about their concerns about what is happening in Zimbabwe is a very, very important step indeed.

  28. Just to change direction a little, Minister, picking up on something you said earlier in your evidence when you talked about the value of the rand. Could I ask if the British Government is providing any economic assistance at all to Zimbabwe's neighbours?
  (Baroness Amos) It does depend on what you mean by "economic assistance". We have development programmes with a number of neighbouring countries to Zimbabwe. We have a big development programme with South Africa, some of which includes work on public service reform, for example, and on enterprise development.

  29. Have they been looked at again in view of the crisis that Zimbabwe is causing in Southern Africa?
  (Baroness Amos) Our development programmes are constantly being reviewed. When we agree a programme it is done on the basis of an agreed country strategy paper which is developed following consultations not only with government but also with key stakeholders where we do an analysis of the economic and political situation in country, we come to an agreement about the areas that we would want to work in and support. We then devise programmes on the basis of that and each of those programmes has a built in way of reviewing those programmes on an ongoing basis. Of course, our staff in countries like Malawi, South Africa and Mozambique, where we continue to have development programmes with those countries, will be talking to those governments on an ongoing basis. The other thing I would want to say to the Committee is this is also having an impact on our trading with the region. Only this morning I was having a meeting with representatives of a number of British businesses with interests in Southern Africa who were themselves expressing concern about the impact of the situation in Zimbabwe on the economies of neighbouring countries.


  30. A question on land reform before Sir John comes to the question of the media. Since the Lancaster House Agreement 20 years ago we have given £500 million in bilateral aid to Zimbabwe, £40 million in aid for land reform. We now understand that it is reported that there is a new form of land agreement under which the Government of Zimbabwe will give 99 year leases with an option to buy and that these leases are not being given to the landless poor but to friends and relations, to senior politicians and senior officials, which clearly is wholly counter to what the UNDP international observers seek to do. What is the Government's response to this new partisan policy of land redistribution within Zimbabwe?
  (Baroness Amos) Can I first of all clarify the figures. We have given over £500 million in financial aid. We have given 44 million for land. In fact, it was 47 million but three million of that 47 million was returned to us, it was not actually used. What we have said consistently since Lancaster House is that there is an urgent need for land reform in Zimbabwe. We want a land reform programme that is transparent, fair and equitable. After the money was returned to us and after there was a kind of hiatus in the land reform process, there was a Land Reform Conference in 1998 which reached agreement on the principles for land reform in Zimbabwe. We signed up to the outcome of that conference but the following year the Government instituted the fast track programme, despite having agreed at the 1998 Conference to the principles of transparency and so on. So we have consistently said that we want to see a land reform programme, and we would support a land reform programme, which adhered to the principles which were agreed in 1998 and which were reaffirmed by the UNDP in a letter to the Government of Zimbabwe.

  31. But we have said that there was the 1998 Agreement, there was the Abuja Agreement on 6 September, which has not been implemented. It is clear that whatever we say nothing positive has been done and, indeed, according to this latest report about the 99 year leases, the whole trend is in the opposite direction.
  (Baroness Amos) Can I say that Abuja had two parts to it. It had the commitments which were made by the Government of Zimbabwe and there were also commitments which were made by the British Government with respect to land reform. We made two commitments. One, that if the Government of Zimbabwe met its commitments under the Abuja Agreement with respect to land reform, which included a commitment to a just, fair and sustainable land reform process as agreed by UNDP, and if the rule of law was restored and if there was a commitment to human rights, democratic principles of free press and so on, we would consider not only supporting that land reform process but we would also work to get other donors to give money to support that land reform programme. So our support for land reform in Zimbabwe has been consistent and it remains the same, that we are prepared to support a land reform process but it has to be done under those key principles.

  32. And it has not happened.
  (Baroness Amos) Can I just say one other thing in relation to that, which is that UNDP have just been in Zimbabwe and they have been doing some very detailed work looking at the whole land reform programme. That has been a very, very important part of the agreement that was made at Abuja, which was that UNDP would go in, they would have the capacity to look at exactly what is happening on the ground and they would then make some recommendations on the basis of that visit. We are waiting for the outcome of that. We have been extremely concerned by the fact that the Government of Zimbabwe have continued with a fast track process, that they have changed the law at points where, in terms of their own land reform process, when it has been judged by the courts to be illegal they have then sought to change the law to make it legal. What we have said is that we will not give money to a land reform programme that we are not absolutely clear and convinced of, that is done on the basis that it is transparent, sustainable and fair, and that remains our position.

Sir John Stanley

  33. Minister, as you know, we raised the issue of the gross violations of the independence and the freedom of the media in Zimbabwe when we saw the Foreign Secretary last week and I would like to pursue that fundamentally important issue further. As you know, the Zimbabwean Information Minister, Mr Jonathan Moyo, has introduced new legislative proposals into the Zimbabwean Parliament, including a catch-all criminal offence for the media in Zimbabwe under which in the future it will be a crime to criticise the President or to "spread alarm and despondency". In addition, according to The Guardian of 10 December, six journalists working for foreign newspapers, apparently at Minister Moyo's request, have been accused by the Zimbabwe Herald, which of course is the Government's newspaper mouthpiece, of being "terrorists". The significance of that, of course, is that anybody who is found guilty of being a "terrorist" in Zimbabwe is likely to face the death penalty. Against that background of the use of legislation to intimidate the totality of the Zimbabwean media against publishing anything that might be critical of the government and against the selected targeting of individual journalists working for foreign newspapers, can you tell us of any steps that the British Government is specifically taking to try to support the remaining independent media in Zimbabwe and any specific steps which the British Government are taking to try and give support to individual journalists who are being specifically targeted?
  (Baroness Amos) The Information Bill will have its Second Reading in the Government of Zimbabwe's Parliament on 18 December.[3] We have said categorically that we find the use of the word "terrorist" in applying it to journalists, who have been extremely brave in working to ensure that the situation in Zimbabwe is brought to the attention of the international community, absolutely absurd. We have made strong representations and protests to the Government of Zimbabwe about this and we will continue to do all we can to support the continued existence of a strong independent media in Zimbabwe. We have seen the importance of a strong independent media in other countries in Africa in terms of ensuring that there is a flourishing democracy, the capacity for people to express their views, and we continue to think that this is extremely important and we will continue to make extremely strong representations to the Government of Zimbabwe on this.

  34. On the issue of supporting individuals who are being named targets as far as Minister Moyo and Mr Mugabe are concerned, is the British Government willing to try to assist those individuals, or any family members that they may have in Zimbabwe, where those individuals wish to give their family members greater protection by enabling them to leave the country on a temporary or on a permanent basis? Is the British Government willing to assist in the resettlement of any such family members as a way of supporting those particular journalists in the extraordinarily brave path that they are continuing to follow?
  (Baroness Amos) Members of the Committee will be aware that there is an extremely large British community in Zimbabwe and our High Commission has worked very hard to ensure that members of that community are registered with our High Commission. In addition to that, our High Commissioner and other staff keep in regular contact, not just with the British community but with journalists and others who are facing intimidation. If we were approached by those journalists or by the families of those journalists expressing concern about their particular safety and security we would, of course, look at that and we would then think about what kind of support or response we could give to any particular requests which were made.

Andrew Mackinlay

  35. Can I just go back, Minister, to the question of sanctions. My colleague referred to "smart sanctions" and you referred to "targeted sanctions". Really what is going through my mind is there is not a lot in our armoury, is there, unless you are prepared, which I think is unacceptable generally, to hit poor people, if I can put it that way? Also there are some things which would be deemed as gestures, not that gestures cannot be important, they can be. What are the options that you would see in your category of targeted sanctions?
  (Baroness Amos) When there are discussions of smart or targeted sanctions, and there have been many discussions in the press and, indeed, parliamentary questions which have been asked about this, the areas which have been put to the Government tend to be travel bans and asset freezes. These are the two areas which are consistently raised with the Government when there is discussion of smart and/or targeted sanctions.

  36. I think on the other side of the coin, you also referred to the fact that if there was some shift in attitude and policy and practice there could be incentives, and clearly one of those is great co-operation, assistance on land reform. Are there any other carrots which either the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth and European Union could either set explicitly or could infer to the Government of Zimbabwe?
  (Baroness Amos) There is also our broader development agenda. We have, as the Chairman said, over the years given £500 million in development assistance to Zimbabwe. This has now been scaled right back and our development assistance is now limited to the area of work in HIV AIDS and some in terms of rural development. This is an area where if we were confident that the Government of Zimbabwe were meeting its commitments with respect to human rights, the rule of law and so on, that we would look at. Of course, there is EU assistance through the Cotonou Agreement and the United States, through their Zimbabwe Democracy Act, have also talked about incentives, including allocating $20 million for land reform. There are a number of areas in which the international community could give support to the Government of Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe in terms of its medium and long-term development but, of course, we would have to be convinced that the Government of Zimbabwe themselves were putting the concerns of their citizens first, were themselves committed to working within an atmosphere where governance, human rights and commitment to the rule of law were the important principles under which they were operating.

  37. One final thing. I do not know whether any thought has ever been given to this. It seems to me that politicians the whole world over from time immemorial do not know when to give up and there is a category of rulers in the modern world for whom it is much more difficult to give up. Is there ever consideration both in relation to the President of Zimbabwe but other people around the world—there is a particular President in Central Europe I can think of—who almost cannot afford to give up? Are there ever discussions as to how to give some guarantees to people if they were to surrender their swords of office because they could go with dignity and some security of not being prosecuted or go to some safe haven? Can I just say for my own self-esteem, as it were, I fully recognise and sign up to things like the International Criminal Court but it does seem to me there are occasions when there does need to be a signalling to people that if they were to retire rather than go on for a life presidency, as it were, they could go and have some opportunity of seeing their days out with some reasonable standard of living, dignity and status?
  (Baroness Amos) I would like to say two things. One, just to finish off on your incentives point, there is of course also the role of the international financial institutions in terms of them putting resources into Zimbabwe. On your second point, I think it is important that we are careful when we talk about this. The reason I say that is what we want to see, and what I think is very important, is that people have the freedom to exercise their democratic right. There may well be instances where people do have that free choice and they continue to vote for the same person over a number of years, and we had a recent example of that in our own country. I think the very, very important thing is that we recognise and realise that people having the freedom to exercise that democratic right is the core of what we are talking about. Having said that, there are some good examples of presidents in the region now who are going. President Chissano has said that he will stand down and President Chiluba of Zambia has done that. Any kind of exit strategy for a leader, we have to recognise that is up to the people themselves. This is not about the British Government interfering in the internal politics of another country, we must make that absolutely clear.

  Chairman: Minister, I think of President, Bokassa, President Duvalier and President Amin, all of whom looked after themselves and perhaps do not need our sympathy. Can I say to you that I anticipate the Committee will continue to be exercised about the crisis in Zimbabwe. We welcome your offer to come back to the Committee and thank you very much indeed for sharing your thoughts with us today.

3   Note by Witness: This did not in the event happen. Second reading now unlikely until New Year. Back

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