Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 67 - 79)




  67. Baroness Amos, much has happened since we last met on December 12: the elections and the sad mounting humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and its region. The basic question remains: what can we, in the United Kingdom, do to help Zimbabwe in terms of governance and the crisis which is now upon it and its region? The problem since the March election is that Zimbabwe, alas, has largely moved off the headlines of concern. The world appears to accept that the elections are a fait accompli and the attention of our newspapers moves elsewhere. Is that a fair assessment from your point of view?

  (Baroness Amos) Mr Chairman, I do not think that it is an entirely fair assessment of what has happened since the elections. It is absolutely right that Zimbabwe has moved off the headlines and that the media is taking much less notice of what is going on, but I think that the international pressure that was a force before the elections, coupled with the Commonwealth troika decision and the work that the South Africans and the Nigerians have been doing to facilitate a dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC, means that Zimbabwe continues to be a country of international concern. The urgent humanitarian crisis has been in evidence there since last year. The UK Government was one of the first to acknowledge that there was a real crisis. I remember, when I visited Zimbabwe with a team, that the government of Zimbabwe at that time denied that there was going to be a crisis and indicated that they thought that grain would be three times higher this year than previously. All of this points to international concern, and the fact that we do not accept that the elections were a fait accompli.

  68. Where do we come in? In what way can we in the UK relate to Zimbabwe and its current problems, and what sort of contact do we now have with the government of Zimbabwe, given the EU sanctions?
  (Baroness Amos) Mr Chairman, you will know that the European Union made a decision that bilateral ministerial contact would not happen between EU member countries and Zimbabwe. However, we continue to have a High Commissioner resident in Zimbabwe, who is able to give us information about what is happening on the ground.

  69. Are there any restrictions on the movement of our High Commissioner and his staff?
  (Baroness Amos) No, there are no restrictions on the High Commissioner and his staff. We continue to work through the Commonwealth. We continue to work through the European Union, and a European Union troika is due to visit the region on 20 May, although they will not go to Zimbabwe. We continue to be in contact with our other allies like the United States, and we continue to work also with the UN. The Committee will recall that we spoke about the UNDP mission that went into Zimbabwe to look at the land reform situation. After their technical assessment they judged that Zimbabwe's land reform policy was unsustainable, and that the conditions do not currently exist which would allow them to go and do further work. However, the UN will be carrying out an assessment mission of the humanitarian situation and will report back.

  70. So far as our own government is concerned, under the EU decision of 15 April there are various exceptions in terms of bilateral meetings. One is for matters relating to good governance, and the other is meetings relating to humanitarian assistance. Have there been any such meetings?
  (Baroness Amos) No, there have not been.

  71. Are any in prospect?
  (Baroness Amos) There are not any in prospect, although after we receive the outcome of the assessment from the UN humanitarian mission, there may well be the possibility of contact at that time; but no contact is planned.

  72. There is none, so far as you are aware, within those exceptions, from our EU partners.
  (Baroness Amos) No, none as far as I am aware. I will of course write to the Committee if that information is not correct.

Mr Olner

  73. Given that ten members of the opposition have been killed since the elections, to what extent can we as a country now hope to influence the government of President Mugabe, particularly in respect of land reform, human rights, or any other issue?
  (Baroness Amos) We have made it absolutely clear, and we continue to make it clear that we deplore the continuing violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe. Committee members will be aware that the human rights NGO forum report, which continues to look at violence in Zimbabwe, has reported that up until the end of April there have been 55 politically motivated deaths in Zimbabwe, the majority of them being members of the MDC. We continue to deplore that violence and to make that absolutely clear to the government of Zimbabwe. Having said that—and I think I said this to the Committee when I gave evidence in December—we are very well aware that in terms of the United Kingdom being able to influence what is going on in Zimbabwe, we have to work through our international partners because the government of Zimbabwe has sought to portray the difficulties that we have with respect to human rights, the harassing of the opposition, the harassing of the judiciary, as a bilateral issue between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. This is absolutely not the case. International concern has been expressed over many months at a number of different levels, so the opportunities for the United Kingdom to influence are very much through our work with our European Union partners, through our contact with the United States, and through our membership of the Commonwealth.

  74. So there is absolutely nothing we can do, as the UK, bilaterally.
  (Baroness Amos) Clearly, bilaterally we partly have a role to play in terms of our concerns about the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, and to date we have given some 10 million to support, for example, the emergency feeding programmes in Zimbabwe, support for the World Food Programme. We continue to try and influence, through our High Commissioner in Harare and through whatever other contacts are available to us. It is important, however, that the Committee recognises that the government of Zimbabwe seeks to show any kind of direct criticism which is made by the British Government as a form of the ex-colonial power somehow interfering in the internal workings of Zimbabwe. We do not accept that, but we think it is important to recognise the context in which we are operating, which is why we have worked so hard to ensure that our views are represented in international fora, for example the Commonwealth, where greater influence can be exercised on the government of Zimbabwe.

  75. Surely, we should be speaking out against some of the human rights violations that are happening in Zimbabwe? As you said, Baroness Amos, it has slipped off the headlines, but nonetheless, the repression is still taking place and people should speak up about it.
  (Baroness Amos) I totally agree. I hope I have not given the Committee the impression that we do not continue to speak out against the kind of harassment and intimidation which we saw before the elections, and which unfortunately continues after the elections. As I said, there have been 55 deaths, which have been attributed by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, to political motivation. This is absolutely terrible. We have seen harassment of the media. We have seen the continuing fast-track land reform programme, which has partly contributed to the food crisis that we now have in Zimbabwe. We have made it absolutely clear that we share the international community's concerns not only about the economic situation but about the fact that the government of Zimbabwe appears to care not one jot for what is happening to its own people. Grain reserves are nil; there are reports that people are queuing for up to a week to have access to food. It is a terrible, urgent humanitarian situation, and there is no indication that the government of Zimbabwe is putting in place the kinds of economic policies needed to turn the country around.

  76. What links does the Government currently have with the MDC, and do you regard the MDC as a credible government-in-waiting?
  (Baroness Amos) We regard the MDC as a legitimate opposition, and have the kind of links with the MDC that we would have with an opposition in any country. For example, our High Commissioner will have meetings with the MDC as well as meetings with government. On occasion, if MDC members are passing through London they will have meetings with ministers. That has been the situation over many years.

Sir John Stanley

  77. Minister, when the Foreign Secretary made his statement in the House on 21 March after elections, he said: "Respect for the rule of law and a return to democratic principles and sensible economic policies are the only way back in Zimbabwe. We remain ready to do all that we can to achieve that." That obviously is fine as a generalisation, but listening to your answers to Mr Olner, one wonders whether beyond that general expression of fine intent there is very much by way of substance as far as the British Government's policy is concerned, in trying to secure a return to rule of law and democratic principles.
  (Baroness Amos) There are two specific things that I would point to in relation to that. Members of the Committee will know that South Africa and Nigeria are overseeing talks between the MDC and Zanu-PF. We have been disappointed that the round of talks that was due to happen yesterday did not happen. We have been supporting our partners in Africa because we feel very clearly that it is Robert Mugabe's peers in Africa to whom he might listen. One of the key elements of that discussion, as I understand it, is to ensure that the economic future for Zimbabwe is secure, but also that Zimbabwe's political future is secured, which means that discussions of the rule of law and human rights would have to be a central part of those discussions. That is why we are so concerned that those discussions did not happen yesterday. In addition, the Commonwealth troika, which made the decision to suspend Zimbabwe from the Councils of the Commonwealth in March, made it absolutely clear that in looking again at that decision in a year's time, they would be very much focussing on the extent to which Zimbabwe not only recognised but implemented the Harare principles, which at their core have the rule of law and respect for human rights. So we continue to work through our partners, like South Africa and Nigeria. We continue to work with the Commonwealth. I myself had a meeting with the Commonwealth Secretary General ten days ago to talk through some of these issues; but we also continue to work through our partners in the European Union, for example, to ensure that where we can exercise some influence, and if the opportunity does arise, we are able to make our views on these matters absolutely clear.

  78. Do you think there is any indication whatever that Mr Mugabe is prepared to run his country in accordance with the Harare declaration? There does not seem to be any evidence to date of that.
  (Baroness Amos) Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence of that since the elections. We have had this dialogue process which broke down yesterday. As I said in answer to earlier questions, we remain concerned, as I know do Zimbabwe's Southern African neighbours, about the continuing economic collapse of Zimbabwe. There is no indication at this point in time of the kinds of policies that are being put in place that would turn the country around.

  79. Do you have any expectation that there will be a continuing dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC, because it would seem that there is a very fundamental difference in view: the MDC is wanting, for understandable reasons, a re-run of the elections under international observers; and that is obviously wholly unacceptable to Mr Mugabe. Is there any possibility of a meeting of minds or successful negotiation between the two?
  (Baroness Amos) It is very difficult at this point in time to say whether these talks will continue, and whether they will continue successfully. The MDC published a statement yesterday, and if the Committee will allow me to read very briefly from the statement, they said that as far as they are concerned, Zanu-PF has pulled out of the talks and has repudiated its promise to Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo by closing all doors for negotiating solutions to the political crisis facing Zimbabwe. I expect that the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria will want to talk through this position urgently. We await some indication from them as to possible ...

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 31 July 2002