Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Tenth Report



43. The bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe is now as poor as it has ever been since independence. Trade, commercial and tourism links have fallen, while the activities of British diplomats in Harare are closely monitored.[45] Yet few would seriously suggest that diplomatic relations should be broken off, or that general travel or trade sanctions should be applied. Such measures would help no-one and would harm ordinary Zimbabweans. It is unfortunately true that, despite—indeed, because of—its status as the former colonial power, the United Kingdom has few levers which it can pull to bring about change for the better in Zimbabwe.

44. Baroness Amos expressed the dilemma thus:

    "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."[46]

45. One difficult area for the Government is the provision of food aid to Zimbabwe, which is currently beset by a food production and supply crisis as a result of the drought which is affecting the whole region, although in Zimbabwe it has been exacerbated by a fall in crop yields caused by the seizure and disruption of farms. We asked the Minister whether food aid was being diverted by the authorities in Zimbabwe. Baroness Amos replied that the Government

    "have a monitoring process... to ensure that the money we give for emergency feeding and food aid is being used properly and is not being diverted... One of the things we absolutely have to be clear about is that food aid goes on food and that it is available to all people in Zimbabwe who require it. We and other donors are absolutely firm about that. Last year there was some talk by the Government of Zimbabwe that urgent humanitarian assistance could only be channelled through the Government. All donors challenged that, and that situation did not occur."[47]

46. When pressed, the Minister admitted to "a residual concern" about whether aid provided through the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is fairly distributed by local committees in Zimbabwe, but stressed that bilateral aid from the United Kingdom "is directly monitored by our DfID team [and] we are absolutely confident that it is reaching its beneficiaries."[48] The Minister's concern about UN aid is shared by James Morris, head of the WFP, who said on 1 July 2002 that Zimbabwe needs to "give comfort to the donors that things will be handled properly"[49] and on 11 July that "WFP will not tolerate the politicisation of food."[50] The Government will wish to maintain its close monitoring of how United Kingdom aid to Zimbabwe is distributed.

47. We welcome the recent announcement of a £45 million increase in United Kingdom aid to Zimbabwe.[51] We conclude that it is vitally important—both on humanitarian and on foreign policy grounds—that the United Kingdom continues to provide and increase aid to the people of Zimbabwe, both bilaterally and through reputable international agencies, though not through the Government of Zimbabwe. We invite our colleagues on the International Development Committee to take a close interest in this matter.

48. In recent years, some progress has been made in changing African perceptions of the United Kingdom's motives. As the Foreign Secretary told the House on 25 June, "It has taken considerable effort, persuasion and diplomacy... to build up the confidence of the other African nations about our good faith in respect of Africa as a whole, and to assure the Governments, particularly the leading governments such as South Africa and Nigeria, that we are doing that not as some post-colonial exercise, but out of our commitment to the peoples of Africa, whatever their race, colour or creed."[52] We commend the role played by the Prime Minister in helping to create the New Partnership for Africa's Development—NePAD—launched at the G8 summit in June. However, until Zimbabwe adopts good governance and begins to participate fully in NePAD, we conclude that the bilateral relationship with Zimbabwe will continue to be difficult and there are benefits to be gained from continued co-operation with other countries, in particular with African members of the Commonwealth.


49. As recently as April 2000, our predecessor Committee was told by Peter Hain that abuses of human rights by the Government of Zimbabwe did "not provide the basis for suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth."[53] When Baroness Amos and the Foreign Secretary appeared before us on separate occasions in December 2001, neither sought to make a case for suspension.[54] However, later that month the Foreign Secretary persuaded the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to agree to invite heads of government to discuss the question of Zimbabwe's status in the Commonwealth in March 2002, and on 8 January he told the House in the Government's first public call for suspension that "Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in March."[55]

50. On 6 March 2002, a few days before the presidential elections in Zimbabwe, the Prime Minister reported to the House on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at which he had pressed unsuccessfully for Zimbabwe's suspension. The Prime Minister told the House that "The credibility of the Commonwealth itself is at stake... action must follow, up to and including suspension."[56] We regret that some member states of the Commonwealth failed to support the suspension of Zimbabwe before the elections were held, at a time when it was clear that Mugabe was abusing fundamental rights and freedoms of his people.

51. Action did follow after the presidential election, when the Commonwealth troika, comprising the Prime Minister of Australia and the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria concluded that suspension was necessary, on the grounds that Zimbabwe had failed to observe the Harare Declaration, which sets out fundamental principles to which all Commonwealth countries have agreed to adhere. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth for one year, starting from 19 March.[57] We agree with Feargal Keane, that "They were wise to leave the door open to an extent. If you expel, then you immediately lose any power to mediate in the situation."[58] Nonetheless, the firm if belated action by the Commonwealth was entirely justified. We conclude that the Government was right to call for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth. We warmly welcome the Commonwealth's decision to make a suspension for the first time on grounds of violation of human rights and the Commonwealth Harare Declaration—in the past, countries have been suspended from the Commonwealth only after the unconstitutional overthrow of elected governments. We recommend that the Government continue to urge the Commonwealth to exert strong pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe to comply with the principles enshrined in the Commonwealth Harare Declaration.


52. In February 2002, the European Union responded to the clearly fraudulent election process in Zimbabwe by imposing targeted sanctions.[59] This action was taken when Zimbabwe did not comply with a 75-day deadline issued under the Cotonou Agreement to respect human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.[60] That deadline had itself followed a series of unsatisfactory negotiations between the EU and ZANU-PF which commenced in March 2001.[61]

53. The sanctions prevent leading members of the Zimbabwe Government and their associates from travelling through or within Europe, as well as imposing an asset freeze and a ban on arms sales. Feargal Keane said "Smart sanctions are a good idea, but they need to be extended because there are a great many people who have profited in a most terrible way from the misery of the Zimbabwean people and they need to start to feel pain."[62] Richard Dowden agreed: "The pressure could have been much tighter. I would say now: extend the sanctions to families and other people in the regime and deepen them and broaden them."[63]

54. The Minister was unable to claim complete effectiveness for sanctions:

    "They are causing some degree of inconvenience. The Committee will know that Robert Mugabe recently went to New York to attend the UN session on children. Because it was a UN meeting, he was able to go to New York because there are special circumstances for heads of government and heads of state attending UN meetings; he was limited to being within 22 miles of the UN whilst in the United States, because the United States has a travel ban. He had to transit through Paris and had to remain at the airport in Paris rather than being able to go into France, precisely because of the EU travel ban. It is causing some inconvenience. It is too soon to judge the long-term impact."[64]

Mr Mugabe was later able to attend a second, UN-sponsored conference, in Rome, at no apparent inconvenience to himself.

55. Not only Mr Mugabe, as head of state, is able to circumvent the ban on overseas travel. In May 2002, his Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chihuri, attended an Interpol conference in Paris. The Foreign Secretary told the House that obligations under international treaties take precedence over the EU sanctions.[65] However, we note that Article 3 of the EU Council Common Position, which sets out the detail of the travel restrictions, states that:

1. Member States shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into, or transit through, their territories of the persons listed in the Annex, who are engaged in activities that seriously undermine democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
2.Paragraph 1 will not oblige a Member State to refuse its own nationals entry into its territory.
3.Member States may grant exemptions from the measures imposed in paragraph 1 where travel is justified on the grounds of humanitarian need, including religious obligation, or on grounds of attending meetings of international bodies or conducting political dialogue that promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
4.A Member State wishing to grant exemptions referred to in paragraph 3 shall notify the Council in writing. The exemption will be deemed to be granted unless one or more of the Council Members raises an objection in writing within 48 hours of receiving notification of the proposed exemption.[66]

56. Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane confirmed in a written answer on 10 July that "The EU common position allows member states to grant exemptions to the travel ban." However, in the same answer the Minister states that under the terms of the ban, Italy and France were "obliged" to allow Mr Mugabe and Mr Chihuri to attend meetings on their territory.[67] It is far from clear from that answer, whether EU member states are required to allow attendance by members of the Government of Zimbabwe covered by the ban at meetings of international bodies under the terms of the ban itself—as the written answer suggests—or under a general principle of international law, as Mr Straw implies.[68] Neither is it clear whether, as the Common Position states, any application by one member state to allow such representatives to attend such meetings can be blocked by another member state.

57. We recommend that the Government clarify at the earliest opportunity its understanding of how the provisions of the EU travel ban relate to attendance by Robert Mugabe, or others subject to the ban, at meetings of bodies established under international treaty. We further recommend that, if the Government has the power to block attempts by other member states to allow Zimbabweans subject to the ban to attend such meetings, they should use it.

58. Nor were the sanctions originally applied to Zimbabwe by the EU sufficiently stringent. As the Foreign Secretary recognised in the House on 25 June, "there is a strong case for an extension of the measures."[69] We therefore welcome the decision of EU Foreign Ministers on 22 July to impose travel restrictions on and freeze the assets of 52 close associates of Mugabe's regime. We recommend that the Government keep the effectiveness of sanctions against the Government of Zimbabwe under constant review and that it be prepared to seek a further extension or tightening of those sanctions when appropriate.


59. In the end, as Baroness Amos pointed out, "There is a limit to what the international community can achieve—not just the British Government. We have to continue to try to find all the levers that we can to continue to put pressure on [the Zimbabwe] government."[70] We believe that the Government needs to pull hard on as many of these levers as possible. Some countries, including the United States,[71] Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand, have imposed limited sanctions, and we hope that more countries will join this list. We are disappointed that there has thus far been no move in the United Nations to back up condemnation of human rights abuses by ZANU-PF by targeted sanctions. We recommend that the Government seek in the United Nations, G8 and elsewhere to persuade countries outside the European Union to impose similar sanctions to those agreed by the EU, and to build the widest possible consensus for a swift and orderly transition to democracy in Zimbabwe.


60. Developments in Zimbabwe have been followed with particular concern in the countries which border it. At their meeting in Abuja in September 2001, the foreign ministers of a number of Commonwealth countries—including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya—warned that "The situation in Zimbabwe poses a threat to the socio-economic stability of the entire sub-region and the continent at large."[72] It is in the interests of states neighbouring Zimbabwe to do all they can to achieve stability there. In the short term, they may judge that this is best achieved by not rocking Mr Mugabe's boat too hard, but in the longer term they will surely conclude that fundamental change is necessary.

61. Feargal Keane suggested to us that "The critical partner in this is Thabo Mbeki in South Africa."[73] It is true that South Africa possesses potentially effective economic levers, supplying as it does a substantial part of Zimbabwe's energy needs.[74] Also, the decline in value of the South African Rand since 1997—which is largely attributable to South Africa's failure to distance itself from the chaos in Zimbabwe—is estimated to have cost it $US 7.7 billion. As leading Zimbabwe economist John Robertson has pointed out in a study conducted for the South African Conference of Trade Unions, this sum is greater than that promised by the G8 countries for the entire African continent under the NePAD initiative.[75] A stable and prosperous Zimbabwe—which is not going to come about under Robert Mugabe's presidency—is clearly in South Africa's interests.

62. However, Richard Dowden warned that

    "Even with the best will in the world Mbeki knows that he can create the very catastrophe he is trying to prevent if he applies the wrong pressure at the wrong time. It is not easy for South Africa to sort out, but I have a very strong impression, following the briefings after the Commonwealth decision, that there is, even within the South African Government, quite a lot of sympathy for Mugabe and a feeling that we have to protect this guy from outside imperialism. I personally was frankly appalled to hear this. It was very depressing that some of the people around Mbeki were taking the line that Britain has got obsessed with Zimbabwe and Mugabe and it is all to do with white owned land and so on. It was very distressing to find that, although they had conceded the suspension, I could not see any sign of any pressure from South Africa since then."[76]

63. We in the United Kingdom must remember that, from some African perspectives, Robert Mugabe was a freedom-fighter who helped to liberate his people from colonialism. Other African leaders with similar backgrounds will not lightly desert him, least of all at the behest of the former colonial powers. We accept that quiet, patient diplomacy has been and will continue to be necessary in order to persuade the leaderships of the former Front Line States that it is in their and their peoples' interests to act jointly and decisively against Mugabe.

64. The Minister told us:

    "I sometimes think that it is important for us to remember that in our own relationship, for example with the European Union, to our partner governments, or with the United States or other allies, that what we say in public does not always match what we say in private. We are dealing very often with complex diplomatic issues. We are always weighing up the extent to which something which is said privately might have a lot more impact than something which is said publicly. There are degrees of influence exercised through the diplomatic process. I see that every day in the work that I do, and I have absolutely no doubt that that is happening the whole time, in terms of the relationships that different African leaders and African governments have with each other. They have to take on board the history but they also have to take on board the reality of their influence and how that might best be exercised. Whilst there is no doubt that there has been some disappointment about the lack of public statements from some African countries, it would be wrong for us to assume that there are not robust and difficult discussions going on behind the scenes."[77]

65. There can be little room for doubt that the key participants in any action to return Zimbabwe to normality will be the leaders of South Africa, Nigeria and other African countries. They must realise that brave promises about good governance as part of their compact for increased international aid will sound increasingly hollow if they allow the situation in Zimbabwe to deteriorate further. International investors will fight shy not only of Zimbabwe but of its region until that situation improves. For the sake of the region as a whole, as well as for the people of Zimbabwe, this country must work with and sometimes through its friends in Africa; and they must play their part in full.

45   See BBC News Report at Back

46   Q74. Back

47   Q105. Back

48   Q107. Back

49   See press conference by James Morris at Back

50   According to Johannesburg newspaper Business Day. See Back

51   Official Report, 25 June 2002, col 811. Back

52   Official Report, 25 June 2002, col 812. Back

53   See Minutes of Evidence from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 447-i, Q46. Back

54   See Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-2002, Zimbabwe, QQ1-6. Back

55   Official Report, 8 January 2002, col 400. Back

56   Official Report, 6 March 2002, col 292. Back

57   See Back

58   Q24. Back

59   See Conclusions of the General Affairs Council held on 18 February 2002, EU Press Release No: 6247/02. Back

60   See Back

61   See Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-2002, Zimbabwe, HC 456, Ev 1. Back

62   Q30. Back

63   Q30. Back

64   Q89. Back

65   Official Report, 25 June 2002, col 812. Back

66   See Back

67   Official Report, 10 July 2002, col 1016W (our emphasis). Back

68   See Official Report, 25 June 2002, cols 812-813. Back

69   See Official Report, 25 June 2002, col 812. Back

70   Q82. Back

71   See statement by US State Department at Back

72   See Fourth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-2002, Zimbabwe, HC 456, Ev 4. Back

73   Q36. Back

74   On 27 June 2002, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority converted its 142 million Rand debt to South Africa's Eskom utility company into a loan. Zimbabwe also has significant debts with Mozambique's hydro-electric supply company, Caborra Bassa. See Back

75   See Back

76   Q37. Back

77   Q94. Back

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