Memorandum from the Royal Commonwealth
1. Many Commonwealth organisations have
been intrigued and rather puzzled by the approach taken by HMG
at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Coolum,
in March this year, on the question of Zimbabwe.
2. It was clear by that point that President
Mugabe and his government were paying scant regard to the provisions
of the Abuja Accord of the previous year, but the Commonwealth's
strategyat the bottom linewas nonetheless to put
everything into assisting the delivery of free and fair Presidential
elections (or elections which, however flawed, might allow the
will of the people to be adequately expressed).
3. That seemed a reasonable strategy because
(a) no matter how poor the promise, history is heavy with examples
of apparently heavily flawed elections which have nonetheless
delivered change (eg South Africa, Serbia) (b) the opposition
and the people of Zimbabwe themselves were prepared to test and
trust the process to the limit, and who was the Commonwealth to
abandon them in their hour of need? And (c) even given a flawed
election, there was value in having a representative global body
on the ground, as an election-monitoring body, which could deliver
a unanimous independent judgement cataloguing the failures of
the election which then could lead, as it did, to the troika of
Heads taking unanimous action against Zimbabwe on behalf of a
united Commonwealth (rather than a disunited one).
4. This was particularly important because
such action represented an international assertion that human
rights and democracy are universal, and not relative, values.
Up until that point, the media comment and the reactions of some
of the other observer groups suggested that there was a western,
or European, view of democracy and human rights significantly
at odds with that of Africa. In an already fractured world, that
view was deeply unhelpful.
5. It is for the above reason that many
felt that the European Union was unwise to withdraw its election
observers a week before polling, apparently against the unanimous
advice of all EU Missions on the ground.
6. That is a matter for thembut why
did the UK Government think it advisable for the Commonwealth
to take a similar course of action and suspend Zimbabwe at that
time (and therefore pull out the largest election observer group
ever, apart from that deployed in South Africa in 1994), before
judgement had been given?
7. And even if this was deemed a sensible
policy per se, surely it must have been obvious that the Commonwealth
as a whole would not have accepted such an approach at that point,
with the inevitable damage that occurred as a result to the credibility
of the Commonwealth and to that of the UK Government (at least,
in the eyes of some)?
8. Many of us would be pleased if your inquiry
could shed some light on this matter.
Royal Commonwealth Society