Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Royal Commonwealth Society

  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 strategy—at the bottom line—was 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 them—but 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

May 2002

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