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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The situation in Zimbabwe is very serious. We have been in regular discussion about it with Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki, and with South African Foreign Minister Zuma.
Last week President Mugabe's security forces sought to crush opposition protests, and again arrested opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. They have now also arrested the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Welshman Ncube. Responsibility for the present state of Zimbabwe lies squarely with its present Government. It is they who are responsible for the abuses of human rights, the collapsing economy and the threat of starvation to millions of people. The plight of the white community is bad, but that of the black community is even worse.
Together with the rest of the international community, we will continue to provide humanitarian relief, to sustain Mr. Mugabe's international isolation and to highlight his abuses of fundamental human rights. We will continue to work with international partnersthe European Union, the United States and the Commonwealthin the region.
In that connection, the House will wish to know that, with our active support, the board of governors of the International Monetary Fund decided on Friday 6 June to suspend Zimbabwe's voting and administration rights in the IMF. It is an indication of how critical Zimbabwe's economic and political situation is that that is the first time that such a measure has been taken by the IMF against a country that is not at civil war.
Simon Hughes: I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. The whole country, and, indeed, the world, are aware of the ever worsening human rights position in Zimbabwe. There is not just torture and imprisonments but deaths, verified by more regular reportsthe latest by Statewatch today. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider two specific things. First, will he make an additional effort with his Commonwealth colleagues to prevail on the President of South Africa to make it absolutely clear that the view in Africa, as here, is that that activity on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe cannot and should not continue? If South Africa and the neighbours of Zimbabwe were to say that in terms, there might be a chance of some movement and response by the Government in Harare.
We are engaged in very constructive discussions with President Mbeki and Foreign Minister Zuma of South Africa. Our Prime Minister met President Mbeki last week in Evian, and I met both the President and the Foreign Minister two weeks before that. The South Africans are well aware of the gravity of the position. Indeed, in a joint communiqué from Foreign Minister Zuma and me, both countries underlined that
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is South Africa that has to give a strong voice, and that Thabo Mbeki must recognise that this is not the time to repay Mugabe for the support he may have given to the African National Congress in the past? Now is the time to say to Mugabe that what is going on in his country cannot be accepted. ZANU-PF
Mr. Straw: I entirely understand how my hon. Friend feels about the matter. I know from my discussions in South Africa, and from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's discussions with President Mbeki, that the South Africans are well aware of the very serious damage that is being done not just to Zimbabwe but to the whole region of southern Africa.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Since the Foreign Secretary stood beside South African Foreign Minister Zuma on 14 May and meekly endorsed her policy of quiet diplomacy and dialogue in relation to Mugabe, does he know how many people in Zimbabwe have been murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and politically prosecuted? In the past week alone, more than 800 people have been arrested, 400 treated for injuries and 10 hospitalised; three are on the critical list, two have been murdered, and the leader of the opposition and his deputy have been arrested and charged with treason. All that we have had from the Foreign Secretary today is more gestures and more platitudes. When will he finally accept that quiet diplomacy and dialogue are nothing more than a cover for appeasement, that they encourage Mugabe to ratchet up his oppression and that they are a shameful betrayal of the suffering people of Zimbabwe?
Mr. Straw: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's frustration and anger, which we all feel. What we have done is to secure sanctions by the Commonwealth, sanctions by the European Union, sanctions by the International Monetary Fund and the increasing international isolation of Zimbabwe, which is exactly what I thought the right hon. Gentleman had demanded in the past. What would be devastating for the people of Zimbabwe, however, would be to imply, by that kind of rant, that there are things that we could do, but we are holding back from them. The only thing that the right hon. Gentleman missed out from his rant was the obvious conclusion, expressed by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), that we ought to be taking military action. However, the right hon. Gentleman has himself said to me that he rules out military action. So next time he comes to the Dispatch Box, instead of ranting let him say exactly what he would do in this situation.
Mr. Ancram: We need to ask why, when we were so ready to take effective action against the abuse of human rights and against ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans, we are apparently paralysed in the face of similar atrocities in Zimbabwe. For a start, when will the EU's targeted travel ban and freezing of assets be extended to the families of Mugabe's henchmennot least to their children studying in Englandand to the shameful business men who bankroll Mugabe? And when will the Foreign Secretary go to the United Nations Security Council to seek a resolution to internationalise the crisis in Zimbabwe and put observers on the ground? In short, when will he stop walking by on the other side?
As for the right hon. Gentleman's reference to action in the Balkans, frankly, that shows up the vacuity of his position. He continually implies that we should take action similar to that taken in the Balkans. The only difference between the action that we took in the Balkans and that which we are taking in Zimbabwe is that in the former, yes, we were able to take military action. He knows very well that a military option is simply not possible in Zimbabwe. More to the point, he wrote to me on 24 October, saying:
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): We recognise the need for credible, independent validation of any discoveries by the coalition. Dr. Blix noted last week that UNMOVIC remains ready to resume work in Iraq as an independent verifier, or to conduct long-term monitoring, should the Security Council so decide. United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 explicitly tasks the Security Council with reviewing the inspectors' mandates. This work will be undertaken in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, as the security situation in Iraq stabilises, the work of the 1,400-strong Iraq survey group of coalition forces will get under way.
Mr. Boswell : Given that the position of the coalition, and of Her Majesty's Ministers in particular, depends almost entirely on the credibility of assertions that have been made about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and given that, to put it mildly, that credibility is still very much in question, does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is essential that an element of the verification process should be independent and be seen to be independent, that the process should not be subject to any editorial steering by any other party, and that it should begin as soon as possible?
Mr. Straw: I do not accept the first part of the hon. Gentleman's claim. The simple truth of the matter is that if anybody still needs convincing about the holding of weapons of mass destruction by the Iraq regime before military action was taken, they need only read the very extensive reports of UNMOVIC and its predecessor UNSCOM, which set out in forensic detail the holdings of Iraq and its failure to explain what had
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Will my right hon. Friend impress on our US allies that the early unrestricted return of both UN inspection agencies would help in reasserting the authority of the UN and establishing international credibility, and, if weapons of mass destruction do exist, could speed the urgent task of preventing them from spreading via the black market to terrorists? Subsequently, both agencies could play a vital role across the world in implementing the G8's non-proliferation proposals.
Mr. Straw: As a result of military action the security situation in Iraq has changed totally, and the big threat thatas accepted by the international communityit posed while Saddam remained in power, has now been removed. As for the future of UNMOVIC, operative paragraph 11, which was agreed unanimously by the Security Council, required the UK and the USA to keep the Security Council informed of our activities in respect of Iraq's meeting its disarmament obligations, so that it would revisit in due course the mandates of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency. That remains the position of Her Majesty's Government.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when the matter will be revisited, and what action he intends to take to ensure that that is done fairly quickly? That is important, because it will bring international legitimacy to whatever the findings may be.
Mr. Straw: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact timetable, but I can say that now that the security situation in Iraq is stabilisingthat is the first priority of the coalition forcesthe 1,400-strong Iraq survey group is getting going. It should be allowed to do its work. In tandem with that, discussions with the US and other international allies about the future role of UNMOVIC are continuing.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): As my right hon. Friend suggests, the security position in Iraq is one of the reasons why the inspectors have been unable to go back into the country. However, is it sensible for the Coalition Provisional Authority to have disbanded the Iraqi army, discharging 500,000 men without any rehabilitation or retraining, and to have allowed them to keep their armaments when they are on the streets without any alternative employment, at the same time as calling for a weapons amnesty? Is such action not likely to destabilise the security situation in Iraq and make it less possible for the inspectors to return?
Mr. Straw: I accept the burden of my hon. Friend's questionthat a difficult balance has to be achieved between the necessary de-Ba'athification process and the need to maintain security and ensure the continuation of some of Iraq's institutions. I am not
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): The thing about verification is that the weapons have to be found first, but the new Secretary of State for International Development has said that looking for them is no longer a high priority. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it does remain a high priority, because the trust that we placed in the Governmentand in particular, in the Prime Ministernow appears to have been abused by deceitful spin, all sorts of embellished arguments and by "sexed-up" propaganda? Does not independent verification also require an independent assessment of what we were told existed? For the sake of the Government's tarnished credibility, will the Foreign Secretary now confirm unequivocally that Alastair Campbell will be required by the Prime Minister to appear before any Committee of the House that may be investigating weapons of mass destruction?
Mr. Straw: The appearance of members of the Prime Minister's staff before Select Committees is a matter for the Prime Minister[Hon. Members: "And the House."] Ultimately for the House, of course, but initially for the Prime Minister, who will clarify the matter. I recall that the hon. Gentleman made a fine speech on 18 March, summing up the resolution that was agreed overwhelmingly by the House. On that occasion he was unequivocal in his support for the military action on the basis of the evidence then available[Interruption.] It does the Opposition no good to try to change the terms on which they backed the Government. The basis on which we took the decisions still applies today, and the hon. Gentleman knows that very well.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Did the Foreign Secretary hear Dr. Blix, in the course of his thoughtful reflections, refer to the difficulties of Iraqi pride, and the way in which weapons would have deteriorated over the years? In the light of the forged Niger documents, and what Paul Wolfowitz has now said about weapons of mass destruction, is not it the case thatwith the best will in the worldnobody will believe us unless there is an independent investigation?
Mr. Straw: I do not accept that and I refer, yet again, to the clearest possible evidence, published by Dr. Blix himself, of the unanswered disarmament questions173 pages of themwhich was made available to the Security Council on 7 March. My hon. Friend has always been remarkably charitable towards the former Saddam regime, but to try to explain their lying, conniving, abuse of human rights and refusal to co-operate fully with the inspectors on the basis of hurt pride is, frankly, testing the credulity of all of us.
Mr. Straw: The legal basis for the military action was clearly set out in the Attorney-General's advice, a summary of which was made available to the House, and a longer letter that explained the background to his decision was also published by me in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The reason why we took military action was agreed by the House in a lengthy resolution, which was essentially a paraphrase of resolution 1441, which set out that Iraq posed a threat
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Are any Iraqis coming forward with details of where weapons of mass destruction might be found? Some might be motivated by money, members of the Ba'ath party might want to do deals to protect their future, and others who were opposed to the regime might have ideological reasons, so one would expect that information to be forthcoming from Iraqi sources.
Mr. Straw: As the Iraq survey group gets goingit has only just started, for reasons that I have explained, including the need to stabilise the security situationI am sure that many scientists will come forward for interview. However, the House would, rightly, be the first to complain if people were not able to give free and unfettered evidence in such interviews.