Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Mr Peter Oborne

  "If Rwanda happened again today . . . we would have a moral duty to act there"—Tony Blair, 2 October 2001.

  Rwanda is starting to happen again, this time in Zimbabwe. So far the British Government is doing nothing to prevent it. It is ignoring its moral duty.

  There are many signs of this, including:

    —  the procrastination in imposing targeted sanctions and getting Zimbabwe thrown out of the councils of the Commonwealth;

    —  the defeatist government briefing to political editors that the Prime Minister's "mission to Africa" should not be judged on Zimbabwe;

    —  the failure of the Government to call a debate in Parliament as the crisis has deepened;

    —  British readiness to undermine the integrity of the sanctions regime. A notable recent example was British connivance with the EU decision last November to move the location of the Southern African Development Community Foreign Ministers' summit from Copenhagen to Mozambique, so that Zimbabwean Ministers could attend; and,

    —  the decision to hand control of policy to an Under-Secretary of State based in the House of Lords.

  There is no doubt that the makers of British foreign policy are men and women of decency and good will. And it is true that finding a solution is hard. But Mugabe is destroying Zimbabwe, and killing her people. The country is on the verge of catastrophe. Britain and the international community are washing our hands of the whole dirty business.

  It is true that targeted sanctions have been applied—although they have been applied too late and with too little vigour. And it is true that Zimbabwe has been suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth. But these are little more than gestures. They have eased the conscience of the West, but have done no more than irritate Mugabe.

  A more active and urgent approach is needed. Britain and the international community must show conviction. That would entail:

  1.  In November 2001, the Prime Minister stated that he would "make Africa a major personal priority and a priority for the Labour Government." His policy towards Zimbabwe should reflect that commitment. He should not pretend, as his advisers seem to, that Zimbabwe is a special case where nothing can be done. That is unacceptable.

  2. Day-to-day policy for Zimbabwe should be the responsibility of a senior minister, not an inexperienced Under-Secretary of State. A special government committee should be set up to monitor the evolving crisis, ensure sanctions are enforced and hasten more serious action. The Defence, Foreign and Overseas Development Secretaries should sit on the committee and it should report to the Prime Minister.

  3. Sanctions must be remorselessly pursued. They should also be extended to include two new categories. Firstly, the children of Zanu-PF ministers and allies of the regime who are being educated in private schools in the west should be sent home. Secondly, the powerful business backers of Mugabe who help keep him in power by providing foreign currency should be identified. The feeling of impunity that is prevalent among Mugabe's supporters must be undermined.

  4. Fuel supplies in Zimbabwe are close to zero. There is barely any petrol in Harare. The country has little foreign currency to pay for new deliveries; recently, money intended for new supplies was instead used to pay debtors who had refused to send further supplies until arrears were paid. Every effort must be made to restrict any re-supply of oil.

  5. Britain should be ready to use the International Convention Against Torture to arrest Mugabe's henchmen who travel outside the country.

  6. South Africa could solve the problem. If President Mbeki understands that socio-economic collapse in Zimbabwe will destabilise South Africa, he would be more likely to cut off all support to Mugabe. The Prime Minister and other world leaders must therefore engage directly with President Mbeki.

  7. In December 2002, the Prime Minister showed that he was ready to take the lead in the Middle East by calling for an international conference on Palestine. He should take a similar lead over Zimbabwe.

  8. There is nothing racist about standing up for human rights and against torture, starvation and mass murder. Britain must ignore President Mugabe's anti-British rhetoric.

  9. If Mugabe is determined to prevent food reaching sections of his own population, other ways must be found of feeding them. In November 2002, Mark Bellamy, a senior adviser at the US State Department, said that America was ready to take "very intrusive interventionist measures" to ensure that food aid was delivered. By speaking out, the State Department official has set an example that others should follow.

  10. If, in the coming months, Mugabe continues to deliberately starve his own people, then the United Nations must give urgent consideration to intervening on the ground to prevent another African genocide. Failure to act would do irreparable damage to the UN's already battered reputation in Africa.

Peter Oborne

March 2003

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