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House of Commons

Tuesday 16 December 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): If he will make a statement on compliance by the Colombian Government with commitments made at the London conference in July. [144036]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): Before I answer the question, Mr. Speaker, as you know, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is today paying an important visit to Dublin, and is thus unable to be present for Foreign Office questions. He has given his apologies to you and the Opposition Front Bench, and, through you, to the House.

The London declaration issued at the meeting in July was an important milestone in the international community's efforts to support Colombia. The Colombian Government assure us that they take seriously the commitments that they made at London, and we look forward to an evaluation of progress up to the end of the year by the working group in Bogota of 10 countries present at the London meeting.

Lynne Jones : Have not the Colombian Government blatantly ignored the pledge that they gave at the London conference to implement the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights? Not only are the Uribe Government giving further judicial powers to the military, but even the President has smeared respected non-governmental organisations as fronts for terrorism, putting the lives of human rights defenders at risk. At the forthcoming donors' conference, will the British Government press for conditions to be attached to the provision of aid to Colombia?

Mr. Rammell: On that point, in general terms, we are attaching conditions, and have made it clear that our assistance is given with the expectation of an ongoing commitment on the part of the Colombian authorities with regard to human rights. On my hon. Friend's comments on President Uribe's statement about human

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rights groups, we have always made it clear—and I have done so directly to the Colombian Government and to President Uribe—that if there are concerns about specific human rights groups, they should be dealt with through due legal process, and other human rights groups should not be implicated within that process. Nevertheless, it is important to state that the Colombian Government have assured us that they are committed to tackling paramilitary groups, and some progress is being made. Indeed, recently, army and police officials have been arrested for their alleged links with paramilitaries, and a number of paramilitaries have been captured in recent months, which I very much welcome.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind that the FARC and the ELN have murdered, maimed, kidnapped and dispossessed more people in recent years than all Islamic terrorists put together, or the Irish Republican Army? In those circumstances, the democratically elected Government of President Uribe deserve the full support of the British Government in terms of technical assistance, political assistance, overseas aid and in any other manner that can help to eradicate this cancer from the country, especially as it is propagated thanks to the vile narcotics trade in which these terrorist groups indulge.

Mr. Rammell: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the cancer of the narcotics trade, which, regardless of whatever political motivation was at the origin of this dispute, is now driving a significant civil war. We support the Government of President Uribe and give assistance. At the same time, however, we make it clear that the critical importance of human rights must be upheld, which we will continue to do.


2. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What assessment he has made of the situation in Zimbabwe following the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria. [144037]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): The Zimbabwe Government's decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth serves only to highlight the increasing isolation of the Mugabe regime. It will do nothing to ease the deepening political, economic and humanitarian crisis. We look forward to welcoming Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth once there has been a return to democracy and the rule of law.

Sir Nicholas Winterton : While I thank the Minister for that reply, will he not accept the stark reality that the Commonwealth and the developed civilised world have failed the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe? With so much agricultural territory now out of production for the fourth growing season, half the population relying on food aid, people digging up coffins because they need to make ends meet, people living out in the bush without a roof, and young children in tatters begging on street corners, is it not about time that the civilised world took action against this brutal despot, Robert Mugabe?

Mr. Mullin: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern—I am sure that all Members do—at the condition of many

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people in Zimbabwe, but I am not sure what he is suggesting. Surely he is not suggesting an invasion. It is hard to see where his line of questioning is leading. It is true that the situation in Zimbabwe is dire, but it would be helpful if he were more explicit, because if he has any useful suggestions we would certainly be glad to take them up.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I wonder whether the Minister will consider my suggestion on furthering sanctions against Zimbabwe. Perhaps they should be immediately extended to the wives and children of the 79 people who are already suffering from sanctions.

Does the Minister not think that it is a good idea that, at last, we have decided to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council to seek a resolution? Even if we do not get a resolution the first time, we will bring the matter into the international arena rather than leaving it as a Commonwealth and African issue.

Mr. Mullin: The EU sanctions are up for renewal in February, and we will certainly examine ways to extend them. My hon. Friend will know that the Foreign Secretary has said that he does not believe that sanctions should be extended to children.

There is no point in pursuing a resolution at the UN unless there is a possibility of success. When it has been raised on previous occasions it has fallen to no-action motions. That just helps Mugabe, which we do not want to do.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Minister share Archbishop Desmond Tutu's criticism of the South African Government for not supporting sanctions against Zimbabwe? Does he agree with the archbishop's comment that human rights abuses are human rights abuses wherever they take place, and that Africa should not be treated separately from the rest of the world?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, we share Archbishop Desmond Tutu's concerns. He said that events in Zimbabwe are reprehensible and unacceptable. As the right hon. Gentleman said, human rights are indivisible and apply everywhere, regardless of regimes. The archbishop went on to say that there are not African human rights and human rights for everybody else. We entirely agree that human rights should apply universally.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): What steps are being taken to assist those among Zimbabwe's neighbours who are adversely affected by Zimbabwe's plight because, in particular, they are receiving floods of refugees? I am thinking in particular of Mozambique and Botswana.

Mr. Mullin: The largest number of refugees are, of course, in South Africa, but they are also in Botswana and Mozambique. We have a large aid programme in Mozambique and a more modest one in Botswana. We also have close relations with South Africa.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Reverting to the point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), will the Minister be less

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dismissive of the initiative at the UN? Surely there is something to be said for this country and its allies making it abundantly plain how deeply we despise and deplore this tyrannical regime. Even if some UN members refuse to sign up, should they not be exposed as accessories after the fact?

Mr. Mullin: We have raised the issue of Zimbabwe with various UN agencies, but such resolutions fall to no-action motions, which gets us nowhere. Nobody is in any doubt about how strongly people in this country feel about events in Zimbabwe and how strongly many people in Zimbabwe feel. We must recognise that internal dynamics will end the regime. It is not possible to run a country for very long when there is 80 per cent. unemployment and 700 per cent. inflation, and when foreigners have to help feed half the people. Inevitably, such a state of affairs must end sooner or later. We must ensure that it ends in a dignified and orderly manner that does not inflict even greater damage to the much put-upon people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): After Abuja, is it not clear that the Government's adoption of the South African policy of quiet diplomacy has been an abject failure? Will they stop pussyfooting and, with the European Union and the US, start genuinely to tighten the screws on Mugabe? Why will they not make sanctions work? We should stop Mugabe and his henchmen from swanning around the world as though there were no sanctions and we should freeze the assets of the despicable business men who still bankroll him. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said, the Government should ask the UN Security Council to put monitors into Zimbabwe. If at first the Security Council says no, they should try, try and try again until it accepts its responsibility. When will they stop walking by on the other side and start taking a lead?

Mr. Mullin: With all due respect, the right hon. and learned Gentleman demeans himself. He knows very well that there is no policy of quiet diplomacy—goodness me, we could not have been louder or clearer about what we think. Even if we had wanted to adopt a policy of quiet diplomacy, he and hon. Members from all parties would not have allowed us to do that. We should not be under any illusions. Sanctions will not bring an end to the state of affairs because the internal dynamics in Zimbabwe will stop the problem. All the huffing and puffing in the world may give the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfaction but it will achieve nothing. We are interested in doing something that will make a difference.

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