Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Clerk from the Head of Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee had a brief word with the Foreign Secretary about Zimbabwe on 22 August. The Foreign Secretary agreed to write to the Committee about the situation in the country, and the Nigerian initiative for Commonwealth engagement with Zimbabwe.

  The Foreign Secretary is deeply concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe, where the breakdown in law and order has led to an increase in violence, especially in rural areas. We have repeatedly urged the Government of Zimbabwe to restore the rule of law, provide police protection for those being threatened, and to bring to justice the perpetrators of crime, regardless of the colour of their skin or their political affiliation. Following the latest violence in Chinhoyi, a British national was among a number of farmers being held by the police following a violent incident on a neighbouring farm. Staff from the British High Commission in Harare visited the area several times and offered full consular assistance.

  The EU has expressed serious concerns about developments in Zimbabwe. On 25 June, the General Affairs Council concluded that the EU critical dialogue with Zimbabwe, which began in March within the framework of Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement, should be extended for a further two months and progress reviewed again in September. In August, the EU Troika in Harare expressed its deep misgivings about the violence preceding the Bindura by-election in July; the continued harassment, including arrests, of journalists working for independent media; and the upsurge of violence in commercial farming areas. The Troika pressed the Zimbabwean authorities to grant formal accreditation to EU diplomats based in Harare to observe the two by-elections in September and to invite international monitors to observe the presidential election in Spring 2002.

  The Commonwealth is also actively engaged in trying to influence events in Zimbabwe. A group of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers will meet in Abuja on 6 September under the chairmanship of the Nigerian Foreign Minister, Sule Lamido, to discuss Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary, accompanied by the Minister for Africa, will attend, along with representatives from Australia, Canada, Jamaica, Kenya and Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth Secretary General will also participate.

  The Nigerians have assured us that there will be an open discussion in which all issues of international concern can be aired. The Zimbabweans are likely to raise the question of land reform and it's funding by the UK and the international community. We recognise the importance of land reform, and have consistently said that we would be prepared to support a land reform programme that was in line with the principles agreed by donors and the Government of Zimbabwe at the 1998 Land Conference. The Government's current fast-track programme does not conform to those principles.

  The Foreign Secretary will aim to focus discussion on the core reasons for Zimbabwe's political and economic decline—the breakdown in the rule of law and governance issues. He will underline the need for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, including the central role of international election observers. He will also make clear our concerns about the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe.

  We hope the Abuja meeting will be the beginning of a Commonwealth dialogue with the Zimbabwe Government which will help to influence, and moderate, President Mugabe's behaviour. But we must be realistic. President Mugabe is intent on winning the presidential election in Spring next year. His actions are very much geared to that end. Much will therefore depend on how Zimbabwe approaches the Abuja meeting and whether it is inclined to begin addressing international concerns. I will write again after the meeting.

Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Department,

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

4 September 2001

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