Examination of Witnesses (Questions 67
TUESDAY 14 MAY 2002
67. Baroness Amos, much has happened since we
last met on December 12: the elections and the sad mounting humanitarian
crisis in Zimbabwe and its region. The basic question remains:
what can we, in the United Kingdom, do to help Zimbabwe in terms
of governance and the crisis which is now upon it and its region?
The problem since the March election is that Zimbabwe, alas, has
largely moved off the headlines of concern. The world appears
to accept that the elections are a fait accompli and the
attention of our newspapers moves elsewhere. Is that a fair assessment
from your point of view?
(Baroness Amos) Mr Chairman, I do not
think that it is an entirely fair assessment of what has happened
since the elections. It is absolutely right that Zimbabwe has
moved off the headlines and that the media is taking much less
notice of what is going on, but I think that the international
pressure that was a force before the elections, coupled with the
Commonwealth troika decision and the work that the South Africans
and the Nigerians have been doing to facilitate a dialogue between
Zanu-PF and the MDC, means that Zimbabwe continues to be a country
of international concern. The urgent humanitarian crisis has been
in evidence there since last year. The UK Government was one of
the first to acknowledge that there was a real crisis. I remember,
when I visited Zimbabwe with a team, that the government of Zimbabwe
at that time denied that there was going to be a crisis and indicated
that they thought that grain would be three times higher this
year than previously. All of this points to international concern,
and the fact that we do not accept that the elections were a fait
68. Where do we come in? In what way can we
in the UK relate to Zimbabwe and its current problems, and what
sort of contact do we now have with the government of Zimbabwe,
given the EU sanctions?
(Baroness Amos) Mr Chairman, you will know that the
European Union made a decision that bilateral ministerial contact
would not happen between EU member countries and Zimbabwe. However,
we continue to have a High Commissioner resident in Zimbabwe,
who is able to give us information about what is happening on
69. Are there any restrictions on the movement
of our High Commissioner and his staff?
(Baroness Amos) No, there are no restrictions on the
High Commissioner and his staff. We continue to work through the
Commonwealth. We continue to work through the European Union,
and a European Union troika is due to visit the region on 20 May,
although they will not go to Zimbabwe. We continue to be in contact
with our other allies like the United States, and we continue
to work also with the UN. The Committee will recall that we spoke
about the UNDP mission that went into Zimbabwe to look at the
land reform situation. After their technical assessment they judged
that Zimbabwe's land reform policy was unsustainable, and that
the conditions do not currently exist which would allow them to
go and do further work. However, the UN will be carrying out an
assessment mission of the humanitarian situation and will report
70. So far as our own government is concerned,
under the EU decision of 15 April there are various exceptions
in terms of bilateral meetings. One is for matters relating to
good governance, and the other is meetings relating to humanitarian
assistance. Have there been any such meetings?
(Baroness Amos) No, there have not been.
71. Are any in prospect?
(Baroness Amos) There are not any in prospect, although
after we receive the outcome of the assessment from the UN humanitarian
mission, there may well be the possibility of contact at that
time; but no contact is planned.
72. There is none, so far as you are aware,
within those exceptions, from our EU partners.
(Baroness Amos) No, none as far as I am aware. I will
of course write to the Committee if that information is not correct.
73. Given that ten members of the opposition
have been killed since the elections, to what extent can we as
a country now hope to influence the government of President Mugabe,
particularly in respect of land reform, human rights, or any other
(Baroness Amos) We have made it absolutely clear,
and we continue to make it clear that we deplore the continuing
violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe. Committee members will
be aware that the human rights NGO forum report, which continues
to look at violence in Zimbabwe, has reported that up until the
end of April there have been 55 politically motivated deaths in
Zimbabwe, the majority of them being members of the MDC. We continue
to deplore that violence and to make that absolutely clear to
the government of Zimbabwe. Having said thatand I think
I said this to the Committee when I gave evidence in Decemberwe
are very well aware that in terms of the United Kingdom being
able to influence what is going on in Zimbabwe, we have to work
through our international partners because the government of Zimbabwe
has sought to portray the difficulties that we have with respect
to human rights, the harassing of the opposition, the harassing
of the judiciary, as a bilateral issue between the United Kingdom
and Zimbabwe. This is absolutely not the case. International concern
has been expressed over many months at a number of different levels,
so the opportunities for the United Kingdom to influence are very
much through our work with our European Union partners, through
our contact with the United States, and through our membership
of the Commonwealth.
74. So there is absolutely nothing we can do,
as the UK, bilaterally.
(Baroness Amos) Clearly, bilaterally we partly have
a role to play in terms of our concerns about the humanitarian
situation in Zimbabwe, and to date we have given some 10 million
to support, for example, the emergency feeding programmes in Zimbabwe,
support for the World Food Programme. We continue to try and influence,
through our High Commissioner in Harare and through whatever other
contacts are available to us. It is important, however, that the
Committee recognises that the government of Zimbabwe seeks to
show any kind of direct criticism which is made by the British
Government as a form of the ex-colonial power somehow interfering
in the internal workings of Zimbabwe. We do not accept that, but
we think it is important to recognise the context in which we
are operating, which is why we have worked so hard to ensure that
our views are represented in international fora, for example the
Commonwealth, where greater influence can be exercised on the
government of Zimbabwe.
75. Surely, we should be speaking out against
some of the human rights violations that are happening in Zimbabwe?
As you said, Baroness Amos, it has slipped off the headlines,
but nonetheless, the repression is still taking place and people
should speak up about it.
(Baroness Amos) I totally agree. I hope I have not
given the Committee the impression that we do not continue to
speak out against the kind of harassment and intimidation which
we saw before the elections, and which unfortunately continues
after the elections. As I said, there have been 55 deaths, which
have been attributed by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, to
political motivation. This is absolutely terrible. We have seen
harassment of the media. We have seen the continuing fast-track
land reform programme, which has partly contributed to the food
crisis that we now have in Zimbabwe. We have made it absolutely
clear that we share the international community's concerns not
only about the economic situation but about the fact that the
government of Zimbabwe appears to care not one jot for what is
happening to its own people. Grain reserves are nil; there are
reports that people are queuing for up to a week to have access
to food. It is a terrible, urgent humanitarian situation, and
there is no indication that the government of Zimbabwe is putting
in place the kinds of economic policies needed to turn the country
76. What links does the Government currently
have with the MDC, and do you regard the MDC as a credible government-in-waiting?
(Baroness Amos) We regard the MDC as a legitimate
opposition, and have the kind of links with the MDC that we would
have with an opposition in any country. For example, our High
Commissioner will have meetings with the MDC as well as meetings
with government. On occasion, if MDC members are passing through
London they will have meetings with ministers. That has been the
situation over many years.
Sir John Stanley
77. Minister, when the Foreign Secretary made
his statement in the House on 21 March after elections, he said:
"Respect for the rule of law and a return to democratic principles
and sensible economic policies are the only way back in Zimbabwe.
We remain ready to do all that we can to achieve that." That
obviously is fine as a generalisation, but listening to your answers
to Mr Olner, one wonders whether beyond that general expression
of fine intent there is very much by way of substance as far as
the British Government's policy is concerned, in trying to secure
a return to rule of law and democratic principles.
(Baroness Amos) There are two specific things that
I would point to in relation to that. Members of the Committee
will know that South Africa and Nigeria are overseeing talks between
the MDC and Zanu-PF. We have been disappointed that the round
of talks that was due to happen yesterday did not happen. We have
been supporting our partners in Africa because we feel very clearly
that it is Robert Mugabe's peers in Africa to whom he might listen.
One of the key elements of that discussion, as I understand it,
is to ensure that the economic future for Zimbabwe is secure,
but also that Zimbabwe's political future is secured, which means
that discussions of the rule of law and human rights would have
to be a central part of those discussions. That is why we are
so concerned that those discussions did not happen yesterday.
In addition, the Commonwealth troika, which made the decision
to suspend Zimbabwe from the Councils of the Commonwealth in March,
made it absolutely clear that in looking again at that decision
in a year's time, they would be very much focussing on the extent
to which Zimbabwe not only recognised but implemented the Harare
principles, which at their core have the rule of law and respect
for human rights. So we continue to work through our partners,
like South Africa and Nigeria. We continue to work with the Commonwealth.
I myself had a meeting with the Commonwealth Secretary General
ten days ago to talk through some of these issues; but we also
continue to work through our partners in the European Union, for
example, to ensure that where we can exercise some influence,
and if the opportunity does arise, we are able to make our views
on these matters absolutely clear.
78. Do you think there is any indication whatever
that Mr Mugabe is prepared to run his country in accordance with
the Harare declaration? There does not seem to be any evidence
to date of that.
(Baroness Amos) Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence
of that since the elections. We have had this dialogue process
which broke down yesterday. As I said in answer to earlier questions,
we remain concerned, as I know do Zimbabwe's Southern African
neighbours, about the continuing economic collapse of Zimbabwe.
There is no indication at this point in time of the kinds of policies
that are being put in place that would turn the country around.
79. Do you have any expectation that there will
be a continuing dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC, because
it would seem that there is a very fundamental difference in view:
the MDC is wanting, for understandable reasons, a re-run of the
elections under international observers; and that is obviously
wholly unacceptable to Mr Mugabe. Is there any possibility of
a meeting of minds or successful negotiation between the two?
(Baroness Amos) It is very difficult at this point
in time to say whether these talks will continue, and whether
they will continue successfully. The MDC published a statement
yesterday, and if the Committee will allow me to read very briefly
from the statement, they said that as far as they are concerned,
Zanu-PF has pulled out of the talks and has repudiated its promise
to Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo by closing all doors for negotiating
solutions to the political crisis facing Zimbabwe. I expect that
the Presidents of South Africa and Nigeria will want to talk through
this position urgently. We await some indication from them as
to possible ...