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Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, is right: the situation in Zimbabwe has got worse. We are awaiting publication of the review report from the Commonwealth secretariat. Noble Lords will be aware that there was a successful stay-away organised by the MDC, at which there was an 80 per cent success rate over two days. Since that successful stay-away, more than 600 people have been arrested and about 250 people have required hospital treatment in Harare alone. That is an appalling situation. The United Kingdom Government are working with our EU partners on a statement condemning the action which has been taken. The United States and others have already condemned it. I agree with the noble Lord that the credibility of the Commonwealth is at stake, and will be at stake in December when the Commonwealth discusses these issues again.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what measures Her Majesty's Government are taking to encourage the efforts of Archbishop Ndungane, the Archbishop of Cape Town, who is doing sterling work to bring about some type of solution in Zimbabwe? Is the Minister aware of the offer of Morgan Tsvangirai, following the two-day stay-away last week, that he is now prepared to re-engage in discussions with ZANU-PF in the hope of forming a government of national unity?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the efforts of the Archbishop of Cape Town. Indeed, he came and spoke to officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as part of a programme of discussion with key stakeholders. He has made two visits to Zimbabwe. As a result of his second visit, when he spoke to a range of NGOs and others, he is reflecting on next steps. I understand that yesterday President Mbeki, speaking to Parliament in South Africa, made it clear that he would be prepared to talk to the Archbishop as well.

With respect to the offer made by Morgan Tsvangirai, that statement was again welcomed yesterday by President Mbeki. Indeed, President Mbeki made it clear that South Africa would be willing to host any such talks if it would help to revive the initiative.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, given that the suspension of Zimbabwe will now continue until the CHOGM in

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December, will the Government encourage the troika to develop concrete yardsticks which can be applied by the heads of state in deciding whether to re-admit Zimbabwe? Will they ensure that one of those yardsticks is full compliance with the procedures in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, including co-operation in its investigation of the illegal arrest and torture of many opposition MPs, including—and in particular—Mr Job Sikhala?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with respect to the needs for benchmarks. However, the troika set benchmarks at their meeting last year at Marlborough House. One of those benchmarks is being used in terms of the review that has been undertaken, which is yet to be published.

The suspension from the councils continues on the basis of the Marlborough House statement. So it would be quite difficult to re-open that issue. But we could, with the Commonwealth, look at ways to ensure that further human rights violations are monitored and put to Commonwealth heads in December.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, what action, if any, have we taken to bring a resolution of censure to the United Nations on this issue? Secondly, are we not able to give assurances to people who have been tortured and who may be able to escape from the country to South Africa or to a neighbouring country, that they will be received here without further preliminaries?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness's first question about censure, we have, through the European Union, put a resolution to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The noble Baroness will recall that we had a similar resolution last year, which was not even put to the vote, given the blocking action by African countries. This resolution has yet to be taken at the commission, but there is an EU resolution which is being supported by other countries.

With respect to the noble Baroness's second point, she will be aware that anyone from Zimbabwe seeking asylum in the United Kingdom can claim asylum either on arrival in the United Kingdom or from a third country.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, now that we are hearing about the increased atrocities and mayhem being created in Zimbabwe, will the noble Baroness undertake to encourage her colleagues to maintain exclusion of this monstrous regime not merely from the Commonwealth but from all other international organisations where we have influence?

Further to the observation of my noble friend Lady Park, could we bring forward speedily a resolution to the United Nations and show the same vigour as the US Administration have already shown? Should we not be ahead of it, rather than following behind?

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Finally, could we not now draw up a list of those who have committed, or who are alleged to have committed, crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe—a list of potential war criminals, as it were—just to show that we are determined to act and are not prepared to let Zimbabwe go on for ever, rotting in the way that it is now doing?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will be aware that the EU sanctions have continued. There was a sanctions rollover, so the travel ban, assets freeze and moratorium on the sales of arms continue.

On the noble Lord's second point about pursuing a resolution and pursuing it with vigour as the United States has done, I am not entirely sure to what the noble Lord refers. The United States has only just announced its list in terms of an asset freeze. With respect to a resolution, the United States supports the EU resolution, which is going to the UN Commission on Human Rights. The noble Lord will be aware that there have been discussions about the possibility of bringing the issue to the UN Security Council, but the view of many members of the Security Council is that Zimbabwe does not pose a challenge to international peace and security and that this remains a domestic issue. That is something we shall need to overcome. We are in constant discussion and dialogue—not only in the UN but with other partners—on this matter.

With respect to the noble Lord's final point about a list of those who are alleged to have committed human rights abuses, a number of organisations are amassing information with respect to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Putting individual names against those abuses is quite difficult, but I assure the House that it is a matter that is being looked at.

Human Rights

3.10 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to establish a human rights commission.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government received on 19th March the report and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the matter. We are giving careful attention to those and will give our response in due course.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the Government have already done a great deal to advance a human rights culture. But does my noble friend agree that there is a decisive need for a central independent body—for example, a human rights commission—to oversee an educational programme, particularly in schools but also elsewhere, if the full purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 are to be achieved?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there is much force in what the noble Lord says. We have,

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therefore, expressed an intention to consider carefully the Joint Committee's report, which makes just such a recommendation. I can tell noble Lords that it repays very careful reading, and the Government intend to do just that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the committee to which the Minister refers. Is she aware that it is now more than five years since the Government expressed two cautionary reservations about a human rights commission, both of which have been met by the Joint Committee? The first was that they needed advice about how it might work; the second was that there should be a sufficiently high degree of consensus among the existing human rights organisations.

Is the Minister also aware that this is one of the most important pieces of unfinished business of the Cook-Maclennan constitutional agreement between our two parties? Can she assure us that it will not be kicked into the long grass for another five years?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am aware of the first two points. But it is only fair for me to remind the House—I am sure that the noble Lord does not need to be reminded—that the Joint Committee, quite properly, took two years to consider the matter. We do not complain about a moment of that time because we think that it will repay careful reading. As the noble Lord says, we must respect the report by examining precisely how the committee proposes to bring about the changes and by considering what is the Government's proper response to those carefully crafted recommendations. I assure noble Lords that the matter will be given anxious consideration across the Government.

Lord Renton: My Lords, having supported the Human Rights Act 1998 without any hesitation at that time, I remind the noble Baroness that, in the past year or so, it has been found to be unenforceable to some extent; therefore, if a human rights commission is set up, it would have much more limited powers than those envisaged under the Human Rights Act.

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