Seanad Statements on Zimbabwe, 1 July 2008. Statement by Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs
The eyes of the world are focused with sorrow and disgust on the continuing tragedy in Zimbabwe. It is opportune therefore to place on the record of this House our shared and utter condemnation of the situation there, and our rejection of the sham re-election of Robert Mugabe after a campaign of violence and other gross abuses which made free and fair elections impossible and which forced the withdrawal of Morgan Tsvangirai from the race.
The principle of free and fair elections is the fundamental cornerstone of democracy. We in Ireland are fortunate in being able to take our democratic rights and freedoms for granted. It is therefore all the more distressing to see the manner in which these precious rights, so clearly valued by the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, have been brutally trampled on.
The obscene charade on Friday last, marked by reports of terrified voters being herded to polling stations, was deeply distressing for all those endeavouring to promote peaceful change in Zimbabwe and concerned with the welfare of the Zimbabwean people. The re-inauguration of Robert Mugabe on Sunday is an insult to democracy.
Of course the reality is that Robert Mugabe has abused the current electoral process from the start, beginning with his decision to ignore the views of the MDC and proceed with presidential elections in advance of much needed constitutional and political reforms. This abuse is all the more tragic when we reflect on the courage and the hope in the future shown by the Zimbabwean people in exercising their democratic right to vote on 29th March last.
The violence which has characterised the period between the first round of voting and last Friday’s run-off vote has been truly horrendous. It is reported that in addition to close to ninety people killed, including women and children, over 3,500 have been seriously injured and some 200,000 displaced. Despite the ban on foreign media operating in Zimbabwe, we are all familiar with the widespread reports of systematic, state sponsored violence, depicting in graphic detail the shocking and barbaric attacks inflicted on MDC supporters. This reign of terror effectively denied the Zimbabwean people their legitimate right to express their democratic opinion.
Mugabe’s chilling remarks that he would never accept the MDC democratically securing power in Zimbabwe and making clear that the only alternative he envisaged to his continued rule was war to be visited upon his own long-suffering people give an insight into the mindset of a veteran autocrat who is becoming increasingly delusional and seemingly immune to all pleas for reason.
Members of the Oireachtas, and the Irish people, are rightly appalled by what has happened in Zimbabwe. I want to make clear here today the Government’s unequivocal position that the results of last Friday’s vote cannot be regarded as legitimate or in any way constituting the democratic and free expression of the Zimbabwean people’s will.
Ireland has been extremely active in working with both the regional organisations and the countries of the Southern African region to address the current situation. Prior to the withdrawal of Morgan Tsvangirai from the run-off election, Irish Aid had provided financial support to the UN to support deployment of SADC election observers in Zimbabwe. In Malawi and Lesotho, Ireland has acted as the local Presidency to convey the EU’s concerns to the governments of those countries. Indeed, all our Missions in sub-Saharan Africa have been engaged in close dialogue with their host governments on the situation. The Irish Ambassador to South Africa and officers from the Embassy in Pretoria have made regular visits to Zimbabwe to assess the situation, most recently over the weekend, and they are available at all times to offer consular assistance to the Irish community in Zimbabwe. I would also like to pay tribute to the role of the Irish Honorary Consul in Zimbabwe, Gary Killilea, whose presence on the ground is a valuable assistance to the work of our Embassy in Pretoria.
The international community must continue to make clear that Mugabe’s position has no democratic legitimacy. I have already publicly welcomed the unequivocal and unanimous statement last week by the UN Security Council, in which it declared that a free and fair run-off election in Zimbabwe had become impossible because of violence and restrictions on the opposition, and explicitly condemned President Mugabe’s government. The Security Council called for efforts aimed at finding a peaceful way forward, through dialogue, that allows a legitimate government to be formed that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people. I am glad that similar statements have been made by Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, and by his Deputy at the opening of the African Union Summit yesterday.
I also welcome the announcement by G8 Foreign Ministers, at their meeting in Japan last Friday, that they would not recognise the legitimacy of the outcome of the election. The outgoing EU Presidency made a similar announcement on Saturday.
However, it is clear that it is Zimbabwe’s African neighbours, and above all South Africa, which have the greatest potential influence and leverage.
In this regard I welcome the constructive interventions over the last period by many – though most regrettably, by no means all - leaders and countries in Africa. Concern and condemnation of the violence in Zimbabwe have been expressed by several prominent figures, such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Prime Minister Odinga of Kenya, and the President of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma. They are rightly dismayed by what Nelson Mandela so aptly described as the “tragic failure of leadership in Zimbabwe”. Ordinary Africans have also made clear their abhorrence, as was demonstrated by the actions of South African dock workers in refusing to unload a ship containing a consignment of arms bound for Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that opinion in Africa, for so long overly respectful of Mugabe as a veteran liberation figure, is now turning against his rule and the ensuing chaos and violence in Zimbabwe.
I strongly welcome the highly critical statement issued last Sunday by the Pan African Parliament Election Observer Mission which described the political environment as “tense, hostile and volatile with high levels of intimidation, violence, displacement of people, abductions and loss of life”. It concluded that the current situation prevailing in the country did not allow for free, fair and credible elections. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) election mission also concluded that the election process did not conform to the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, and that the elections did not allow for the expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The African Union’s own electoral mission also reported that the elections fell far short of the standard required.
There is a particular onus on African leaders, currently meeting at the African Union Summit in Sharm-El-Sheik, to take a stand. The elections pose a direct challenge to the African Union’s own principles and seriously undermine recent progress with regard to democracy and good governance on the continent. The African Union ought to make absolutely clear, without equivocation, that the situation is quite unacceptable and that Mugabe’s position is invalid and illegitimate. Reports from Sharm-El-Sheik so far appear to indicate quite a mixed approach. Some present are taking a commendably firm line but others appear ready for business as usual. Mugabe is, as ever, defiant.
President Mbeki’s mediation has, despite his very considerable efforts, on which he briefed the then Taoiseach and me when we were in South Africa in January, not brought the results at which he was aiming. However, it remains vital that South Africa, which has more influence over the situation than any other external actor, remains fully engaged. I therefore welcome yesterday’s fresh call by South Africa for talks between the regime and the MDC aimed at achieving a transitional government. The African Union should add its weight to this call – and I welcome reports that it may- and it should, with SADC and possibly the UN, work actively to put such a process in place.
Any such negotiations would have to be credible, substantive and time-limited.
It is vital that Mugabe and his party are forced to engage seriously and urgently with the opposition. Mugabe has a history of gestures which turn out to mean nothing and to be designed simply to buy time. He should not be allowed to get away with such prevarication once again. Merely entering into discussions should not be enough to buy off criticism and pressure.
It is not for outsiders to say what the outcome of such negotiations might be but I note that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have in some recent statements appeared open to a transitional government of national unity, so long as it is genuinely based on the will of the people as expressed in the 29 March elections, in which the MDC did best, and so long as it leads to fresh elections before long.
Regrettably, there can be no confidence that Mugabe and his regime will respond to pressure, since they have never attempted to conceal their contempt for international opinion. In those circumstances, we must be prepared within the EU to ratchet up the pressure on Mugabe and the ruling elite through the extension of existing restrictive measures, though the scope for further action is relatively limited. This is something which will be actively explored within the EU over the coming days.
It must be reiterated that the EU’s existing sanctions are targeted solely on this ruling elite, with the intention of restricting their travel to the EU or attempts to siphon off ill-gotten gains in EU accounts. The sanctions do not impact on the ordinary population and the EU, which is already the leading international provider of humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people, will continue to do all it can to alleviate their suffering.
I also welcome and support the stated intention of the United States to seek the imposition of UN sanctions
Even if there were to be an acceptable political settlement, the economic and humanitarian situation would require extensive international action and support over a long period.
The Zimbabwean economy continues to spiral out of control. Inflation and threatened famine add to the sufferings heaped on the Zimbabwean people by Mugabe. With the inflation rate currently running at an unprecedented 10 million per cent, and the exchange rate having devalued by 95 per cent in the past three weeks alone, basic items are now increasingly beyond the means of ordinary people where they have not disappeared altogether. The cost of a loaf of bread has risen from Z$10,000 on 29th March, the day of the first election to Z$1billion today. Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of southern Africa, now it can no longer feed itself. Mugabe’s hollow and empty promises of a dramatic improvement after the run-off election are unsustainable with government spending running at 80 per cent of gross domestic product.
Last month’s decision of the Zimbabwean government to suspend the activities of NGOs working on the ground was quite appalling. This came at a time when Zimbabwe is already in deep humanitarian crisis with an estimated one-third of the population in need of vital food assistance. The latest forecasts from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) indicate that more than 5 million Zimbabweans will suffer food insecurity in the next nine months, a million people more than the previous year. Non-governmental organisations provide a life line to these poor and vulnerable sections of the population and are the main targets of this ban, which displays a further dimension to Mugabe’s callousness and disregard for human suffering.
Irish Aid support to the Zimbabwean people has totalled over €25 million since 2006. All of this assistance is channelled through non-governmental organisations, missionaries or UN agencies. I would like to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to the excellent work done by these valuable partners, and I am sure members of this House will join me in acknowledging the contribution which they make to the daily lives of the most vulnerable.
I strongly urge the Zimbabwean authorities to fully respect the fundamental principles of impartiality and neutrality that are vital to humanitarian relief efforts and to lift this ban immediately in order to allow much needed assistance to reach the most vulnerable.
The collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and society is impacting severely on the southern African region. Of the population of 12 million, three million Zimbabweans are now living in South Africa, most of them illegally, with a consequent serious rise in tensions there, as we have tragically seen. At least a million more are scattered around other African nations, simply because they can no longer survive at home.
This makes the situation in Zimbabwe a threat to regional peace and security and hence of direct and deep concern both to the African Union and the United Nations. The challenge in the coming weeks will be to ensure that the current level of pressure on the Mugabe regime to stop the violence and engage in genuine and meaningful dialogue with the MDC is maintained and increased.
In conclusion, I am again grateful for this chance to place the Government’s position on record. I am confident that it is universally shared by Senators and indeed by the Irish public. I know that all in this House agree that the Zimbabwean people deserve the opportunity – an opportunity which their country’s laws and institutions should guarantee – to exercise their right to choose freely who should lead their country, and to have that choice respected. We will continue to do what we can to highlight the issue and to work for change.