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Other Questions. - Zimbabwean Election.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 28. Mr. Flanagan Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  his views on the recent election result in Zimbabwe; and if he has made these views known to his EU colleagues. [10316/02]


 34. Mr. McDowell Information on Derek McDowell Zoom on Derek McDowell  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the Government's view of the conduct and outcome of the recent Zimbabwe election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10247/02]

 67. Mr. J. O'Keeffe Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  his views on whether the recent election of Robert Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe was fraudulent and undemocratic; and the action he proposes to take either directly or indirectly through the European Union as a consequence. [10234/02]

 111. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the position regarding the situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10617/02]

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 34, 67 and 111 together.

I am deeply concerned at the conduct of the presidential election in Zimbabwe in which the incumbent President, Robert Mugabe, secured victory.

I condemn unreservedly the widespread political violence and intimidation which preceded the election. While acts of violence were perpetrated by both sides, it was clear that the majority of incidents were directed at members of the MDC opposition party. The conduct of the Government in the run-up to the election was unacceptable. There is strong evidence of collusion between the Government, the security forces and Zanu-PF youth brigades in the harassment and assault of opposition officials, supporters, and indeed, potential supporters.

I am further concerned at the manner in which the polling process itself was conducted. There were too few polling stations in densely populated urban areas where people had to queue for hours to vote. This problem was most prevalent in areas where the opposition is known to have strong support. In spite of the High Court decision to allow polling stations to remain open for a third day of voting, many voters were denied their right to vote. There were many other instances where the electoral process was manipulated to favour the incumbent candidate, Robert Mugabe, and I condemn all such acts.

In short, it is impossible to conclude that the election in Zimbabwe was free and fair. Under such frustrating circumstances, the citizens of Zimbabwe are to be commended for their peaceful conduct during polling and the civil and democratic will displayed through the large voter turnout. It is highly regrettable that President Mugabe has continued his campaign of vilification against the opposition party candidate following his recent inauguration, with formal charges of treason now being brought against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Ireland has always taken a strong forward position in the formation of EU policy in relation to the actions of the Government of Zimbabwe. As [639] Deputies will be aware, in February 2001 the EU decided to enter into a dialogue with the Zimbabwean Government. During that dialogue we appealed to the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure an end to the violence and intimidation and to ensure full respect for democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law. Regrettably, by the February 2002 meeting of the General Affairs Council, it was clear that the approach of the Zimbabwean Government to consultations with the EU was unproductive and political violence in Zimbabwe was continuing. Therefore, on 18 February 2002, the Council decided to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe under Article 9 of the Cotonou Agreement, as a result of its failure, inter alia, to end political violence and protect human rights. The targeted sanctions include an asset freeze and travel ban on senior Zimbabwean officials, a ban on arms exports to Zimbabwe and a ban on the export of equipment that could be used for repressive purposes in Zimbabwe.

At the same time, the Council, in the face of persistent efforts by the Zimbabwean Government to obstruct EU election observers, decided to withdraw that part of the observer team which it had been able to deploy in Zimbabwe. At the European Council meeting in Barcelona earlier this month, it was agreed that we would continue to monitor closely events in Zimbabwe following the election which we agreed was neither free nor fair. The EU will send a high level troika to confer with countries of the Southern Africa Development Community about our concerns regarding Zimbabwe. I welcome the decision of the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe for one year based on the damning conclusions of its election observer team.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe Mugabe is a tyrant and a fraud and I think that is accepted internationally at this stage. His election was clearly unacceptable, undemocratic and fraudulent. I understand the Minister's position. He said Ireland condemns the election but the question is, what can we do about it? I am cognisant of the fact that thousands of our citizens are, to some degree, hostages in that unfortunate country. Realistically, what can we do to bring home to Mugabe that he cannot be allowed to continue in power on the basis of this fraudulent election? What can we do through the European Union, in particular, and the United Nations in that regard?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen We have taken prompt action in the Department to ensure that Ireland is in compliance with the EU regulation and the Council common position regarding sanctions against Zimbabwe. Targeted sanctions include an asset freeze, as I have said, and a travel ban on named Zimbabwean officials as well as a ban on arms exports and the export of equipment. We have brought the list of named individuals to the attention of the Central Bank and requested that it [640] inform all financial institutions to freeze any funds held by those listed.

We have also brought the EU regulations to the attention of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the licensing authority for the export of military goods, and requested that the Department ensure that Ireland is in compliance with the relevant measures. Measures have been taken by the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to put in place the necessary statutory instruments to enable Ireland to impose penalties where the EU regulation has been infringed. Our own consular section is aware of the travel ban provisions in the Council common position and is taking the appropriate steps to ensure it is given effect in this State. While all licensed financial institutions have not yet reported to the Central Bank, no accounts have been identified to date.

On what further possible measures are being considered by the European Union, we will be open to considering any constructive suggestions for further measures which may emerge at EU meetings. One possibility is to extend the list of individuals targeted by the asset freeze and visa ban adopted at the GAC on 18 February. Beyond this, it is difficult to know at present what further sanctions can be applied. It is generally agreed that economic sanctions would hurt the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. It is too early to predict the long-term effects of the election result and the EU sanctions already imposed.

I welcome the efforts of President Mbeki of South Africa to mediate in the current political conflict. It is possible that an acceptable solution to the crisis could be found. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the situation very carefully.

Regarding our own people there, we are aware that people with dual Irish and Zimbabwean nationality have recently been obliged to rescind their Irish citizenship in order to retain their citizenship of Zimbabwe. Deputies can be assured that Irish people who have rescinded their citizenship of Ireland will be treated with the utmost understanding by my Department and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Mr. Coveney: I was very glad to hear the last part of the Minister's reply. Does he have a view on whether there is a role for the UN Security Council in relation to what is happening in Zimbabwe and does he believe that, in the medium-term, what is happening there could lead to instability in southern Africa? Is the Minister willing to promote the idea of an open and frank debate in the UN Security Council on the issue of President Mugabe and the potential instability in southern Africa as a result of elections which were clearly unfair?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen The Security Council is limited in its considerations to matters where there are [641] threats to international peace and security, existing conflicts or imminent conflicts. The issue raised is that of a fraudulent election. We need to ensure the international community brings all possible authority and pressure to bear on Mr. Mugabe to recognise that the democratic will of the people has not been established because the elections were not free or fair. Discussions led by President Mbeki continue to take place and we wish him well in his efforts. He may be in a position to influence and shape events. We hope that he can, but one would not be overly optimistic based on the inauguration speech of President Mugabe and his reaction to the opposition. He has threatened the opposition and charged the main opposition leader with treason. I am not aware that this issue is being considered by the presidency of the Security Council, or if it is regarded as a matter that is at a stage which would enable the council to deal with it. I will inquire of our UN ambassador as to what the up to date position is. We can then see what efforts can be made or what existing efforts can be supplemented under the sanctions issue. There is a travel ban on members of that Government.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie Zoom on Austin Currie Does the Minister share the concerns that attitudes towards Mr. Mugabe seem to have polarised along black and white lines? If, in response to my colleague, the Minister proceeds through the Security Council, could the prime objective be to ensure that this polarisation does not occur?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I agree that there was a semblance of that. The Commonwealth, in so far as it has any bearing on events, expelled Zimbabwe from the organisation for one year. The Commonwealth comprises countries of differing racial compositions. That was a counter balance to indications that other African leaders were taking Mr. Mugabe's propagandist view of this being a neo-colonial conspiracy against him rather than the absence of free and fair elections. It was a good means of killing that notion. There is evidence that opposition to him does not break down along racial lines and that is good. All Governments who are committed to democratic values, regardless of their racial composition, are consistent in acknowledging reports from election observers that this was not a free and fair election and that Mr. Mugabe must bear the consequences.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie Zoom on Austin Currie Is the Minister saying that the Commonwealth is of some use?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I made reference to it. I did not make known my view of how influential it will be. It is to the Commonwealth's credit that it unanimously provided for the expulsion of Zimbabwe for one year.

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