Written Answers. - Human Rights Abuses.
Minister for Foreign Affairs
if he will make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe.
Bernard J. DurkanQuestion:
Minister for Foreign Affairs
if he proposes to influence the UN with a view to addressing the issues which are causing concern in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 121 together.
The EU General Affairs Council on 18 February this year imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe 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. Incumbent President Robert Mugabe won the Presidential election on 9-10 March following a campaign marred by widespread political violence and intimidation, directed mainly at members of the MDC opposition party, and by irregularities in the polling process itself. The European Council meeting in Barcelona on 15-16 March stated that the elections had not been free and fair. The GAC on 15 April expressed concern at reports of continuing politically motivated violence against opposition supporters and abuses of human rights and decided to impose a moratorium on bilateral ministerial contacts with Zimbabwe except for contacts undertaken to redress the situation.
Acting on a mandate from the Barcelona European Council, a high-level EU Troika visited the region at the end of May to hold discussions with countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) about the EU's concerns regarding Zimbabwe. The GAC on 17 June referred to the potential role of SADC in achieving a solution to the Zimbabwean crisis, and expressed the Union's willingness to enhance its dialogue with SADC and other relevant international actors in order to identify further action that could be taken to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.
The GAC on 17 June also expressed its concern at the increasing and dangerous political and social polarisation taking place in the country. The Council welcomed efforts by Nigeria and South Africa to facilitate inter-party dialogue between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition MDC, regretted the failure of the talks to date, and encouraged Nigeria and South Africa to continue their efforts. The Council expressed support for all efforts aimed at achieving a fully representative future government in Zimbabwe.
While the political situation in Zimbabwe has not been discussed at the United Nations Security Council, I am satisfied the international community is actively seeking a solution to the issue. Furthermore, Zimbabwe is currently facing a serious food crisis along with five other southern African countries. Erratic rainfall and extended periods of drought have meant that cereal production in parts of Zimbabwe has dropped to approximately half of last year's harvest. The adverse weather conditions have been compounded by the Government's controversial land reform policy and the collapse of the commercial agricultural sector. Under the Zimbabwean Land Acquisition Act, from 25 June it will be a criminal offence for about half of Zimbabwe's commercial farmers to continue farming. The farmers will have 45 days to wind up their affairs before their farms become Government property. While the land is due to be redistributed among the landless, it is not immediately clear who will step in to continue farming. In the meantime, it is estimated that 46% of Zimbabwe's population of 12 million will require food aid from now until at least next spring.
According to a recent joint assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), there will be a serious famine and loss of life in Zimbabwe in coming months unless international food assistance is provided urgently and adequately. However, a major crisis can be avoided with the timely delivery of food and good coordination among all stakeholder organisations.
At the GAC on 17 June, the European Union undertook to respond generously to UN appeals to address the food and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and other countries in the region. Addressing concerns that the distribution of food aid is being politicised in Zimbabwe, the GAC expressed the view that civil society, NGOs and other stakeholders should be included in the implementation of this relief.
As I have outlined in my separate reply to other questions on the matter today, the Government has, by way of an initial response, provided a total of €1.2 million in emergency humanitarian assistance in response to the current food crisis in southern Africa. This is directed at those immediately at risk in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe who have been identified by Irish NGOs, the World Food Programme and the International Federation of the Red Cross. The Government's overall response to this crisis is set to deepen considerably during the critical weeks ahead. Our ongoing response will build on Ireland's participation in the Special Meeting on Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa which took place in Johannesburg on 6-7 June. This has resulted in the preparation of a coordinated response by international donors and agencies which is to be implemented across the region with effect from July. The Government will continue to strongly support these efforts. On 8 May, the European Commission approved food aid of €6.5 million for Zimbabwe which is being distributed, in partnership with the World Food Programme, to the poorest families in the 19 most affected districts. An EU Declaration on the crisis was successfully tabled by Ireland and unanimously adopted at the EU Development Council meeting in Brussels on 30 May.