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Human Rights Issues.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 11 March 2008

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Ceisteanna (49, 50, 51)

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

109 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made in ensuring a fair election in Zimbabwe at the end of March 2008; the preparations being made at an international and European Union level in this regard; if there will be observers from Ireland sent to monitor the election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10277/08]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

122 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the current situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10324/08]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

273 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the EU will have an election mandate role in the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10527/08]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109, 122 and 273 together.

I remain deeply concerned about the economic hardships and political repression which are affecting the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. Some now estimate inflation in Zimbabwe at over 100,000%, as a pre-election increase in government spending has produced another major increase in prices. President Mugabe will face two principal challengers in the Presidential election on 29 March — opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and former Zanu-PF Finance Minister Simba Makoni. Ireland and the EU have supported the process of dialogue between the Zimbabwean Government and the opposition, facilitated by South Africa under a mandate from the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The talks have not formally concluded but, with the elections drawing nearer, there is no longer enough time to implement any agreement which might be arrived at. In order to ensure that these elections take place in appropriate conditions, such an agreement would have to include tackling repressive security laws, curbs on freedom of assembly, restrictive media laws and state violence.

It is regrettable that no real progress has been achieved in creating a level playing field for the forthcoming elections. The European Union, for its part, will continue to press for free and fair elections right up until 29 March. European Commission representatives in Harare have told the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that the EU could give support to the electoral process if requested to do so, but there has been no response. I discussed the situation in Zimbabwe with my EU colleagues at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 10 March, and we urged the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the upcoming elections meet international norms and standards, including the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the SADC principles and guidelines concerning elections, of which Zimbabwe is a signatory. We also confirmed the EU's willingness to respond to any positive change in Zimbabwe.

An invitation from the host country to monitor elections is not simply a formal requirement; it is also a practical necessity, to ensure that the monitoring team has the necessary access to polling places and counting centres. The Zimbabwean authorities have stated (most recently in a meeting between a Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry official and an Irish Embassy official on 25 February) that neither the EU nor any EU Member States will be invited to observe the elections. The Irish Ambassador accredited to Zimbabwe has visited the country last week, and will again be present on polling day to witness the conduct of the election.

We must continue to work closely with Zimbabwe's neighbours, in particular South Africa, since they are in the best position to influence the situation. SADC has been invited to monitor the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe and, in view of the fact that the EU cannot monitor the elections, Ireland has supported contact with SADC on this. Local EU Presidencies in SADC countries have been asked to underline the need to provide an objective, evidence-based verdict on election preparations and process . I have also asked our Embassy in Lusaka to raise this question directly with the Zambian Government, which is currently Chair of SADC.

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