Seanad debates

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

10:00 pm

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)

Senator Ross is an independent and outspoken Senator and I do not disagree with anything he has said so far in this debate. Ireland is outspoken and committed to stopping the outrage that is occurring in Zimbabwe. We are to the forefront internationally and in the EU in seeking to bring about changes in attitude, habit and behaviour in the Zimbabwean regime.

The Government takes the political, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe most seriously. There are, unfortunately, no signs that the Zimbabwean Government is willing to change the destructive policies which have brought the country's economy to its knees, nor is there any sign of democratic reforms.

The indifference of the leadership to the people's plight is unfortunately all too clear. We have seen an increase in repression in recent years, with large-scale arrests of peaceful demonstrators becoming common. Recently leading opposition activists have been shamefully ill-treated in police detention. The unapologetic attitude of the country's leadership to these incidents is a worrying sign of the culture of impunity for human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. These attacks on well-known public figures are part of a pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and violence. There is real concern that when high-profile people are publicly targeted, crimes against ordinary Zimbabweans may routinely go unpunished.

Police actions in recent weeks have effectively denied Zimbabweans the internationally recognised rights of freedom of speech and of assembly. The ill-treatment of those in custody infringes both UN human rights standards and those standards which African governments have signed up to, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The EU Presidency has made several strong statements on behalf of the European Union condemning the ongoing violent suppression of the rights of freedom of opinion and of assembly. Resident EU embassies in Harare are continuing to monitor the situation closely. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, issued a statement earlier this month on behalf of the Government, condemning the disgraceful actions of the Zimbabwean police. He urged the Zimbabwean Government to cease suppressing the basic fundamental rights of its people and suggested that a new approach, which includes dialogue between all political forces, is needed to resolve Zimbabwe's serious political, social and economic problems.

Ireland will be among the countries making national statements on Zimbabwe when the UN Human Rights Council considers the situation there tomorrow. Our Ambassador to Zimbabwe, based in Pretoria, has been instructed to make our concerns known directly at the earliest possible opportunity and a special meeting of EU officials will take place on 4 April to discuss the European Union's policy on Zimbabwe. The EU has already put restrictive measures in place against the leadership of Zimbabwe and last month the Common Position on these restrictive measures was renewed until February 2008. These measures are designed to affect the Zimbabwean leadership without adding to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and any further action by the EU must fulfil these same criteria.

Ireland has participated fully in all EU discussions on Zimbabwe and we are one of the member states which are keeping the issue high on the Union's agenda. Our chief aim in doing this is to help the people of Zimbabwe secure a better future for themselves. In order to maximise the impact of our actions, the EU needs to generate support for change among our African partners, so they will use their influence with the Zimbabwean Government and with Mr. Mugabe directly. In recent days EU presidencies in the Southern African Development Community, SADC, countries have expressed to their host governments the EU's concern about the recent developments in Zimbabwe.

I share the revulsion of all in the House at the nature of the Mugabe regime. However, we will be most effective in mobilising the African support we need if we focus on policies rather than personalities. We must highlight how the policies of the Mugabe Government contravene the human rights standards on which Africa seeks to base its future development.

I hope the leaders of those countries most affected by Zimbabwe's problems, namely, its neighbours which are hosting millions of Zimbabweans who have had to leave the country, will speak out publicly. Many African leaders have already made statements in response to the latest developments in Zimbabwe. President Kikwete of Tanzania met with Zimbabwean Government and Opposition leaders in Harare earlier this month as part of a joint initiative with President Mbeki of South Africa to achieve better results through quiet diplomacy. Zimbabwe will be discussed at a SADC summit meeting in Tanzania on 28 and 29 March.

I am acutely conscious of the suffering caused by the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe and the need to provide support directly to the ordinary people of the country who are experiencing a living nightmare. Irish Aid continues to provide assistance for the people of Zimbabwe. In 2006, almost €8 million was provided through non-governmental organisation partners and UN agencies. A further €5.4 million has been allocated to date in 2007.

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