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)

Government policy in respect of Zimbabwe, Darfur or any other part of the world where there is flagrant disregard for basic human rights law, as guaranteed under the United Nations Charter, is that people should be held to account. This should apply to Mr. Mugabe, his Government and those who work under its direction and control, namely, the police and security forces and others engaged in actions of the type described by Senator Ross.

As Minister of State with responsibility for development co-operation and human rights, I have more contact with African leaders than my ministerial colleagues. I assure Senator Ross than on almost every occasion I have met leading figures from the African continent, including former President Chissano and current President Guebuza of Mozambique, the President and Prime Minister of Tanzania, and most recently, during a visit by President McAleese, the President and Prime Minister of Lesotho, I have raised this matter and urged those I have met to do more to apply pressure to the government in Harare, in particular, Mr. Mugabe. I have also discussed this matter with the former President of Zambia who has, with former President Chissano, attempted to influence Mr. Mugabe to take a different path.

All the entreaties and pressure points we have brought to bear on African leaders have not fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately, however, the efforts of African leaders to act as intermediaries, as in the case of Mr. Chissano, are not having an effect. Many of the gentlemen in question have informed me that they have thrown up their hands in frustration because they cannot influence Mr. Mugabe or persuade him to change policy. It is a most depressing picture because the individuals in question are committed and know Mr. Mugabe extremely well at personal, political and diplomatic levels but are not making any progress.

Most recently, when I had the honour to accompany President McAleese on a three-country visit to our programme countries in Africa, I had a meeting with Nelson Mandela in the course of which Zimbabwe was raised. Unfortunately, even Mr. Mandela, a stellar figure on the continent of Africa and an example to many African leaders, did not express positive sentiments. Like many other African leaders, he felt rather depressed about the position in Zimbabwe and despite his friendship with Mr. Mugabe over the years, he did not believe he could change him. The picture is bleak and depressing.

Ireland is party to European Union restrictions aimed at hitting the Mugabe regime rather than its people. We will continue to raise the issue as best we can at every level. Initial reluctance by African leaders to criticise a fellow African leader has dissipated and they are trying their best. I would love to be able to say there is an easy, uncomplicated solution to the problem.

As Minister of State with responsibility for development co-operation and human rights, I would be pleased to consider the proposals made by Amnesty International, an excellent organisation with which I and Irish Aid have a strong working relationship. I will read its report on the position in Zimbabwe to determine whether the Government can fulfil its request. As Senator Ross correctly noted, Amnesty International is not always right but in this case it appears to have much in favour of its argument.

I again thank Senator Ross for raising the matter. He has proven again that he is a courageous and independent voice in the House.

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