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Government must Act to end State Torture and Violence in Zimbabwe

Posted on: March 28th, 2007

The Zimbabwean government was not democratically elected; Mr. Mugabe fiddled the vote in his favour and got the result he wanted. This is bad enough but the use of the regime to oppress the people of Zimbabwe makes it incumbent on us to raise our voices in strong protest. Loudspeaker diplomacy is useful sometimes to put external pressure on President Mugabe but it is now appropriate for the Government to support those African governments that oppose his regime.

In a special debate in the Seanad last night, I spoke of the need for the Government to take action against the regime, and to follow the suggestions of Amnesty International aimed at ending state torture and violence, and restoring Zimbabwean’s human rights. Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Conor Lenihan later responded. Below are some highlights from the debate.

Mr. Ross: I raise this matter relating to the Government of Zimbabwe in the full knowledge that Ireland has a proud tradition of resisting oppression in Africa and has often raised its voice in this regard independent of other nations, particularly regarding the oppressive regime in South Africa in the 1980s.

This is something we have rightly trumpeted and we now have an opportunity to influence a regime that may not be equally oppressive but is particularly obnoxious and objectionable. It would be timely if the Government took a lead in opposing what is happening in Zimbabwe, in particular by denouncing the dictatorial regime of President Mugabe and its actions.

It was particularly welcome that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was first out of the traps when what has been happening in Zimbabwe came to light. He spontaneously stated in New York, I believe, that he condemns the situation there and that was an act of courage…

It is not entirely clear what happened to the leader of the opposition when he was taken into custody recently but it is clear he was brutalised, tortured and taken into custody for political reasons. A demonstrator was shot dead and we all know that oppression is the order of the day in Zimbabwe. There is no freedom of the press, no right of assembly, people are frightened of free speech and we must ask what should be done at this stage.

The demands of Amnesty International are reasonable and should be taken into account. It has asked the Government to request that the international community launch an immediate investigation into the recent killings and violence, to demand an end to further state torture and violence, to ensure the protection of human rights defenders and see that key human rights such as freedom of association and assembly are restored in Zimbabwe. This is the minimum that should be asked and there are other, stronger opinions which maintain that, as torture is a breach of international law, the leaders of the Zimbabwean Government, particularly President Mugabe, should be made answerable to an international court if these allegations, which appear to be true, are proven.

I applauded the Minister for his fine record in this area, and concluded by telling the House that it is incumbent upon him to use the goodwill he has fostered in Africa to put pressure on the Mugabe regime. Then the Minister responded:

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. Lenihan): 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…

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 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.

To read the full text of my debate with the Minister, click here.