Neil Parish is the Member Parliament for Tiverton and Honiton. Before entering Parliament Neil was a farmer and Member of the European Parliament for the South West for ten years. During his ten years in the European Parliament Neil was the Conservative Spokesperson on Agriculture, Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
Neil has also acted as an election monitor during Zimbabwe's 2000 Presidential elections; where he criticised the conduct of Robert Mugabe's regime. During the 2008 Presidential election Neil Parish called on the British Government to reject the legitimacy of ZANU-PF and to recognise Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party as the democratically elected Government of Zimbabwe. Neil is still banned from re-entering the country after voicing his criticism.
Next February, if not before, the European Union looks likely to lift a raft of sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe and his destructive Zimbabwean regime as a reward for apparently making “progress” towards holding elections by the end of 2013.
To me, this seems to be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Rather than rewarding Mugabe and his henchman in the run up to elections, we must stand firm in solidarity with the Zimbabwean people and only begin to ease pressure on the regime once internationally recognised free and fair elections have actually taken place, and the country once again follows international law.
To do otherwise, would be a failure by the EU to represent the victims of the Mugabe regime over the past three decades as well as ignoring all the evidence about what is happening on the ground now in Zimbabwe.
As a European Parliament observer of the 2000 Zimbabwe elections, I still recall only too well the horrors meted out by the regime to ordinary Zimbabweans who simply wanted to exercise their right to vote as well as witnessing electoral fraud on an industrial scale.
But along with ending human rights abuses, before it can be considered a normal member of the international community, Zimbabwe must also follow international law and respect its obligations.
Last week a group of ex-Zimbabwean farmers petitioned the UK Government to ask for its support in getting compensation awarded to them by an international court of the World Bank following the forcible and illegal possession of their lands by the Zimbabwean regime in 2001.
They have been a constant feature in Westminster over the past month, and made their case forcefully to me. The group, British, Dutch and Zimbabwean farming families led by Londoner Timolene Tibbett, successfully beat Mugabe at the World Bank court for the settlement of international investment disputes in Paris in April 2009.
Typically, despite being awarded compensation, in a unanimous, mandatory ruling by the Court, they are yet to receive a penny.
International courts – in this case at the World Bank – must be supported and their rulings enforced. The farmers not only deserve compensation for the violation of their property rights under intimidation, but in paying out the Zimbabwean government will be sending a clear signal to international investors that it respects the rule of law. What Zimbabwe desperately needs is the confidence of the business community to once again invest in the country instead of relying on international aid.
Instead Mugabe and Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tedi Biti look both ways – hollow promises to pay and outstretched hands to the World Bank, the EU and ultimately UK taxpayers for financial assistance.
Only this week, Canadian NGO, Partnership Africa Canada, slammed the current lack of transparency in Zimbabwe’s diamond sales. This is on the back of a similar report by UK NGO, Global Witness and former Minister Peter Hain MP. All are agreed, the stones discovered in 2006 have reaped massive cash profits for a select few, mostly in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
It has emerged that in the period from 2010 up to last September, a total of $1.2 billion of diamonds were sold by Zimbabwe despite being labelled as ‘blood diamonds’ in the West. Two of the four licensed Zimbabwe diamond traders are on sanctions lists in the USA and a third, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation is currently under sanctions in the UK.
Zanu-PF’s theft of Zimbabwe’s new diamond wealth has impeded, not accelerated, political reforms aimed at enabling freer and fairer elections next year.
So Mugabe and his militia – among them Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, Zimbabwe's richest man – have most to gain if the EU does decide to lift sanctions next February.
Instead, the international community must keep its resolve on sanctions. Easing them may boost sales at Harrods and Harvey Nichols but it will do little for Zimbabwe's rural poor who have left once-thriving seized farms for squatter camps in Harare.
We need a foreign policy towards Zimbabwe that is evidence based and not conducted on a hope and a prayer. The people of Zimbabwe, all Mugabe’s victims, including the farmers with their World Bank ruling, require the EU to hold its nerve until free and fair elections have actually taken place and the regime honours its international obligations.