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‘Zim will damage Commonwealth reputation if readmitted’- Lord Oates

Jonathan Oates, a British Liberal Democrat politician and member of the House of Lords has advised the British government not to support the readmission of Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth citing that the Zanu-PF regime is not abiding with the regulations of the block.

Zimbabwe led by the late former President Robert Mugabe pulled out of the Commonwealth group in 2003 during the peak of the violent land reform programme.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, after grabbing power from Mugabe through a military coup in November 2017, applied to re-join the voluntary association of 56 independent and equal countries, which largely comprises former British colonies.

Accordingly, last year, a Commonwealth assessment team led by assistant secretary-general Luis Franceschi, visited Harare and pointed out that Zimbabwe had made “very impressive” progress in meeting conditions for readmission.

On Thursday, the United Kingdom (UK) House of Lords debated Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth with some peers pressing the British government on what measures it was taking to block Harare’s re-admission.

Lord Oates believes that Mnangagwa’s regime cannot be admitted into the group citing the “oppressive” nature of his Zanu-PF administration.

The British politician further stated that, readmitting Zimbabwe would damage the reputation of the Commonwealth itself.

“My Lords, I have initiated this debate to emphasise the severe damage that would be done to the reputation of the Commonwealth, to the upholding of values of democratic and human rights within the Commonwealth and to the Zimbabwe people’s struggle against tyranny, if Zimbabwe were to be readmitted while its government remains in flagrant violation of the Commonwealth Charter and of the Commonwealth’s 1991 Harare Declaration,” he said.

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“Reports following the visit of a Commonwealth delegation to Zimbabwe on November 12th last year, strongly suggested that Zimbabwe was on course to be readmitted, possibly even before the General Elections, due this year.

“Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Zimbabwe – of which I declare an interest as co-Chair – also came to understand that the UK government was not minded to oppose readmission, because it did not want to be isolated on the issue.

“I understand the government’s sensitivity given the UK’s deeply troubled history in Zimbabwe. However, ignoring the oppression faced by the people of Zimbabwe today does not atone for past oppression inflicted under colonial rule. On the contrary, it compounds it.

“So I hope that rather than bowing to the pressure of others, our government is working with fellow member states to ensure that the core principles of the Commonwealth are not made a mockery of by Zimbabwe’s readmission, while being clear that if necessary, the UK will stand in defence of those principles – even if it has to do so alone.”

Lord Oates accused the Harare government of breaching the Commonwealth Charter.

As an example of Zanu-PF oppression, he cited the infamous 2020 alleged abduction, by state security agents, of opposition activists Netsai Marova, Cecilia Chimbiri and Joanah Mamombe before they were caged for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.

“Zimbabwe’s paramilitary regime believes in none of those things. And it is currently in breach of every single one of the principles of the Commonwealth Charter that relate to them. Far from making progress towards these principles, levels of repression are ramping up as elections approach.

“Just thirteen days after the conclusion of the Commonwealth visit, a joint meeting of the APPG Zimbabwe and the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, heard in-person-testimony from a young Zimbabwean activist, Netsai Marova, who was arrested in May 2020 for taking part in a protest, along with fellow opposition activist Cecilia Chimbiri and opposition Member of Parliament, Joanah Mamombe. They were taken to Harare Central Police Station, from which they were abducted and subjected to torture and sexual assault

“I defy anyone to hear Netsai Marova’s harrowing testimony and to continue to support Zimbabwe’s return to the Commonwealth while such abuse takes place.

“While recovering in hospital, Netsai and her colleagues were charged with taking part in an illegal protest and later with faking their own abduction and making false allegations of sexual assault and torture,” he said.