Since March, two attempts by Britain and its European Union allies to use the UN system to condemn alleged human rights violations in Zimbabwe have come to nought. Below are some of the exchanges on the floor of the UN Security Council in New York, and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Britain occupied the presidency of the UN Security Council for April 2007, taking over from the previous president, South Africa. The British ambassador to the UN, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, exercising the powers of the president of the Security Council, called a press conference on 4 April at which he was asked why the human rights situation in Zimbabwe was not on the agenda for April. His reply was:
"That issue had been discussed at the very end of the South African presidency in March. No one had expressed the need at that stage to come back to it. From the British point of view, there is a very keen concern and a need to rally behind the people of Zimbabwe, but the [Security] Council has no plans to address the matter. It is not because I want to avoid a confrontation with South Africa, but because the situation has been discussed in the last seven days."
When the matter originally came up in the Security Council at the end of March, most member states felt that the Council's time was being wasted on a matter that was not grave enough to come before it.
The then president of the Security Council, South Africa's ambassador, Dumisani Khumalo, who was in a better position to know what the true human rights situation in Zimbabwe was, said: "We truly regret what's happening in Zimbabwe, but it's not a matter that belongs to the Security Council."
Ambassador Khumalo expressed a strong opposition to such use of the Council and apologised to Rashid Khalikov, director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who had given the Security Council a briefing on the "humanitarian situation on Zimbabwe" for "wasting the Council's time". Khumalo criticised Britain for putting the issue on the agenda, saying it was rather an agenda item for ECOSOC [the UN Economic and Social Council].
China also questioned whether the Security Council was the right arena for discussing the issue, while Indonesia said unless Zimbabwe became a threat to international peace and security, it should not be treated as such.
And with that the Council threw out the British concerns.
A few days before the Security Council defeat, Britain and its EU allies had brought up Zimbabwe's human rights issue for discussion and possible censure at the Fourth Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (12-30 March). Again they were defeated.
Nick Thorne, Britain's permanent representative in Geneva, reading a statement on behalf of EU members, had told the Human Rights Council on 29 March: "I would like to follow up on concerns raised in questions my delegation posed yesterday, on behalf of the European Union ...