Britain had no say over Mugabe’s visit Rome

Britain had no say over President Robert Mugabe’s recent visit to Rome where he attended the beatification of Pope John Paul 11 because the Holy See is not a member of the European Union and the Vatican has bilateral relations with Zimbabwe.

This was said in the House of Commons on Tuesday by the British under-secretary for Africa and the United Nations in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Henry Bellingham, when he was asked by Labour Member of Parliament Paul Blomfield what Britain had done in respect of Mugabe’s visit in view of the European Union sanctions that bar him and more than 100 of his lieutenants from travelling to Europe.

“The Holy See is not a member of the EU. It conducts its own foreign policy and has a bilateral relationship with Zimbabwe. The UK did not make representations to the Holy See over President Mugabe’s travel on this occasion,” Bellingham said.

“Italy is bound by the Lateran treaty not to inhibit the passage of official visitors to the Vatican. The visa issued by Italy to President Mugabe was time-limited for the event in question and valid only for Italian territory. Our ambassador in Harare did however discuss this issue with his Italian colleague and other counterparts to ensure consistency with the EU Common Position.”

Mugabe’s visit to Rome raised the question of EU sanctions on Zimbabwe once again. The EU and Britain insist that the sanctions are targeted at individuals and specified companies that are accused of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe but ZANU-PF argues that the sanctions are wider than that and are actually economic sanctions against the country.

The issue of sanctions is one of the sticking points in the implementation of the Global Political Agreement which should pave way for new elections in Zimbabwe. Although the Movement for Democratic Change supports the sanctions arguing that they are targeted at individuals it signed the GPA which calls for the lifting of the sanctions.

Zimbabwe is most likely to hold elections next year although the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front continues to insist they will be held this year.

President Mugabe’s visit to Rome also raised eyebrows because only the week before he had castigated the Catholic Church and other western churches of siding with the enemies of Zimbabwe that were frustrating the country’s recovery programme.

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