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24 September 2014
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10.03.02

BBC NEWS

Panorama reveals what British Government knew about Mugabe’s worst crimes

Panorama - Mugabe: The Price of Silence (BBC ONE, 10.15pm, Sunday 10 March) reveals that nearly 20 years ago Britain knew about crimes against humanity committed by Robert Mugabe but failed to act decisively to try and stop them.


In 1983 and 1984 a campaign by Mugabe’s government to crush political opposition in Matabeleland led to the slaughter of thousands of civilians with thousands more beaten and tortured.


Despite a continuing and significant interest in Zimbabwe after independence in 1980, Britain did not confront Mr Mugabe for these crimes, and continued to do business with his most ruthless associate, Perence Shiri, the military commander behind the atrocities.


British diplomats and politicians who knew civilians in Matabeleland were being massacred tell Panorama why they did not do more to try to prevent the slaughter.


Britain’s High Commissioner at the time, Sir Martin Ewans, says that his instructions from London at the time were to "steer clear of it" when speaking to Robert Mugabe.


He tells Panorama: "I think this Matabeleland is a side issue, the real issues were much bigger... We were extremely interested that Zimbabwe should be a success story, and we were doing our best to help Mugabe and his people bring that about."


But Zimbabwean senior church leader Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube tells the programme: "It is gross irresponsibility... to call it a side issue. How would he have felt if his own family had been murdered?... It’s surprising now to say from the ivory tower ‘no it will make no difference’. But try and feel with those people who are feeling the pinch, it makes then a difference. At least you can say I tried, even if you fail, I tried my best."


Roger Martin, Deputy High Commissioner in 1984, who witnessed beatings of unarmed civilians, tells Panorama: "… the big picture involved keeping the show on the road for most of the country, recognising that this series of atrocities were taken in limited areas of Matabeleland but not severing relations and watching the whole thing go down the tubes faster."


Lord Howe, Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 1983 and 1984, says that the Zimbabwean government was made aware of the British concern over reports of atrocities in Matabeleland, but says: "There is a limit to what this country can do to impose its will, and to some extent a greater limit in an ex colony with an extremely sensitive government, quite likely to react with increased hostilities when they tend to make you impose our will."


In the programme, the leading British diplomat Lord Renwick - former ambassador to South Africa and the USA - admits the international response was feable, and calls for those responsible for crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe - including President Robert Mugabe - to be brought before an international war crimes tribunal.


On BBC ONE’s Panorama he says: "When this sort of thing happens in Bosnia or Kosovo the world gets its act together and acts, and Milosevic ends up facing a crimes tribunal in the Hague. Now if we really want to do something about these situations in Africa, we can’t... fail to try to do something similar if we really want to make a difference in Africa."


Panorama - Mugabe: The Price of Silence also reveals that the military commander behind the worst atrocities of Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe was invited to study at the MoD’s most prestigious college.


The invitation came barely a year after Perence Shiri led the force that committed the most serious crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe.


Shiri commanded the 5th Brigade which carried out a reign of terror in Matabeleland during 1983 and 1984. The slaughter claimed as many as 20,000 civilian lives and thousands more were tortured.


Despite this, in 1986, Shiri took up a place at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, an institution that describes itself as "the senior Defence academic institution in the United Kingdom. The most prestigious institution of its kind in the world".


Senior MDC MP and human rights activist Mike Auret, who compiled a report into the Matabeleland massacres in 1997, tells Panorama: "Perence Shiri above all knew precisely what was happening, he gave the orders and he, if nobody else, he deserves a world court. The crimes committed by the 5th Brigade under his command were gross crimes against humanity."


General Sir Edward Jones, who commanded the British Military Advisory and Training team from 1983 to 1985, tells Panorama: "…undoubtedly he was the man who was going to be important in Zimbabwe and I think it was important that we should influence him positively in so far as we could."


Shiri went on to command the Zimbabwe Airforce and he organised the farm invasions by war veterans during the past five years in Zimbabwe. Two years ago Britain sold crucial spare parts for the Hawk jets of Shiri’s airforce, a decision taken by Tony Blair against the advice of his Foreign Secretary.


During the campaign of terror in Matabeleland in 1983 and 1984 he was known as "Black Jesus". Panorama speaks to eyewitnesses who saw Shiri select women in Silobela village in 1983 to be taken away to be raped and who saw Shiri beat an old man unconscious.


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