Uganda is a beautiful country that I had the great privilege to visit in 2003 for just over a month. I was there in a personal capacity, but while there met the US ambassador, and a number of people from the British embassy, the United States Agency for International Development and other organisations.
The debate is incredibly important, and I am glad to be joined by a number of hon. Friends, and particularly the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), whose early-day motion is excellent; I have signed it, and look forward to his contribution.
The United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Jan Egeland, described the war in northern Uganda as
“the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today. This is not a war where the civilian population is affected through collateral damage; it is a war targeting the civilian population, and especially children”.
Furthermore, Refugees International described the humanitarian response as “weak” and “failing”.
The conflict in northern Uganda is a critical issue, but not the only problem that Uganda faces. There are problems with democracy and basic governance that I also wish to touch on.
For 20 years, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army have caused massive problems and civil unrest in northern Uganda. Between 1.4 million and 2 million people, depending on which source is quoted, have been displaced by the war in northern Uganda.
According to the Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda, every day more than 130 people die in the area as a result of violence and poor conditions, particularly in the camps. Other reliable sources quote an even higher figure of more than 1,000 per week.
Those atrocities are a direct result of the activities of some 500 to 1,500 members of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Will the Minister update us on his current assessment of the number of active combatants in the Lord’s Resistance Army? In my research I found a lot of contradictory information.
Although the debate is entitled, “Northern Uganda”, it is more of a regional conflict. It is as much a conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan. We need to see the region as a whole. Worryingly, attacks in the Lira and Adjumani districts have demonstrated an expansion of the problems in northern Uganda.
The problem of internally displaced people in the area is critical. Twenty years ago, some of the first temporary camps were set up. Now there are some 200 camps. Despite good work, aid workers and embassy officials have said that the camps are poorly managed with basic conditions. As the camps are temporary, there are debates about whether we should be putting in generators and long-term resources. Aid organisations do not want to encourage people to go to them.
That was a fascinating insight. Will the hon. Gentleman kindly tell us what was his assessment of those camps when he visited them?
If the Minister will allow me, I shall come to that assessment later. I actually visited southern Uganda. It was too dangerous to travel to the camps, but I spoke to a number of people who worked there and a number of parliamentarians who had visited Gulu. With his permission, I shall come to that later.
More than 90 per cent. of the Acholi people are now in those camps. Some 70 per cent. of them have no income whatever and 95 per cent. are in absolute poverty. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force makes the situation worse. Back in 2002, it said that any Acholi people not in the camps would be considered collaborators with the Lord’s Resistance Army. That forced people from their own land and into the camps, where they are less able to look after themselves.
In 2005, a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation visited Uganda, and specifically the Gulu camp, where about 10,000 residents were situated in appalling conditions. My hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) and for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) have alerted me to the additional problem of so-called night commuters. Some 40,000 people travel more than 10 km into the camps or towns so that they are at less risk of abduction. That is not at no risk, however, because the Ugandan People’s Defence Force does not adequately police internally displaced people in the camps; they are subject to raids and the women are taken as the so-called wives of soldiers and then raped.
My hon. Friend will be aware that I have visited Gulu and the displaced people’s camps there. I wonder whether he is aware that the recently increasing number of night commuters, particularly those going to Gulu, are being abused by many of the people in the town, who commit atrocities. Yet the night commuters come to the towns to sleep safely at night and to avoid being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the rural parts of northern Uganda.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was aware of that, and of the inadequate response by the international community and the Ugandan Government. It is a very real problem. I have spoken on the question of aid to senior diplomats in Uganda who have recent experience there, and they feel that our Government are not putting enough pressure on the Ugandan Government.
Although the split between the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is helpful from the United Kingdom perspective—it provides two representatives at the Cabinet table—it is unhelpful in dealing with situations such as the conflict in northern Uganda. Splitting trade and aid was historically correct, however, and a strong case can be made for using aid as a bargaining tool for reform.
I congratulate the Government on transferring £15 million of aid to the north, on ring-fencing £5 million and holding it back until after the elections, and on working with Sweden and the Netherlands to get them to do something similar. However, more should be leveraged. The aid should be more conditional, and we need a clear programme of agreed action to which the Ugandan Government can agree. The conflict has simply gone on far too long. People tell me that the Government have been asked too many times for one last pay cheque. In 1997, the Government were told that with one final push from Museveni, the problem would be solved. We are still in exactly the same position.
A number of aid organisations have urged the Government to work more closely with the some of the smaller aid organisations rather than rely on the World Food Programme, and I shall be particularly interested if the Minister will update us on the relationship between Save the Children and what is happening in northern Uganda. Several aid organisations have complained to me about the lack of protection offered to them. The Ugandan Government have withdrawn protection from aid convoys, which means that fewer are able to get to the area.
The Mildmay hospital in Kampala, which I have visited, has offices in my constituency. It deals with AIDS orphans, and other AIDS work. It would like to do more in the north, but it cannot do so for security reasons. I fear that many other organisations are unable to get involved in helping with the humanitarian crisis in the north because of poor security.
I said that I would touch on the subject of governance. All too often, Uganda has been seen as having strong governance. Put simply, it has been the best of a bad bunch; we have struggled to find beacon examples of good governance there. Problems with governance in Uganda directly affect the situation in northern Uganda. In my view, multi-party democracy has been a sham. Extending the presidential term and imprisoning Kissa Besigye on trumped-up charges of rape during most of the election meant that the elections were not fair or free. The actions of Museveni and his troops in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo show further poor governance; getting involved in a civil war in a neighbouring country has resulted in the withdrawal of technical assistance by the United States Government.
My hon. Friend makes a cogent case. Is he aware that the Government give aid to Uganda worth £478 million? Does he not feel that that aid should be more closely tied to specific targets in order to establish better government and to bring an end to the war by the national resistance council in northern Uganda?
I was unaware of the exact figure, and I am astounded by the large amount of aid that is given. I agree with my hon. Friend that it should be tied to direct results. We should use the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala in 2007 and the preparations for it to put further pressure on Museveni. I personally believe that it is inappropriate for the Prime Minister to attend such a meeting in Kampala, given the state of the conflict in northern Uganda at the moment. We should do more to support the African Union in peer group review and the United Nations in Uganda.
A number of people have asked me whether I believe that Museveni is committed to the process. As the facts stack up, I must admit that I cannot agree with Lord Triesman, who believes that Museveni is committed to it. There has been long-standing conflict between north and south, dating back to the time of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, and that is still very much the case today.
A senior diplomat, on accepting a posting to northern Uganda, told a Minister that he was going further north to find out more about the problem and was asked by the Minister, “Why are you going to see those primitive people?” There is fundamental and underlying conflict between the current Government in the south, and the north and the Acholi people. The International Crisis Group believes that the army is strong enough to sort the problem out, but corruption, abusive behaviour, poor organisation and equipment shortages have meant that it is unable to deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army.
I note from briefing documents that in 2003 the British Government paid for a defence review to see whether the Uganda People’s Defence Force was up to the job, and put in place a plan so that it would be up to the job. I would be interested if the Minister could update us on that. I know that it is quite some time ago. What is the gap between the needs identified by the 2003 defence review that the British Government paid for and where we are now? What still needs to be done?
I was confused by a report sent to me in preparation for the debate that the Lord’s Resistance Army strategist Kenneth Banya and spokesman Sam Kolo now work for Museveni, and that they did so as campaign managers in the July 2005 referendum and the subsequent election. It would be greatly appreciated if the Minister could shed any light on that in this debate or perhaps in writing.
We need to prioritise this issue much more heavily. We need to press UN Security Council resolution 1663 to put in place a UN special envoy. I would be grateful if the Minister could update hon. Members on progress towards appointing a special envoy.
I am also confused about the role of the International Criminal Court. Kony and his key lieutenants were indicted in October 2005. However, a number of people have been sympathetic to allowing him to negotiate without fear of arrest. The Government position has been to arrest at all costs, yet elsewhere, in Sierra Leone and Angola, a process of negotiation has been quite successful. I do not take a view on that myself, but I would welcome the Minister’s comments, particularly given that the Sudanese Government have allegedly handed over money to Kony to enter negotiations, although we may be talking simply about a delaying tactic whereby he returns to the bush, re-arms and then comes out.
I am interested to hear what preparations the British Government have made in supporting the Ugandan Government in planning for the end of the war—the war will come to an end. I am talking about planning that goes beyond simply feeding the nation but includes mental health issues, truth and reconciliation and rebuilding civil society, so that when Museveni or a successor does take a leap into genuine multi-party democracy, there is a fabric of civil society in northern Uganda to support that.
We need a clear timetable for change. We need to make aid conditional on action and better governance in Uganda. We need to speed up the delivery of the UN envoy. This crisis has gone on far too long. I call on the Government to do more and to do it faster.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on raising this very important issue at this time. I declare my interest, no doubt along with the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). Although my hon. Friend is not here, I know that he is here in spirit. We made a visit as guests of the Northern Uganda Advocacy Partnership for Peace, which is a bit of a mouthful. We were there, largely at the instigation of Christian Aid, 18 months or so ago. We visited a number of places. I know that other hon. Members will talk in detail about that visit. I do not want to say much about it.
I want to comment on the bizarre situation whereby both Kony and Otti turned up in Juba at the end of May. As I chair the all-party Sudan group, I know something of the politics of Sudan. They were met by Riek Machar, vice-president of the South Sudan Government. All I have is the report of 25 May from The Monitor, a newspaper based in Kampala. It may all be fabrication, but it would be useful to know from my hon. Friend the Minister, who takes a close interest in that part of the world, exactly what went on. If what is said to have gone on did go on, it is nothing less than a scandal. The fact that Kony and Otti were in the same place would suggest that they had absolute guarantees about their safety. These are not ordinary people or just political leaders. It is the equivalent of Pol Pot arriving in Beijing and saying, “Here I am, chaps. Fête me. Give me some money. Let me go back and carry on slaughtering the people of Cambodia.” It is the equivalent of Hitler turning up in London and saying, “It’s all a myth. I haven’t killed any Jews at all. I am really someone you can do business with.” Kony and Otti are trained killers. In the past 20 years, they have carried out the most heinous of crimes. The trouble is that the situation is so bad that we cannot really believe what is said about the Lord’s Resistance Army.
It would be useful to get some clarity from my hon. Friend on two issues. First, did Kony, Otti and others turn up in Juba? What happened? Was money handed over? They are—or were—the enemies of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for much of the time that the conflict with the north was taking place, because the Lord’s Resistance Army was a useful device for the Government in Khartoum to cause problems in southern Sudan. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, what is the status of the International Criminal Court? These people have warrants out on them, served at a time when the three of us were in Uganda, and there were some arguments about that. There were issues to do with whether it was a ploy or keeping in bed with Museveni.
Was it realistic to pursue that as an option, given that, as far as we knew, Kony had not come out of the bush for 20 years, despite the fact that his legacy and his mysticism went before all? If he turned up in Juba, somebody should have arrested him. It is an international and not just a national outrage. If the Government in Juba—I hope to visit them later this year—are serious about joining the international community, we must ask what they were doing. At the least, what were they doing in getting publicity about their actions? I want some clarity on that.
The situation is desperate. It gets more and more desperate by the year because, as the hon. Gentleman said, there have now been 20 years of people being in camps. When we visited the camps and Gulu town and saw the night commuters, it was probably the most moving thing I have ever seen. We saw all these children coming in nightly who have no future other than trying to protect themselves from the LRA.
The other side of the matter is that—I speak for myself and not for the others in the party that visited Uganda—there is no doubt that the Government in Kampala are complicit. They have paid little attention to the question of how to find a settlement to the conflict. There are those—I should include myself among them—who would say that that Government, under Museveni, have used the opportunity provided by the fact that people are in the camps to enable them not necessarily to carry out ethnic cleansing but to exert pressure on the Acholi people. That is completely disreputable and unfair and it should be resolved as a matter of urgency. It can be resolved only if the rest of the world puts real pressure on President Museveni. I heard him lecture us on three occasions, both in Uganda and on a visit to this country shortly after we met him in Kampala, and the message that he has got is that the world supports him in trying to bring justice by capturing the LRA. He has been uniquely unsuccessful in what he has done, but a side effect, as the hon. Gentleman said, is that people have been in camps for 20 years, living in the most awful circumstances, which have been getting worse by the year.
I want to finish on a more optimistic note. What struck all of us was the degree of hope among the Acholi people. They do not just speak the language of reconciliation: they genuinely believe in it. They have reassimilated in a most amazing way young people who were abducted by the LRA. What is happening does cause tensions. We met the mother of one of the girls who were and abducted and taken as a bride by Sam Kolo. It is difficult for someone living in the settlement of Gulu who knows that their daughter’s abductor is living in grace and favour accommodation supplied by the Kampala Government and is now being employed as an adviser to President Museveni—I did not know that before the hon. Gentleman said it. Such things push tolerance to the ultimate, yet the Acholi are an amazing people who want peace and forgiveness and are prepared to use the mechanism of reconciliation to bring people back and return them to their society, so that they will have a future along with the people who suffer through remaining in the camps.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister what our policy is now on Uganda—not just northern Uganda. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) was an election monitor in the election that was fought largely between the now re-elected President Museveni and Kizza Besigye. My hon. Friend felt that the election was, on the whole, fair, but that the problem was the lead-up to it. Locking up one’s main opponent is, with the best will in the world, a statement about what one thinks of the electoral possibilities. It certainly held in some contempt those who did not want to vote for President Museveni. Of course, if the figures are to be believed, he largely lost the north, Acholi land, where Besigye had his power base. That adds to the feeling that the conflict is very much a regional one, if not a tribal one.
The British Government have an awful lot to do. They must get the international community to remain engaged with the issue. To be fair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, we have stayed engaged with Sudan, and I congratulate the Government wholeheartedly on what we have done in trying to bring peace to Darfur. It is a rocky road that we are walking, but we are trying hard there. Sadly, the United States Assistant Secretary of State has just lost his job—but that is another matter. We have not, perhaps, stayed so engaged with northern Uganda. The international community has certainly not been as engaged as it could have been; if it had been, the tragedy of the past 20 years would not be continuing today.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will hear the plaintive pleas from Labour Members, and I am sure that others will fill him in on the details of our visit and explain what has happened since. Things have to happen. We must deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army, which must be decapitated, in the nicest possible way. We must also make the President of Uganda understand that what he has condoned has gone on for far too long. He must bring the people of northern Uganda back into the wider populace so that the country has a future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing the debate and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on his telling remarks.
As many people have said, Uganda is a beautiful country; indeed, Churchill described it as the pearl of Africa. I have travelled around Uganda on many occasions, and one can do so peacefully and safely, unlike in many other African countries. There is an air of prosperity about the place, although 20 years ago, after Idi Amin and Obote, it was in a shambles. The current President has done a remarkable job of reconstructing Uganda and bringing about prosperity.
However, the same cannot be said for northern Uganda. If we go back 20 years to the origins of the conflict, we can perhaps see why northern Uganda is neglected and is in its present state. The army of Idi Amin and Milton Obote—their power base—was from northern Uganda, and it is not unsurprising that Museveni was suspicious when he took over about what would happen in the north. Indeed, at the time, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which grew from the earlier Alice Lakwena group, had much more popular support among the Acholi people than it does today.
From 1996, when the LRA was at its zenith, people, including children, were being abducted, and a solution was needed to protect the vast majority of the population, but that does not excuse the current situation. I am not old enough to have seen what happened in concentration camps during the second world war, but several of us went to Uganda in October, and the camps that we saw can be described as concentration camps. People are kept against their will and not allowed to travel freely around the country, and 900 of them die every week because of the conditions. That cannot be tolerated in a country that is supposed to be an example to the rest of Africa.
My colleagues and I saw the night commuters. As the hon. Member for Stroud said, it is very moving, as dusk falls, to see barefoot children on their way to sleep on a concrete floor. The shelters provided and run by many charities are not luxurious; they are there simply to provide protection. Indeed, one of the organisers we spoke to was at pains to say that the facility he was providing was not intended to keep the children there, and that they should be with their families.
When we flew to Gulu, we saw what had happened. It had been prosperous and had grown and exported its own cotton, but we saw empty silos, which were no longer used—we saw a place that was stagnating. We talked to the Churches group, led by Churches of all religions that have worked together to try to bring about peace and reconciliation. We met the Acholi chief, who described the breakdown in traditional systems of working because people had been in the camp so long that they forgot the basics about farming and what they needed to do to make their own living.
We talked to the director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and we saw the potential shortfall in the amount of food aid that was available. The area is one in which two crops can be planted a year and food grows of its own accord. It is ridiculous that people are unable to go outside the camp for fear of being abducted.
As the hon. Member for Stroud said, while we were there the International Criminal Court issued its indictments against Kony and Otti, and the number four in the Lord’s Resistance Army was captured and killed. The Acholi people have one abiding wish, which is to be allowed to go back home and to farm their own land. If we have a responsibility to deal with anything in that conflict, we have to ensure that those people are allowed to go back home.
The hon. Member for Stroud mentioned the meeting of Otti and Kony in Juba. It is ridiculous—an insult, in my view—when an ICC indictment is out that those people can be allowed to move around, if that is true, so freely. The international community has a responsibility to deal with the conflicts. We have two UN Security Council resolutions outstanding and the Secretary-General is due to report to the Council on the way forward.
On the whole, Uganda has had peaceful elections. Yes, certain parts of the country did not vote for the President, and the leader of the opposition was arrested, but compared with what happens in most other African countries it was peaceful. There is now an all-party system in the Ugandan Parliament. Indeed, one of our meetings was with an all-party group in that Parliament that wants to bring about a resolution of the conflict.
I put it to the Minister that President Museveni has secured his place in the history of his country and brought about a peaceful transition to an all-party system, but the one part of that country that is still not at peace and is an outstanding relic of past conflict is northern Uganda. The Acholi people want peace, and it is incumbent on the Ugandan Government to bring it about. The UK, through the Department for International Development, has played a major role in assisting the area. Hon. Members have mentioned the fact that we have tied some of the aid that has been given to Uganda to specific outcomes. We need to do more of that. If we are giving almost half a billion pounds a year to the Ugandan Government, we need to say clearly that we wish to see plans drawn up for the peaceful resettlement of the Acholi people.
It was moving to speak to a mother whose daughter had disappeared for almost 10 years and who came out of the bush with two children. Those children did not know how to go into the house and could not sleep there for the first two weeks—they had never been in a house. If that woman can reconcile herself and her family to some of the LRA combatants, considering some of the atrocities that have been committed against them, the Ugandan Government need to find within themselves a way to bring about a settlement. The international community has a responsibility and the UK Government, as a leading aid giver, can and should play a role. President Museveni has his place in history. Now he needs to demonstrate to the world that he is not above peace, but can move forward and bring peace to the final part of his country that is still at war.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this important debate and on the excellent way in which he articulated the main issues. May I clarify the exchange between my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Rochford and Southend, East? It is not the policy of this side of the House to reintroduce tied aid, but we support the enforcement of the criteria that are necessary to ensure that British taxpayers’ money is used effectively and efficiently and for the purpose for which it is intended.
I shall not repeat what others have said, but I, too, visited northern Uganda, the town of Gulu and the displaced people’s camps last October with the hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Rochdale (Paul Rowen). I was deeply depressed and, indeed, horrified by what I saw. In the course of my shadow international development responsibilities I travel to some appalling camps in which people attempt to live, to thrive and to survive. However, I had never in all my travels seen the sort of deprivation that exists in the displaced people’s camps in northern Uganda.
There is limited education—the school for the camp that we visited was on the edge of the camp and it was not safe for the children to be educated there—and some 250,000 children in northern Uganda receive none at all, despite the progress that President Museveni has made elsewhere in the country to ensure that education is provided, particularly for primary school girls. There was also appalling and atrocious health care provision: HIV/AIDS was prevalent, with little if any access to anti-retroviral drugs, and so was malaria. Up to 40 per cent. of the population of many of the camps have malaria, with no access even to simple things such as malaria bed nets.
In the camp that we visited, Koch Goma, there were 17,500 people. During the last full year prior to our visit in 2004, more than 1,000 people had been abducted and 354 had been killed. It is completely false for the Government of Uganda to claim that the conflict is nearing an end. We met the President while we were there, and he assured us that that was so, and that the Acholi people and others would be able to return to their lands. Subsequent announcements have been made, but going by my experience, that is not the case; an enormous amount still needs to be done to resolve the conflict, and I shall come to that later.
The really depressing thing about the camps, which is almost unique, is that there was no sense of any economic activity taking place. Nobody could generate a living because, as the hon. Member for Rochdale rightly said, there was limited access and ability to move. There was no way in which anybody could take products to a market, and people could not generate any money to provide for their families. When all those factors are combined, there are some terrible statistics. The infant mortality rate in the camps is the highest in the world. Each month up to 3,500 people die from preventable disease and extreme violence. The crude mortality rates are three times higher than those that were recorded in Darfur in 2005. The international community and the Government of Uganda should be ashamed of those statistics.
The hon. Member for Rochdale was right to try to provide a balance. Given Uganda’s terrible history since independence, President Museveni has made some progress in the rest of the country: inflation fell from 155 per cent. in 1985 to 5 per cent. in 2004, and the percentage of people living in poverty in the whole of Uganda declined from 56 per cent. in 1992 to 37 per cent. in 2003. Significant progress has also been made in economic growth and in education. Significant progress had been made in combating HIV/AIDS. Sadly, that is being reversed as abstinence becomes more prevalent as a method of attempting to prevent its spread. In my view, backed by some stark statistics, that is not proving to be the right approach.
It also needs to be said that it is not just the Lord’s Resistance Army that the displaced people are afraid of. We learned when visiting the camps that they are almost as afraid of the Ugandan army, which is perpetrating some appalling atrocities with impunity, whether it be beatings, rape or, as is rumoured, killings. The Government of Uganda could and should be doing much more about that.
I am deeply concerned about the attacks on non-governmental organisation workers in the region, which are one of the reasons why many food convoys are no longer protected as they try to deliver humanitarian aid to the camps. The Minister will be aware that there has been a clampdown on NGO activity since the re-election of President Museveni. Indeed, in the report by Senator Richard Lugar, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, Uganda is classified as severely restricting the operations of NGOs, not just in advocacy work but in delivering much-needed humanitarian aid to parts of northern Uganda. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on that.
Like the hon. Members for Stroud and for Rochdale, I was deeply moved by the night commuters. I am the father of three young children. I set my alarm—not that it needed setting with the party that was going on next door to the hotel we stayed in at Gulu—and rose at 5.36 in the morning to see the children leave Gulu to return to their homes, often as far as 17 km away. It was extraordinarily emotive to see children as young as two walking barefoot in that great sea of humanity, which leaves the rural areas purely in the hope of protection overnight. As the hon. Member for Rochdale said, no food is provided, as there would then be no requirement for them to go back to their homes.
The number of children involved is significant. Again, the figure varies depending on which briefing one reads, which NGO one listens to or which Government statistics one believes, but up to 40,000 children move from the rural areas into Gulu and other urban centres for protection, again without the necessary impact of and input from the Ugandan Government. One of the questions that I asked President Museveni when we met in Kampala was whether it was the first duty of any Government to protect their citizens. Based on the time that I spent there, that clearly was not happening. Needless to say, the President did not agree with my view.
As we have seen, a danger with the conflict in northern Uganda is that it is spilling over into Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is an explicit threat to peace and security in the region unless the international community through the United Nations gets a grip on the problem. Any regional conflict or extension of the problems will undermine peace efforts and could destabilise the whole region, particularly in the context of the resources that are available in Congo, which are of great interest to many of the armed forces from the neighbouring countries.
The international community needs to do far more. I was as pleased as everybody else that in UN Security Council resolutions 1653 and 1663 for the first time northern Uganda was discussed by the Security Council. I urge the Minister and the Government to work closely not just with the United Nations, not just bilaterally with the Ugandan Government but with local and regional organisations such as the African Union to ensure the shift of focus that is required for the provision of security for the people of northern Uganda.
I would welcome the Minister’s views on whether the UK Government support the provision of a special envoy, whether they support the provision of a resident co-ordinator and whether they support the UN’s candidate. Does the Minister agree that Betty Bigombe could play a significant role, as she has attempted to do in the past, especially in 1994, 1995 and 2005, in view of the necessity to re-engage not with those who have International Criminal Court warrants against them—if I may, I shall return to that later, Mr. Weir—but with those who were abducted and forced to perpetrate appalling atrocities? Does he agree that they must be assimilated into the communities wherever possible?
One of the most extraordinary meetings we had when we were in northern Uganda was with the mothers of boys and girls who were abducted from the camps at a very young age and who then either ran away or were successfully recaptured from the LRA. Many of the girls had been repeatedly raped or had had children by the LRA commanders, but none the less they were brought back into their communities and families—although, as Members can imagine, that was not an easy process, but involved an extraordinary process of forgiveness and of rebuilding of bridges despite the atrocities that had taken place.
On humanitarian aid, the Secretary of State was right to reassess and reallocate some Department for International Development aid from direct budgetary support to the Ugandan Government to humanitarian aid in northern Uganda. There was a feeling from civil society leaders on the ground in northern Uganda that, rather than direct budgetary support all going to the Ugandan Government, some of the money should go to local government in northern Uganda to enable it to control where the money is spent. They certainly had the feeling that they were not getting their fair share of resources from the Ugandan Government—whether in the form of receipts from Ugandan economic activity or from the international donor community.
The Minister may not be able to address my next point, but I should be grateful if he would arrange for one of his colleagues in the Department for International Development to consider it. Given the way in which the Ugandan Government are moving, and the crackdown, the unfair build-up to the election and the issues in northern Uganda, does the Minister feel that further conditions and criteria are required for the aid that we give to the Ugandan Government?
I am sure that the Front Benchers want to speak and I have just two other key points before I wind up, the first of which concerns the International Criminal Court. I welcomed the announcement on 2 June that Interpol had issued warrants in relation to five Ugandan war suspects. The ICC made that announcement while we were in Uganda and it caused a lot of consternation, particularly among the NGO communities, because they felt that the LRA would take things out on the community—especially in displaced people’s camps. Does the Minister believe that the ICC is an effective instrument in obtaining justice and do the UK Government support the ICC warrants? The Minister will be aware, as will all Members, that the ICC does not have the mechanisms and resources to make the arrests itself, so what support is he giving to the countries around Uganda and in Uganda itself to ensure that the indicted leaders of the LRA are arrested? It was absolutely clear from the leaders and from the normal people in the displaced people’s camps with whom we spoke that they will not return to the homelands and farms until Kony is, at the very least, behind bars and arrested. Even when we asked them whether they would return when Kony is arrested or no longer in Uganda, they said that they would do so only when the Ugandan army is not around.
The other problem in Uganda is the enormous flow of small arms and weapons around the country. There are estimates of up to 950,000 small arms, and that is a major factor in the violent insecurity, particularly in the north. The Ugandan Government have progressed in implementing both the UN programme to eradicate small arms and light weapons and the Nairobi protocol, but will the Minister comment on the support that the UK Government are giving to the international community as well as to the Ugandan Government to ensure that the minimum amount of small arms is in circulation there, especially in relation to transfer controls? If there is to be a permanent resolution to the 20-year-old conflict in northern Uganda it is essential that there be disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation programmes to enable people who have been in conflict for so long to attempt to live in harmony.
The northern Ugandan conflict was until recently a forgotten one. There are appalling conditions in the camps there, and unimaginable atrocities have been perpetrated by the LRA. The international community needs to co-ordinate its attention in order to achieve a satisfactory solution to the terrible problems. In my view, the following must happen to ensure that that is the case. Those who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court need to be apprehended. An agreement needs to be facilitated by the international community for communal regional action plans between Congo, Sudan and Uganda. There needs to be protection for civilians and punishment for Ugandan soldiers, who do not behave in the way we expect of people in the armed forces. There needs to be a comprehensive dialogue between the United Nations, hopefully involving Betty Bigombe, who has experience in that matter.
A significant disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme is needed, and donors should co-ordinate the development of such a major initiative. There needs to be a significant focus on delivering humanitarian aid—and I do not mean only food; we must also improve education, health and economic activity for the nearly 2 million people who live in more than 200 camps. We must also ensure that the United Nations Security Council does not take its eye off the ball and allow the Government of Uganda, if it so chose, to try to deflect the international community from focusing on the resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda.
I agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale that President Museveni has made significant progress in the southern part of Uganda, and he should be congratulated on that. If he is to leave a positive legacy for the whole of Uganda before he retires, he should focus on finding a satisfactory and permanent solution to the terrible conflict that still rages in northern Uganda.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this debate. I have had the good fortune to be able to participate in a number of foreign affairs debates in the Chamber. As often happens in such debates, I am preceded by hon. Members who have a great deal of expertise and authority on the subject; that has certainly been the case today. All three of the preceding speakers, who were on the recent all-party trip to Uganda, brought back with them an informative and well-rounded set of views and opinions, and I am sure that the Minister will wish to respond to them at length.
It was good to have the opportunity to read the all-party parliamentary group paper on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, which I am sure the Minister and officials at the Foreign Office have consumed with the seriousness that it warrants. The report draws attention to the bare statistics of the situation in northern Uganda—the fact that close to 2 million people have been displaced and that several thousands have been killed—and to the sense of lawlessness and squalor about which hon. Members have spoken so eloquently. As a result, our debate serves an immediate purpose; it draws the attention of the House, of officials in the Foreign Office and, most important, of Ministers to that part of the world and the situation faced by the people there.
I am keen for the Minister to address a number of points. The first concerns the military dimension. I was interested to read a report by the International Crisis Group. On the effectiveness of the Ugandan army, it states:
“The Ugandan army has more than twenty times the LRA’s manpower in northern Uganda but its efforts to apprehend the suspects or defeat the insurgency are hindered by corruption, abusive behaviour, poor organisation, and lack of equipment.”
I draw that to the attention of the House because we all agree that defeating the LRA is of prime importance if the situation is to be resolved. However, we must be cautious about putting too much faith in an army with such characteristics. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on whether the United Kingdom could offer practical assistance to Ugandans on making the army and its military capacity more effective. If we want the arrest of the principal leaders of the LRA but do not want directly to intervene in military terms—I think that most people would concur with both those aims—it is in our interest to ensure that the Ugandan army operates effectively, and is not subject to the abuses that were touched on by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds).
Secondly, I should be interested to know the Minister’s thoughts on working with NGOs. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East touched on the point. What useful co-operation and co-ordination do the United Kingdom Government have with NGOs in the area, what do we learn from them, and how does that inform our policy? Also, how can they help us practically to implement our policies on the ground?
Thirdly, I have concerns about remarks that have been made in the debate about trade and aid. It seems eminently reasonable to say that aid should be linked to a set of clear objectives. After all, the money concerned has been raised from the British taxpayer; it is only reasonable that there should be accountability in all allocation and spending of money raised by the British Government. However—this is another point on which the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness touched—it is not always as straightforward as that, partly because of the danger of creating dependency on the part of the recipient country. It seems strange to urge systems of democracy on to countries and then to be very prescriptive about what may be done by the democratically elected politicians, who may even, during the election campaign, have claimed to want to do the opposite. There is an inevitable conflict in policy in that respect.
Another danger concerns what should be done if the recipient country does not carry out our wishes as accurately or diligently as we should want. The danger in punishing that by withdrawing the aid is that many of the people who are suffering the most, and for whom the aid was originally intended, no longer get whatever was coming their way, albeit inadequately, before. There are problems with that approach, and it is not a straightforward matter of creating an absolute link, although that might be desirable in an ideal world.
I should be interested in the Minister’s thoughts on how better to provide assistance through aid, particularly in the light of earlier comments in the debate about the circumstances in which people are living in the camps of northern Uganda. If there was ever a case for our using aid for humanitarian relief, this is it. No doubt hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the fact that the British Government have identified the part of the world that we are discussing as a financial priority, and are acting accordingly.
I have two other points to make. One is about good governance and elections. MPs of all parties always welcome elections as a good thing per se; that is taken as a statement of the obvious. I concur with that, and want people around the world to live in freedom, whether that means freedom of speech, free elections under the rule of law or any of the other characteristics that one would associate with a liberal society. However, I have one cautionary note to sound. We in this House are often guilty of the mistake of thinking that if something looks like a system that we are familiar with in western Europe we are 90 per cent. of the way down the road. Living in a liberal, free, open and democratic society is more complicated than holding periodic elections.
There is a need for properly developed political parties representing coherent ideological strands, so that people have proper choices and are not just voting for someone of the same ethnicity, tribe or geographic region. There must be some sense of accountability for the decisions that are made. People need to succeed electorally if they are to succeed politically, and, conversely, bad politicians need to be seen by the public to lose office if they make mistakes. Many of the processes that underpin democracy take time to establish; they are by their nature rather laborious to set up. One of the ways in which this country could most effectively support parts of the world that do not enjoy a tradition of democracy is to try to assist those mechanical processes. For instance, all political parties in this House send people to other parts of the world to provide advice and thoughts on campaigning and drawing up manifestos. Those features of democracy are important.
I am dwelling on that point at some length because an ongoing, stable and democratic settlement in Uganda is in everybody’s interest. Interestingly, opinions have varied during this debate. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East expressed scepticism about how effective the elections were, whereas others have been complimentary about that process in Uganda as a whole. However, I think that we can all agree that it is in Uganda’s interest for that process to be embedded and strengthened. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts.
Finally, because we are the United Kingdom Parliament, we regularly hold debates about areas in the world suffering from particularly unfortunate circumstances. Inevitably, those debates conclude with the Minister being pressed to do more on behalf of the British Government to try to improve the circumstances of the people in the relevant part of the world.
I gave that background because I would be interested to hear the Minister say what other countries, such as other European Union countries, are doing to alleviate the problems and suffering in northern Uganda. I would be interested also to hear what the African Union is doing because although we can provide expertise, military advice and financial aid, and can support democracy, open up our markets and be a good world citizen, a lot of the solutions to Africa’s problems require leadership from politicians and leaders in other African countries, particularly the more prosperous and settled ones. If we intervene constantly in every area of the world where there is suffering and conflict, although our intentions would be good and we might make some progress, we will not always be as effective as we might be if we were to enable or encourage those closer to a given problem to participate actively themselves.
In conclusion, I wish the Government well. I am delighted that the matter has been brought to the attention of the House. I congratulate everybody who attended the all-party trip and who added greatly to the content of today’s debate. I hope that the Minister will bring pressure to bear and work effectively on behalf of the British Government to improve the situation in Uganda and to encourage those in other European countries and, most importantly, African countries to play their part in concluding what has been a grisly period in world politics.
You have become transmogrified, Mr. Bercow, in the course of the debate, and it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) obviously has huge expertise having spent quite a lot of time in Uganda, and I congratulate him on bringing the debate before the Chamber; the conflict is one of the world’s forgotten problems, as we have heard this morning. Certainly, it deserves a full airing in this House because of the suffering of the people involved.
I congratulate all those who have spoken in the debate: the hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew)—he went on the visit to Uganda—and for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds). I apologise to my hon. Friend because in a sense he is a displaced person. He turned up to speak from the Front Bench with his Department for International Development hat on, and I with my Foreign Office hat on. On this occasion, the Foreign Office won out over DFID. Perhaps DFID has the money, but the Foreign Office the policies—I do not know.
Perhaps that is the problem.
This 20-year conflict continues to victimise the population in northern Uganda. The activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army—its acts of torture, mutilation and sexual abuse and its abductions of thousands of children, forcing them to serve as soldiers—have been well aired in the debate. That rebel paramilitary group has killed tens of thousands of people in the past two decades and displaced 1.7 million men, women and children. As has been mentioned, there is also the dreadful situation of the child night commuters, who desperately walk many miles to the nearest city to avoid being abducted only to sleep on a concrete floor and to be in fear of their lives there as well.
The LRA rebels claim that they are fighting for the establishment of a Government based on the biblical ten commandments, which seems to me utterly incongruous, given their activities. They have no clear political motives and they are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters.
More than 500,000 people in Uganda’s Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and live in temporary but now almost permanent camps protected by the army. Overcrowding and poor sanitation have rendered them vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, including cholera. The establishment by the Ugandan Government in February 2005 of a national policy for displaced persons, which is said to be based on international humanitarian law, human rights instruments and national laws, is a policy aiming in the right direction, yet its results remain to be seen.
Disturbingly, the LRA has seen a period of growth in the last year and has extended its operations to daylight hours, contrary to its earlier practice. It has continued to use road ambushes to attack civilians. As has been mentioned often during the debate, the issuing of arrest warrants for five LRA leaders last year by the International Criminal Court should be applauded. However, for that action to have any effect—for those monsters to be brought to justice—there must be co-operation between Uganda and the neighbouring Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, crucially, Sudan, from where the LRA operates. The allegations against the five indicted rebels are truly staggering. Joseph Kony alone is to be tried on 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, intentionally directing an attack against civilian populations and forced enlisting of children.
The Government of Uganda are heavily resistant to this matter being brought before the Security Council, but they must allow the Security Council and the United Nations as a whole to help. The President must admit the reality of the situation. The LRA has not been driven from the north of Uganda or, indeed, from southern Sudan. Not only are the people of northern Uganda at risk from the LRA, but the tenuous security provided by the Ugandan army gives scant comfort to those in the displaced people’s camps.
I have a letter from the former Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House, to Ms Barbara Stocking, the director of Oxfam GB, which I believe could form a useful basis for the debate. I should like to quote one or two points from the letter and ask the Minister how he is progressing with implementation of them. The former Foreign Secretary said:
“We continue to urge neighbouring countries to ensure the LRA are given no support and to arrest those who have been indicted by the ICC.”
The right hon. Gentleman and other senior members of the Government have made many visits, notably to Sudan. What representations have been made to neighbouring countries to ensure that the people who have been indicted by the ICC are dealt with?
The letter continues:
“We are clear with the Government of Uganda that there can be no purely military solution to this long-running conflict and that they shou1d engage constructively with any mediation efforts.”
What representations has the Minister made to the Ugandan Government? It seems from many accounts that President Museveni believes that there is a military solution, but as we know from long years of having to battle with the IRA, any guerrilla-type situation can be resolved ultimately only through a political settlement.
It was not clear to me whether the hon. Gentleman was saying that the likes of Kony and Otti will give themselves up voluntarily or whether he believes that there should be a military campaign to bring those people to justice as well as an attempt to bring people out of the bush under some kind of amnesty.
Perhaps my remarks were not as clear as they might have been. I had moved on from the situation of Kony and the other indicted people. Whatever action needs to be taken to arrest them should be taken, and it may require the assistance of the Ugandan Army or the Sudanese authorities. I do not know what needs to be done, but they must be brought to justice.
I was quoting from the letter of the former Foreign Secretary and wanted to discuss whether there can be a military solution to the problem of the LRA or whether eventually there must be a political solution. It seems from some accounts that President Museveni thinks that there will be a purely military solution to the problems in northern Uganda. I believe that that is unlikely, and I wonder what representations have been made to him by the Foreign Office to impress it on him that there must also be a political solution and that the five rebels must be dealt with in the ICC.
President Museveni seems to be reluctant to have the matter brought before the Security Council. The former Foreign Secretary’s letter states:
“As President of the Security Council, we did schedule on 19 December an open briefing of the Council by Jan Egeland, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, on humanitarian crises in Africa. The suffering caused by the LRA was one of the three topics on which Mr Egeland focused…This ensured that both Council members and other UN member states were fully briefed on the issue of Northern Uganda. We are now giving careful thought to how this can be followed up”.
Has the Minister had any further thoughts on how the matter could be followed up?
The letter goes on to state:
“On the general issue of children and armed conflict, the Security Council passed a resolution in July 2005 (resolution 1612)”—
which I believe was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness—
“which included the establishment of a monitoring and reporting system to gather information and produce reports about the situation of children in armed conflict throughout the world.”
Has the Minister had any further reports on the matter? The systematic forcing of children to serve in the LRA is one of the worst aspects of the dispute.
What can the Government of Uganda do? I have already said that they should allow the matter to go before the Security Council, but they also should reform their army as an example to those who they are charged to protect. The Foreign Office report on human rights states that soldiers and officers of the Ugandan army, which is deployed in or near every displaced persons’ camp in northern Uganda, were engaged in human rights abuses throughout 2005, and beating, raping and even killing civilians with nearly total impunity. What representations has the Minister made to President Museveni and the Ugandan Government on that matter?
The Ugandan Government must provide protection for the staff of NGOs, who are charged with looking after the most vulnerable people in that country. The LRA has attacked NGO staff in conflict-affected areas, thereby making humanitarian access hazardous, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend.
President Museveni’s period in office has been marked by a substantial rise in the living standards of most Ugandans, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) and others, and we welcome the return to the democratic process. However, if he is to achieve peace during his time in office, he must not involve himself in the political wranglings of other states. The Minister and I were present at a debate in this Chamber some weeks ago on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we discussed how Uganda and other countries were plundering the mineral reserves of DRC. There is no doubt that President Museveni has personally benefited from some of those mineral resources while at the same time intervening in the affairs of DRC. That is not acceptable. Again, what representation have the British Government made in that respect?
Equally, President Museveni must organise a transparent and expeditious trial of the main Opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye. That might not strictly fall within the terms of the debate, but if Uganda is to demonstrate to the world its democratic credentials and the fact that it can run a proper democratic country, the least it can do is to operate a system of open and transparent justice so that the world can see what is going on.
The neighbouring countries, particularly Sudan, must not keep interfering in Ugandan affairs. Mention has been made this morning of the meeting of Mr. Kony and Mr. Otti in Juba. That meeting was staggering. It was openly reported, as the hon. Member for Stroud has said, and a degree of safety must have been given to both the participants, because otherwise they could not have been there. It is even more staggering, when the LRA is reported as having committed atrocities against the population of southern Sudan, that Mr. Kony should be given $20,000 to help continue his acts of atrocity. We need to see how the world can deal with that situation.
In conclusion, what can the UK do? We have great influence in the African Union, the European Union and the Security Council of the UN. We could do more. The Minister must tell us what he can do in those forums to ensure that one of the world’s most dreadful conflicts and abuses against humanity, particularly against children, is brought to an end.
It is a great pleasure, as ever, to sit under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow. You will be gratified to know that the briefing that was handed to me by the Department said that you were likely to speak in this debate. I think that that is a suggestion that somebody, at least, has got your number.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing the debate. As he said, it is an extremely important and urgent subject and the conflict and humanitarian crisis have gone on far too long.
Addressing the threats posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army and ending the conflict in northern Uganda is a Government priority. The subject is dealt with on a day-to-day basis by my noble Friend Lord Triesman and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, but I have the privilege to speak in this debate. For nearly 20 years, that vicious insurgency group has abducted children, torn families apart and, as we have heard, committed acts of unspeakable cruelty against innocent civilians. The insecurity and fear that has resulted has led to 1.7 million people being sheltered in internally displaced people’s camps. Add to that the huge numbers of night commuters—the children we have heard about today—and nearly two thirds of northern Uganda’s population are involved; it is second only to Sudan in the total number of people displaced in Africa. It is a tragedy of enormous proportions. As hon. Members have made clear, it is impossible not to be moved or angered by the cruel loss of life and continued suffering.
I want to try to answer the specific questions that have been raised, because they clearly concern the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East and everyone else who has contributed to the debate. We do not know the total number of fighters that the LRA can deploy, but we estimate that it is in the hundreds rather than the thousands. That does not mean, of course, that it cannot cause fear across a great part of the region. We believe at the moment that the majority are in the Garamba national park in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the LRA continues to operate in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, as we have heard from hon. Members who have visited recently.
I found the testimony on night commuters very moving. There is a glimmer of light. At the peak, in 2004, about 40,000 children moved into camps at night. In May 2005 the estimated number dropped to 26,000 and in March 2006 the estimate was down to 13,000. I understand that those figures have been given by non-governmental organisations that are trying to help those children.
I cannot answer that. We took the information that we were given in an optimistic spirit, but it may be the case that they are staying in the camps. I will try to find out, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade will have some more information. The hon. Gentleman has been there far more recently than any of us, but we also understand that the drop in numbers is partly due to better security and a reduced LRA presence.
The Department for International Development and the Foreign Office work closely with each other and with NGOs, including Save the Children, on their important work in relation to the reintegration and rehabilitation of former child combatants. We value that work very highly.
On the lack of a level playing field in the run-up to the general election, I understand that Besigye has been acquitted of the rape charges made against him. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development raised the treason trial with Mr. Museveni on 16 May when he was assured that there would be due process—but I have no more news than that. In relation to the UN Security Council adoption of resolutions 1653 and 1663, the Government believe that Security Council engagement on the LRA is useful and we will continue to press for further discussions on this subject.
Kofi Annan will decide whether to appoint a special envoy. The Government have made it clear to the UN and to the Ugandan Government that in our view a regional envoy would be useful.
One would hope that it would not. I know that Kofi Annan has made the point strongly that he wants to see a proper transition and that the work should not be interrupted, and I entirely agree.
The decision on the location of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting for 2007 is for the Commonwealth Secretary-General, in consultation with member states. The Government will certainly ensure that CHOGM keeps the human rights situation under review.
Preparation for the end of the war is an important issue, and our priority is normalisation of the north, to enable people in the camps to go home. The point was made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) that this is an area where, if you throw seeds on the ground, they grow—that is absolutely true. It is obscene that there is hunger and starvation in this area as a consequence of a lack of security and a lack of coherent political will to tackle the situation.
We raised the issue of security and the possibility of forming an independent force during the period of recovery in the north with President Museveni. He was absolutely against this, but what would the Government like to see done to encourage a peacekeeping arrangement?
The Government would be interested in the UN and the African Union talking to President Museveni and other players in the region. It is a regional conflict, and as I have just said, the majority of the LRA’s members appear to be in the DRC, but they could just as easily have been in Sudan. We have to look at all possible solutions to this predicament.
Several hon. Members asked about the five indictees, and I should make it absolutely clear that we look forward to the day when they go on trial in The Hague, because that will send a powerful signal as regards justice and impunity. We are supporting civil society in Uganda as it seeks to address the conflict and the human rights issues in the north. Wherever possible, we want better information about the amnesty offer to be communicated to LRA foot soldiers, but it is difficult to see how the five indictees will be lured out. We understand that they are sitting prettily in the DRC, and they are not likely to come forward.
I was as shocked as everyone else in the room when my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) told us that the meeting in Juba had taken place. That story might be a rumour, or it might be true, but it would be quite shocking if such a meeting had taken place and those indicted individuals had attended without being arrested. We would be extremely disappointed and we would forcefully make the point that action should have been taken against them. We are certainly in favour of strengthening the process of returning and reintegrating former combatants, about which we have heard a good deal.
We welcomed February’s elections, which were the first multiparty elections for 20 years. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) said, “Democracy is an excellent title, but you’ve got to do a lot more than genuflect towards it,” and that is absolutely true. We have been concerned about the lack of a level playing field in the run-up to the elections, and together with other donors, we have clearly expressed our concern about the arrest of Besigye to President Museveni. The arrest contributed to the decision by the Secretary of State for International Development to cut £20 million from the UK’s direct budget support to the Ugandan Government. Instead, we directed the money towards the north of Uganda. We have held back £5 million and are waiting to hear what will happen to it, although I understand that there will be an announcement shortly. We want to target the money precisely to ensure that it is used in the best way possible and that we make it clear to President Museveni that we want much more precise action directed at securing a solution to the problem.
Health is a priority for the British Government in Uganda, and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) reminded us of the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Other problems, such as malaria and diarrhoea, should also be properly addressed by the Government of Uganda and everyone else working in the camps. Those are the diseases that are killing the most people. The number of HIV infections is approximately 1 million, with higher levels in the conflict areas. Uganda can access funds from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the World Bank to tackle some of those problems, and we are exhorting it to do so. Since 2002, the Department for International Development has provided £7 million for HIV/AIDS and £6.8 million for improving health conditions in the camps, including an HIV component.
Hon. Members mentioned the restrictions faced by NGOs seeking to move resources into the north. We are aware of concerns about the requirements for NGO registration and we are following the issue closely. We will raise it again with the Ugandan authorities.
There were several attacks on NGOs and others in late 2005, and two British nationals were among those killed. That is a serious issue, and I am glad that it has been raised. We urge the Ugandan Government to do more. The gravity of the situation has been expressed, and things have improved somewhat, but there is a great deal to be done. Aid convoys are again being escorted. Not all of them have requested assistance but those that have are receiving it.