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Central African Republic

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

I look forward to visiting the Central African Republic as soon as practicable. In the meantime, we remain acutely concerned by the serious situation across the CAR. We will continue to work closely with the UN and international partners to strengthen the international response to the crisis in the CAR.

The recent UN report suggests that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by both sides. Do the Government support the call from the Central African Republic’s President for a full investigation by the International Criminal Court?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I have met the interim President of the Central African Republic twice to discuss how the international community can best support efforts to restore peace and stability. The referral to the ICC, building on the work of the African Union, is a very significant step by the interim President. It demonstrates that the ICC is there to support African countries and African Governments when things go wrong. I also have to tell my hon. Friend that, very positively, at the end sexual violence in conflict summit last week, the African Union announced the launch of a pilot project in the CAR to respond specifically to the urgent needs of victims of sexual violence.

As the Minister will know, in conflicts such as those in central Africa, child soldiers are open to all kinds of physical, sexual and mental abuse. What are the Government doing to put pressure on those countries to stop the use of child soldiers in conflicts of that nature?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue, which is of great interest to me personally. Last week, on the fringes of the ESVC summit, I held a very large and well-attended meeting with child soldiers—who described their personal experiences—along with excellent, hard-working non-governmental organisations such as War Child. The aim was to find a way in which the international community could work together to remove this scourge, and, in particular, to use the experience of countries that have achieved post-conflict successes, such as Sierra Leone—and the more recent progress that has been made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—to benefit those who are still suffering.

In the light of the Minister’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), may I ask whether he agrees that it is the International Criminal Court, and possibly regional ICC sittings in Africa and, indeed, other parts of the world, that can deliver justice—and there can be no peace without justice—rather than the African Union regional court?

The International Criminal Court deserves our full and unconditional support. My hon. Friend has made the important point that the people who are responsible for crimes such as those that have been reported in the CAR and elsewhere must be brought to justice. I think that the move by the interim president is significant and welcome, especially as the CAR is not able to prosecute domestically, and further demonstrates the value that African countries ascribe to the ICC.