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Volume 695: debated on Monday 29 October 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assistance they will provide to the Government of Uganda in response to the recent flooding; and what support they are providing for the ongoing peace initiatives in that country.

My Lords, we have given £1.15 million to the World Food Programme and to Uganda Red Cross for food, water, sanitation, shelter, aircraft access and engineering costs to rebuild bridges. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund, to which we are the largest contributor, provides £3 million. We have supported the peace initiatives in northern Uganda for many years diplomatically, through humanitarian aid and financially. We have so far provided £250,000 for the Juba talks.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. Is she aware that as half a million people have died, more than 25,000 children have been abducted in the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army and the people are still living in acute fear, the overwhelming desire is for peace? As leaders in the north emphasised to me only last week, peace is their priority, not justice. Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore urge the Ugandan Government to reassure the population that the 90-day ultimatum recently signed with the DRC will not be used to initiate measures that could reignite conflict, but that their commitment is still to the peace talks?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the current peace talks provide the best chance of peace in northern Uganda for 21 years, and acknowledge the risk which she raises that President Museveni will push for action if he does not see tangible progress through the talks. I understand that President Museveni has recently given private assurances to the UN Special Envoy, President Chisano, that he will push for the 90-day agreement to be implemented only if the talks fail. I also recently had discussions, during my visit to the DRC, with President Kabila, who has immediate problems of his own to deal with in the eastern DRC. We continue to emphasise the need to give the talks a full chance and continue to rely on President Chisano to find the right balance in pressurising for a timely outcome and a successful one.

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I give the noble Baroness a very warm welcome to the Dispatch Box. The recent flooding has created a need for massive humanitarian aid, including agricultural tools to enable people to grow crops, but many of the supplies sent by the Ugandan Government have proved useless, such as dead seeds and fake implements which break when used. Does DfID have any measures in place for effective monitoring of aid there?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s assessment of the Government of Uganda’s recent response, where agricultural inputs in particular have not been adequate. This issue has now been raised in the Ugandan Parliament and in the joint monitoring committee—which is attended by us as donors, by other donors, local officials, district officials and the national Government. The national Government have assured us that they will deal with the supply of agricultural inputs, and we have undertaken to raise this at the joint monitoring committee if they do not.

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box. Does she agree that there has been a less than convincing commitment to peace by both sides in the desultory talks that have straggled on between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda? Does she have thoughts on how the flows of funding and equipment to the Lord’s Resistance Amy could be blocked? Will Her Majesty’s Government bring additional pressure to bear on President Museveni, perhaps particularly in the context of the prospective Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala?

My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend’s concern that the talks have been desultory. However, I am reassured by President Chisano’s recent upbeat assessment of the success of the talks. I hope that the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting in Uganda will help to bring pressure to bear on the two parties to reach a result. As for the 90-day deadline, it is clear that pressure can be brought through a deadline and through the ICC warrants which have brought the LRA to the negotiating table for the first time.

My Lords, notwithstanding the ardent desire of the people for peace, does the noble Baroness agree that priority also has to be given to the trial of the four leading members of the LRA and that although lenient treatment might be accorded to lesser fry such as Opiyo Makasi, who gave himself up to the UN last week, it is essential that these four leaders should be tried either in the courts of Uganda or before the ICC? With regard to the floods, which it is generally agreed are due to global warming, and given that this issue is now on the agenda for the CHOGM, will she consider asking the president of the Royal Society to produce a memorandum on the latest state of scientific knowledge for submission to the delegates attending the conference in Uganda?

My Lords, I will look into the matter of a submission from the president of the Royal Society. It is clear that this is the ICC’s first test of effectiveness. The international community must therefore send a clear message that there is no impunity in serious crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that there is a desire for domestic justice. In an ongoing discussion, the mediation team is therefore trying to find measures that combine traditional and domestic forms of justice that could be compatible with the Rome statute of the ICC. It is then up to the Ugandan Government to put this to the ICC for consideration.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the 25,000 children, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to, who have been systematically tortured, brutalised and made into child soldiers? It is believed that 3,000 of those 25,000 children—many of whom have died—are now in captivity. Will my noble friend urge the Ugandan Government to do all that they can to get those children rescued from the hell that they have been going through?

My Lords, the abduction and gross abuse of children has tragically been the defining feature of this conflict, and forced conscription has been the favoured method of recruitment for the LRA. We do not know how many children are alive or still with the LRA. Sadly, some of them have become LRA commanders, not least one of the four LRA leaders indicted by the ICC. We continue to discuss with the Government of Uganda the best way of encouraging combatants, including children, to come safely out of the bush, including through the Amnesty Act and the recent peace talks. However, my noble friend will appreciate that a forced rescue attempt could in fact jeopardise the lives of those children and jeopardise the peace talks.

My Lords, I want to ask the Minister about access, and I speak as a chair of Christian Aid. What is DfID doing in relationship to the Ugandan Government and the authorities to ensure that much-needed aid can get through in northern Uganda and that the development agencies and others are able to operate in those areas?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a good point. The World Food Programme recently expressed concern that food aid was not reaching 150,000 people in Uganda. As a result, DfID has provided support for emergency rations to be airlifted to areas that were not accessible by road. Efforts have also been made to improve road access. We are bearing some of the costs of engineering to rebuild some of the roads to ensure that access is available for basic services.