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Africa: Arms Trade

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assessment they have made of the recent report published by Oxfam and others on the economic and human costs of conflict in Africa; and what prospects there are for the ratification of a global arms trade treaty.

My Lords, the Oxfam report makes vivid and compelling arguments about the cost of conflict to African development. That is why the UK has committed more than £350 million to conflict prevention initiatives in Africa since 2001 and has led calls at the UN for action to stop irresponsible arms trading that fuels conflict. There is widespread international support for the UN process towards an arms trade treaty. We are determined to work towards the conclusion of a robust treaty.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, will he confirm the findings of the authors of the report that conflict in Africa over the past decade or so has cost a staggering $300 billion and that it is estimated that every year it costs $18 billion—roughly the equivalent amount of money that the rest of the world puts into Africa in aid and development? Does he accept that the flow of small arms into Africa—95 per cent of the kalashnikovs used in places such as the Congo, southern Sudan, Darfur and elsewhere—come from outside Africa? This remains a paramount concern and, unless we get conflict resolution right, all our development programmes will be pretty worthless.

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. This is a very well written and, so far as I can tell, well researched report, which arrives at the stunning conclusion that $300 billion has been lost because of conflict, with loss of life and foregone economic development, and that that is indeed approximately equivalent to the amount of aid that has been put into the continent. That is not to take away from what that aid has achieved, with the provision of health and education on a scale that otherwise would not have been available, but it draws one to conclude that we must find ways to stop this conflict so that the effect of the aid is felt more fully. In that regard, the treaty that the noble Lord mentions is one key part of the strategy.

My Lords, has any further information come to light on the alleged breaches of the UN arms embargo on Sudan by two members of the UN Security Council, as reported by Amnesty earlier this year? If not, do the Government intend to support any further investigation into this matter?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has surprised me. She will have to forgive me; I will need to get back to her with an answer to that.

My Lords, it is estimated that between April and June 1994, 800,000 people died in the genocide in Rwanda, yet a report—a simulation exercise—commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation from West Point said that a mere 5,000 trained military personnel could have averted that catastrophe. What efforts are the Government making to provide with others a rapid reaction force under the auspices of the African Union? What progress has so far been made on that rapid reaction force?

My Lords, my noble friend talks of a very important effort under way to try to improve the capacity of the African Union to respond effectively to peacekeeping crises as they emerge. It will be a major subject of the EU-AU summit in December. The European Union is providing a lot of support in training, exercises and funding to AU forces, but as we are seeing not just in Darfur but in Somalia as well, we still have enormous difficulty in deploying effective African Union or even UN forces as quickly and as promptly as we would wish.

My Lords, in the light of encouraging remarks made by Chinese representatives at the first committee in the General Assembly, and also separately by the US, on the voluntary register of light weapons exports, will the Government consider suggesting to the intergovernmental group of experts on the treaty that signatory states should be required to report all light weapons exports as an obligation under the treaty? Secondly, will they also consider suggesting that the treaty should include a permanent UN monitoring mechanism for light weapons that are retrieved from theatres of conflict?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that the experts are only now—in the next couple of months—going to assemble to follow up on last year’s resolution, which was driven by the United Kingdom and supported by 150 countries, to establish an arms trade treaty. We shall be very involved in the work of that expert group and I suspect that both suggestions should be raised with that group. It is an expert group and will have to reach its own conclusions. I should add that obviously this treaty is not intended to prevent the legitimate provision of arms to defence forces in Africa to defend the sovereign borders of their countries.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former director of Oxfam and a continuing committed supporter. Does my noble friend agree that, as he has himself indicated, the real tragic dimension to this conflict is that the overwhelming majority of people who suffer—who are killed and maimed—are civilians? Therefore, the urgency of action along the lines of a global arms trade treaty cannot be overestimated. Does he accept that there is a great deal of admiration from those involved for the leadership shown by the British Government on this issue but a great deal of disappointment that our United States allies are not as forthcoming in their support? What is being done to bring the United States on board?

My Lords, the advice of the noble Earl is well taken, and I shall stick to the facts. It is the case that the United States was the one country to vote against this resolution last December, and we continue to press the US to reconsider its position. We very much hope through the consultations around the drafting of the treaty that we will be able to bring the US on board. While others either voted with us or abstained, I regret to say that the objectors to the treaty are not limited to the United States; it was, as is often the case, just a bit more straightforward in making its position clear.