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Volume 703: debated on Thursday 3 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they propose to increase their humanitarian assistance and help with reconstruction in northern Uganda following the peace talks in Juba.

My Lords, DfID has provided £60 million of humanitarian assistance to northern Uganda since 2006. In 2008, we provided a further £5.1 million to address humanitarian needs. DfID is working with the Government of Uganda and other donors to review what more needs to be done to support recovery in the north. Support for recovery work will be a priority for DfID in Uganda as humanitarian needs give way to recovery assistance.

My Lords, noble Lords will not need reminding of the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda against families and young children over many years, during which 90 per cent of the Acholi people were displaced from their homes. We are only a few years from that now, with a fragile peace. Four out of 10 people are still homeless. Poverty is twice as bad in the north as it is in the south. Uganda is a favoured country. I acknowledge that the Minister is explaining on behalf of his Government what we are doing for the general government recovery plan, but what can we do to help the communities, voluntary organisations and the churches that have struggled so hard to achieve this peace?

My Lords, we agree that the reconstruction effort in the north should be given priority and we continue to press the Government in Uganda to give priority to solving the problems in the north. The Ugandan Government have allocated additional resources through their budget for the peace, recovery and development plan and have clearly indicated that recovery is a priority. We are working with international donors to consider joint ways of funding the plan and its implementation. Further work is needed to clarify details of the plan so that donors can agree medium-term funding. Discussions with the Government are under way to clarify that.

My Lords, given all the evidence that it has suited President Museveni politically over many years that conflict, suffering and political disablement should persist in northern Uganda, how confident can my noble friend be that the Government of Uganda are now genuinely committed to peace, reconciliation and reconstruction and that it is appropriate that our Government should provide humanitarian assistance by way of budget support to the Ugandan Government?

My Lords, DfID supports President Museveni’s Government’s commitment to reducing poverty. We have continued to support that Government through budget aid, because we think that that is a good vehicle. Nevertheless, we cut budget aid by £15 million in 2005-06 and have maintained it at that level, because we were concerned about some of the Government’s problems. Nevertheless, we see working with President Museveni as the way forward to bring civil society together to solve Uganda’s problems.

My Lords, what further measures do the Government plan to take to encourage the LRA to sign this peace deal? Will this affect at all their current support for the International Criminal Court’s indictments for war crimes against Joseph Kony and his henchmen?

My Lords, the Government support the International Criminal Court and its charter. The process in northern Uganda has been helpful in bringing the LRA’s leadership to the table. It has brought about the period of quiet—or of less violence, at least—which is allowing development to take place. We continue to seek ways whereby court warrants may lead to a situation in which a full signing of the peace agreements may be possible and a way out of some of the legal dilemmas may be found.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at least 25,000 children were abducted by the LRA during that 20-year war? They were taken to military training camps, tortured, brutalised, forced to kill one another and then to fight against the Ugandan army. I have interviewed many of those young people, who have suffered in ways beyond description. Their overriding passion is for education but they cannot afford the fees for Ugandan schools. UNICEF is providing some primary education but many of those young people have access to no schooling whatever. Can Her Majesty’s Government do anything to help to provide education for these young people who have suffered so much and who desperately need that education to put the past behind them and to build a future?

My Lords, we recognise the terrible toll on young people that war and violence in Uganda have taken. We have worked with the Ugandan Government to improve conditions so that young people and the rest of the population come back to their original areas. That is working. Those programmes include educational programmes, but of course they also include general health programmes.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to limit the impact of rising food prices on vulnerable communities, such as the Ugandan refugee camps, which are wholly or partly dependent on food aid?

My Lords, recent research conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that, because Uganda’s food security is based on many staples that are not actively traded, its food prices have remained relatively stable despite the shock. Therefore, while it is one problem that is being faced there, it is not as severe as in many other parts of Africa.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to co-ordinate with the voluntary organisations, so many of which are working in Uganda?

My Lords, the Government are working with their officers in Uganda, co-operating with the Ugandan Government to bring the maximum effect locally. I do not have details of precisely what is happening on the ground, but general DfID policy is to work with voluntary organisations in-country. That is happening in Uganda.