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Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have made to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1857 passed on 22 December 2008 regarding the Democratic Republic of Congo, in accordance with paragraph 7 calling upon all states to report within 45 days on the action they have taken.

My Lords, we have yet to finalise the report on the Democratic Republic of Congo by the UN sanctions committee on actions to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1857. All of the elements of Resolution 1857 are being fully implemented in the UK and we remain fully committed to ensuring that sanctions further our goal of delivering a peaceful future for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I am surprised at his point about “yet to finalise”. I understood—this is clear from the wording of the Question—that the report had to be within 45 days after 22 December, which, by my reckoning, was last week. Perhaps I may tempt him into more detail and urgency. What other steps, and through what other fresh mechanisms and with what new degrees of energy and urgency, will the Government take to bear down on importers, processing industries and consumers of Congolese mineral products so that they exercise due diligence on their suppliers and the origins of the minerals they purchase? Will the Government appoint—I have asked this question before and received no answer—senior and able officials to develop these mechanisms so that they are effective, in and out of this country, for the people of the Congo?

My Lords, I reassure the right reverend Prelate that there is no question of the UK in any way resiling from its commitment under the United Nations resolution. I point out that only two countries in the world have so far completed their response to the sanctions committee, and our response is imminent. Consequent upon having submitted that response, we will take care to ensure that we are able to implement the commitments into which we properly enter regarding sanctions on the Congo. On the more general issues, we support the United Nations Mission in the Congo and are all too well aware of the challenges it faces.

My Lords, this is indeed a deadly conflict, involving the deaths of possibly millions of people, to which the right reverend Prelate has repeatedly and rightly drawn the House’s attention. What role does the Minister think that Sir John Holmes, the UN representative presently touring the Congo, can play in accelerating some kind of help and aid? Can he say when MONUC will get its extra 3,000 troops promised by the UN? Can he say whether the visit of Sir Richard Dannatt, our CGS, to Kampala recently is an opportunity to develop new contributions to dealing with the horrors? Finally, as we are talking of disasters, can he think of ways in which the House of Lords can somehow express our sympathy and understanding, and send a message to our Australian friends about the disasters that they are facing at this moment?

My Lords, the whole House will join the noble Lord in what he said concerning the horrendous situation in Australia.

With regard to the Congo, the noble Lord asks me several questions, which will take me longer to answer than I have time for; he asks about those points where constructive activity is taking place in the Congo. I emphasise that the Government intend to be as active as they can within the framework of the United Nations actions in the Congo, particularly with regard to MONUC, the United Nations commission there. I reassure the House that of course the Government take the issues in the Congo, particularly the loss of life, very seriously indeed.

My Lords, while acknowledging the importance of the sanctions committee, I should like to ask the noble Lord about other matters that are outstanding from this and previous resolutions of the Security Council. In particular, what steps are being taken towards the reprofessionalisation and re-equipment of the national army to a smaller size so that it can fulfil its own commitments to protecting the civilian population? Given that in the recent rampage by the LRA in Haut-Uele, MONUC was able to supply only logistical help, can the noble Lord answer the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about when we expect the additional 3,000 troops, and the 20 helicopters that were supposed to accompany them, to be provided by the Security Council?

My Lords, that is a clear demand and we expect it to be fulfilled in the near future. There is no doubt that MONUC requires increased resources. The other aspect of arms for the army and its professionalisation is helped by the sanctions procedures which we intend to fulfil and we expect the United Nations to do so as well. If we can stop the flow of arms to the illegitimate groups in the Congo, by definition, we strengthen the position of the law enforcement authorities and the proper responsible Government. We know how we need to take action regarding the effectiveness of the sanctions, and we intend to do so.

My Lords, I applaud the Government’s efforts to get the Government of Congo to obey United Nations resolutions and other countries in Africa, but will the Minister give this House an undertaking that the Government will persuade all Governments outside Africa, including some of our friends, to obey United Nations resolutions and international law?

My Lords, in relation to the needs of the Congo, we are confident that the United Nations will get the necessary support. One of our European friends, Belgium, has already responded to the sanctions committee and therefore set a fine example. We expect in the very near future responses to the request for information on how states will implement and operate sanctions in relation to the Congo.

My Lords, we have heard about the terrible situation in the Congo. Will the Minister give us an assurance that there will be no forced removals from the United Kingdom to the Congo? The previous forced removal was, I think, in 2007. If he can give me that assurance, will he send a message to Mrs Bolble and her three children in Cardiff, who were forcibly placed on an aeroplane and had to be taken off it because the children were in such a stressed state?

My Lords, I have no particular information on that individual case, but the noble Lord will know how careful Her Majesty's Government are about the return of citizens to a disturbed and difficult political situation, as exists in some, but not all, parts of the Congo. The noble Lord is right that we should have every regard to the safety and security of anyone whom we seek to return to another country, when that country may be in a parlous state as far as law and order are concerned.