Question for Short Debate
My Lords, 30 June will mark the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence and pressure is growing that, after a 50-year presence, UN forces should begin to wind down. Now is surely the time for the Congolese Government, with the support of regional Governments and the international community, to take the necessary steps to bring the conflict to an end once and for all. Her Majesty’s Government, as the largest bilateral donor, giving £100 million last year, rising to £130 million in 2010, are well placed to take a lead, if the political will is there to support such an effort.
Some of the United Kingdom’s most active NGOs, Congolese civil society organisations and the APPG on the Great Lakes Region of Africa are leading a campaign called “Congo Now”. The Congo deserves to have a much higher political profile. The UK substantially supported the DRC’s first democratic elections in 2006 and we have continued to invest in and support the democratic process since then. It is vital that Congo’s next presidential and legislative elections should take place in 2011, following local elections planned for 2010, which have been delayed since 2006.
The war in the east of the country, however, threatens to prevent any future development of the country as a whole. Long-term economic development and infrastructure building remain impossible with the country in conflict. If it worsens, or weakens the Congolese state further, it presents a serious risk to the region as a whole. The LRA has now begun to make inroads into the DRC, with conflict erupting in areas other than the east, particularly in Dongo to the north-west. The Congo is teetering on a knife edge. On one side lies the fragile route to recovery. On the other, particularly as elections approach and tensions mount, lies the route back into civil war.
Many observers confirm that MONUC remains a necessary presence, providing protection for civilians in the DRC while the Congolese army, the FARDC, is being trained and reformed. It is, however, evident that a military solution alone will not solve the crisis in the DRC. A more joined-up approach is needed and many observers are looking to the Rwandan Government to do more to facilitate that. In this context, will the Minister tell us what steps the UK has taken, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to encourage the Governments of both the DRC and Rwanda to develop and implement options for temporary resettlement of FDLR combatants and their families, either within the Congo or in a third country?
The new MONUC mandate places a much heavier emphasis on the protection of civilians, a move that has been widely welcomed by the international community, but there is still more to be done to make MONUC a more effective peacekeeping force. Operations must be planned jointly between the FARDC and MONUC—something that Kimia II often failed to achieve. The joint protection teams of military and civilian personnel working together have proved to be highly effective but have had logistical and human resources problems. MONUC staff have mooted creating joint operating protection bases, allowing civilians to be stationed in remote operating areas and to work for more sustained periods and more effectively with military personnel. Will the Government make representations to Alan Doss, the special representative of the UN Security Council, to seriously consider this proposal while he is conducting a strategic review of MONUC and before he completes his report, which is due to be submitted to the United Nations Security Council by 1 April 2010?
Furthermore, under the aegis of UNSCR 1894 to advance and ensure protection of civilians, will the Government consider deploying a civilian protection expert group to eastern Congo to inquire into and rapidly report on civilian protection needs and challenges? The need for more effective protection is self-evident. The UNHCR reports that, since December, more than 15,500 new IDPs have been registered in North Kivu, around Kitchanga and north-west of Goma, adding to the appalling estimate of 2.1 million IDPs in the eastern DRC.
There is a lack of coherent and co-ordinated information about attacks against civilians and abuses against children. There is a lack of monitoring of the measures taken by MONUC to implement its strategy on the protection of civilians. A civilian protection expert group could develop measures for the protection of civilians in the DRC and promote humanitarian access and assistance. This would be an important step towards ending impunity for serious crimes in violation of international law.
It is essential that MONUC has the means to carry out its mandate and is provided with the rapid response capabilities and intelligence-gathering support that the mission has requested to meet its new mandate, which strongly encourages enhanced regular information sharing about the LRA. In the light of the new mandate, what plans do the Government have, if any, to provide additional equipment and support to MONUC, if not from UK sources then from elsewhere?
A main driver of the conflict in the eastern DRC has been the trafficking of mineral and natural resources, with the proceeds controlled by rebel groups and in some cases by the Congolese army itself. The UN Group of Experts report of December 2009 exposed links between UK companies such as Amalgamated Metal Corporation and the purchase of “conflict minerals” sourced in mines controlled by rebel groups and then bought by UK-registered companies. Massive human rights abuses against local civilian populations result. The Global Witness report Faced with a Gun, What Can You Do? and the Enough Project’s Digging In: Recent Developments on Conflict Minerals both clearly highlight this.
Have the Government raised with the Congolese Government the question of FARDC units and commanders engaging in mineral trafficking? Do the Government support the call by Human Rights Watch and others for the international community to assist with measures to strengthen military justice in the DRC and for the creation of a special chamber to prosecute violations of international humanitarian law? Can the Minister confirm that the Government have met their obligations under UNSCR 1857 to submit to the sanctions committee details of individuals and companies registered in the UK whose trade in conflict minerals is helping to fund armed groups in the eastern DRC?
The United States and Canada are developing draft legislation for disclosure and transparency in mining, oil and gas extraction activities, with the US highlighting precious mineral mining in the DRC such as columbite-tantalite, cassiterite and wolframite. Earlier this month, Norway became the first OECD country to disclose its oil and gas revenues under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. What action are the Government taking to speed the implementation of more effective methods of monitoring and controlling supply chains used by UK firms operating in developing countries? What assistance are the Government providing to the DRC to develop and adopt similar national legislation requiring the performance of extraterritorial due diligence, particularly within the Great Lakes region, to international standards?
In this regard, the Government of the DRC signed the EITI in 2008 and pledged validation by March 2009. Discussions between DRC officials and the all-party parliamentary group have revealed that the DRC will not be ready to validate the EITI as planned. What discussions has the Minister had with his Congolese counterparts in this respect? Do the Government have any plans to further support the DRC’s validation of the EITI?
The £6 billion collaboration agreement between the Government of the DRC and the Chinese Government in mid-2009 has raised serious concerns, not least with Members of the Congolese Parliament. Complaints have been made to the APPG over the lack of information on the contract signed between the two Governments and the lack of transparency in the proposed management of the proceeds. What guarantees have the Government received from the Congolese Government about the transparency of the Sino-Congolese deal and the management of the income to the DRC?
The recent report from the UN Group of Experts on human rights concerns and security sector reform made it clear that diaspora FDLR leaders based in Europe are active in the decision-making for rebel groups operating in the DRC and are providing financial assistance through money transfers. Some Governments have made moves to arrest key known rebel leaders, but the UK has been criticised for withholding information about telephone calls made between FDLR leaders in the UK and commanders in the DRC. Will the Minister comment on whether the information requested by the UN Group of Experts regarding the FDLR leadership based in the UK has now been provided?
The Government of the DRC are being pressed to establish a vetting mechanism of human rights records in the appointment process to senior ranks within the FARDC resulting from the integration of armed groups into the army. Those suspected of committing violations should be immediately removed. The International Red Cross reports that four out of five women who go to their clinics for help in the DRC after being assaulted say that their assailant was a member of an armed group, either part of the government forces or a member of a rebel group. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that there is a strong human rights element in security sector reforms in the DRC, with measures to ensure that MONUC disengages support for FARDC units that are allegedly responsible for human rights abuses?
My Lords, with great eloquence and clarity the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has opened today’s timely and welcome debate. It would be right for noble Lords, in thanking him, also to thank the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes for the work that it has done over many years in ensuring that Members of both Houses of Parliament are aware of the unfolding and continuing tragedy in Congo.
I last visited the DRC in 2004. Some 5 million people have died there since 1998; it is the most deadly conflict since World War II. The United Nations says that the amount of sexual violence is higher in the DRC than in any other country; more than 500,000 women have been raped, with an average in the east of the country of 40 women raped every single day in South Kivu. The extraordinary humanitarian work of Dr Denis Mukwege in South Kivu’s “City of Joy”, whose daughters describe him as a “doctor without borders”, as outlined in the Times on 28 January, stands both as a rebuke to the world and as an inspiration.
Sometimes people ask what needs to be done to save Congo—more precisely, what the United Kingdom could and should do to help. I have four comments to make on that today. First, we should continue to help to drive forward the long overdue political dialogue between the Government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Hutus living in eastern Congo. Military operations against these groups have not been able to dismantle them but instead have created massive retaliation against civilians—the case of Kimia II speaks for itself.
In the same way that the Congolese Government have been opening negotiations with Congolese rebel groups, Her Majesty’s Government should encourage the Governments of Rwanda and Uganda to open political dialogue with their respective countries’ rebel groups in order to stabilise the Congo and Great Lakes region. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what progress is being made to resettle the FDLR combatants, as was agreed by the Governments of Rwanda and Congo in the Nairobi communiqué of 2007. As Alan Doss, the UN special representative, draws up his report on the work of MONUC, to be submitted by 1 April, are we pressing for the better planning of operations between FARDC and MONUC, for the sharing of intelligence information about the whereabouts of key figures wanted for war crimes, for the creation of joint protection teams for civilians and for more resources, particularly helicopters? Perhaps the Minister will also take the opportunity to make clear our continued support for the important work that MONUC does in the DRC.
Secondly, we must address the hidden obstacle to peace, something that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to. Specific grievances might have sparked specific episodes of fighting, but hidden below this is the more fundamental question: the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from neighbouring countries. That remains the biggest obstacle to long-term peace in the region. The Congo has more diamonds, more gold, more cobalt, more coltan and more uranium—to name only some of its phenomenal assets—than any country in Africa. In spite of the lamentable catalogue of crimes against humanity that are taking place, Congo probably remains Europe’s and America’s biggest supplier of uranium, coltan, cobalt and tin.
We need to deploy every possible diplomatic, financial and military means to end the looting of Congolese resources, which allows armed groups to recruit from their territory and fuel the wars in Congo. When did we last raise these issues with the Governments of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda? How far have we reached with legislation in the United Kingdom, like that in the United States—the Congo Conflict Minerals Act 2009—to pave the way for legitimate companies to operate with transparency and social responsibility?
Resolution 1896, adopted by the Security Council on November 30 last year, mandates the Group of Experts to come up with recommendations for guidelines on the exercise of due diligence to prevent indirect support to armed groups through the exploitation and trafficking of natural resources in the DRC. Can the Minister tell us more about the timetable for the implementation of these guidelines?
Thirdly, throughout the Congo we must surely promote education for all. Education is said to be the cornerstone of personal, social and economic well-being of individuals and a vaccine against the social, historical and political ignorance that often breaks harmony and peace within and between communities. The Congo has a population of around 60 million people, 50 per cent of whom are estimated to be under the age of 18. One in two is said to be unschooled, 100,000 sleep rough on the streets, 10,000 have been recruited into armed groups and another 10,000 live in virtual slavery, mining natural resources for armed groups for as little as $5 a month, while the vast majority live in dire poverty.
The education of women—empowering them and helping them to rise to positions of leadership—should be central to our approach to development. I recently met officials at the Foreign Office to discuss the DRC and tabled a number of Questions, particularly about the position of the so-called shegues, or street children, who are imprisoned at Angenga and Buluwo prisons. What assessment has been made of conditions in those prisons? Can the Minister say how many street children are estimated to live on the streets of Kinshasa? How many are still under arms? The Government recently gave me figures about the funds allocated for schools and education. What percentage of our aid programme does this represent?
Fourthly and lastly, on impunity, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred, the Congolese Government comprise military, government and parliamentary officials responsible for dozens of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, as Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch put it:
“In Congo, if someone starts an armed group or kills people, they have a better chance of becoming a senior minister or a general than being put behind bars”.
I remain to be convinced that a group of people who have achieved political power because of involvement in mass killings and who have used sexual atrocities as weapons of war will ever successfully heal or lead a nation if they are permitted to carry out such atrocities with impunity. As in South Africa, there must be a process of truth and justice. Without it, reconciliation will never be possible.
I hope that the Minister in his reply will tell us what is happening about the extradition of Bosco Ntaganda, for whom there is an International Criminal Court warrant outstanding. When did we last discuss his case with the Congolese? What discussions have the Government had with the Government of Rwanda about bringing Laurent Nkunda, captured in January of last year, to trial and about arresting and bringing to trial Joseph Kony of the LRA? I am sure that we will hear more about that case from my noble friend Lady Cox.
I conclude by saying that we are all agreed that the situation in the Congo is extremely grave: it is a nation in ruin, suffocating in its own people’s blood. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, President Obama and others, Vava Tampa, director of Save the Congo, in words that struck me forcefully, stated:
“A peaceful Congo is critically important for the citizens of DRC and the whole Great Lakes region”.
That is a message that the whole world needs to hear.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing this important debate. The unrest in eastern Congo is a chronicle of yet another region in Africa that has the mineral and agricultural wealth to be self-reliant but has never been able to achieve lasting peace.
The conflict in the region is about cultural identity and intolerance. It has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in which millions of internally displaced persons have been forced to leave their homes and innocent civilians are living in constant fear for their lives. The lawlessness in the region is indicative of a country where state institutions that should uphold law and order are desperately ineffective. Corruption permeates all levels of authority. The failure of the Amani peace programme to initiate a strategy for peace in North Kivu illustrates the importance of properly functioning state institutions to any regional initiative.
The militia are violating women as a means of exerting control, humiliation and submission. The abuses in this region are said to account for the majority of the work carried out by international aid organisations. The main culprits in this violent crime are the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda—FDLR—the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or FARDC, who perpetrate more than 90 per cent of the sexual abuses in eastern Congo. They are violating women, young girls and infants as young as three years of age. The level of brutality is alarming and leaves victims with physical and psychological wounds. There is a stigma attached to rape which results in many victims being ostracised from mainstream society in several parts of the region. The majority of victims are therefore reluctant to report their abuse for fear of rejection by their communities.
The militia groups in the region are a persistent danger to all citizens, but especially to women and children in eastern Congo. I strongly welcome the decision taken by the UN Security Council to improve the strategy among its forces in the region to protect citizens from militant attacks. Reports suggest that a significant number of abuses perpetrated against vulnerable citizens in the Congo are not being reported. What recent reports has the Minister received from the Congolese Government concerning the safety of women and children in eastern Congo?
Militia groups are still recruiting child soldiers in alarming numbers. The families of these children are often killed on the spot if they attempt to resist the advances of militants. The Congolese Government adopted the law on the protection of the child, but the departments that have been tasked with implementing the law and upholding the rights of children are ineffective. Children in eastern Congo are born into disadvantage, as deprivation and abuse are commonplace. The UK Government and their international partners must exert greater pressure on the Congolese Government to protect and uphold the rights of infants and young citizens as a matter of urgency.
The UK was criticised in a recent United Nations Group of Experts report on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo for failing to provide information about telephone calls made to UK numbers from Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda military satellite phones and for failing to provide information about payments made to the FDLR website, a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. It is clear that the Rwandan rebels are using these funds to co-ordinate and manage their activities in the region. What steps are the Government taking, along with their European partners, to apprehend and arrest FDLR leaders and supporters who are living in the United Kingdom?
The lawyer of Laurent Nkunda has recently stated that the former leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People, or CNDP, is prepared to face trial for alleged war crimes or go into exile as a means of ending his detention without charge in Rwanda. The UN has accused Nkunda and the CNDP of crimes ranging from recruiting child soldiers to sexual violence during his leadership. As the biggest donor to the DRC and the second largest to Rwanda, what plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to act on this recent development?
The situation in eastern Congo is an immense tragedy. General elections are to be held next year in the DRC in the absence of United Nations observers. This is of great concern, since corruption and violence are rife. I would like to see the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region take a more substantial role in bringing stability to eastern Congo. Failure to make an impact will result in many citizens fleeing across the border to Rwanda, which is already Africa’s most densely populated nation. The absence of a strong state is the main barrier to peace in the region. The Government and institutions are seen as being remote by the vast majority of citizens, who, as a result, often turn to the militants for protection and survival. A lasting solution to the conflict in eastern Congo will not be achieved without reforming the security sector and installing a properly functioning judiciary.
Finally, eastern Congo’s mineral wealth continues to play a vital role in sustaining the activities of militant groups. Recent reports have shown a direct link between British companies and minerals obtained from mines that are controlled by militias in the region. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to this in his speech. This evidence suggests that the UK is in breach of the UN Security Council resolution that states that countries must provide details of organisations that are purchasing minerals from militant groups in eastern Congo. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell the Committee what steps Her Majesty’s Government will take to ensure that this information is given to the UN sanctions committee in the near future.
My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on initiating this debate, which is particularly timely given the critical situation in the DRC and other countries in the region. My small NGO, HART, or the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, has been working in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, where we have witnessed the havoc created by the Lord’s Resistance Army—the LRA—in those countries. Therefore, I hope that a contribution that highlights the problems caused by the LRA may be helpful in understanding this aspect of the problems facing the DRC today.
We were working in northern Uganda while the LRA was still creating terror in that region. For 20 years it killed and maimed innocent civilians, displaced more than 1.5 million people and abducted at least 25,000 children, subjecting them to the utmost brutality and forcing them to become child soldiers to fight against the Ugandan army. Eventually, a ceasefire was negotiated for northern Uganda, but the LRA remains a threat to the people of eastern DRC, southern Sudan and parts of the Central African Republic. In Sudan, Human Rights Watch has reported continuing LRA attacks throughout 2009 in central and western Equatoria. October reports confirm this, citing a growing number of abductions by the LRA, including those of children. These attacks have particularly serious implications, since they create fear and instability at a time when the people of southern Sudan face many challenges.
The war instigated by the National Islamic Front regime in 1989 left 2 million dead and 4 million displaced. A comprehensive peace agreement has brought some respite from fighting, but the people are desperately trying to rebuild their shattered land and lives. The CPA also provides for a referendum in which the people of southern Sudan would vote whether to remain part of a united Sudan or to secede. However, there is a fear that the north, which does not want the south to secede, might reignite conflict to prevent the referendum and/or secession. Therefore, there are also great fears among the local people that the LRA might be used for this purpose.
In the DRC itself the LRA is seriously destabilising the fragile peace. The UNHCR released a report on 21 December 2009 that describes how, between September 2008 and June 2009, at least 1,200 people were killed and 1,400 people abducted in an LRA rampage, including some 600 children and 400 women, and at least 230,000 people were displaced. According to a CAFOD field office report, LRA attacks on 17 December in Isiro diocese forced 50,000 people to flee their villages. Reportedly, 30 people were killed, many houses burnt and a number of women abducted.
Numerous military offensives over the past year have failed to bring an end to the LRA’s campaign of violence across the Great Lakes region. For example, Operation Lightning Thunder reportedly cost the Government of Uganda £10.5 million sterling. According to the Ugandan Chief of Defence Forces, the operation rescued 195 abductees, but at exceptional civilian cost.
The notorious Christmas massacres were essentially LRA reprisal attacks in response to that operation. In those attacks, 150 Congolese civilians were killed by the LRA on Christmas Day alone and, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 620 people, 160 of whom were children, were killed throughout the operation. Charles Arop, who commanded operations at the time of the Christmas massacre, has subsequently surrendered, and a senior commander, Bok Abudema, known to be second-in-command to Joseph Kony, was reportedly killed by Ugandan forces in the Central African Republic last week. Despite these developments, LRA attacks continue across the region, posing an increasingly destabilising threat.
As has been mentioned, the MONUC mandate specifically calls on regional Governments to co-ordinate efforts to tackle the LRA, strongly encouraging information sharing and requesting the UN Secretary-General to encourage more joined-up initiatives across UN missions in the region to combat the rebels. May I ask the Minister what conversations Her Majesty’s Government have had with colleagues in regional Governments to encourage a more joined-up regional approach? Are they willing to make stronger representations at Security Council level to support further regional planning and co-ordination to bring stability to the DRC, Sudan and the region?
Porous borders between the DRC, neighbouring Sudan and other countries, combined with a weak state security sector, allow the LRA to roam and attack civilians freely across these countries. Have Her Majesty’s Government made any further representations to Ban Ki-Moon about the creation of a regional political office that would focus specifically on the LRA?
While the LRA requires a targeted military strategy to apprehend its top leaders, there also needs to be increased sensitisation at ground level, allowing members of the LRA, or those who have been captured by it—whether abducted children, women sex slaves or fighters—to return home in safety and security. What further steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking with the Government of the DRC and other regional Governments to develop not only military but political and social welfare approaches? Furthermore, what steps have the British Government taken to ensure aid relief for victims, for the rescue and rehabilitation of abductees and for the reconstruction of devastated communities?
In conclusion, I offer two examples of the human reality behind the statistics—the reality of the brutality inflicted by the LRA on its victims. I have talked to many children who have escaped following abduction by the LRA. They have described the horrendous programmes of brutalisation and dehumanisation to which they have been subjected. One girl told me how one day at dawn she was forced to kill another child with a panga and to drink his blood. She said, “I still have nightmares when I remember that terrible dawn when I had to kill my friend, but what could I do? It was him or me”. A teenage boy described the fate of his friend who had tried to escape but had been recaptured by LRA soldiers. They staked him out on the ground and the boy to whom I was talking and his friends were forced to cut their friend into pieces. The LRA had also killed the father of this teenager, after he had escaped successfully, as a punishment, so he goes around carrying the burden of guilt for the death of his father. Such unmitigated evil must be recognised and contained, not only for the political danger that it poses to the DRC and Sudan in these difficult days but to bring to justice those who have perpetrated some of the most horrendous crimes against humanity in our contemporary world.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Chidgey has done us an important service in drawing our attention so effectively to the disastrous situation in eastern DRC. It is the first time that we have had a full-scale debate on the subject since November 2008. At that time, the Government were keen to keep Parliament fully informed and proactive on what is the largest and most expensive of all UN peacekeeping operations, which is expected to continue for at least another year after the expiry of the present mandate at the end of May. The Government should provide time for periodic debates on what the UK is doing to help formulate and act on an effective UN policy. I hope to hear that from the Minister today.
The Security Council urges the DRC Government to establish sustainable peace, effectively protect the civilian population, develop security sector institutions that fully respect the rule of law, ensure respect for human rights, put an end to impunity and put an end to the depredation caused by the armed groups. However, is Kabila capable of delivering on this programme, even with massive international help? He has not stopped his own armed forces committing massacres and gross human rights violations. None the less, as we have heard, MONUC continues to operate closely with the DRC military, except where the unit is suspected of having committed grave violations of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. Even then, it withdraws support from units only if violations persist. Support for one unit was suspended only after it had killed at least 62, and possibly as many as 270, civilians over the six-month period immediately prior to the suspension of co-operation. Co-operation should be suspended immediately where there are allegations of serious misconduct and resumed only when the unit concerned has been fully exonerated.
One reason for the misconduct is the integration of the CNDP militia commanded, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, by Bosco Ntaganda. He is wanted for war crimes but was made a general in the FARDC after he made a deal with Kinshasa a year ago. Will the Minister confirm that President Kabila has been asked repeatedly to arrest Ntaganda and other alleged war criminals? What answers do we get when we raise these matters? The deal with the CNDP was not effective because the rebels kept their own independent command structures, partly on the excuse that the Government had failed to implement the 23 March agreement. The other obvious reason identified by Global Witness, as mentioned by my noble friend and others, was that by signing the agreement the CNDP gained additional access to mining sites in the Kivus, including much of the lucrative trade in cassiterite, the primary ore of tin required in the manufacture of electronic products. What has happened to the new agreement signed at Christmas under which the CNDP would dismantle its roadblocks? Is it going to hand over the areas that it controls, such as Bisie, the location of the largest cassiterite mine in eastern DRC?
All noble Lords have mentioned the control of mineral resources by the armed groups, which provides them with large sums of money to buy weapons and pay their soldiers, partly cancelling out the UN’s $1.3 billion attempt to bring peace and security to the eastern DRC. The illicit mining and export of minerals are the engine of what the Security Council describes as,
“the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation”.
Its response is for MONUC to support the establishment of trading counters in the Kivus, through which minerals would be traded and taxes levied on the transactions. However, the resolution contains nothing about helping the Government to gain and retain control of the mines and to stop the flow of money to the illicit groups at source, which should be the top priority. The next phase of the UN security and stabilisation support strategy is said to foresee the eventual demilitarisation and control of mining areas. Will the UK ensure that it is dealt with in the strategic review to be presented to the Security Council by 1 April?
The Secretary-General says that the new strategy will include completion of military operations against the LRA, a point eloquently raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. However, as she described, the LRA has killed many people in the past year. Even though it has only 100 members in the DRC, they are said to have murdered more than 1,200 people in 2009 and caused 270,000 to flee from their homes. Operations against the LRA were not successful, partly because of the indiscipline of the units involved. I wonder whether the new strategy might include an element that was dropped from the original plan to embed a MONUC company, if not in every FARDC unit, at least in the reintegrated units where the main problem arises.
The Secretary-General says that the LRA is now a regional threat, extending into the CAR and Sudan, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned, but this is nothing new. Mr Ban wants the mandates of the affected countries to be harmonised, but an even better solution would be a combined operation, with UN logistical support, to arrest Kony and to eliminate the group once and for all.
How can we reconcile the deterioration in the humanitarian situation reported by the UN with its action plan for 2010, which provides for a reduction in support of 14 per cent on the mid-year review of 2009? Is this not a reflection of the current global economic situation rather than the actual needs of the population? There is an appalling legacy of suffering from the brutalities committed last year by government and irregular forces alike, including more than 10,000 cases of sexual violence—again mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—recorded in the Kivus alone. If access to North Kivu is improved, as the visit by Alan Doss presages, the demand for humanitarian services will increase steeply.
Finally, there needs to be a set of end points to which MONUC aspires as part of the April strategy revision, with target dates for their achievement. The DRC will need substantial aid until it controls and is able to tax its huge mineral wealth, which should be one of the objectives. Once it has eliminated the LRA and FDLR and completed the reintegration of the CNDP, the UN military should pack up and go.
My Lords, as we know, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a vast country with immense economic resources. It is also the site of one of the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crises. It has been described as being in the centre of what could tragically be referred to as Africa’s world war. I, too, therefore, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing a debate on the conflict in eastern Congo and support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the African Great Lakes all-party group.
The ongoing, protracted war has claimed 3 million lives at the last estimate, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. Continued attacks against civilians are vicious and widespread. Attacks are accompanied by rape and abductions, many of the abductees being made to become sexual slaves or perform forced labour. They often die from their injuries when abused; others are shot or burned to death.
It has been grimly calculated that, for every rebel combatant disarmed during the operations in November 2008 against the FDLR, one civilian has been killed, seven women and girls have been raped, six houses have been burned down and destroyed, and 900 people have been forced to flee their homes. Can Her Majesty’s Government say what work the UN is doing to cut off the financing of such rebel groups? Will the Minister update the Committee on the living conditions and situations of the hundreds of thousands of people internally displaced due to the conflicts? Where are they? What action is being taken to make certain that humanitarian assistance for them is being delivered and that further suffering is prevented? How are Her Majesty’s Government bolstering the UN’s role in Congo so that it can more effectively meet humanitarian needs, reduce the remaining violent conflicts, strengthen security through its police force and generally offer greater protection for these groups?
MONUC was specifically mentioned by noble Lords today. Do Her Majesty’s Government believe that it is at full strength, or should it have more troops? Refugees International has said that,
“MONUC is once again juggling conflicting mandated tasks while facing a critical lack of resources”.
Does the Minister agree?
Among other criticisms, it has been remarked that UN,
“military operations have not succeeded in neutralizing the FDLR and have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis”.
In fact, FDLR rebels have been able to use vast international networks to bolster their supply of arms and recruit extra soldiers.
How confident are the Government in the UN’s new strategy to tackle the conflict in eastern DRC, rather than continuing to provide blanket support for Congolese soldiers? What checks are being made to make certain that these efforts are not being abused? Given that this is a regional conflict, what discussions are HMG having with neighbouring countries about their role in the conflict?
In this very volatile region, of which eastern Congo is the heart, with Uganda on its border, a demarcation exercise is currently taking place over access to oil found in Lake Albert. Given the difficulties that oil has caused and will no doubt continue to cause in the developing world—it has been identified by Professor Paul Collier as “a natural resource curse”—what steps are the Government taking to monitor these events and to make certain that the demarcation takes place according to clear and consensual lines?
The situation in eastern Congo is a humanitarian catastrophe, as we know. It will deteriorate even further if the international community does not strengthen the UN’s ability to act on its behalf. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, like all noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. I am very grateful to him for bringing this debate before us today and giving us an opportunity to discuss the situation in the DRC. By my calculation, 47 questions have been asked and I doubt whether I shall be able to do them justice in the 12 minutes available to me. However, I have been helped by your Lordships, who have described the human tragedy in the DRC far better than I could and, indeed, far better than my civil servants, who have drafted a speech for me.
My noble friend Lady Kinnock, who is in Brussels today, will be visiting the DRC before the end of the month. I shall ensure that your Lordships’ concerns, and indeed suggestions, are brought to her attention, together with the letter that I shall inevitably have to write to cover a number of the questions which have been posed but which I cannot possibly answer in the time available.
As noble Lords have said, there has been widespread concern about the atrocities that continue to be committed not only by some rebel groups—in particular, the FDLR—but also by the Congolese armed forces during Operation Kimia II. We are clear that the situation is unacceptable. Although MONUC and the Congolese army have claimed relative success over the FDLR in the past few months, the humanitarian cost of operations in the region has been unacceptably high, as has been eloquently indicated by your Lordships. We are now moving into the phase of Operation Amani Leo. It has only a five-month mandate but will have a very tight focus: while it will put pressure on the FDLR fighters, it will also strengthen civilian protection.
It is important that lessons from the previous mandate and from the abuse of civilians that has taken place are learnt and that the United Nations, through MONUC, is more effective in avoiding some of the things that have gone on. My brief says that 1.5 million people are internally displaced in eastern DRC, although I think that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said that the figure was 2.1 million. What is half a million when we are talking of such numbers? The truth is that it is a tragedy for millions of people. Although some of the armed groups are now operating on a smaller scale—the Lord’s Resistance Army, for example—they continue, as has been more than adequately expressed, to commit human rights abuses.
We continue to support humanitarian work in the region. The DfID budget spend in the DRC was £47 million in 2009. Of this, £30 million was contributed to the humanitarian pooled fund, which is available to agencies doing aid work within the area. Here, I would rather try to answer some of the questions that have been raised in different forms by a number of noble Lords than frustrate them by giving facts and figures of which they are fully aware.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked how we reconcile the fact that we appear to be spending less money while the problem is increasing. The humanitarian action plan budget is set and reviewed mid-year. In 2009, the budget was increased by that review from $831 million to $946 million. While a slight reduction in the overall amount took place in mid-2009, the humanitarian action plan budget for 2010 of $837 million is still comparable to the original figure provided at the start of 2009, which was $831 million. The important point is that that assessment is based on the needs of the DRC, assessed by the broader humanitarian community in the DRC. It is not a response that has anything to do with the downturn in the world economy; it is to do with those on the ground seeing what can most effectively be spent. As has been acknowledged by noble Lords, we remain a leading and very active contributor and donor, with some £40 million given in 2009 and £39 million already committed in 2010. We continue to monitor the situation and can respond with additional support if that is thought to be necessary.
The mandate of MONUC is, as has been said, short-term until the strategic review, which will be dealt with in April. That relates to the operational part of the continuing mandate of MONUC, which is already determined to be for a year from 2010. The troop ceiling remains unchanged at 21,000. That is the assessment of what is required. UN Security Council Resolution 1906, which supports this, mandates a presence for 12 months from May 2010. We hope that a new mandate will complement a period of progress in the DRC, with positive developments in security sector reform and the re-establishment and reintegration of those who will give up arms and come back into the society that we seek to restore. We do not envisage that a drawdown of troops will arise from the review. It will be an opportunity to reconfigure the resources, based on the judgment of the special rapporteur, Alan Doss, on the most effective way of using those resources.
As this is the first debate on this issue since 2008, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether we could have such debates periodically. I have not learnt many lessons while I have been in this House, but what I have learnt is that you do not make commitments for debates in the House. That is a matter for the usual channels. There are other opportunities, as have been taken on this occasion, for members of the Opposition to initiate debates, through the Thursday balloted debates and QSDs. However, I will take the request and report it faithfully to the Chief Whip.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also raised the question of the ability of the Kabila Government to deliver on the Security Council’s demand to protect civilian populations. Other noble Lords made the point that the state institutions of the DRC do not provide for the strong government that is an essential component for that country to gain for its citizens the kind of freedoms, humanitarian support and lives that they deserve. We are supporting the development of the DRC state institutions. The international community has been focusing on that for some time. We are actively pursuing security sector reform to make sure that those institutions comply with human rights norms. The Government of the DRC have also launched their own initiative to tackle impunity, which, as several noble Lords said, remains an issue.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that there need to be realistic and achievable benchmarks—some way of measuring the way forward. That is what we want to see from MONUC, the international community and our own DfID and Foreign Office commitments.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked about resources and, in particular, helicopters. The contribution that the UK makes to the UN peacekeeping operation will be in the region of $100 million this year. While we have no plans to provide helicopters bilaterally, we understand from MONUC that three troop-contributing countries, of which there are 57 in total, will explore the possibility of providing additional cover.
The noble Lord also raised the question of joint civilian and military operating teams. Again, we think that this is a very important way forward. We agree with all those who have said that there cannot simply be a military solution to the problems of the DRC. It will require a military and political solution. He also asked whether there should be a civilian protection expert group to inquire into and report on the needs. The recent UN system-wide strategy for the protection of civilians in the DRC has been developed by the Protection Cluster and MONUC. The aim of that strategy is to consolidate the protection of civilians, report on responses and improve the current actions to be in line with international human rights and international humanitarian law. This work is a response to the MONUC mandate’s requirements to report on this. I believe that there is a greater focus and concern, which is certainly reflected in the Security Council resolution.
MONUC has always been committed to tackling indiscipline and human rights abuses within the Congolese army and will continue to withdraw support from units implicated in the carrying out of atrocities. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made criticisms that the action was not moving quickly enough and that there had to be atrocities before you could prevent atrocities—if that is not too unkind an interpretation. The Security Council resolution states:
“MONUC military leadership shall confirm, prior to providing any support to such operations that sufficient joint planning has been undertaken, especially regarding the protection of the civilian population”.
“calls upon MONUC to intercede with the FARDC … if elements of a FARDC unit receiving MONUC’s support are suspected of having committed grave violations of such laws, and if the situation persists, calls upon MONUC to withdraw support”.
In practical terms, that means that the support that we are providing is in the form of food, fuel and transport. We will not withdraw humanitarian support in those circumstances. MONUC is working closely with the Congolese army to investigate the human rights abuses of each brigade that MONUC is supporting.
Several noble Lords raised the question of impunity in relation to Congolese army personnel, some integrated and some in the militias. Bosco Ntaganda was mentioned. Our ambassador has discussed with the UN Secretary-General’s special representative Alan Doss the arrest warrant required and has received assurances that the UN mission will support the DRC Government in carrying out the warrant. The Government of the DRC have accepted the indictment and are committed to arresting Bosco, but they are concerned to ensure that the timing of this does not derail the fragile process of integrating CNDP forces into the FARDC, the Congolese army. We continue to press for Bosco to be handed over to the ICC. In answer to the question whether we recognise the requirement for a special court, we fully support the investigations of the ICC and continue to press the Government of the DRC to hand over Bosco Ntaganda to ICC investigators. We agree that prosecution of human rights abusers and an end to impunity are essential steps in tackling human rights abuses.
I am running into the point when my time is up, although I have probably dealt with only seven of the 47 questions that I have been asked. A voluminous document answering all the remaining questions will be winging its way to all noble Lords who have participated. I repeat my assurance that I shall bring the debate and its contents, suggestions and criticisms to the attention of my noble friend Lady Kinnock before she visits the DRC towards the end of the month.