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Côte d’Ivoire

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 6 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the role of the African Union and the European Union in the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.

We have fully supported the African Union and the European Union in their efforts to find a solution to the crisis. The African Union has been clear that Mr Alassane Ouattara legitimately won last year’s elections. It is deeply regrettable that Mr Gbagbo continues to disregard the views of his African Union peers and the will of the Ivoirian people. The EU responded quickly and imposed targeted measures against Gbagbo and those supporting his illegitimate regime. The situation remains very uncertain, but once President Ouattara is fully able to assume office, we will encourage the European Union, the African Union and other international actors to support national reconciliation efforts.

I thank the noble Lord for his response, which is very helpful and informative. Clearly, the UN offences have tipped the balance, as we see this morning. I am sure he will agree that we hope that President Gbagbo will give himself up today to the United Nations and end the misery and suffering of the people of Ivory Coast. Does the noble Lord agree that the legitimate, internationally recognised president, Mr Ouattara, will then urgently need to build peace and reconciliation and to foster regional stability?

Côte d’Ivoire has been depicted as a model of stability but, as I have seen for myself, there are deep ethnic, religious and economic divisions in that country. Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore undertake, through the EU, actively to support efforts to end the political division between the north and south of Côte d’Ivoire, which lies at the root of the crisis both before and since the election last November?

The noble Baroness has a particular and expert knowledge of this important, considerable country, which has a major trading role. Indeed, it is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, although that is not the immediate concern of all of us. Of much more concern is of course the horrific killings and the incipient, or indeed developed, civil war.

The noble Baroness asks whether we will undertake to play our part. Yes, we will. Through the EU, we will produce robust, restrictive measures and we will support the work of the UN—there are 9,000 UN troops there. We also indicate our support for the operation by the French authorities, which is at the request of Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General. We shall continue with any other forms of support that we can. The situation requires serious international attention, as the destabilisation of the whole region could develop from the horrors in Côte d’Ivoire. Like the noble Baroness we want to see, in the next hours if possible, Mr Gbagbo face the realities and a peaceful end to this ugly situation achieved.

Does the Minister recall that the African Union frequently calls for African solutions to African problems? Laudable though that aim may be, is he aware that there is real concern that the African Union appears to think that mediation is the only thing necessary? Mediation is extremely important but is it not time for the African Union to consider wider measures, especially when there are such huge humanitarian problems faced by Côte d’Ivoire?

I think I have the sense of what the noble Lord is asking. The African Union role in this is very important and it has made some strong statements, as has the regional organisation, ECOWAS, whose support is also vital in this pattern. I hope that I have answered what I think the noble Lord was saying.

Will my noble friend give your Lordships an update on the condition and situation of the thousands of refugees who have been fleeing the conflict and the activities of the militia? Is my noble friend aware, for example, that over the border, as a result of the recent civil wars, there were massive UN refugee camps in border towns such as Macenta and Nzérékoré? Are the Government making inquiries as to whether these camps are still available for use and for providing the sort of shelter and provisions that these refugees will need? In that context, can he tell us whether the Government are talking to our counterparts in the Guinean Government and the French Government who run these camps?

A continuous network of exchanges goes on. I cannot specify precisely which countries we have talked to very recently, but there is constant contact. My noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the major refugee problem. It is estimated that over 100,000 refugees have gone across the border, as he says, but that border is with Liberia—we must remember that five countries have a border with Côte d’Ivoire and that Sierra Leone, although it is not one of the contiguous countries, is not far away. A major refugee problem is developing, and we are focusing on how we can help. DfID announced on 26 March that the Government are providing £8 million to humanitarian agencies to provide emergency aid for refugees in Liberia and a further £8 million for inside Côte d’Ivoire itself. We are focused as far as is possible on this still expanding problem, and we must all pray that the expansion turns to contraction very soon and that peace descends so that some of the refugees can return home. However, there are many ugly situations between the north and the south yet to be resolved, and between the two warring parties.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his remarks in relation to national reconciliation. I have this morning been talking to Methodist colleagues who have recently returned from Côte d’Ivoire. Besides the incredible realities of the humanitarian crisis, will the Minister seek to ensure that inquiries are made as to the sources of those who have conducted the massacres in that country and that those people be brought to appropriate justice under international law?

There are two channels through which these matters are being examined. First, the International Criminal Court has indicated, I think overnight, in fairly direct terms that it is considering an investigation into the horrors of the Duékoué massacre. Secondly, the International Red Cross is also conducting a detailed report into those massacres. The ICC is going beyond looking at any specific horrors, of which there have been plenty, and is considering abuses generally and whether war crimes have occurred. Finally, the UN Commission on Human Rights has called for an independent inquiry into all abuses in Côte d’Ivoire since the election. Therefore, there are not two but three agencies focusing on what has happened. I have no doubt that out of that will come some specific charges because it is clear that some hideous crimes have been committed.