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Central African Republic

Volume 756: debated on Tuesday 4 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they will provide to the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic.

My Lords, in April 2014 the United Kingdom supported the establishment of MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic. We continue to support UN efforts to build its military and civilian assets to meet the mission’s mandate to build security and stability, support the political process and foster reconciliation in the Central African Republic.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. The recent decisions to extend the European mission, EUFOR, and the level 3 emergency status at the United Nations are very welcome. However, when the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I visited the Central African Republic last month, it was clear that instability there affects people not only in that country but in South Sudan, Cameroon, the DRC and others in the region. Will the UK continue to argue for an extension of the level 3 emergency status and the European mission until there is enough stability to conduct elections and secure proper development and progress?

First, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and my noble friend Lady Berridge in continuing to bring these issues before the House. We fully support the extension of the EUFOR mandate, which currently runs until the end of March. The intention is that, by that time, MINUSCA will be up to its full complement of peacekeeping forces and civilian support staff. At that stage, they should take full control. The noble Lord mentioned elections: that is clearly a matter for President Samba-Panza to implement. I know that she is working as hard as she can to get the elections in place.

My Lords, first, can my noble friend confirm that the UN peacekeepers are briefed not to hesitate to act in compliance with their mandate in rapid response to outbreaks of violence against civilians, establishing that they and not the militias enforce law and order in Bangui? Secondly, can she confirm that the warring parties and their leaders will be held accountable for any crimes that they commit and are on notice that incitement to violence—and violence itself—will be prosecuted?

First, the conduct of MINUSCA troops falls under the United Nations rules of engagement, which are covered by international humanitarian law. In the first instance, it is for the country which sent the troops there to hold those people to account, but the United Nations as a whole makes sure there is no impunity. I think that covers my noble friend’s second question. Where people transgress, impunity should not prevail and President Samba-Panza is trying to enforce her own legal systems, locally, to ensure there is no impunity there either.

My Lords, children are bearing the brunt of the insecurity and lawlessness in the Central African Republic. UNICEF has said that children are in desperate need of protection at this time and in danger of being forgotten by the world. Will the Minister tell the House what, if anything, is being done to make the CAR a priority, especially when the security of innocent people continues to deteriorate, despite the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission?

The noble Baroness is right to focus on the lack of security for children. Of course, across the region there is a history of the abduction of children and their use as child soldiers. What I can say is that we remain the third largest bilateral provider of humanitarian aid in CAR, having given £30 million in direct humanitarian assistance to the Government and to refugees since the crisis began.

My Lords, there are of course no fully functioning police, courts or prisons in Central African Republic. The interim President, Catherine Samba-Panza, has heard of the UK’s wonderful work on security sector reform in Sierra Leone and has specifically asked the United Kingdom whether it will provide such support to CAR. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider offering such support?

My Lords, when the President made her address to the UNGA in September, she clearly set out her ambitions. Shortly thereafter, the security problems in the area increased. I think we should give all the support we can to her and her initiatives on security and imposing the rule of law. She has a tough task ahead. However, the help we are giving through MINUSCA means that we are ensuring that trained people are there to assist with the security of that region.

My Lords, given the widespread violation of both women and children in this tragic conflict, will the Minister indicate whether there are ways in which the Government could extend the success of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative to the Central African Republic?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very important point. The work done by my noble friends in the Foreign Office and DfID this summer is bearing good results but we need to be able to take those further forward. I listened to what he said and I will certainly take his views back to the FCO.

My Lords, in this volatile situation in the Central African Republic, there clearly needs to be stability before progress can be made. Will the United Kingdom Government support security sector reform, with, in particular, advice from DfID on the development of national and local policing standards?

My Lords, of course we will listen to any requests made by the President for technical assistance. As the noble Lord will know, that can be done through the United Nations. Certainly at the moment MINUSCA, as a peacekeeping force, is concentrating on securing Bangui and the immediate area. Until that is done, it is difficult to go further outside Bangui to provide any assistance there. DfID will be doing all it can through delivering its humanitarian aid to provide the kind of technical assistance that is appropriate in those circumstances. The first objective, though, has to be to secure the region, which has been so troubled.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, drew attention to the 2.3 million children who have been affected by the violence in this country. Will my noble friend join me in paying tribute to UNICEF and the other NGOs that are providing humanitarian assistance, despite unprecedented attacks against the humanitarian workers?

I join my noble friend in that with great pleasure. I ought to declare a past interest, of which I am proud, which is that I used to be a trustee of UNICEF. It is one of many organisations that perform valiant work and without them I have no doubt that Governments would find it almost impossible to deal with the humanitarian crises we face.