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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volume 789: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the escalating violence and suppression of peaceful protests across the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

My Lords, the UK remains committed to supporting peaceful elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We repeatedly call on the Government to respect their citizens’ constitutional right to peaceful protest. Those responsible for the violence towards civilians, including peaceful protesters, must be brought swiftly to justice. The Minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin MP, will reiterate the importance of fully implementing the political agreement signed on 31 September 2016 when she meets Prime Minister Tshibala on 7 March.

My Lords, given the prevailing anarchy across the country which the central Government in Kinshasa seem unable to control and of which I was reminded when in conversation with the Archbishop of the Congo this morning, and given that the war has created 2 million refugees who are now living in conditions of immeasurable suffering and 4 million casualties over the past 20 years, along with the sad weakening of the already overstretched MONUSCO forces in recent months, are the Government prepared to use their influence on the P5 to seek to reinforce those MONUSCO forces and find ways of serving the poorest and most desperate of that region? What practical steps apart from merely speaking to Prime Ministers can the Government find to ensure that the commitments to elections are undertaken?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the most reverend Primate for his knowledge and the many visits he has made over the years to this area of Africa. MONUSCO’s mandate will be renewed this month. We will work with our partners at the United Nations to ensure that the mission’s priority remains the protection of civilians. In order to achieve this, we believe that the key lies in making MONUSCO a more effective force. Our ambassador and his team are working with the newly appointed head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, and her team to support MONUSCO’s work in restoring stability to the country. We will also work directly with a number of provincial governors across the country in order to deliver vital humanitarian and development aid. We will focus even more of our development effort at provincial level in the coming months.

My Lords, the last election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo now seems a long time ago. Given the success of ECOWAS in the west of Africa in ensuring that presidents leave office at the end of their terms, is it now time—with new Governments in southern Africa and elsewhere—for us to invest more in the regional organisation SADC to build capacity for the future rather than continue to pursue a dialogue with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which seem unwilling to listen or to learn?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for his question. The fact is that President Kabila, under pressure from the US and the African Union, has allowed the electoral commission to put forward a calendar for elections in December. Even imperfect elections and a widely accepted transfer of power would be a measurable step forward. Our medium-term objective is to help deliver orderly and credible elections so that the Congolese people can vote for a new president. However, I have taken note of the other comments made by the noble Lord.

My Lords, President Kabila is now protected by the so-called “M23 Rebels”, who have regrouped for “special duties” which include butchery, murder and child rape. The United States and the EU have imposed targeted sanctions, including freezing assets and on business transactions, against Kabila’s chief of staff, General Olenga, and eight other senior officials. What guidance does our Congo trade envoy receive on avoiding the officials who are associated with these sanctions? Further, when did the Government last hold discussions about this crisis with US Ambassador Nikki Haley and the Kabila critic the President of Botswana, Seretse Khama?

My Lords, I shall take the last question first. As the noble Lord is aware, Botswana has a strong record of supporting improved human rights in the DRC. At the Human Rights Council last June, Botswana supported a resolution that, among other things, encouraged the DRC to intensify its efforts to put an end to violence in its territory and underlined the centrality of the agreement of 31 December 2016. The noble Lord mentioned our trade envoy. In fact, at present there is no trade envoy from the United Kingdom in the Congo. As regards anyone trying to carry out work in that part of the world, we have a duty to provide frank advice to any businessmen seeking to operate in the DRC.

My Lords, in a country where 5.4 million people died in the second Congo war, has the Minister seen the United Nations report that agents of the state have murdered more than 1,000 people in the last year, and that the mutilated body of an outspoken critic, Father Florent Tulantshiedi, was found on Friday last, recognised only by his clerical collar? Given that President Kabila is today meeting multinational mining companies to seek increased royalties—in a country where people live on less than 80p a day—is it not time that economic leverage was used to challenge and bring to an end state-sponsored anarchic violence and unspeakable corruption, which lines pockets while children starve and critics are executed?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, paints a pretty grim picture of life in the DRC. There has been some movement in bringing people to account. In the last protest on 25 February, where three people were killed, the authorities identified the officers responsible for the deaths, who are now facing judicial proceedings. This is a change from previous practice. On all occasions when we have contact with the DRC Government, we emphasise the importance of human rights and how, putting it bluntly, they have to clean up their act.

My Lords, one of the sad facts about the DRC is that intercommunal violence has been exploited by politicians, parties and warlords, and we certainly want to ensure that people are held to account. But in terms of the longer situation, will the noble Earl pick up what my noble friend Lord McConnell said about working with the African Union and neighbouring countries to ensure that we focus on building community cohesion and peacebuilding efforts to try to stop the cycle of violence?

The noble Lord makes a very sound point. As he is aware, the United States has great traction in the DRC, but in reality the African Union and regional levers will potentially have the greatest impact. On conflict resolution, which both noble Lords commented on, we are part of the international security and stabilisation support strategy. This focuses on five stabilisation pillars: democratic dialogue; security; restoration of state authority; return, reintegration and recovery; and sexual and gender-based violence.