Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 June.
“At the outset, I thank my friend the honourable Member for Strangford, Jim Shannon, for raising this important matter and for his courtesy in taking the trouble to inform my office.
On Thursday 16 June, there was an horrific and cowardly attack on Hubrich secondary school in Mpondwe in western Uganda, which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Government of Uganda have confirmed that 42 people were killed, of whom 37 were students from the school. Six people were injured. There are also reports that a further five to seven people, which may include children from the school, were abducted. The Ugandan authorities believe that the perpetrators are from the Islamic State-affiliated armed group the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, which operates in the DRC. The Ugandan military is pursuing the attackers. Those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice.
I issued a tweet on 17 June expressing my horror at the attack, which took the lives of so many innocent schoolchildren. My condolences go out to all the victims and to their families. The British Government strongly condemn this attack. We have confirmed that no British nationals were caught up in the attack. In response to the attack, the Foreign Office updated its travel advice for Uganda on 17 June with a factual update. The British high commissioner in Kampala issued a tweet sending her condolences to all those affected and the British high commission in Kampala remains in close touch with the Ugandan authorities.”
My Lords, I do not think it is necessary for the Statement to be read. It was taken yesterday, so it is in Hansard.
Forty-two people are dead, including 37 children, and students remain in terrible danger after being abducted. I know that the whole House will wish to convey condolences to all those parents who are suffering unimaginable pain and fear. In response to Jim Shannon the Minister, Andrew Mitchell, said that before these horrific events the FCDO was “looking at commissioning” a new joint analysis of conflict and stability report for the region. I hope the Minister can tell us where we are on that report and when it will be completed and available.
On the illicit financial flows that are used to back these terrorists, Andrew Mitchell referred in the other place to the Integrated Review Refresh, indicating that the Government were actively engaged in working out how we can do more on that front. Can the noble Lord assure the House that we have the right resources to map illicit financial flows? Do we understand where we have leverage over those who support the ADF and other armed groups in the area?
My Lords, this was an horrific and cowardly attack on a secondary school in Mpondwe. I echo the noble Lord in saying that my heart and the thoughts of all members of the Government go out to the families involved.
As a brief update, the Government of Uganda have confirmed that 42 people were killed and that 37 of them were students at the school. Six people were injured and there were reports of a further five to seven people, which we think includes children from the school, being abducted. The authorities in Uganda believe that the perpetrators are from the Islamic State-affiliated armed group the Allied Democratic Forces, which operates in the DRC. The Ugandan military is pursuing the attackers and those responsible of course must be brought to justice.
The noble Lord asked two specific questions. The first related to the joint analysis that was raised by our colleague in the other place, the Minister for Africa. The Government have commissioned analysis for the Horn of Africa. We are not yet in a position to set out timelines. However, we are in regular contact with partners in the region to identify the drivers of conflict and how to react to them. On illicit finance, it is worth pointing out that the ADF is already under UK and UN sanctions. In addition, we are working with a number of African Governments to address loopholes in existing legislation that enable this type of money to be laundered in support of groups such as the ADF.
My Lords, from these Benches I associate myself with the condolences offered by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, to the families of those affected by this truly horrific terror incident. Because the attacks were on young people, this trauma will live with them for the rest of their lives.
The United States State Department two days ago issued a statement on the final report by the UN group of experts on the DRC, which covered many of the aspects the Minister has referred to. The State Department condemned Rwanda for its support of the M23 group, which has committed multiple violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, including rapes and summary executions of civilians. Specifically with regard to the Allied Democratic Forces, also known as ISIS-DRC—which, as the Minister says, the Ugandan authorities believe are responsible for this horrific attack—the State Department said that the US designated that as a terrorist organisation in 2021
“and urges our partners to do the same”.
I can see no reference to the UK proscribing ISIS-DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces, as a terrorist organisation. Is this the case? If it is, why have we not?
My Lords, the UK does not speculate and therefore I cannot speculate on future sanctions and designations or on organisations that may or may not be proscribed.
The noble Lord is right to raise broader issues around the DRC. Of course, as discussed before in this House, we are very concerned by continuing violence and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the eastern DRC. We are monitoring the situation closely. We very strongly condemn the continuing advance of the UN-sanctioned M23 illegal armed group across that province. The resumption of violence has caused huge human suffering. We believe there are now 1.5 million people displaced as a direct consequence of the M23 crisis. We are supporting a range of diplomatic efforts, including the Nairobi and Rwanda processes, which aim to bring this conflict to an end.
My Lords, I express my sorrow, as a proud Ugandan, at the recent attack, which took the lives of so many innocent schoolchildren. My condolences and prayers at this difficult time go to the people of Uganda, especially the victims and their families. Would my noble friend the Minister agree that this is a shocking terrorist crime and that we, the British Government, will do everything possible to support the Government of Uganda to help recover those who were kidnapped?
My Lords, I echo everything my noble friend has said. I pay tribute to him for his work as the trade envoy—I believe he still is a trade envoy—for the UK Government in Uganda. We stand ready to support the Government. We have not yet been asked for support by the Government of Uganda to help retrieve the abducted people—we think they are children—but we are absolutely ready to provide whatever support is appropriate if that request comes through.
My Lords, I associate myself with all the expressions of sorrow, condolence and best wishes for the safe recovery of those who have been abducted. My question follows that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who focused on illicit financial flows. I think there is very good evidence in this region of the smuggling of gold, which goes through Uganda. A lot of it is thought to end up in the UAE. Can the Minister give me reassurance that that gold is not ending up in the United Kingdom or tell me what steps the Government are taking to stop that conflict gold getting out and subsequently funding dangerous armed groups?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. I will certainly not pretend to be an expert, but, just as illicit gold is known to provide resources to some of these extremist terrorist organisations, so too are the proceeds of the illegal wildlife trade, such as the poaching of elephants —we know that al-Shabaab gets a lot of its funding through IWT. Therefore, this is of huge interest to the UK Government, and it is a focal point of much of our work. As a consequence of what is becoming a scramble for critical minerals in our pursuit of net zero, we have to be absolutely certain that, by solving one problem, we are not contributing to the merciless destruction of natural environments and communities as well. I do not think that any western Government has yet got their head around this, but we are determined to focus on it increasingly in the coming months and years.