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Northern Uganda

11 am

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Uganda is a beautiful country that I had the great privilege to visit in 2003 for just over a month. I was there in a personal capacity, but while there met the US ambassador, and a number of people from the British embassy, the United States Agency for International Development and other organisations.

The debate is incredibly important, and I am glad to be joined by a number of hon. Friends, and particularly the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), whose early-day motion is excellent; I have signed it, and look forward to his contribution.

The United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Jan Egeland, described the war in northern Uganda as

Furthermore, Refugees International described the humanitarian response as “weak” and “failing”.

The conflict in northern Uganda is a critical issue, but not the only problem that Uganda faces. There are problems with democracy and basic governance that I also wish to touch on.

For 20 years, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army have caused massive problems and civil unrest in northern Uganda. Between 1.4 million and 2 million people, depending on which source is quoted, have been displaced by the war in northern Uganda.

According to the Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda, every day more than 130 people die in the area as a result of violence and poor conditions, particularly in the camps. Other reliable sources quote an even higher figure of more than 1,000 per week.

Those atrocities are a direct result of the activities of some 500 to 1,500 members of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Will the Minister update us on his current assessment of the number of active combatants in the Lord’s Resistance Army? In my research I found a lot of contradictory information.

Although the debate is entitled, “Northern Uganda”, it is more of a regional conflict. It is as much a conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan. We need to see the region as a whole. Worryingly, attacks in the Lira and Adjumani districts have demonstrated an expansion of the problems in northern Uganda.

The problem of internally displaced people in the area is critical. Twenty years ago, some of the first temporary camps were set up. Now there are some 200 camps. Despite good work, aid workers and embassy officials have said that the camps are poorly managed with basic conditions. As the camps are temporary, there are debates about whether we should be putting in generators and long-term resources. Aid organisations do not want to encourage people to go to them.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): That was a fascinating insight. Will the hon. Gentleman kindly tell us what was his assessment of those camps when he visited them?

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James Duddridge: If the Minister will allow me, I shall come to that assessment later. I actually visited southern Uganda. It was too dangerous to travel to the camps, but I spoke to a number of people who worked there and a number of parliamentarians who had visited Gulu. With his permission, I shall come to that later.

More than 90 per cent. of the Acholi people are now in those camps. Some 70 per cent. of them have no income whatever and 95 per cent. are in absolute poverty. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force makes the situation worse. Back in 2002, it said that any Acholi people not in the camps would be considered collaborators with the Lord’s Resistance Army. That forced people from their own land and into the camps, where they are less able to look after themselves.

In 2005, a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation visited Uganda, and specifically the Gulu camp, where about 10,000 residents were situated in appalling conditions. My hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) and for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) have alerted me to the additional problem of so-called night commuters. Some 40,000 people travel more than 10 km into the camps or towns so that they are at less risk of abduction. That is not at no risk, however, because the Ugandan People’s Defence Force does not adequately police internally displaced people in the camps; they are subject to raids and the women are taken as the so-called wives of soldiers and then raped.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): My hon. Friend will be aware that I have visited Gulu and the displaced people’s camps there. I wonder whether he is aware that the recently increasing number of night commuters, particularly those going to Gulu, are being abused by many of the people in the town, who commit atrocities. Yet the night commuters come to the towns to sleep safely at night and to avoid being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the rural parts of northern Uganda.

James Duddridge: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was aware of that, and of the inadequate response by the international community and the Ugandan Government. It is a very real problem. I have spoken on the question of aid to senior diplomats in Uganda who have recent experience there, and they feel that our Government are not putting enough pressure on the Ugandan Government.

Although the split between the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is helpful from the United Kingdom perspective—it provides two representatives at the Cabinet table—it is unhelpful in dealing with situations such as the conflict in northern Uganda. Splitting trade and aid was historically correct, however, and a strong case can be made for using aid as a bargaining tool for reform.

I congratulate the Government on transferring £15 million of aid to the north, on ring-fencing £5 million and holding it back until after the elections, and on working with Sweden and the Netherlands to get them to do something similar. However, more should be leveraged. The aid should be more conditional, and we need a clear programme of agreed action to which
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the Ugandan Government can agree. The conflict has simply gone on far too long. People tell me that the Government have been asked too many times for one last pay cheque. In 1997, the Government were told that with one final push from Museveni, the problem would be solved. We are still in exactly the same position.

A number of aid organisations have urged the Government to work more closely with the some of the smaller aid organisations rather than rely on the World Food Programme, and I shall be particularly interested if the Minister will update us on the relationship between Save the Children and what is happening in northern Uganda. Several aid organisations have complained to me about the lack of protection offered to them. The Ugandan Government have withdrawn protection from aid convoys, which means that fewer are able to get to the area.

The Mildmay hospital in Kampala, which I have visited, has offices in my constituency. It deals with AIDS orphans, and other AIDS work. It would like to do more in the north, but it cannot do so for security reasons. I fear that many other organisations are unable to get involved in helping with the humanitarian crisis in the north because of poor security.

I said that I would touch on the subject of governance. All too often, Uganda has been seen as having strong governance. Put simply, it has been the best of a bad bunch; we have struggled to find beacon examples of good governance there. Problems with governance in Uganda directly affect the situation in northern Uganda. In my view, multi-party democracy has been a sham. Extending the presidential term and imprisoning Kissa Besigye on trumped-up charges of rape during most of the election meant that the elections were not fair or free. The actions of Museveni and his troops in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo show further poor governance; getting involved in a civil war in a neighbouring country has resulted in the withdrawal of technical assistance by the United States Government.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a cogent case. Is he aware that the Government give aid to Uganda worth £478 million? Does he not feel that that aid should be more closely tied to specific targets in order to establish better government and to bring an end to the war by the national resistance council in northern Uganda?

James Duddridge: I was unaware of the exact figure, and I am astounded by the large amount of aid that is given. I agree with my hon. Friend that it should be tied to direct results. We should use the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala in 2007 and the preparations for it to put further pressure on Museveni. I personally believe that it is inappropriate for the Prime Minister to attend such a meeting in Kampala, given the state of the conflict in northern Uganda at the moment. We should do more to support the African Union in peer group review and the United Nations in Uganda.

A number of people have asked me whether I believe that Museveni is committed to the process. As the facts stack up, I must admit that I cannot agree with Lord Triesman, who believes that Museveni is committed to
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it. There has been long-standing conflict between north and south, dating back to the time of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, and that is still very much the case today.

A senior diplomat, on accepting a posting to northern Uganda, told a Minister that he was going further north to find out more about the problem and was asked by the Minister, “Why are you going to see those primitive people?” There is fundamental and underlying conflict between the current Government in the south, and the north and the Acholi people. The International Crisis Group believes that the army is strong enough to sort the problem out, but corruption, abusive behaviour, poor organisation and equipment shortages have meant that it is unable to deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army.

I note from briefing documents that in 2003 the British Government paid for a defence review to see whether the Uganda People’s Defence Force was up to the job, and put in place a plan so that it would be up to the job. I would be interested if the Minister could update us on that. I know that it is quite some time ago. What is the gap between the needs identified by the 2003 defence review that the British Government paid for and where we are now? What still needs to be done?

I was confused by a report sent to me in preparation for the debate that the Lord’s Resistance Army strategist Kenneth Banya and spokesman Sam Kolo now work for Museveni, and that they did so as campaign managers in the July 2005 referendum and the subsequent election. It would be greatly appreciated if the Minister could shed any light on that in this debate or perhaps in writing.

We need to prioritise this issue much more heavily. We need to press UN Security Council resolution 1663 to put in place a UN special envoy. I would be grateful if the Minister could update hon. Members on progress towards appointing a special envoy.

I am also confused about the role of the International Criminal Court. Kony and his key lieutenants were indicted in October 2005. However, a number of people have been sympathetic to allowing him to negotiate without fear of arrest. The Government position has been to arrest at all costs, yet elsewhere, in Sierra Leone and Angola, a process of negotiation has been quite successful. I do not take a view on that myself, but I would welcome the Minister’s comments, particularly given that the Sudanese Government have allegedly handed over money to Kony to enter negotiations, although we may be talking simply about a delaying tactic whereby he returns to the bush, re-arms and then comes out.

I am interested to hear what preparations the British Government have made in supporting the Ugandan Government in planning for the end of the war—the war will come to an end. I am talking about planning that goes beyond simply feeding the nation but includes mental health issues, truth and reconciliation and rebuilding civil society, so that when Museveni or a successor does take a leap into genuine multi-party democracy, there is a fabric of civil society in northern Uganda to support that.

We need a clear timetable for change. We need to make aid conditional on action and better governance in Uganda. We need to speed up the delivery of the UN envoy. This crisis has gone on far too long. I call on the Government to do more and to do it faster.

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11.14 am

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on raising this very important issue at this time. I declare my interest, no doubt along with the hon. Members for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). Although my hon. Friend is not here, I know that he is here in spirit. We made a visit as guests of the Northern Uganda Advocacy Partnership for Peace, which is a bit of a mouthful. We were there, largely at the instigation of Christian Aid, 18 months or so ago. We visited a number of places. I know that other hon. Members will talk in detail about that visit. I do not want to say much about it.

I want to comment on the bizarre situation whereby both Kony and Otti turned up in Juba at the end of May. As I chair the all-party Sudan group, I know something of the politics of Sudan. They were met by Riek Machar, vice-president of the South Sudan Government. All I have is the report of 25 May from TheMonitor, a newspaper based in Kampala. It may all be fabrication, but it would be useful to know from my hon. Friend the Minister, who takes a close interest in that part of the world, exactly what went on. If what is said to have gone on did go on, it is nothing less than a scandal. The fact that Kony and Otti were in the same place would suggest that they had absolute guarantees about their safety. These are not ordinary people or just political leaders. It is the equivalent of Pol Pot arriving in Beijing and saying, “Here I am, chaps. FĂȘte me. Give me some money. Let me go back and carry on slaughtering the people of Cambodia.” It is the equivalent of Hitler turning up in London and saying, “It’s all a myth. I haven’t killed any Jews at all. I am really someone you can do business with.” Kony and Otti are trained killers. In the past 20 years, they have carried out the most heinous of crimes. The trouble is that the situation is so bad that we cannot really believe what is said about the Lord’s Resistance Army.

It would be useful to get some clarity from my hon. Friend on two issues. First, did Kony, Otti and others turn up in Juba? What happened? Was money handed over? They are—or were—the enemies of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for much of the time that the conflict with the north was taking place, because the Lord’s Resistance Army was a useful device for the Government in Khartoum to cause problems in southern Sudan. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, what is the status of the International Criminal Court? These people have warrants out on them, served at a time when the three of us were in Uganda, and there were some arguments about that. There were issues to do with whether it was a ploy or keeping in bed with Museveni.

Was it realistic to pursue that as an option, given that, as far as we knew, Kony had not come out of the bush for 20 years, despite the fact that his legacy and his mysticism went before all? If he turned up in Juba, somebody should have arrested him. It is an international and not just a national outrage. If the Government in Juba—I hope to visit them later this year—are serious about joining the international community, we must ask what they were doing. At the
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least, what were they doing in getting publicity about their actions? I want some clarity on that.

The situation is desperate. It gets more and more desperate by the year because, as the hon. Gentleman said, there have now been 20 years of people being in camps. When we visited the camps and Gulu town and saw the night commuters, it was probably the most moving thing I have ever seen. We saw all these children coming in nightly who have no future other than trying to protect themselves from the LRA.

The other side of the matter is that—I speak for myself and not for the others in the party that visited Uganda—there is no doubt that the Government in Kampala are complicit. They have paid little attention to the question of how to find a settlement to the conflict. There are those—I should include myself among them—who would say that that Government, under Museveni, have used the opportunity provided by the fact that people are in the camps to enable them not necessarily to carry out ethnic cleansing but to exert pressure on the Acholi people. That is completely disreputable and unfair and it should be resolved as a matter of urgency. It can be resolved only if the rest of the world puts real pressure on President Museveni. I heard him lecture us on three occasions, both in Uganda and on a visit to this country shortly after we met him in Kampala, and the message that he has got is that the world supports him in trying to bring justice by capturing the LRA. He has been uniquely unsuccessful in what he has done, but a side effect, as the hon. Gentleman said, is that people have been in camps for 20 years, living in the most awful circumstances, which have been getting worse by the year.

I want to finish on a more optimistic note. What struck all of us was the degree of hope among the Acholi people. They do not just speak the language of reconciliation: they genuinely believe in it. They have reassimilated in a most amazing way young people who were abducted by the LRA. What is happening does cause tensions. We met the mother of one of the girls who were and abducted and taken as a bride by Sam Kolo. It is difficult for someone living in the settlement of Gulu who knows that their daughter’s abductor is living in grace and favour accommodation supplied by the Kampala Government and is now being employed as an adviser to President Museveni—I did not know that before the hon. Gentleman said it. Such things push tolerance to the ultimate, yet the Acholi are an amazing people who want peace and forgiveness and are prepared to use the mechanism of reconciliation to bring people back and return them to their society, so that they will have a future along with the people who suffer through remaining in the camps.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister what our policy is now on Uganda—not just northern Uganda. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) was an election monitor in the election that was fought largely between the now re-elected President Museveni and Kizza Besigye. My hon. Friend felt that the election was, on the whole, fair, but that the problem was the lead-up to it. Locking up one’s main opponent is, with the best will in the world, a statement about what one thinks of the electoral possibilities. It certainly held in some contempt those who did not want to vote for
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President Museveni. Of course, if the figures are to be believed, he largely lost the north, Acholi land, where Besigye had his power base. That adds to the feeling that the conflict is very much a regional one, if not a tribal one.

The British Government have an awful lot to do. They must get the international community to remain engaged with the issue. To be fair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, we have stayed engaged with Sudan, and I congratulate the Government wholeheartedly on what we have done in trying to bring peace to Darfur. It is a rocky road that we are walking, but we are trying hard there. Sadly, the United States Assistant Secretary of State has just lost his job—but that is another matter. We have not, perhaps, stayed so engaged with northern Uganda. The international community has certainly not been as engaged as it could have been; if it had been, the tragedy of the past 20 years would not be continuing today.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will hear the plaintive pleas from Labour Members, and I am sure that others will fill him in on the details of our visit and explain what has happened since. Things have to happen. We must deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army, which must be decapitated, in the nicest possible way. We must also make the President of Uganda understand that what he has condoned has gone on for far too long. He must bring the people of northern Uganda back into the wider populace so that the country has a future.

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