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20 Jun 2006 : Column 401WH—continued

I draw that to the attention of the House because we all agree that defeating the LRA is of prime importance if the situation is to be resolved. However, we must be cautious about putting too much faith in an army with such characteristics. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on whether the United Kingdom could offer practical assistance to Ugandans on making the army and its military capacity more effective. If we want the arrest of the principal leaders of the LRA but do not want directly to intervene in military terms—I think that most people would concur with both those aims—it is in our interest to ensure that the Ugandan army operates effectively, and is not subject to the abuses that were touched on by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds).

Secondly, I should be interested to know the Minister’s thoughts on working with NGOs. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East touched on the point. What useful co-operation and co-ordination do the United Kingdom Government have with NGOs in the area, what do we learn from them, and how does that inform our policy? Also, how can they help us practically to implement our policies on the ground?

Thirdly, I have concerns about remarks that have been made in the debate about trade and aid. It seems eminently reasonable to say that aid should be linked to a set of clear objectives. After all, the money concerned has been raised from the British taxpayer; it is only reasonable that there should be accountability in all allocation and spending of money raised by the British Government. However—this is another point on which the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness touched—it is not always as straightforward as that, partly because of the danger of creating dependency on the part of the recipient country. It seems strange to urge systems of democracy on to countries and then to be very prescriptive about what may be done by the democratically elected politicians, who may even, during the election campaign, have claimed to want to do the opposite. There is an inevitable conflict in policy in that respect.

Another danger concerns what should be done if the recipient country does not carry out our wishes as accurately or diligently as we should want. The danger in punishing that by withdrawing the aid is that many of the people who are suffering the most, and for whom the aid was originally intended, no longer get whatever was coming their way, albeit inadequately, before. There are problems with that approach, and it is
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not a straightforward matter of creating an absolute link, although that might be desirable in an ideal world.

I should be interested in the Minister’s thoughts on how better to provide assistance through aid, particularly in the light of earlier comments in the debate about the circumstances in which people are living in the camps of northern Uganda. If there was ever a case for our using aid for humanitarian relief, this is it. No doubt hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the fact that the British Government have identified the part of the world that we are discussing as a financial priority, and are acting accordingly.

I have two other points to make. One is about good governance and elections. MPs of all parties always welcome elections as a good thing per se; that is taken as a statement of the obvious. I concur with that, and want people around the world to live in freedom, whether that means freedom of speech, free elections under the rule of law or any of the other characteristics that one would associate with a liberal society. However, I have one cautionary note to sound. We in this House are often guilty of the mistake of thinking that if something looks like a system that we are familiar with in western Europe we are 90 per cent. of the way down the road. Living in a liberal, free, open and democratic society is more complicated than holding periodic elections.

There is a need for properly developed political parties representing coherent ideological strands, so that people have proper choices and are not just voting for someone of the same ethnicity, tribe or geographic region. There must be some sense of accountability for the decisions that are made. People need to succeed electorally if they are to succeed politically, and, conversely, bad politicians need to be seen by the public to lose office if they make mistakes. Many of the processes that underpin democracy take time to establish; they are by their nature rather laborious to set up. One of the ways in which this country could most effectively support parts of the world that do not enjoy a tradition of democracy is to try to assist those mechanical processes. For instance, all political parties in this House send people to other parts of the world to provide advice and thoughts on campaigning and drawing up manifestos. Those features of democracy are important.

I am dwelling on that point at some length because an ongoing, stable and democratic settlement in Uganda is in everybody’s interest. Interestingly, opinions have varied during this debate. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East expressed scepticism about how effective the elections were, whereas others have been complimentary about that process in Uganda as a whole. However, I think that we can all agree that it is in Uganda’s interest for that process to be embedded and strengthened. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts.

Finally, because we are the United Kingdom Parliament, we regularly hold debates about areas in the world suffering from particularly unfortunate circumstances. Inevitably, those debates conclude with the Minister being pressed to do more on behalf of the British Government to try to improve the circumstances of the people in the relevant part of the world.

I gave that background because I would be interested to hear the Minister say what other countries, such as other European Union countries, are doing to alleviate the problems and suffering in northern Uganda. I
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would be interested also to hear what the African Union is doing because although we can provide expertise, military advice and financial aid, and can support democracy, open up our markets and be a good world citizen, a lot of the solutions to Africa’s problems require leadership from politicians and leaders in other African countries, particularly the more prosperous and settled ones. If we intervene constantly in every area of the world where there is suffering and conflict, although our intentions would be good and we might make some progress, we will not always be as effective as we might be if we were to enable or encourage those closer to a given problem to participate actively themselves.

In conclusion, I wish the Government well. I am delighted that the matter has been brought to the attention of the House. I congratulate everybody who attended the all-party trip and who added greatly to the content of today’s debate. I hope that the Minister will bring pressure to bear and work effectively on behalf of the British Government to improve the situation in Uganda and to encourage those in other European countries and, most importantly, African countries to play their part in concluding what has been a grisly period in world politics.

12.3 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): You have become transmogrified, Mr. Bercow, in the course of the debate, and it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) obviously has huge expertise having spent quite a lot of time in Uganda, and I congratulate him on bringing the debate before the Chamber; the conflict is one of the world’s forgotten problems, as we have heard this morning. Certainly, it deserves a full airing in this House because of the suffering of the people involved.

I congratulate all those who have spoken in the debate: the hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew)—he went on the visit to Uganda—and for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds). I apologise to my hon. Friend because in a sense he is a displaced person. He turned up to speak from the Front Bench with his Department for International Development hat on, and I with my Foreign Office hat on. On this occasion, the Foreign Office won out over DFID. Perhaps DFID has the money, but the Foreign Office the policies—I do not know.

Dr. Howells: Sounds about right.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Perhaps that is the problem.

This 20-year conflict continues to victimise the population in northern Uganda. The activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army—its acts of torture, mutilation and sexual abuse and its abductions of thousands of children, forcing them to serve as soldiers—have been well aired in the debate. That rebel paramilitary group has killed tens of thousands of people in the past two decades and displaced 1.7 million men, women and children. As has been mentioned, there is also the dreadful situation of the child night commuters, who
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desperately walk many miles to the nearest city to avoid being abducted only to sleep on a concrete floor and to be in fear of their lives there as well.

The LRA rebels claim that they are fighting for the establishment of a Government based on the biblical ten commandments, which seems to me utterly incongruous, given their activities. They have no clear political motives and they are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters.

More than 500,000 people in Uganda’s Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and live in temporary but now almost permanent camps protected by the army. Overcrowding and poor sanitation have rendered them vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, including cholera. The establishment by the Ugandan Government in February 2005 of a national policy for displaced persons, which is said to be based on international humanitarian law, human rights instruments and national laws, is a policy aiming in the right direction, yet its results remain to be seen.

Disturbingly, the LRA has seen a period of growth in the last year and has extended its operations to daylight hours, contrary to its earlier practice. It has continued to use road ambushes to attack civilians. As has been mentioned often during the debate, the issuing of arrest warrants for five LRA leaders last year by the International Criminal Court should be applauded. However, for that action to have any effect—for those monsters to be brought to justice—there must be co-operation between Uganda and the neighbouring Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, crucially, Sudan, from where the LRA operates. The allegations against the five indicted rebels are truly staggering. Joseph Kony alone is to be tried on 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, intentionally directing an attack against civilian populations and forced enlisting of children.

The Government of Uganda are heavily resistant to this matter being brought before the Security Council, but they must allow the Security Council and the United Nations as a whole to help. The President must admit the reality of the situation. The LRA has not been driven from the north of Uganda or, indeed, from southern Sudan. Not only are the people of northern Uganda at risk from the LRA, but the tenuous security provided by the Ugandan army gives scant comfort to those in the displaced people’s camps.

I have a letter from the former Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House, to Ms Barbara Stocking, the director of Oxfam GB, which I believe could form a useful basis for the debate. I should like to quote one or two points from the letter and ask the Minister how he is progressing with implementation of them. The former Foreign Secretary said:

The right hon. Gentleman and other senior members of the Government have made many visits, notably to Sudan. What representations have been made to neighbouring countries to ensure that the people who have been indicted by the ICC are dealt with?

The letter continues:

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What representations has the Minister made to the Ugandan Government? It seems from many accounts that President Museveni believes that there is a military solution, but as we know from long years of having to battle with the IRA, any guerrilla-type situation can be resolved ultimately only through a political settlement.

Dr. Howells: It was not clear to me whether the hon. Gentleman was saying that the likes of Kony and Otti will give themselves up voluntarily or whether he believes that there should be a military campaign to bring those people to justice as well as an attempt to bring people out of the bush under some kind of amnesty.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Perhaps my remarks were not as clear as they might have been. I had moved on from the situation of Kony and the other indicted people. Whatever action needs to be taken to arrest them should be taken, and it may require the assistance of the Ugandan Army or the Sudanese authorities. I do not know what needs to be done, but they must be brought to justice.

I was quoting from the letter of the former Foreign Secretary and wanted to discuss whether there can be a military solution to the problem of the LRA or whether eventually there must be a political solution. It seems from some accounts that President Museveni thinks that there will be a purely military solution to the problems in northern Uganda. I believe that that is unlikely, and I wonder what representations have been made to him by the Foreign Office to impress it on him that there must also be a political solution and that the five rebels must be dealt with in the ICC.

President Museveni seems to be reluctant to have the matter brought before the Security Council. The former Foreign Secretary’s letter states:

Has the Minister had any further thoughts on how the matter could be followed up?

The letter goes on to state:

which I believe was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness—

Has the Minister had any further reports on the matter? The systematic forcing of children to serve in the LRA is one of the worst aspects of the dispute.

What can the Government of Uganda do? I have already said that they should allow the matter to go
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before the Security Council, but they also should reform their army as an example to those who they are charged to protect. The Foreign Office report on human rights states that soldiers and officers of the Ugandan army, which is deployed in or near every displaced persons’ camp in northern Uganda, were engaged in human rights abuses throughout 2005, and beating, raping and even killing civilians with nearly total impunity. What representations has the Minister made to President Museveni and the Ugandan Government on that matter?

The Ugandan Government must provide protection for the staff of NGOs, who are charged with looking after the most vulnerable people in that country. The LRA has attacked NGO staff in conflict-affected areas, thereby making humanitarian access hazardous, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend.

President Museveni’s period in office has been marked by a substantial rise in the living standards of most Ugandans, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) and others, and we welcome the return to the democratic process. However, if he is to achieve peace during his time in office, he must not involve himself in the political wranglings of other states. The Minister and I were present at a debate in this Chamber some weeks ago on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we discussed how Uganda and other countries were plundering the mineral reserves of DRC. There is no doubt that President Museveni has personally benefited from some of those mineral resources while at the same time intervening in the affairs of DRC. That is not acceptable. Again, what representation have the British Government made in that respect?

Equally, President Museveni must organise a transparent and expeditious trial of the main Opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye. That might not strictly fall within the terms of the debate, but if Uganda is to demonstrate to the world its democratic credentials and the fact that it can run a proper democratic country, the least it can do is to operate a system of open and transparent justice so that the world can see what is going on.

The neighbouring countries, particularly Sudan, must not keep interfering in Ugandan affairs. Mention has been made this morning of the meeting of Mr. Kony and Mr. Otti in Juba. That meeting was staggering. It was openly reported, as the hon. Member for Stroud has said, and a degree of safety must have been given to both the participants, because otherwise they could not have been there. It is even more staggering, when the LRA is reported as having committed atrocities against the population of southern Sudan, that Mr. Kony should be given $20,000 to help continue his acts of atrocity. We need to see how the world can deal with that situation.

In conclusion, what can the UK do? We have great influence in the African Union, the European Union and the Security Council of the UN. We could do more. The Minister must tell us what he can do in those forums to ensure that one of the world’s most dreadful conflicts and abuses against humanity, particularly against children, is brought to an end.

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