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1.14 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce), not just for sharing his knowledge with us today but for the work that he does on the all-party parliamentary group. I share many of his concerns, and I hope that the Minister will take particular note of his comments. He, like the Minister, is right to say that ultimately, we need a political solution. It is a shared position on both sides of the House that, frankly, we do not believe that the British armed forces have the capacity—at least in the immediate future—to contribute in large number to any extra troops that go to eastern Congo.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that MONUC needs some reinforcement. In our view, it was impossible for it to do the job asked of it prior to the current crisis—let alone in the light of the current crisis around Goma—without reinforcements. I think that he and I agree that the Government need to go a little further on this. It is not credible to argue that the objectives of defending Goma, maintaining the immediate ceasefire—such as it is—and disarming the Hutu militia in the medium term can be met without MONUC’s being reinforced. I do not accept that we can deal with this just by redeploying the existing MONUC forces.

The Minister keeps saying that this is the largest UN deployment across the world, but Congo is the size of western Europe. He may say that most of the problem is in the Kivu region, but as the hon. Member for Falkirk reminded us, MONUC is having to deploy in a whole range of different areas in Congo—in the Ituru and in north DRC. So MONUC is really stretched, and I do not accept the Government’s position that this can be dealt with simply by redeployment; there needs to be extra capacity. That is what Alan Doss believes and what the UN’s own peacekeeper office has argued for.

The possibility of an EU force has been discussed in this House and elsewhere, and like the hon. Member for Falkirk, I am concerned that it is the British Government who have been talking that possibility down. It has been suggested that President Sarkozy and others in the EU have been keen to see this force, but it is the Brits who have been talking it off the table. I hope that that is not so, and that the Minister who replies will answer that point. What have the British Government been doing about the EU proposal, and why are they not championing that idea to ensure that our European partners provide some troops in this crisis when they are needed?

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he is suggesting that an EU force replace the UN force, or that it be part of and supportive of a UN command in Congo?

Mr. Davey: I think that it would have to work with the UN force. Ideally, I would like MONUC to be reinforced and to have an EU force. An EU force of 1,500 troops has been mentioned; however, in 2003, under Operation Artemis, an EU force was very successful,
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having been deployed for only two months, in bringing to an end a vicious conflict. The quality and standard of EU forces is therefore significantly higher than that of the MONUC forces, and a short intervention could be very useful in backing up what MONUC has been trying to do.

However, it is a question not simply of the number of troops, but of their mandate, as the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) discussed. There is some concern that MONUC’s mandate is a little too restrictive, in the sense that it has to work with the Congolese army. One can understand the politics of why that is so, but as has been said, the Congolese army has proved ineffective and in some cases has actually undermined some of the work taking place. Its troops have been committing human rights abuses. The need for the mandate to be clarified, so that MONUC can operate independently of the Congolese army, is increasingly important.

The peace process is obviously critical, and I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary for the work that he has done there. My concern regarding President Kabila is whether the international community is giving sufficient support to the necessary rebuilding of the Congolese army, and whether we are trying to persuade him to talk to General Nkunda. That might seem counter-intuitive to many in this House and elsewhere, but unless Nkunda is brought into the process, peace will not come as quickly as it needs to. The Minister talked in his opening remarks about involving Nkunda, but not in terms of direct talks with the Congolese Government, which are what Nkunda is seeking. Perhaps the Minister who responds to the debate can say whether we are trying to bring that about.

Finally, I want to revert to the points that I made during the urgent question asked earlier this week about the importance of the economic dimension. When I challenged the Minister about this last Tuesday, he talked about the importance of the extractive industry’s transparency initiative, which is of course very important. But the truth is that very few British or western companies have been brought to book for the way in which they are, directly or indirectly, fuelling this conflict. It is good that DAS Air and Afrimex were found to be in breach of OECD guidelines this summer, but what actually happened to them? Very little happened to them. Companies from the US, Canada, Germany and Austria are not being brought to book. It is time that the illegal mineral trade, which is fuelling this conflict, was clamped down on and that some of these electronic consumer goods firms, which benefit from the minerals sourced from this region, were held to account. They need to be asked to explain their sourcing policies and procedures. I am sure that our constituents would think it wrong if their buying electronic consumer goods—mobile phones, computers and so on—helped to fuel the death and destruction of people in eastern Congo. They would not expect to be doing that, and I want the Minister to tell us what this Government are doing to prevent such a situation from occurring.

1.20 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I wish to put on record my thanks to the Leader of the House for choosing this subject for a topical debate—it is very important that we have this debate. Obviously, I have to keep within the 10-minute time limit, so I shall be as quick as I can.

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The history of the Congo is one of the mad grab of its mineral-rich resources by generations of, mainly European, traders and mining companies, stretching right back to the 19th century, when it was King Leopold’s personal fiefdom, through to the period when it was the Belgian Congo. Independence subsequently came, and with it the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. After that came a series of dictatorships, and the rape of the Congo continued, with the theft of resources and the destruction of so many people’s lives.

Many such people have made their homes in this country having sought exile from those conflicts. I echo the point made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about the need to have some regard, understanding and respect for the position that Congolese asylum seekers face in this country. We should not be sending back to the Congo people who will, unfortunately, face enormous danger when they return. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that.

A couple of days ago, a meeting of the Congolese diaspora was held upstairs in one of the Committee Rooms, and yesterday, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom held an interesting meeting in Committee Room 10 on the “Voices of African Women”. The women involved had suffered because of what is going on in the Congo at the present time. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) and for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), I was in Goma earlier this year and I was an election observer two years ago. During that election, there was a sense of hope and a feeling that the huge international investment that had been put into the electoral process would bring about some degree of political stability, the building of state institutions and some degree of long-term peace. Unfortunately, that has simply not happened in the case of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The combination of the poverty of people in a mineral-rich area, the rape of women as a weapon of war by the various militia groups and, I am sorry to say, by the Congolese army, and the fear with which many people live is desperate to see. Indeed, the refugee camp that the three of us visited in April was overrun and burnt down only last week. The people we met there, 90 per cent. of whom were women trying to eke out an existence, have now fled to goodness knows where. They lack any food, clean water and medical supplies, and everything else, and are in a desperate situation.

I want to draw two factors to the House’s attention, the first of which is the role played by minerals and the second of which is the politics of the region. The DRC is a very mineral-rich place: it has massive forestry reserves, and one hopes that the majority of those will be permanently protected; and it has almost every mineral that the world needs. At the moment, the world needs coltan, tin, copper, gold, diamonds and all kinds of minerals, and the DRC is rich in those. It is cursed with the riches of its minerals; the benefits of all those riches have not gone to the poorest people in that country—indeed, there should not be any poor people in the DRC. I do not blame people for buying mobile phones—everybody in this House has a mobile phone; the whole world is buying mobile phones. Coltan is an essential part of their manufacture, but we need to deal with some issues: the methods that are used to extract the coltan; the system that is used to export it; and the money made by
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mining companies, metal dealers and others, none of which reaches the poorest people in the region. I have received many witness statements of what is going on in the DRC at the present time.

The issues of mineral extraction and the extractive industries transparency agreement are very important—that agreement has simply not been followed by the Congolese Government. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that elements of the Congolese army are controlling individual mines, as are other militia forces. The funding of the arms purchases—the funding of what goes on—comes directly from the extraction of minerals. Thus, in addition to the political work being done to try to bring about a settlement, tough questions need to be asked of every one of the big mining companies that end up processing some of the minerals that are extracted from the DRC, because, wittingly or unwittingly, those companies are fuelling the killing of millions of people. I use my words advisedly, because 5 million people have died in the DRC in the past 10 years as a result of this conflict, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and the capital city, Kinshasa, is overrun by refugees from the war in the east of the country.

My second point concerns the relationship with Rwanda. That country went through the horrors of genocide, and nobody can ever understate or underestimate its effects and horrors. Those of us who have been to Rwanda, seen the museum of the genocide and talked to people who went through it can only throw our hands up in horror at the things that happened to the people there. That is not to say that the Rwandan Government should not behave in a responsible way within the region.

I am holding a copy of the 2004 memorandum of understanding on the development partnership between the Government of the UK and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda. Article 11, to which the Rwandan Government signed up, states that they will

The Rwandan Government are receiving a huge amount of British aid; probably 40 to 50 per cent. of all Rwandan public expenditure comes from British taxpayers in one form or another. Therefore, the Rwandan Government need to be very open about the relationship between Rwanda and Nkunda and his forces within the region, and about the porous border that exists between both countries, which results not only in arms going through, but in large amounts of illicitly mined minerals getting out of the DRC.

In addition, a joint communiqué was agreed between the DRC and the Republic of Rwanda, clause 10 of which states:

It goes on to say that information should be shared with the DRC and United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Hon. Members have rightly raised the question of what happens to the MONUC forces at the present time. I have met many of the people, from different parts, who work within them. One such group came from Uruguay, but people from India and many other countries are working within those forces. We witnessed them working extremely well during a humanitarian crisis when a plane crashed at Goma airport. I am not in favour of sending another military force in under a separate command or separate relationship, because that is a recipe for chaos, rivalry and, probably, disaster. If MONUC requires more logistical support or more people on the ground to enforce peace, it should clearly get that support and the necessary aid that it requires. Rather than playing at being armchair generals, I ask the House to think of two things. People are now starving in the eastern DRC. Children are dying for lack of medicines. It is a humanitarian crisis; and we have a responsibility to provide all the aid, support and help that we can.

A military solution in DRC is not possible; the solution must be political. I am pleased that Lord Malloch-Brown is attending the conference taking place in Nairobi this weekend to try to promote a political dialogue between DRC and Rwanda and to encourage political developments in eastern Congo. So far, politics have failed and business has made a great deal of money while ordinary people have been dying. We must provide support, bring about a ceasefire and peace and, above all, promote a political settlement so that independence for Congo can become a reality, and people can live in a safe and secure environment and benefit from the natural riches of their own land.

1.30 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): No hon. Member would dissent from the assertion of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), the Minister and others that Congo needs a political solution. Neither would anyone dissent from the assertion that it is difficult for us to describe the scale of the individual tragedy—of families, women and children, many of whom have been forced to move many times, each time losing more of their possessions and becoming more destitute, thereby making their lives much more difficult. We all hope that a political solution can be found.

I shall focus the House’s attention on the issue that I raised during the urgent question earlier this week. During the 1990s and the early part of the new millennium, the international community became increasingly enthusiastic about promulgating the concept of the responsibility to protect. We had seen the horrors of the Rwandan genocide and we had seen Kosovo, where the United Nations had failed to act—Kosovo was dealt with by a coalition of the willing. As we entered the new millennium, there was a desire that we should never find ourselves in such a position again. That was described well by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, at the 2001 Labour party conference, when he said that if Rwanda happened again we would not walk away as the outside world had done many times before. He insisted that the international community had a “moral duty” to provide military and humanitarian assistance to Africa whenever it was needed.

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In the same year, Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the UN, said in his Nobel lecture:

That led, in 2005, to the UN adopting a long resolution containing provisions on the “Responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. It makes it clear that:

In January, the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, made himself clear:

In reality, however, the international community no longer appears able to deliver on the responsibility to protect.

I shall focus on four countries: Sierra Leone, Sudan, Congo and Zimbabwe. In Sierra Leone, the international community intervened very effectively. Led by UK troops, it took on the west side boys and restored peace to Freetown, and thus to Sierra Leone. That was followed by a very successful UN international war crimes tribunal, which for the first time established that enlisting child soldiers is a war crime and that a Head of State has no sovereign immunity from charges of war crimes. Charles Taylor is now in The Hague being tried for war crimes in Sierra Leone. That intervention was fantastically successful. However, that was partly because Sierra Leone is comparatively small and because the UK had the lift capacity and ability to enforce its military will.

By the time we got to Darfur, however, countries with a sizeable lift capacity—in particular, the United Kingdom and the United States—were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there just were not the countries with the kind of military lift capacity needed to enter Darfur. So we had a kind of dance where, first, the African Union said that it would take a lead. It was clear to those of us on the International Development Committee who went to Darfur that the AU was doing the best it could with scant resources, but that it was totally incapable of doing anything other than monitor the situation. Then it was decided to have a hybrid institution of AU and UN troops, but that has not managed to do much more because, again, there are no players with the kind of lift capacity and military co-ordination able to enforce their will in Darfur.

That has come through in this debate. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) rationally said that if rebel forces really wanted to penetrate Goma, we would require a large number of troops on the ground to prevent it from happening. Anyone with any military experience realises that. However, we must also acknowledge that the Secretary-General is not able to call upon the necessary forces. To those of us who took part in the Westminster Hall debate on Afghanistan the other day, it was quite clear that much of NATO’s commitment for the foreseeable future will be tied up in Afghanistan. Indeed, if anything, before enjoining the European
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Union to get more involved in other areas, we should enjoin EU and NATO colleagues to participate more in the UN peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

The UN and the international community need to give serious consideration to how the Secretary-General can access the sort of military capacity needed on such occasions to ensure that the words “responsibility to protect” are not empty or meaningless again. That will require countries outside the EU to make a much greater contribution. After all, a number of members, even in the Security Council, make no significant contribution to peacekeeping or peace-enforcing anywhere in the world. The responsibility to protect cannot be supported only by a coalition of the willing—it is far too important. If we say that there is a responsibility to protect, and if we give the impression that the international community will come to the rescue of those suffering terribly from humanitarian and war crimes, but we do not deliver, we will be betraying those people.

In Congo and elsewhere, we must ensure that the international community and the Secretary-General have the capacity to deliver on the responsibility to protect. We all hope and pray that a political solution will be found to Congo’s immediate problems. However, with the major military world players, such as the UK and the US—with all their lift capacity—occupied in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the resources available to the Secretary-General are pretty thin. We have to face up to that, and to the reality that we will need competent and co-ordinated military feet on the ground to protect civilian populations. At the moment, we are not delivering even in Darfur, so we may well be misleading ourselves if we pretend that we can deliver in other areas.

I hope that Ministers will reflect, with colleagues in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, on how we can deliver on the promise that is the responsibility to protect.

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