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1.40 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made a very interesting and important speech. I think that hon. Members of all parties feel despair about our inability to protect the people of the Congo, and elsewhere. That is especially true of the many of us who have visited the area and seen at first hand the outcome of previous conflicts, which are now flaring up again.

As has been noted, I visited one of the camps near Goma earlier this year. We heard from many women about what had happened to them, and about the mass rape and violence that had taken place. I was particularly struck by the two teenage girls who told me that they were in despair at their inability to get an education because they could not leave the camp for fear of being raped or attacked. Now I am in despair myself, wondering what on earth has happened to those two girls and all the others in the camp. That brings home the fact that we seem to be incapable of making progress in the crisis and of protecting those people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said that yesterday he chaired a meeting of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. It involved women from a number of African countries, and I specifically asked the women who had come over from the Congo what points they would like
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to be made in today’s debate. I wanted to know what help could be given to try and help end the conflict in eastern Congo, and what could be done to stop the horrendous sexual and other violence against women.

On the second issue, I was told very clearly that securing peace was the necessary prerequisite for stopping the sexual violence, which began when the conflict began and which was very closely associated with it. It was said earlier that rape was being used as a weapon of war, and that was brought home to me very clearly, but the women also talked about impunity. They said that people were simply not being brought to justice, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the different Government Departments look seriously at the report prepared by the all-party group on the great lakes with the Swedish Foundation For Human Rights. It deals with the question of how to address impunity for sexual crimes in the DRC, and contains recommendations for the Congolese Government and the international community. Lord Mance from the other place, who is very well respected and knowledgeable about these matters, went to the area on our behalf, and I hope that the Government will take up the report’s recommendations.

In response to my question about how we can end the conflict, the Congolese women not surprisingly spoke about the importance of getting a proper inter-communal dialogue between Tutsis and Hutus. When pressed, they placed the blame on the Rwandan Government, and claimed that the UK Government had links with Rwanda. There is always the feeling that we have favoured Rwanda and that we should put pressure on that Government to meet their responsibilities.

However, I want to emphasise the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North and for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce), as well as by certain Opposition Members, about the need for a political solution that requires action by both Rwanda and the Congolese Government. Both sides need to meet the commitments that they have made and play their part in bringing the conflict to an end.

Although the Congolese women who spoke yesterday about the position in Rwanda and the responsibility of the Rwandan Government did not make any comment about any particular group in the Congo, I was reminded of the strong anti-Tutsi rhetoric that we heard from some Congolese parliamentarians during our visit in April. The Congolese Government have a responsibility to make a statement against such rhetoric, as it clearly does not help matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has spelt out the need for Rwanda to do all that it can to meet its obligations under the agreements. He also mentioned the allegations that have been made about the direct support that that Government have given to Nkunda. The evidence is not entirely clear, but we know that he has been able to recruit in Rwanda. The memorandum that was referred to previously shows how the aid that we give to Rwanda is dependent on that Government meeting their responsibility to seek to limit conflict. If nothing else, they have influence over Nkunda, as it appears that they managed to limit his advance on Goma.

The Rwandan Government also have a responsibility to use political means to get the FDLR forces to end their insurgency. Obviously, they cannot be expected to
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give political space to those who were directly involved in the genocide, but earlier this year we heard about a supposed list of 7,000 people who could not be received back into Rwanda. That needs to be looked at again, as it has been claimed that many of the people on the list were far too young to be involved. Some of the Congolese women at the meeting yesterday said that not all the Hutus were “genocidaires”, and that point needs to be made clear. I hope that the Government use their influence to ensure that all those points are raised in the discussions with Rwanda.

Of course, the Congolese Government also have a huge responsibility to stop using rhetoric against groups in the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk has spoken about the incapacity of the Congolese army, but it has also been suggested that it is connected with various forces.

The Crisis States Research Centre of the London School of Economics has just issued a press release stating that the FDLR remains at the heart of the problem. The release also accuses the international community of failing to take the “bull by the horns”, and discusses how the Kabila Government have an on-off tactical alliance with FDLR elements. It is clear that the Congolese have a huge responsibility to play their part and meet their commitment to go ahead with the agreements and to avoid giving support to any particular faction.

These are horrendously difficult problems, and we have not made a lot of progress with them. When talking about these political issues, it is easy to say that they are about power and how certain forces want to protect what is theirs, but as has been noted it is also very much connected to money—where it comes from and who retains control of resources in the DRC.

As the hon. Member for Banbury said, it is our responsibility to seek to protect and do what we can. It is not for the international community to act as neo-colonisers, and the responsibility for resolving these problems is not ours alone, as the Governments and people in the area also have a huge responsibility in that respect. However, I hope that the Minister winding up the debate will be able to deal with some of the questions that have been raised about what part we can play. We need to help and pressure the Governments in the area to seek an end to the conflict, and also use our influence to get them to act to halt the appalling things that are going on at the moment. People can see them on their TV screens, but those of us who have visited the area have seen them for ourselves. I therefore ask the Minister to deal with some of the questions that have been raised about the political situation, and about the use of sexual violence against women.

1.48 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): It is clear to me that there will be no end to the violence in the eastern Congo until the root causes are addressed. I strongly welcome the high-profile diplomatic stand that the Foreign Secretary has taken, and the humanitarian response made by the Department for International Development, but we will have many more debates like today’s in this House unless the root causes of the problem are addressed.
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There are many root causes, but I want to talk about just two of them—first, the legacy of the Rwandan genocide and, secondly, the exploitation of mineral wealth by belligerents in the conflict and the markets that they find for the minerals with multinational companies.

It is useful to think of the Rwanda genocide as an unfinished war. It is not a separate conflict that is taking place across the border; the conflict is an echo of the genocide. The Hutus across the border include some of the leaders responsible for the genocide. As my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) said, not all Hutus were involved with the genocide, but they have been there a long time now, under the leadership of the FDLR, and they need to be disarmed, immobilised and reintegrated into society. The leaders need to face trial, but others should be resettled back in Rwanda. One understands Rwanda’s reluctance to have them back, but the conflict will not end if the list of 7,000 people not allowed to return to that country remains in existence; if it does, those people will stay across the border as part of insurgent and guerrilla gangs. There will be no long-term solution and peace for Hutus or Tutsis, and no long-term peace in the region.

Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP is, in a way, a response to the failure of the Congolese and Rwandan Governments, and indeed the UN, to disarm, demobilise and resettle the belligerents in the eastern Congo. The situation is a bit like that relating to vigilante bands. Anywhere in the world, if the state with responsibility does not provide security, people take the law into their own hands, and vigilante bands come into being. In a sense, that is what has happened. That is not an excuse or a justification for Laurent Nkunda’s actions, which are illegal. His CNDP also needs to be disarmed and demobilised, and its members resettled.

President Kagame clearly has influence with Laurent Nkunda, and he should use that influence in the most forceful way possible. Our aid agreement with Rwanda is based on a 10-year memorandum of understanding, which commits high volumes of British aid to Rwanda in return for a commitment that Rwanda will support regional peace and stability. We ought to look to President Kagame to honour that as part of our bilateral relationship.

I should like to add a word about what my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley said about violence against women. Rape is a horrendous crime, but it is not just rape that we are talking about. When I was with the International Development Committee in the eastern Congo a couple of years ago, we visited the Panzi hospital. The sort of genital violence that soldiers did to women just defies description, certainly in such a debate. That violence, inflicted on innocent civilians, will continue year after year unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to send a European Union force if necessary. I particularly welcome the official Opposition’s support for that. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), I made that point. It is extremely welcome that the Conservative party has signalled support for an EU force, if it is necessary. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that it would be far preferable to provide the security that is needed through the force of the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey)
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told us, Alan Doss requested additional troops in October. I do not think that the UK is in a position to provide those troops, but we are in a position to fund the provision of those troops.

The UK should also look at what technical assistance we could provide. When I met MONUC commanders and soldiers during my visit to the eastern Congo, it was clear to me that it is a basic, boots-on-the-ground army; it does not have the sophisticated command and control and intelligence systems that a western army has. Help could be provided by the UK and other European countries in that regard. I should also like more UK support for civilian posts in MONUC. It has many vacant posts, and there is more that we could do to provide the civilian support that it needs.

Finally, as others have said, the Congo’s natural resources have been plundered by despots over decades. That is a principal cause of this resource-rich country’s poverty and instability. The trade in conflict diamonds has been curbed significantly by the Kimberley process, but less has been done on the exploitation of other minerals. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responds to the debate, I ask him to tell us more about what the Government can do, by using the extractive industries transparency initiative, and by toughening up the OECD guidelines mechanism, to stop the purchase of minerals from the Congo continuing to fuel the conflict.

1.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I think that all Members would agree that today’s debate is welcome and timely. Sadly, the circumstances that have led to this debate are not. The fighting in the past few weeks has once again brought the world’s attention to one of the most intractable conflicts in Africa, and highlighted the human cost. What happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo matters not only because its 60 million people deserve peace and a better future, but because that vast country with nine neighbours is vital to the stability of the whole of central Africa. The DRC is one of the frontiers of development, where the battle to achieve the millennium development goals will be won or lost. At least 75 per cent. of the DRC’s population lives in extreme poverty by the $1-a-day standard. Fewer than half of the DRC’s children finish primary school. As many as 1.6 million people are displaced from their homes, more than 900,000 of them in north Kivu alone.

That is not what the people of the country want. The successful elections in 2006 were a clear demonstration of the people’s desire for peace, and of their expectations for change. That pressure is, in itself, important. The situation in the past few weeks and months in the Kivus are a betrayal of what the people of that country truly desire. We have played a leading role in the international political and humanitarian response. Even before the crisis, the UK provided £30 million to the humanitarian pooled fund for priority responses by non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, plus £7 million to the Red Cross and other NGOs.

We have moved quickly to increase our response. We have provided an additional £5 million, which the Secretary of State for International Development announced only last week. Some of these funds have already been used
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to support UNICEF, whose stocks are low. Two aid flights from the UK have arrived in Entebbe today, carrying plastic sheeting, 18,000 blankets, 24,000 buckets and 1 million water purification tablets. We are arranging for those essential items to be transported as quickly as possible to Goma. I would like to put it on record that we need to look at the situation at Goma airport, which is a long-standing concern. It is also important to say that today we approved £2 million for the World Food Programme to meet immediate food needs.

I do not have very much time to respond to the sensible points that have been made, but let me quickly say, on MONUC, that there is to be an urgent review by the UN, and there will be a report to the Security Council very soon on the request for additional forces. At this stage, no EU country has made any request for an EU force to be sent—there was a discussion about that on Monday—so perhaps there has been some misunderstanding in this debate.

I echo the points made by hon. Members about a political solution: in the end, there has to be such a solution. At the conference tomorrow, it is extremely important that there be appropriate, responsible and urgent engagement by both the Congolese and Rwandan Governments on fulfilling their responsibilities in that respect. My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown will be there, and will play an active role in the discussions. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will welcome the proactive contribution that our Foreign Secretary has made. He went with the French Foreign Minister to the affected area as a matter of urgency, to see what we could do.

I share hon. Members’ concerns about the exploitation of mineral resources. We need to do more on that issue, and I shall certainly look at what more we can do.

On the question of violence against women, it is important to note that this year the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, led a debate about UN Security Council resolution 1820 on women, peace and security, in which she focused on the responsibility to protect—a point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry).

The message from this House is that there is complete unity. We want the Governments in the region to fulfil their responsibilities and we want an immediate cessation of violence so that we can get the humanitarian aid to where it needs to go and begin a longer-term process of peace and stability in the area.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The humanitarian aid that the Minister has announced and consolidated today is highly welcome, but does he agree that it has to be backed up by a political process? If the political process does not move forward, will he and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office work very closely with the new American Administration, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) said, by passing the Act in 2006, President-elect Obama has already shown his commitment to progress towards a solution in the DRC?

Mr. Lewis: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) made a similar point. With the election of President Obama this week, there is a major opportunity not only for serious and proactive engagement on this
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issue, but in terms of our responsibilities to the developing world more generally. A new American Administration give us new opportunities in the US’s potential leadership role with regard to the developing world, so it is important that, at the earliest stage, we begin discussions with the incoming Administration. We obviously want to form relationships with the people who will play key leadership roles in President-elect Obama’s Government, and we intend to begin those discussions as quickly as possible.

Hon. Members will agree that, first, however, we must make it clear to all parties that there can be no excuses—no obstacles to humanitarian aid reaching the people who need it. We want an immediate cessation of violence, and we want Governments who have the capacity to influence that cessation to use every means available to do so. Having achieved that, we must get to work on a long-term political settlement. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) said, we could then come to this House to debate not the flaring-up of violence, but a long-term settlement that is in the interests of that country.

Question put and agreed to.


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Fighting Crime (Public Engagement)

2.3 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,

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