Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Laurent Nkunda, whose spokesman last Friday said that the UN decision was,

a couple of days later did a U-turn and said that the CNDP would not accept outsiders coming to Goma to provide security. He wants the UN’s special envoy, former President Obasanjo of Nigeria, to promote negotiations between the Government and the CNDP to deal with what he sees as key issues, such as the failure to disarm and demobilise the remnants of the Rwandan Hutu genocidalists in South Kivu, a point mentioned by the Minister in his speech. The point is that there was a plan to do that but not the political will to execute it, even before the disintegration of the national army deprived Kinshasa of the means.

Is there now some hope of rehabilitating some of the units of the national army, with the UN calling for, among other resources, 200 additional military training instructors? Even where the remnants of the FARDC have managed to fend off CNDP attacks at Kanyabayonga, 175 kilometres north of Goma, a week ago, it is a mixed blessing for the inhabitants; as the Minister has said, there are reports of atrocities by

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1458

the national army, with the UN force commander saying that government troops, in this case, were looting the town. It would be good to know if the military instructors who are part of this UN resource will be given an active role in promoting better discipline within the armed forces.

Oxfam was supplying water to the 20,000 inhabitants of Kanyabayonga as of a couple of weeks ago, and it would be useful if the Minister could give us an update on access to the town and to other conflict-threatened centres of population for the humanitarian agencies. I join him in the tribute he has paid to the many agencies that are still operating in the region, even under considerable threat to their own security. UNICEF says that 85 per cent of the schools in the territory controlled by the CNDP remain closed to around 150,000 students in spite of promises that they would be allowed to reopen, and we join it in calling for all children to be able to resume their studies and to be protected from abuse, exploitation and violence, particularly from recruitment into the militias, as the Minister mentioned.

Olusegun Obasanjo has been successful in negotiating humanitarian access to the area controlled by General Nkunda, but does his mandate allow him to report back on the goals of the rebels so that the UN can gauge the possibility of a negotiated solution to end the fighting and allow the CNDP to pursue its aims by political means? With the increase in the size of MONUC, Nkunda must realise that he is not going to be able to drive the UN out and so become the de facto ruler of the eastern DRC as a whole—if that indeed were his ultimate objective.

On the other hand, President Kabila’s options are limited too. He has no control over the territory of North Kivu beyond Goma and the area surrounding it, from which Nkunda’s forces withdrew voluntarily, and he has no military capacity anywhere in the eastern DRC that would allow that territory to be reoccupied. His spokesman reiterated yesterday that he is prepared to talk to Nkunda only within the framework of the January peace agreements, which have already collapsed. Is that not unrealistic? If so, do the Government not think that all parties to the agreements should come together again under UN auspices to see whether it could be amended or replaced by a new, more robust settlement? Does Mr Obasanjo need to be given a more precise remit to arrange such a meeting? Can we get the EU to persuade President Kabila that he has to be more flexible and not to insist on the letter of the Goma and Nairobi peace agreements? As the Minister has implied, the dialogue has to involve Kigali because, as everyone knows, Nkunda gets his marching orders and his military support from there.

At the time, most observers warned that the Goma accord was a truce rather than a permanent deal, yet in the months that elapsed between the end of January and the resumption of fighting the international community made no collective effort to address its deficiencies that had been identified at the time. There is a lesson here for the UN too: it must actively address the underlying causes of a conflict that has led to a peacekeeping mission.

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1459

In the debate in another place a couple of weeks ago, there was general agreement with the proposition that violence in eastern DRC would not end until the root causes were addressed. In addition to the legacy of the Rwandan genocide, my honourable friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton raised the competition for mineral resources. Previously he had been given the brush-off with a reference to the EITI, a useful initiative, but not fully effective in the context of the DRC because of the premature disbandment of the UN Expert Panel, which had been gathering the evidence. It had produced a list of companies operating or trading in minerals from the region, but no action has been taken to halt these activities, which help to fund the conflicts. Have we checked on A&M Minerals, listed by the UN Expert Panel? What action has been taken by the NCP following her statement in July on DAS Air, and why was no mention made of the other three UK-based companies cited by the Expert Panel—De Beers, Oryx Natural Resources and Avient? Are we making any further inquiries about Alfred Knight, the assayer who told the International Development Committee in 2007 that he was not doing work on a mine in North Kivu? What has happened following the DRC’s interministerial commission, set up in April 2007 to re-examine mining contracts signed before 2003?

There were several mentions in another place of the appalling epidemic of violence against women in eastern DRC, referred to by the Minister, and on which the UN rapporteur, Yakin Ert√1/4rk, reported following a visit in July last year. She found that more than half of the acts of sexual violence were committed by state security forces, but in South Kivu the FDLR and its offshoots were the major culprits. Since then, matters have got even worse. The noble Lord referred to the report this week from Human Rights Watch. That allegation goes for the numbers of offences as well as the scale of the atrocities.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, says that the Hutu militias are the most vicious of the lot. Sexual violence has reached levels that exceed even the experience of the Rwandan genocide. What is MONUC doing specifically to protect women or to organise community self-defence against the rape gangs?

I have exceeded my time but should like to ask two final questions. Have there been any offers to meet the specific needs itemised by the UN, particularly the 18 utility helicopters, with the personnel to operate them? Can the Minister say anything more about the timetable for getting these assets into the field?

4.17 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for making possible this debate, for his useful contribution in opening it and for all the work that he has done in recent weeks to deal with this pretty terrible situation. Surely no country in the world epitomises more accurately the old Irish adage “Well, I wouldn’t start from here” than does the Congo. A brutal and rapacious colonial regime was rapidly followed after independence by a civil war in which the

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1460

Congo became a pawn to Cold War rivalries. That war was followed by a long period of autocratic kleptocracy, and then another civil war, in which many of the country’s neighbours joined.

Two years ago, democratic elections under UN auspices held out some prospect of a better future, but now the country is again teetering on the brink of an all-out civil war in which its neighbours get involved. This truly appalling sequence has brought massive suffering and loss of life to the population, and while some responsibility for this miserable state of affairs can be laid at the door of the Congolese themselves, the greater part of their troubles has invariably come from outside the country, fuelled by a desire to get control of its valuable mineral resources.

In speaking in this debate, I should declare a non-pecuniary interest as chair of the board of the United Nations Association of the UK. The UN has had a long, and by no means entirely happy, involvement in the Congo. Embroiled in the civil war that followed independence, in what turned out to be a military enforcement capacity for which it was ill suited, it extricated itself, having preserved the unity of the country, but at the cost of the life of arguably its greatest Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskj√∂ld. In recent times, it has been at the heart of international efforts to remedy the state failure which followed the departure of President Mobutu. As the Minister said, with 17,000 peacekeepers on the ground and a major civilian contingent, this is the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation. As recent events around Goma have shown, it is not going well. We need to ask why, and not just to throw brickbats at the UN. We need also to ask what Britain, a major player at the UN, can do to help remedy the situation, not just give a weary shrug of our shoulders and turn away.

So far as the military aspects of the peacekeeping operation are concerned, it surely cannot make sense to have spread the 17,000 peacekeepers all over that vast country and to have made no provision for a rapid-reaction capability within the force to cope with any emergency such as that which has occurred in the north-east of the country. The decision by the Security Council just before last weekend to increase the force by 3,000 is obviously a step in the right direction, but will the additional troops be forthcoming in a reasonably short space of time? Perhaps the Minister will say a little more about what we are doing to help with force generation. He said a few sentences on it but not much in detail; it sounded more like exhortation than logistical support and other things. Is thought now being given to constituting a rapid reaction capability, perhaps, as was done in Bosnia in 1995 when the peacekeeping operation there was on the point of collapse, and to it being better equipped—indeed, perhaps not in blue helmets at all—so that it can deal with the threat to the mission in a reasonably robust way? Does there need to be some adjustment to the UN’s mandate and rules of engagement, where I echo the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury?

However, it is clear that a military response is not all that is needed if the situation is to be stabilised. I again pay tribute to the work of the Foreign Secretary and the Minister in helping to muster a diplomatic

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1461

response to the crisis. It is obvious that the main focus now needs to be on the mediation efforts of the UN special envoy, former President Obasanjo, who appears to be making some initial headway. However, no UN envoy can ever hope to succeed without the concerted and sustained support of the main international players. What are we doing to use our undoubted influence with the Government of Rwanda to shift them from being part of the problem to become a key part of its solution? Is it not surely the case that Rwanda’s security will never be achieved unless there is stability across its western border? That requires not a fellow Tutsi warlord but a political accommodation with the Government in Kinshasa, including action to deal with the Hutu genocidaire militias, which are still active in the region. Are we working closely with the French Government, who probably have more influence than us in Kinshasa?

It is deeply unfortunate and deplorable that, just when the main requirement is for both external and regional players in the Great Lakes region to work more closely together, the air is being filled with accusations and counteraccusations about responsibility for the event that triggered off the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. With an international tribunal determining responsibilities for that terrible episode, it should surely be possible for all other jurisdictions to leave the lead to that court and not to seek to exercise competing jurisdiction themselves. Is that the view of the Government, and, if so, what are we doing to persuade other actors that that is the best way to proceed?

Looking beyond the immediate crisis, are we giving any thought as to how to avoid the Congo’s rich mineral resources continuing to be the focus of greedy incursions and destabilising activity? Does the success of the Kimberley process in dealing with illegally mined and traded diamonds, which did so much to fund the wars in Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone, offer some kind of pattern or template for similar action; for example, with respect to the coltan deposits in the eastern Congo? Are we learning a lesson from other peacekeeping operations that an excessive focus on the holding of elections may prove a distraction from the much more laborious, resource-intensive work of rebuilding state institutions, courts, public services and the rule of law more generally? Both in the Congo itself as well as in Bosnia, and perhaps Afghanistan next year, elections are not a kind of silver bullet or a cure-all and should not be presented as such. It is what happens when the elections are over that really matters, and that means planning ahead and situating the elections in a wider, longer framework of sustained international commitment. In this context, I suggest that it is a pity that the UN is still not making greater use of the UN Peacebuilding Commission or the UN Peacebuilding Support Office which were established following the 2005 UN reform summit.

As is often the case when crises occur in major UN peace-keeping operations, the organisation comes in for a good deal of criticism. Some of it is well deserved, but we need to remember that when we criticise the UN we criticise ourselves. The UN is not some kind of disembodied entity operating outside our control and area of responsibility; it represents the collective efforts of a world body, in which we still have considerable influence. I hope that the Minister, who has more

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1462

reason to be aware of these uncomfortable truths than any of us, will be able to tell us when he replies to this debate what the Government have been able to do and intend to do to strengthen the hand of the UN in our attempts to help the long-suffering people of the Congo to escape from their poisoned historical inheritance.

4.26 pm

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, the diocese of Manchester is linked, especially through its mothers’ unions, to the Anglican diocese of North Kivu. Its bishop wrote movingly to us as recently as last week, describing the plight of people in his diocese fleeing in terror from their homes, their men killed and their women and young girls most terribly abused. Had it been possible for my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester to be in his place today, he would no doubt have spoken of the links that his diocese has with almost the whole Anglican province of Congo and of his own visits to that wonderful but presently tragic country. From these Benches, we join in tribute to the Minister both for this debate and for the way in which, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated, he has clearly sensed from his own personal contacts and recent visit both the complexity of the situation in the DRC and the urgent need to find a solution that will bring some hope into a context of utter despair.

This is an extended and messy conflict across a vast area from which accurate information is difficult to obtain. It is a conflict that has paid the dreadful price over 10 years of 5.4 million deaths in or as a direct result of combat, which is arguably the biggest loss of life as a result of conflict since World War II. By what means, through whose intervention and how soon can perhaps the 1 million all told who have fled from their homes return in safety, free from the insecurity and fear of wondering which militias may rape or kill them? How realistic is it to put much hope in a political process with Nkunda and Kabila, given the track record, and how realistic is it to believe that a political solution on its own, however desirable, which of course it is, can be put in place in time? Can the Minister tell us what results have emerged from pressing for a proposal for the appointment of a special adviser on human rights for eastern DRC as the Armani process resumes to monitor commitments made under Article 3 of the Goma agreement?

If a political solution on its own without appropriate extra forces as back-up does not work, the ensuing disaster not least in humanitarian terms will be very great. That brings me back to last week’s plea from Goma and to the backing of EurAC, the network of European NGOs, for the immediate establishment and deployment of an effective disciplined European force to stabilise North Kivu. Our church contacts support the evidence that neither the DRC armed forces nor MONUC have sufficient ability adequately to support the Goma accord and Nairobi communiqué. I am somewhat concerned about the stress laid by Ministers in another place and by the Minister this afternoon on MONUC being the largest UN force deployed, with what seems to be the implication that its resources are adequate. Will the Minister acknowledge

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1463

that MONUC is facing conflict on at least four different fronts over a large area with a force that is only the size of that deployed to Sierra Leone—a country one-twenty-fourth the size? The Minister will recall that for Kosovo, which is smaller than even North Kivu, we found 60,000 troops.

I suspect that the UN reinforcements announced are likely to take three to four months to arrive in theatre. Or is the Minister suggesting that MONUC reinforcements can reach the DRC in weeks rather than months? If so, does he have any evidence for that, because it would be contrary to standard practice? I fear that there may be a danger of wishful thinking among all of us if that is the conclusion that we are hoping for.

If there is, as I suspect, a delay of a few months, what will fill that gap? I understand that the Government have no problem about providing practical help in the humanitarian terms that the Minister described this afternoon, or in terms of command, logistics and expertise, but the Government are clearly drawing the line at active service units at this stage. Will the Minister recognise that an EU force can be deployed quickly, be of high quality and fill that dangerous gap before UN reinforcements arrive? Or is he saying that the Government completely rule out the mobilising and deployment in the very short term of an EU/UK military stabilisation force? I hope not, because the desirable political solution is unlikely to be achieved without the backing that such a force would provide, if the UN reinforcements cannot get there quickly enough.

In his written reply to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the Minister agreed that transforming the military, police and justice sectors is a key priority and not least, as he said in this debate, the disbanding as soon as possible of FDLR and the CNDP. However, does he agree that the integration into the national army without human rights screening of people, some of whom have an appalling human rights record, has added to the incompetency and the population’s fear of the army? Will he say that proper attention should indeed be given to the effective screening of such people, including Nkunda himself if, as we hope and pray, we get as far as that.

There has already been reference in this debate to minerals and I welcome the Government’s support for the Government of the DRC becoming a full member of the extractive industries transparency initiative. But what else is the international community, especially the EU and this country within it, doing urgently to stiffen the regulatory framework for the extraction and tracing of minerals? The voluntary OECD guidelines mechanism is the only one at present that can deal with identified abuses. The United Kingdom has recently improved the functioning of the mechanism here, although I think that it is still far short of its potential. Will the Minister confirm the Government's resolve to strengthen further their own commitment to the OECD?

What we have in Congo reflects an international failure to address the link between armed conflict and the global trade in natural resources. The organisation Global Witness has documented the role of commodities ranging from diamonds to timber and cocoa in sustaining conflicts across Africa and in south-east Asia. Do the

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1464

Government recognise the problem of the resource conflict nexus and are they determined to break it? I refer in particular to the report very recently presented to the United Nations by a panel of experts relating to the funding of armed groups through the exploitation of minerals. I gather that this report is not in the public arena. Can the Minister say when that will happen and, indeed, if he is pressing for that publication? Does he agree that it is time for a more serious attempt to target sources of funding for armed groups in the DRC, both within the Congo itself and from the DRC’s immediate neighbours and from further abroad?

Of course the Government are right to be weighing up resources, priorities and implications in considering the Congo. How could they not do so? But from these Benches I join in emphasising that this conflict has already caused the most horrendous suffering, to a level that overtakes other conflicts in recent history; and that the Government ought to be intervening even more strongly than they already are. In his message to the Manchester diocese last week, the Bishop of North Kivu wrote:

“We have experienced suffering that we have never known before. When our women and girls have been raped we fail to know what to say or what to do. We are overwhelmed”.

Such is the moral context within which I believe the Government’s policy must be made.

4.36 pm

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I join in thanking the Minister for giving us the opportunity to debate the current crisis in the Congo—the DRC—and in congratulating him on his tireless work in trying to find a resolution to the tragic state of affairs in that country.

The position in the east of Congo was aptly described in the brief that all of us as speakers today have received from Amnesty International. It states:

“Time is running out for the civilians of the Democratic Republic of Congo”.

I have always said in your Lordships' House that there should be African solutions to African problems. I have been wrong in this, certainly no more so than on the DRC. As other noble Lords have mentioned, with more than 250,000 displaced people who have fled their homes since August and with estimates of a total number in excess of 1.2 million internally displaced people in the province, the situation in eastern Congo is already a humanitarian catastrophe.

I welcome the fact that the United Nations has authorised the reinforcement of MONUC with an additional 3,000 additional troops, but unless those troops are properly empowered to tackle the crisis, there remains the threat that if the rebel forces were to attack Goma, MONUC would be unable to protect the hundreds of thousands of refugees there. Does the Minister agree with the analysis of the shadow International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, who in a recent visit to the DRC said that Britain should help the United Nations with,

and that it is very difficult to undertake a chapter 7 assignment with a chapter 6 infrastructure? Sadly, the pronouncements of ceasefires have rarely matched

26 Nov 2008 : Column 1465

reality. Can the Minister elaborate on MONUC’s level of success in establishing safe corridors of humanitarian aid through North Kivu?

We all have very vivid memories of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when Hutu militias murdered well in excess of 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis. While General Nkunda claims that his main aim is to disarm the Hutu militias, he clearly has greater ambitions of controlling power in the region. Human Rights Watch recently said that his troops and the Congolese Government troops have been implicated in numerous killings, torture and rapes. If recent reports are to be believed, it appears that Rwanda is allowing its territory to be used as a recruiting ground for the CNDP. An article in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph suggested that President Kagame was treading a thin line between actively helping the rebels and turning a blind eye to their use of Rwandan territory. Can the Minister elaborate on those claims?

I agree with the assertion of Amnesty International that much of the failure can be laid at the door of the DRC Government, who have failed to deliver meaningful reform of their mining, justice and security sectors. But responsibility must also be taken by international donors who have failed to insist on such reforms. I had intended to speak about the horrendous violence against women, but the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, eloquently covered that point.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page