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The tragedy of the DRC is that the country has the potential to be one of Africa’s most prosperous countries with its boundless natural resources, fertile soil and good rains, but sadly the ongoing conflicts and lack of infrastructure, as well as high levels of corruption and lack of accountability and transparency, have made it one of the riskiest countries for international inward investment. I was involved in the launch of the Global Peace Index, set up by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Its report considered some 30 variables and 140 countries around the world and judged those countries on the dividends of peace. Sadly, the DRC came 131st out of 140 countries. Under the circumstances, it is highly unlikely that international investment will flow back into the DRC until it can show signs of taking stronger control of the current crisis.

Apart from military issues, I want to touch on a few of the infrastructure issues. Access to electricity across the DRC is less than 6 per cent, and in rural areas, where nearly 75 per cent of the people live, it is only 1 per cent. Can the Minister give an update on the Grand Inga dam project, which I understand will be the world’s largest hydro power scheme, providing a power grid across Africa which will, one hopes, spur the continent’s industrial and economic development? Apart from satisfying the need for extra electricity of countries such as South Africa, to what extent will this scheme satisfy the electricity needs of the people of the DRC?

I should like to make brief mention of a conservation concern. As a long-standing trustee of the African wildlife conservation charity, Tusk Trust, I am particularly concerned about the Virunga national park, home to more than a third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, where the illegal trade in charcoal is threatening not just the survival of these gorillas but a wide variety

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of other species. Can the Minister give any encouragement as regards what measures can be taken to protect these endangered animals? As my noble friend Lord Hannay of Chiswick said, there is no doubt that the battle for control of the region’s natural resources is fanning the flames of the civil war.

I welcomed the appointment of President Kabila, whom I have met on several occasions, but sadly he has been long on promise and, so far, low on delivery. Just as every sound business needs good management, every successful Government need sound management. For there to be any chance of a longer-term solution in the DRC, effective measures have to be taken to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate, or even repatriate, armed group fighters and end the arms proliferation.

It will be an uphill struggle to reconcile divided communities, but it can be done. For me, as an African, the political miracle in our great continent was the success of President Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. There will also need to be root-and-branch reforms of the army and the police and the suspected perpetrators of human rights violations will need to be excluded from the army.

There are no shortcuts, but equally there is no time for further delays. The upside is enormous. The downside is calamitous.

4.46 pm

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I, too, am glad that the Minister, having just returned from the DRC, has chosen to update us through this debate, even though we are right up against the end of the Session. The debate has been of high quality, although brief, and I have no doubt that we will revisit this issue when we debate the Queen’s Speech next week.

Like others, I am glad that the Minister has been able to use his vast UN experience in conjunction with his position as a UK Minister to play the part that he has done in this crisis. We have heard about the loss of life, destruction and terrible fear caused by this latest crisis, as the right reverend Prelate so movingly conveyed. We have heard that some 1 million people have been displaced, although that number may have slightly reduced. The situation remains volatile, as the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others have emphasised.

We also know that some of the longer-term effects of such conflicts go on for many decades. This conflict links to the Rwandan genocide. There is the destruction caused by the recruitment of child soldiers among the displaced. The area has a terrible tradition of recruiting such children and Save the Children talks of an,

Women and children are especially vulnerable in this situation—they always are—but, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Avebury, half the violence against women has been committed by government forces.

Where do we go from here? As we have heard, few areas are secure. It is difficult to get humanitarian assistance in. The UN Security Council has ordered the deployment of 3,000 extra troops. I press the Minister on this, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and

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the right reverend Prelate have done. How quickly can these troops be forthcoming, how quickly can they be deployed and what will be done to ensure that they are used as effectively as possible? What of an EU force? What of a rapid reaction force, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned? Should further troops be requested, what would Britain’s answer be?

We may not be able to play much of a part in terms of military contribution, as we are desperately overstretched by our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Surely that shows yet again the folly of what happened in Iraq. We and others have had resources directed away by that conflict, with consequences for what we and others can do when problems come up in countries such as Sudan and the DRC. We also know that the quality and equipment of troops are key issues. However, as other speakers have said, given the size of the country and the scale of the task, even increasing the troop numbers by 3,000 to 20,000 may not achieve what is required.

Clearly, training up the Congolese army is a priority. What sort of timescale does the noble Lord think that that would involve? However, given the human rights abuses that we have just heard about and the history of conflict in the area, increasing the abilities of the Congolese army also has its risks. How might these be tempered?

We have heard how a political solution is necessary. That is self-evidently so, but what a relief it is after the past few years to hear such a view voiced. The noble Lord’s UN days have no doubt helped to shape his view of the world. The current military presence could help to encourage a political solution and perhaps bring pressure to bear on the signatories to abide by the peace agreements. Was it complacency and a lack of interest from the international community that contributed to the non-implementation of those accords? As my noble friend Lord Avebury asked: what can we do now to ensure that this does not happen again? What is the EU doing here? The International Crisis Group notes the apparent inability of the EU to speak with one voice and that at the October monthly meeting of EU Foreign Ministers the DRC was not even on the agenda. What can the noble Lord now tell us of the EU response?

If we are to tackle this problem, surely, as others have said, we need to look at its economic roots. For Paul Collier, as he argues in his book The Bottom Billion, the DRC’s mineral wealth is a two-edged sword. That wealth, which might have helped development, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, explained, has helped to fund the conflict instead. As Collier relates, Kabila, marching across Zaire with his troops to seize the state, told a journalist that in Zaire rebellion was easy: all you needed was $10,000 and a satellite phone. Everyone was so poor that with $10,000 you could hire yourself a small army and with the phone you could strike deals with mining companies. By the time Kabila reached Kinshasa, he had reportedly arranged $500 million-worth of deals. There is small-scale mining right across the area of this conflict. As the New York Times put it, its,

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It is reported that often western companies are not even allowed near the mines that they own, as these are controlled by warlords. Soldiers violently enforce a system of extortion from every worker, merchant and trader who comes to the mine. The UN Panel of Experts, to which others referred, listed how business activities had prolonged the conflict. It identified 85 companies that it considered to be in breach of OECD guidelines; 18 of these were British or British-based.

Companies that were named subsequently fought back and the panel seemed to be forced to backtrack. In its final report, the vast majority of company cases were listed as resolved, but there are still unanswered questions as to how this verdict was reached. The countries where these companies were based were asked to take action against them. My noble friend Lord Avebury has battled away in Parliament pretty much single-handedly on this issue. He found that at one point only one junior person in the Department of Trade and Industry was tasked with taking matters forward against these major companies. That does not speak of governmental commitment. I gather—it has been mentioned this afternoon—that there has been another similar investigation, which is welcome, and that the report of it was given to the UN on Friday. I should like the Minister to assure us that this time the issue will be taken extremely seriously. I should also like assurance that any UK companies listed will be properly investigated and that, if appropriate, cases will be brought against them.

Supply chains were an issue that came up when the Companies Bill went through your Lordships’ House. We fought hard and strengthened the Bill so that what companies do overseas and through their supply chains can more easily be brought within directors’ responsibilities. Does the noble Lord think that that might be relevant here? What might happen now in relation to DAS Air and Afrimex? Does he agree that Vodafone, for example, might be challenged on its supply chain in relation to coltan, used in mobile phones and mined in the DRC?

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned the Kimberley process. The German Government have supported work to develop a fingerprinting system that could lead to a mineral certification scheme for central Africa. What are the prospects for this scheme being adopted internationally?

The Minister and others spoke about the roots of this conflict in the Rwandan genocide. We welcome the actions that are being taken to try to strengthen the UN presence and protection in the DRC. However, this protection is clearly limited and all efforts must be made to support the current peace negotiations. To step back further, it is surely now vital that the economic factors in this conflict are firmly tackled. We have to act internationally to ensure that the reasons for this conflict are not fuelled by the free-for-all that so obviously exists, especially in the extractive industries in the DRC. I look forward to the Government taking this forward, not only through support for military action and peace negotiations but in tackling the economic causes of this conflict with a great sense of determination.

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4.56 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we are fortunate in this House to have had the benefit of a first-hand report from the Minister after his recent visit, based on his enormous experience in United Nations matters over many years. He is right to warn that we are bound to approach all this with a heavy heart. The Congo has been the graveyard of UN and world ambitions and hopes for many years. One remembers the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the Katanga secession, Patrice Lumumba, and a whole series of tragedies down the years.

One of my first assignments as a young journalist on the Daily Telegraph was to cover the return of the king of the Belgians from the independence celebrations, as they were called, in Léopoldville almost 50 years ago. From that day, which was sunny in Brussels with crowds cheering—I remember thinking that perhaps they would not go on cheering—it has been a continuous downward path of tragedy, bloodshed, rivalry, greed and marauding tribes, groups and rebel organisations and the killing, killing, killing mostly of innocent people.

The point that has emerged in the debate, which is worth repeating, is that this is a country of the most colossal size. It is the size of India, but without the communications that can link different parts of it together. One obvious conclusion is that any agreements made in Kinshasa or other provinces tend to be virtually unenforceable. Battles and wars can go on locally without any control, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester rightly reminded us. This is an enormous area and very difficult to pacify. The right reverend Prelate also reminded us of the devoted work of his colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, who has given immense time and concern to the appalling poverty and conditions prevailing in many parts of the Congo, particularly in the area with which we are concerned.

I rather miss the presence of my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, who in her younger days, played a major role in intelligence matters in the Congo and other regions. I know that she would have given us a great deal of her wisdom on how things really work in this part of Africa. I hope that she will be back in a few weeks from her present indisposition to do that.

As we have heard, the situation in and around Goma is immensely difficult. It is grim. The town is virtually cut off. Those of us sitting here in London have to ask why 17,000 UN troops—and 3,000 more to come, we hope—cannot at least contain the rebels, keep at bay the different marauding groups and, above all, protect the children, whose plight is horrific and sickening, if the reports are right. Children are not only being recruited into the various armies, but are being raped and hideously abused as well. This is a horror of almost medieval proportions, and it is hard to assimilate the terror and misery of it.

To that question, I offer two answers, which have been touched on in this debate. First, the UN troops are obviously insufficiently trained and they have been criticised for being of low quality. There is even anecdotal evidence that they have been selling their equipment to

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the rebels and are prepared to succour them in their activities. The UN troops were spread across the Congo, so I was glad to hear the Minister say that 95 per cent of them are now located in Kivu province. That is an improvement.

The much bigger answer to the question of why there is not better control through the large UN force is the mandate, which was rightly mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Avebury. In theory, the mandate is under Chapter 7, but in practice, as my colleague in the House of Commons, Andrew Mitchell, observed, the carrying out of the mandate is being performed as if it were an exercise in Europe rather than a struggle in the darkest heart of Africa. I understand that there are total limitations on what collateral damage can be inflicted by UN actions. No helicopters are allowed to fly at night. All kinds of conditions are laid down about the accommodation conditions for the soldiery, which may be perfectly proper in a European theatre, but make no sense at all when applied in Africa. These limitations vastly limit the flexibility, mobility and manoeuvrability of the UN forces. The trouble seems to be that the forces of General Laurent Nkunda and other groups know that and regard the UN operation as not to be feared but to be more or less disregarded. It may have just about held the situation around Goma for the moment, but no more than that.

One has to ask what is required to make some impact on this situation where very little is being made at the moment. The first thing would be to ask about reviewing and considering a new mandate under Chapter VII for the UN force already there and for the 3,000 troops to come. This point was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Hannay. Is it possible to think about reconstituting the UN force as a serious expeditionary force? There have been parallel suggestions that somehow an EU force could be inserted along the way. I feel uneasy about that. The pattern of bringing the AU, the EU and the UN together in a force operation has not had a glorious record in Darfur. In fact, it has achieved nothing there at all.

When I hear people advocating that we should pour money, men and concerted efforts into the Congo, I am not impressed or dazzled. We must be more precise about which groups we suggest should do that. The French and the Belgians seem quite ready to provide additional forces, and if they wish to do so under some kind of EU label, I would have no objection, but I could not countenance the idea of British troops going there as well, which one or two of your Lordships hinted at. It is worrying that our forces are so incredibly overstretched. That is worrying enough anyway, but when one hears the Foreign Secretary talking about possibly more troops for Afghanistan, or not ruling that out, and when one thinks of the seven-year campaign that has been going on in Afghanistan, with some progress in some areas but a miserable lack of progress in others, it makes one pause before thinking about trying to scrape together—and it would be scraping together—additional troop forces to add any new operation or additional reinforcement in Kivu province in the Congo.

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What can the Minister tell us about the new mandate and its possibilities? What can he tell us about talks with the French and the Belgians, who have indicated clearly that they would like to make some move in that direction? Rwanda was raised. The American Government seem to be rather supportive of Rwanda. We have to get to the bottom of the question of whether Rwanda is countenancing, either passively or actively, support for General Nkunda, which my noble friend Lord St John of Bletso rightly raised.

Then there is the matter of economics, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Are we in contact with multinational corporations and warning them about financing support for the conflicts, whether indirectly or directly? There is absolutely no doubt that illicit mineral sales are part of the causes of the conflict and are attracting the involvement of different tribal groups—an incredible number of them. We have talked about General Nkunda and his mob; we have talked about the Hutu extremists who are exiled in the Kivu region; but I gather that even such exotic tribes as the Mai Mai, who believe that sprinkling themselves with magic water will stop the bullets, are involved. It is considered a free-for-all as people greedily look for mineral exploitation, as has been the pattern and the problem all along for the past half-century.

In particular, we have heard a lot about columbite-tantalite, or coltan for short, which is used in pinhead capacitors in almost every computer and every mobile phone, including those that no doubt we are all carrying at the moment. In fact, the coltan production from the Congo area is a small part of world production, so it would not be a disaster for the world if it all came instead from Australia and Canada, which are the other main sources. As always, there is a disaster at the producing end. It may be produced under appalling conditions by manual workers who are virtually enslaved, but it is work, it is income, and if it is closed down in the name of impropriety or reluctance to use conflict materials, losses, starvation, misery and probably death follow for some of the already penalised and penurious families in the area.

That is a sad pattern that, as I said, has gone on for half a century or more. I make no apology if my comments sound negative. We know that idealistic dabbling in the horrors of this regime, which seems so far from our daily worries, will result, as they have again and again in the past, in more slaughter and more misery, and will do so as long as greedy tyrants and dictators are allowed to stay in place.

One day, there will be a better Africa, and it will need not only western help but the full force of global co-operation, including the rising Asian powers, which now have the resources and the money that the West lacks. However, that day is not with us yet, and until then we must mobilise all that we can on the humanitarian side. I believe that Her Majesty’s Government are doing a great deal—indeed, almost as much as is humanly possible—on the humanitarian side, and that we should never hesitate to do those things or draw back from doing them anywhere in the world, despite those who say that perhaps we should not be involved. We should always seek to be involved on a humanitarian basis, but, when it comes to diplomacy and particularly

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to military action, we must face the fact that far more decisive and effective action will be needed than anything considered so far to bring these endless rebel attacks to a halt and to give the people of this area a chance to survive and to see tomorrow.

5.11 pm

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have so generously referred to what we on this Front Bench have sought to do. In my time in this House, rarely if ever have I heard such a well informed and thoughtful set of contributions, from a group of Peers who follow this issue very closely. I should say immediately that this kind of attention is critical. I can think of few conflicts whose fate rises and falls so much in sequence and in lock-step with political attention and political will. We must keep an international focus on this situation, and I commend all noble Lords who have spoken today for that reason.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has spoken before about the Security Council’s lack of attention. I take his point that there may have been an absence of resolutions over the months, although, as I have argued to him before, there has not necessarily been an absence of attention. As I have said, a resolution has now been introduced by France, co-sponsored by the United Kingdom, on the specific intervention of the Prime Minister, and there is no doubt in New York about the concern that we and others have to see a rapid deployment of a strengthened MONUC and a forceful political process, led by Mr Obasanjo. There will be a further resolution before the year is over to re-approve MONUC’s mission for the coming year.

Several noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester asked whether the mandate should be stronger, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others suggested. I put this question to General Gaye, the force commander, who argued that the question of the rules of engagement and the mandate is a red herring. This is a very robust mandate. It is a so-called Chapter 7 mandate, which spells out the obligation of the MONUC forces to protect civilians. His argument, and my view, is that it is not in the language of the mandate or the rules of engagement but rather in the capacities and the leadership of MONUC forces, and in the role of MONUC’s partner, the FARDC—the national army—extraordinary though that might be, which is viewed in the mandate as the partner on whose behalf MONUC acts, to reinforce its own actions.

I shall respond to each of the points that have been made. On capacities, MONUC, as I said in my opening remarks, has grown from what was originally intended as a light monitoring force to monitor a series of ceasefires to a situation in which, as the right reverend Prelate observed, it is active on four fronts. It seeks to contain the LRA, the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army. It is active in several other parts of the eastern Congo and, not long ago, was active in Kinshasa after the elections to make sure that violence did not break out between the losing side and the Government. I should clarify for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that when I said that 95 per cent of MONUC’s forces are now in the east, that does not refer solely to North

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Kivu. It is in all the provinces of the east because it is engaged in very delicate, difficult stabilisation efforts in the whole of the eastern Congo, which is a vast area.

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