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The Lord Bishop of Winchester rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response both to the final report of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to recent events there.
The armed forces of as many as six neighbouring countries have been operating in the DRC in recent yearsthose of some are still there, together with the forces of their various regional proxy warlords and all sorts of armed groups, bandits and deserters. They include a large number of child soldierswhether taken from their homes or orphaned. Many hundreds of thousands of people live in the constant fear that a total lack of order and security imposes on them. Many thousands sleep in the bush every night. Many hundreds of thousands are displaced, many of them more than once. In a fertile country, there is widespread hunger. Disease of all sorts is rife. Millions are without any access to medical facilities.
Virtually the whole of the proceeds of the DRC's enormously rich mineral resources are stolen by its neighbours. Tribal and regional conflicts have been manipulated to near-genocidal proportions, especially in Ituri in the north-east, by neighbouring states, or by sections of their armed forces, in their own interests.
On March 5th, in another place, the honourable Member for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, initiated a debate on Rwanda and the Great Lakes with a detailed and distinguished speech. Ministers and officials from both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are, to my knowledge, giving the region significant and consistent attention. I thank them for their courtesy and the time that they have given me, but I share with Mr Lamb the conviction that the issues in question are of a scale and urgency that require from the Governmentwhether acting alone; in concert with European partners; or at the United Nationsa great deal more than they have yet committed themselves to seeking to deliver, and within a much shorter timescale.
The final report of the UN panel of experts was published last October. It makes shocking reading. Having read it within days of my return from the DRC, I can say that it rings true throughout to what hundreds of ordinary people told me was happening. The panel's reports have exposed in considerable detailnaming names of countries, individuals and companiesthe character of the systematic looting and exploitation on a vast scale of the natural resources of the DRC during decades, which continues today. They have established multiple links between that exploitation, the continuing and endemic conflict and the suffering of millions of ordinary Congoleselinks that a series of other reports, researched and produced by NGOs and the all-party group, have repeatedly described in recent years.
The final report details the equipping and training by foreign armies of a kaleidoscopic range of militias and warlords and their provoking what have become viciously brutal and destructive tribal conflicts. It notes that even where foreign forces withdraw from DRC territory, they embed proxy governments and criminal networks to ensure that illegal exploitation continuesto the extent that, as paragraph 152 states,
It is not surprising that the range of parties named and shamed in that report dispute its findings. The panel notes its uncomfortable relationship with the Porter Commission set up by Uganda to investigate the same range of allegations against its nationals and the UPDF. The panel of experts has been given a further mandate until 24th June to respond to its objectors and to provide the further evidence that some of them, including Her Majesty's Government, have required.
Since 1999, there has been a peace process for the DRC, perseveringly supported by not only South Africa but our own Government. Accords were signed in Pretoria in the middle of last year by the DRC Governmentwhich controls from Kinshasa about two fifths of that whole vast countryUganda and Rwanda. That process has continued through further rounds of negotiation between the various faction leaders and Kinshasa into the first part of this week.
Seen as a whole, those processes commit Uganda and Rwanda to the complete withdrawal of their armed forces from DRC territory and to ending their support for the range of competing factions that they have fostered and armed over the past 10 or 12 years. The processes promise an administration in Kinshasa in which most of the competing faction leaders will have a stake and will over time be able to exercise government over the whole country. Our own and other governments are poised to offer the range of confidence-building technical and military assistance through which a unified army, police, customs, justice and every other kind of medical and educational service can be developed to provide for the population's security and welfare.
Critically important obstacles have yet to be ironed out. The main players still do not judge that they can safely gather in Kinshasa to begin that intimidatingly large and delicate programme of work. Meanwhile, since the spring of last year, freshly in the last months of 2002, into this year, and then in the past few weeks the forces of some who signed the accords have continued to fight each other. There have been renewed and still-worsening outbreaks of vicious tribal killing, pillage and destruction in Ituriwhere millions of already-weakened people are quite beyond the reach of those few NGOs that still have expert and committed personnel in the area. There are well-grounded fearsespecially after the expulsion from Bunia on 6th March of the UPC, following the latter's
In the face of such a situation, I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the Government will publishand when it will publisha detailed response to the conclusions of the UN panel, with a commitment fully to investigate allegations made against UK companies and individuals. Will the Government press Uganda and Rwanda to do the same and press both to respond to the recommendations of the report by the International Crisis Group, The Kivus: The Forgotten Crucible of the Congo Conflict; and press Uganda to publish the report of its Porter Commission and to act on its findings? Will the Government work with others to ensure that the UN, through the Security Council, responds fully and imaginatively to its panel's report? What will happen if, on 24th June when the panel's latest mandate expires, there is still defensive argument about its findings?
On the issue of the availability of arms, and of arms of increasing power and sophistication, I welcome in the Government's export control Bill the inclusion of the DRC among "embargoed destinations" for arms sold from the UK or by UK nationals based elsewhere. But will the Government go further, as the US and others have done, and introduce end-use monitoring backed by real sanctions to ensure that British-made weapons sold to neighbouring countries are not sold on to the DRC?
The UN panel regards as a necessary condition of the success of all its other recommendations, the withdrawal of foreign forces beyond their own borders, together with an end to their arming and supporting a range of Congolese proxy forces. It makes detailed proposals about the tracing and closing off of the channels through which the DRC's minerals, and the wealth that they create, are siphoned into world markets and the pockets of individuals, companies and states. There are questions here for the UK, for the EU and for the UN.
What steps are the Government prepared and intending to takeand in what timescaleto impress these requirements on Rwanda, but also to discourage the Kinshasa Government from arming and supporting groups in the eastern DRC which Rwanda understandably perceives as threats to its security? Are the Government pressing Uganda to withdraw its substantial forces from Ituri where they may, for the moment, be providing some fragile security for at least some of the people, but where their presence is a provocation to Rwanda and promises nothing in the way of a longer-term contribution to the security of the region? What more can be done to reduce the very real risk of conflict within the DRC between these two neighbours?
Uganda recently asked for a "neutral force" to keep the peace in Ituri. But neither Uganda nor Rwanda have been keen to see the UN Force MONUC strengthened, whether in numbers or in mandate. Yet, to many observersas to many Congolese who spoke with meit seems imperative that MONUC should be strengthened in both respects urgently and with a stiffening of major power participation and determined leadership, both so that it can be more proactive, flexible and imaginative within its present mandate and so that it deploys very much closer to the Congo's eastern border, and in numbers sufficient to reassure ordinary people by beginning to provide some basic order and security. In these regards, for what are the Government, in concert with others, prepared to press? And in what timescale?
The Ituri Pacification Committee has barely started what could be its critically important work. As a matter of urgency, are the Government seeking to ensure that it is properly resourced and that it has an excellent chairman; and that, among its priorities, it attends to the need for justice to be seen to be done after so much killing and destruction? Within that, proper attention should be paid to the appallingly brutal treatment of women which is increasingly a feature of the conflicts in Ituri and, indeed, much more widely in the DRC.
Finally, will the Government respond positively to the request of the all-party parliamentary group that they publish a regional strategy paper expressing a set of positions and proposals agreed between the FCO and DfID, and initiate a regional conference? Will they develop a common wish-list and a stronger partnership with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in particular, so as to be able to pursue this whole range of questions effectively, both in the EU and in the UN?
Let no one think that the current concentration on Iraq can justify postponing attention to the crying needs of the DRC and of the Great Lakes region more widely. I end with some words from a comprehensive and profoundly depressing report published last month by Amnesty International under the title, DRC: on the Precipicethe deepening human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ituri:
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, we owe the right reverend Prelate much thanks for initiating such an important debate. What pressure can the UN and the world in general exert on the African Union, I wonder, which purports to represent the African countries and to have its own humanitarian
Where, I wonder, do the French stand? They have longstanding local interests, and longstanding local pressures. I have seen very little reference to them in the report. I find that interesting, and shall return to the issue.
I am also concerned about the desperate need for us to address the humanitarian crisis because the displacement of millions of people in that vast country has been internal: they do not count as refugees. Because the UN presence there has been largely to observe and negotiate, there is no safe environment for NGOs, although that has not stopped Medecins Sans Frontieres and Merlin, among others, from operating.
I must declare an interest as the patron of a very small charity, Action Congo, which succeeded another, International Care and Relief. For some years, the latter ran a hospital and an agricultural scheme teaching 200,000 Africans to grow food, as well as a primary schoolall in a desperately poor area in Manono, a former mining town. There was no work there, no public services, and no infrastructure whatever.
I went to the Congo first in 1959 accredited as Consul to both the French and the Belgian Congo, as it then was. I served there until 1961. I was there for independence; I was there for the mutiny and the collapse of the country. Why, you might ask, was a vast, rich country so wholly unprepared for independence and so utterly without any infrastructure? It is because the Congo was ruled by the Union Miniere, the para-statal bodies, and the Catholic Church. The Union Miniere wanted only workers able to read and write at primary level, so primary education up to the age of 11 was good, though Flemish was perhaps a strange choice of foreign language for a country bordered by anglophone and francophone countries.
There was not one indigenous civil servant when I went to the Congo in 1959, no doctors, no lawyersindeed, no professional people. There were not even senior NCOs in the Force Publique, which controlled the country and put down fairly frequent tribal wars. The only thing that the Belgians taught effortlessly was corruption. So when after the mutiny the Belgians fled the country there was no infrastructure, no public service, nothing but warring tribes and shifting allegiances.
I have had a story from missionaries in the Katanga about the return of the brave Congolese army to a particular area which had been devastated by the Tutsi. What did the army do? It was welcomed by the people. It gathered them together and made them take off all their clothes, what they had left to wear. It burnt the clothes, laughed and went away. That is what it did for its own people.
It would have seemed quite natural to Kabila to join with Mugabe and his generals to despoil his own country, so a solution to that problem has to be found. Can the UN do it? Can it, with the EU, force the African Union to do something for good governance and against organised pillage? It sees to me that the Congolese Government is where we have to start. I doubt it, but we must urge the necessity.
It will not be enough to identify all the chief robbers, if they are allowed to continue. For what will be the point of the UN and the EU investing money and resources at one end while the country's life blood is systematically draining away at the other and that continues unchecked? It will not be easy to create an efficient and honest public service after 43 years of chaos. For when the Belgians went in the 1960s everything collapsed. There were no public services. The Congo is a vast, rich and diverse country, with some wonderful peopleand some who are irredeemably violent and corrupt.
What has all this to do with the very full and terrible UN report, the follow-up to the first? My object is to urge that, although the report is extremely valuable in identifying the individuals who have conducted the systematic pillage of another African country, we must also consider and fear the long-term effect on the countries which have perpetrated this. I think, for instance, of the Zimbabwe army, which has come to believe, thanks to this experience, that pillage, corruption and brutality are normal, with terrible consequences for its own people when it returns home.
I hope that the men and the organisations named will be publicly called to account, both in the UN and in the EUand, indeed, in the Commonwealth. The report should leave European governments no excuse not to sequester their assets where possible. Again, I say that the French are the big question mark.
What action do the British Government intend to take to curtail, if not end, the activities of British subjects and companies? I do not know whether the UN report is based on sufficient proof for action. The UN is in a slightly odd position in that it can freely say things without having to answer for them. That may be a problem. But the UN report appears to be based on sufficient proof for action, and the detail is careful and convincing, particularly in its identification of elite networks and its recognition that there has been, apparently, a great deal of criminal activity.
Will it be possible from the Congo end, I wonder, to make it a condition of any UN or EU help that the new contractual arrangements set upI refer to paragraph 17 of the reportto continue in the longer term shall be abrogated? For the Government of the Congo are at least as guilty of harming the interests of their own people as the Zimbabwe Government and the Uganda Government. A daunting feature of the report is the complicated international network of companies, involving even Mauritius.
I fear that I am not optimistic about the country's stability, nor about the political will of the outside worldit is a very large tasklet alone the local players and their chance of achieving peace. It is not easy to create a public service from nothing. But it is encouraging that the UN has grasped so many nettles with such vigour, and I hope that it will do all Africa some good.I should like to read to your Lordships an account which the intrepid director of Action Congo, who has twice been back to Lubumbashi, once at her own expense, and into the interior, received from one of the workers in Manono. This is an account of what happened in May 1999 when the war came to Manono. The children were on the way to school, the parents on their way to work. Others had left to cultivate their fields 17 kilometres or more out of the city.
Since I am in the business of paying tributes to the Britishand why not, passionately believing, as I do, that we were good colonisers?the country was beginning to get a little uneasy. People were beginning to realise that the future was going to be difficult and strange. The vice-consul in what was then Stanleyville and is now Kisangani sent me a message to say that I was urgently required there and would I go up. So I flew up and it turned out that a delegation of shopkeepers, Cypriots who had fled from Cyprus having committed crimes against the British Army and murdered a few people, had settled in the Congo and were leading a happy and fruitful life because as well as being shopkeepers they were money lenders. They were therefore not popular. They said to me, "We would like you to make representation to arrange to take over this country as a British colony". I asked, "Why?", and they said, "Well, the British know how to run independencies and they know how to run African countries, so we would like you to do this instantly".
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