Topical debate — Democratic Republic of the Congo

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 1:14 pm on 6th November 2008.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 1:14 pm, 6th November 2008

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, 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 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.