Democratic Republic of Congo

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 26th November 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN) 3:53 pm, 26th November 2008

My Lords, I welcome the ongoing and high-level interest that both Houses are taking in the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This reflects the Government's own concern, which is why I gladly agreed to put forward this Motion in government time.

Reflecting our commitment, I followed up the Secretary of State's recent visit to the region with his French counterpart by going to the Great Lakes region last week. I visited Kinshasa, North Kivu and Kigali. In Kinshasa, I called on President Kabila and pressed him on the need to find a political solution under the so-called Goma agreement to the problem of General Nkunda and the CNDP rather than trying to find a military option to resolve the problem. I also urged him publicly to denounce the FDLR—the militia that is made up of Hutus who were involved in the Rwandan genocide and which is still the root of many of the problems in the eastern DRC. In Goma, I visited General Gaye, the acting commander of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force, and discussed with him the situation on the ground and MONUC's needs. I also saw the governor of North Kivu and visited an internally displaced persons' camp where I saw at first-hand the suffering that this conflict is causing. In Kigali, I called on President Kagame and urged him to continue to engage in the regional peace initiative and to maintain an ongoing dialogue with President Kabila, building on their recent meeting in Nairobi as part of a regional gathering. I also asked him publicly to denounce General Nkunda and the CNDP as part of a reciprocal renunciation of the FDLR by President Kabila.

As I saw for myself in North Kivu, the situation in the region remains fragile. Despite the recent ceasefire agreements, there has been renewed fighting over the past week and the situation remains volatile. Since the end of August, this conflict has resulted in an estimated 250,000 displaced people in North Kivu, bringing the total in North Kivu to well over 1 million, and at least 100 civilians have been killed. While the humanitarian consequences of the fighting are dire, it is the violence, insecurity and general lawlessness that is affecting the civilian population and hampering the delivery of assistance. Last week's fighting has resulted in fresh displacement in areas difficult for the humanitarian agencies to reach, although we are still not clear on the numbers.

I take this opportunity to thank all those people working in such difficult circumstances on this humanitarian crisis. I met many devoted NGOs and individuals working there. I also commend the lead role that the Department for International Development is playing in the response.

Most humanitarian assistance is still getting through to camps around Goma, Rutshuru and Kiwanja. The World Food Programme is managing to distribute food aid sufficient for 200,000 people, and shelter materials have been supplied to displaced people around Goma and Rutshuru. Nevertheless, the situation remains precarious and access for humanitarian assistance can quickly be blocked if the fighting and lawlessness continue to spread.

Her Majesty's Government had already committed £37 million of humanitarian assistance to the DRC for 2008. This included funding to ensure that supplies were in place to respond quickly to emergencies such as this. Much of our resource has been targeted on North Kivu. We announced an additional £5 million on 31 October. Six DfID humanitarian flights arrived in Goma between 9 and 11 November carrying water purification materials, plastic sheeting, blankets and water containers, and £2 million is to be used to assist the World Food Programme to source and distribute food in North Kivu. The rest will be channeled to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam for provision of water and sanitation, health assistance and other essential supplies.

Like all noble Lords, I am deeply disturbed by unconfirmed reports of FARDC soldiers—the national Congolese army—raping and killing civilians and of atrocities of equal severity committed by the CNDP forces. We also have reports from Human Rights Watch and other NGOs that there has been large-scale forced recruitment, including of children, not just by CNDP but by PARECO and the Mai-Mai militias.

The deliberate targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, humanitarian aid workers and supplies is evidently in direct contravention of international humanitarian law and we hope that it will cease immediately. The targeting by the FARDC, the national army, of a therapeutic nutritional feeding centre on 19 November is a disgraceful example of this. MONUC has sent a team to investigate the alleged massacres at Kiwanja and the forced recruitment around Rutshuru. We await its report and encourage it to work with the Government of the DRC to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes will meet on 27 November to look specifically at sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC and will launch a report from the noble Lord, Lord Mance, on the subject. This is an important issue.

This crisis has again underlined the fact that the Congolese state, for all the support that we and the international community have given it, is still a long way off track in reforming its national army. We need to review our support in this area. We are certainly willing to provide more support to help to reform the security sector, but for that to happen there needs to be a step change in the DRC Government's own approach. We would like to see a stronger commitment to tackling corruption within the army, which remains one of several key obstacles to the ongoing reform efforts.

The UK's immediate goal is to ensure that the ceasefire agreed in October in North Kivu between the CNDP and the DRC Government remains in place and to try to bring an end to the fighting and allow humanitarian assistance to reach the displaced people around Goma and other affected towns in North Kivu. The cause of the immediate crisis is General Nkunda's CNDP and for that purpose we need to resume meaningful negotiations with the Congolese Government and the CNDP to end the current fighting. However, we must also tackle the longer-term underlying cause of instability in the Great Lakes: the continuing presence of the FDLR and the Hutu genocidaires within it in eastern Congo. Dismantling and repatriating the FDLR is an essential element in any long-term solution.

Neither this nor a restitution of the status quo ante before the fighting began in October is enough. A long-term solution that finally brings stability, economic growth and development in eastern Congo and the broader Great Lakes region is needed and we are active in trying to achieve that goal. The Prime Minister has worked the phones, including calling President Kagame and discussing the crisis with both President Sarkozy, with whom he introduced a Security Council resolution, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. As I said, the Foreign Secretary also visited the region with his French counterpart at the beginning of November. We have strongly supported the appointment of former Nigerian President Obasanjo as UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and we hope to work closely with him on his mediation efforts. Indeed, I have already been in touch with him a number of times.

I attended the Nairobi summit on 7 November. The summit saw the first steps taken by the region and the United Nations towards a resolution of the conflict and injected fresh momentum into achieving full implementation of the Nairobi communiqué and the Goma accord. It also agreed on the establishment of a follow-up mechanism to drive implementation of these agreements and it saw regional leaders back Mr Obasanjo in his role as UN Special Envoy.

I turn to the issues surrounding MONUC. The UN's peacekeeping mission in the DRC has a key role both in ensuring the implementation of the diplomatic agreements—the Nairobi communiqué and the Goma accord—and in stabilising the current situation in order to allow full access for humanitarian assistance and protect civilians. With over 17,000 troops and 1,000 international civilian staff, MONUC is the biggest peacekeeping force that the UN has ever deployed. It also enjoys a broad mandate that allows it to tackle a wide range of challenges that need to be overcome if stability is to be brought to the DRC.

Nevertheless, the current crisis has highlighted the limitations that MONUC faces both in current force levels and in rapid response ability. Having followed MONUC from the beginning of its life, I have seen its responsibilities and mandate expanded, but all too frequently without the reinforcement of its logistical capability or its fighting forces that is required in order for it to carry out the ambitious Chapter 7 tasks that it has now been given. The Prime Minister announced on 13 November that the UK would support the request put to the UN Security Council by the UN Secretary-General to approve additional troops for the UN's peacekeeping force in DRC. Following on from this, the UK co-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 1843 on 20 November mandating the deployment of 2,785 additional troops and 300 police for MONUC. We are now working with the UN's Department for Peacekeeping Operations to identify contributors and to ensure that these troops are deployed to the DRC as soon as possible. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in another place today that he has written to those countries deemed most likely to provide additional troops to encourage them to do so and to say that we would offer whatever support we could to facilitate their urgent arrival in eastern Congo.

In the mean time, we continue to work closely with our Security Council partners to ensure that MONUC's existing resources are utilised as efficiently as possible and targeted where they are most needed. We commend MONUC's efforts to reinforce its presence in and around Goma by moving troops from other parts of the DRC. Now, 95 per cent of MONUC's troops are deployed in the eastern Congo.

Nevertheless, we approach today's debate with a heavy heart. The situation has improved modestly over the past several weeks but it remains deeply dangerous and precarious. Unless we can apply political will, from this House and elsewhere, on the leaders of the region and the leaders of the militia to find a political solution to this problem, the likelihood that this situation will once more revert to a descending cycle of violence and civilian loss of life remains high. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.—(Lord Malloch-Brown.)