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Congo: International Crisis Group Report — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:18 am on 3rd February 2011.

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Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop 11:18 am, 3rd February 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the International Crisis Group's recent Report Congo: No Stability in Kivu despite Rapprochement with Rwanda..

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the International Crisis Group states that civilians are still suffering shocking levels of violence in the Kivus, but the Democratic Republic of Congo's rapprochement with Rwanda significantly improves the prospect for peace. The UK has close relations with both the DRC and Rwanda. We support MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force, both politically and financially, and the United Kingdom is the biggest humanitarian donor in the Kivus.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I ask for a greater level of realism from him and from the Government. The report to which he refers-he may have been toiling with its French, but it is now translated-makes it clear that the ICG believes that that rapprochement has got nowhere. As he says, the level of violence continues, the minerals are still in the wrong hands, and a great many people are being killed or made insecure. Will he reconsider and agree with the report on those matters? Will the Government initiate with European partners, or anyone else they can find-and of course with the Congolese and other regional Governments-a fresh approach that will be non-military, whose terms will be known to the people, rather than kept secret, and that will grapple with the deepest causes of the conflict and give some hope of security, freedom from fear and even the most basic levels of economic development? Lastly, will the Government put an end to impunity for those who are causing the rape and mayhem?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the report is indeed very depressing. The Government are not under any illusions about the enormous task there is to try to create order in the Kivus. Perhaps I might help Members by pointing out that North and South Kivu together have a population of about 11 million. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 million displaced people in the DRC, many of them in the Kivus, and there are about 20 militia groups operating outside the Congolese armed forces in the Kivu-and the Congolese armed forces leave something to be desired in terms of discipline and order. We do not underestimate the tasks ahead.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said in terms of the practical help that is being given in the Kivus. Does he recognise the disarming of the militia to which he has just referred, in particular the Interahamwe genocidaires, who have used rape as a weapon of war throughout the Kivus, as well as the impunity that the right reverend Prelate mentioned? Will he say more about the flow of arms into that area and what we can do to halt it, and what we are doing to disarm these militia, especially the child soldiers who are involved in these depredations?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, again I must stress the sheer size of the DRC. There are 20,000 troops in MONUSCO. They operate across the entire DRC, which is roughly the same size as western Europe. At present, they have 24 helicopters. Unfortunately, the Indians withdrew their dozen helicopters some time ago. There are limits to what the international community is able to do in this area. As the noble Lord knows, some of the unofficial forces come from Rwanda and others from Uganda. Nevertheless, we are working with other members of the international community as actively as we can to try to build an effective administration in the area, which it currently lacks.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, has the Minister concluded that there can be no security in the DRC until there is security for women? Only this week, the UN registered that 120 women had been raped in east Congo in this year alone, and those are just the reported rapes. Is pressure being put on the Government of the DRC to push much harder on the issues of justice and impunity, and to put those issues further up the agenda? Is the noble Lord aware that only 0.1 per cent of the DRC budget is allocated to the justice sector at this time? We should surely ask what has happened to that idea of zero tolerance that the president of DRC has spoken about. Rape cannot be seen as collateral damage, cultural or inevitable.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we are co-operating with other members of the European Union in providing assistance to improving the quality of justice in the DRC. We all recognise that the quality at present leaves a great deal to be desired. There is also an enormous task in improving the quality of training in the Congolese army. A number of countries, including Britain, are contributing in different ways to the training of the battalions. I should remark that the Chinese are also helping to improve the quality of training.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the United States has recently committed increased funding and logistical support to the regional efforts to disband the LRA and to capture Joseph Kony and his commanders who are still operating with impunity in the region? Is he also aware that the scant intelligence available on the LRA severely constrains the effectiveness of these operations? Will the Government initiate a call at the United Nations for a panel of experts to report on improving intelligence gathering and sharing in the region?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the problem with the LRA is partly that it operates across the borders of Uganda, the DRC, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, and it has not always proved easy to ensure that the different UN operations in some of those countries manage to co-ordinate among themselves. The latest information I have is that the LRA is now well under 1,000 strong but that it continues to cause an enormous amount of damage as its members maraud across those borders.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, the report describes the DRC as the "heart of darkness" and concludes that the conflict continues,

"without credible hope for an improvement".

Government troops act with impunity, the United Nations troops are discredited, there is widespread rape, and yet the international community is intervention-weary. The African Union has a poor record in relation to Somalia. Are there any signs of hope at all? What can the European Union do that we are not doing at the moment?

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

One obvious thing is that MONUSCO needs more helicopters, more support and more troops. At present, the majority of the troops in MONUSCO are from south Asia. The noble Lord may know that the African Union forces are now extremely stretched, given the various different peacekeeping operations under way in Africa. We have to recognise that this is going to be a very long haul. The UK, I repeat, is one of the largest donors under a number of different programmes to deal with the various problems that the DRC is currently facing.