Côte d'Ivoire — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 16th March 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 3:30 pm, 16th March 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what representations they are making to the United Nations and the European Union on the situation in Côte d'Ivoire.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

My Lords, through the European Union and the United Nations, the United Kingdom offers its support for firm action on Côte d'Ivoire in the UN and the EU, and gives broad support to the work of the African Union. We supported the reinforcement of the UN peacekeeping force and continue to urge a robust interpretation of its mandate. We also supported swift action in the EU to apply strong and appropriate restrictive measures against those who support and sustain Mr Gbagbo's regime. With our EU partners, we will review and reinforce these measures as necessary.

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

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. Does he agree that while the world focuses on Japan and North Africa, we must also respond to the growing humanitarian and security emergency in Côte d'Ivoire? Some 400,000 people have been displaced, and 75,000 of them have already moved into Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world. How will the UK respond to urgent appeals for aid for Côte d'Ivoire and, indeed, for other countries in the region that are affected such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

The noble Baroness is entirely right. What is happening in Côte d'Ivoire raises broad concerns that affect the global community, not just this country. I have particularly in mind the horrific murder of several women who only the other day were shot down in cold blood in Abidjan. I have been asked how we support these matters. We do it chiefly through the UN and the European Union. Our own Department for International Development is monitoring the situation and provides direct help, particularly to refugees, to whom the noble Baroness specifically referred. So, frankly, our support is not mainly bilateral but through international institutions and the EU, working in support of France which tends to take the lead in these matters. However, the situation is a worry for all those concerned with civil rights and the promotion of peace and stability in Africa. What is happening at the moment is extremely worrying.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat

I hope my noble friend understands that I am not advocating that we send a gunboat, given that we have very few gunboats left to send. However, will he consider the successful operation in Sierra Leone a few years ago? Given the support that, importantly, the African Union has given to Mr Ouattara's successful election, what practical help can the Government offer to try to get rid of the deposed president?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

When it comes to detailed help, particularly if force is involved, ECOWAS is the organisation that is bound to take the lead. In principle we support the proposals made by ECOWAS, but we think that the authority of the United Nations is needed before they are taken forward. If there is to be that kind of pressure backing up the views of the African Union High Level Panel, of which I am afraid Mr Gbagbo took not the slightest notice, any such firm intervention should be made through the ECOWAS system.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, given that the focus so far has been on mediation between the two parties in Côte d'Ivoire, is it not now time to abandon that since it is clearly not working? Any attempt to broker an agreement between the two candidates, one of whom failed to be elected and one of whom succeeded, is simply futile and fuels the problem?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

I think it has been right to try mediation and talk, but the noble Lord may be pointing in the direction in which things develop. Mr Gbagbo has flatly rejected any attempt at compromise and his troops continue to commit violent acts in Abidjan, as I described a moment ago. The lawfully elected president, Mr Ouattara, remains unable to take over his lawful position. Things may go that way, but in the African Union and ECOWAS there is a great wish to see whether it can be done without bloodshed first.

Photo of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie Lord Fraser of Carmyllie Conservative

My Lords, some considerable time ago, I was invited by the trading company Trafigura to conduct an independent inquiry into the alleged dumping of slops in Côte d'Ivoire by it. That followed an invitation to which I responded positively to conduct an inquiry led and asked for by the Labour Administration in the Scottish Executive into the cost overrun of the Scottish Parliament. I am delighted to say that a Labour Lord Chancellor had the generosity of spirit to say to me that that was exactly the way to write a report. Subsequent to that, not a single member of the deposed president's Cabinet responded to me. They were clearly gagged. It seems to me that I was getting dangerously close to the truth that there was widespread corruption in that Administration, and that is why they do not wish to relinquish office. Do I take it from my noble friend's previous answers that he is telling me that I should just say silent until democracy is restored to that benighted country?

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

Perish the thought that I should ask my noble and learned friend to stay silent on these matters. His experience and his skill and expertise in this area and many others in the legal and other fields are very considerable, as we all recognise. He describes an interesting bit of history. Indeed, modern developments confirm that in the matter of Mr Gbagbo we are dealing with a very unsavoury character who is clinging on to power illegally and no doubt using extremely dubious means to do so. That is recognised by the African Union, the United Nations and, certainly, by Her Majesty's Government.