Democratic Republic of Congo — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 19 July 2012.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 11:06, 19 July 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of reports that mutineers in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo have received assistance from foreign military officials.

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

My Lords, we have studied the United Nations Group of Experts report and believe it to be credible. We call on the countries named in the report to seek a sustainable resolution to the conflict, and one that breaks the cycle of violence.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer, but is he aware that Presidents Kabila and Kagame have agreed that the 11-nation International Conference on the Great Lakes Region should work with the AU and the UN to establish a neutral force along the Rwanda-Congo border? Has President Kagame discussed with our Prime Minister which countries are offering to commit troops while Rwanda withdraws its support from the M23 rebels? Secondly, the Tutsi leader, Senator Mwangachuchu, claims that the M23 rebellion resulted from the ICC judgment against Thomas Lubanga and the indictment of Bosco Ntaganda for recruiting child soldiers and other crimes. Has the Prime Minister offered UK assistance, or has any other agency offered assistance in the pursuit and capture of Bosco Ntaganda?

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

In answer to my noble friend's questions, yes I am aware of the Great Lakes conference agreement by Presidents Kabila and Kagame and others that they should consider the idea of a border force, but it is still only at the thinking stage. Did my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discuss this with President Kagame when he saw him a few weeks ago? The answer is no, because the propositions of the Great Lakes group had not come forward at that point. The Prime Minister expressed extreme concern at the Group of Experts report that Rwanda might be involved in backing the M23, but other developments have taken place since.

Has the ICC judgment against Thomas Lubanga created an atmosphere in which the M23 rebellion and breakaway from the Congolese army has taken place? I have to say that it may have played a part, but it is very hard to say. It may have been one of the reasons why Bosco Ntaganda and others retreated from their previous co-operation with the Congo army and have set up a mutineers' group again. Have we offered, and has my right honourable friend offered, UK assistance in the pursuit and capture of Bosco, who is of course indicted by the ICC? No, because it is the responsibility of the DRC itself to co-operate fully with the ICC, and that is what we constantly urge.

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Labour

Given the importance of the African Union and South Africa and their good offices to the future of the DRC, would the Minister welcome the accession of the former Foreign Minister of South Africa, Mrs Dlamini-Zuma, to the leadership of the African Union? Her good offices are going to be absolutely crucial at this time if we are to bring peace and security to that area.

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

The noble Lord is absolutely right, and I certainly welcome that accession. The African Union is playing an increasingly positive part in facing up to the regional issues in the centre of Africa and at the centre of its concerns. We certainly welcome that. Obviously the African Union has played a key part in the International Conference on the Great Lakes, which was in the margins of the meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa the other day. It is a very good prospect that South Africa is playing a leading part, as the noble Lord describes.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, was the Minister's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, an acceptance that Rwanda has been aiding and abetting not only M23 but the other six rebel groups that have led to 1.4 million people being displaced in the Kivu in eastern Congo? That being the case, why are we not using the £344 million of aid which we have provided to Rwanda as leverage to persuade Rwanda not to aid and abet these insurgent groups, and to do rather more to bring to justice people such as Bosco Ntaganda, who has been responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers, which has led to the deaths of countless numbers of people-a haemorrhaging loss of life that dwarfs even the terrible and tragic events in Syria by comparison?

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

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, no one questions the atrocities and misery of these various armies. I have counted five different armies and groups involved in killing and fighting each other in the region, and there is an extreme danger of this spreading and creating mayhem more widely on both humanitarian and security grounds. That is certainly the case.

As to our leverage, our aid programme is not quite as large as the sum mentioned by the noble Lord. I have a figure of £198 million a year to the DRC, and £83 million a year to Rwanda. Certainly our judgment is that, through that aid, we have the authority and the leverage to influence the situation. I spoke to the Foreign Minister of Rwanda, Louise Mushikiwabo, about three weeks ago, as did my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Development and my honourable friend Mr Bellingham. We all impressed on her and her colleagues the necessity of facing up to the reality, and of Rwanda's activity, as reported in the Group of Experts, to cease and to make way for a proper solution to the conflict. We are using our leverage and influence in a very nasty situation, but the way we do it obviously varies from country to country.

Photo of The Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury Bishop

My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to ask a question in this particular context, because I think the plight of the Congo is well known to everyone in this House. The issue of regional co-operation has already been flagged indirectly in what has been said. One of the questions I would like to ask is to do with what Her Majesty's Government are doing to foster a broader regional strategic engagement involving more than simply the Governments of Rwanda and Congo. As part of that regional question, I am very concerned about a cross-border issue in the region: the plight of the indigenous peoples and indigenous minorities such as the Batwa. Twelve months ago I met the Batwa community in Congo and was dismayed to find what little attention some local authorities, especially by the United Nations, give to their plight. Are the Government aware of this?

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

I am very grateful to the most reverend Primate for his question about the regional aspects, which are vital. May I answer him in this way? First, my honourable friend Mr Bellingham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary concerned with African matters, was at the African Union conference last week and talked to regional leaders in detail all the time. Secondly, we have been promoting the idea of regional dialogue between the countries concerned. Thirdly, we are the third largest humanitarian donor trying to grapple with the situation. Fourthly, there is the matter, which my noble friend raised, of the Great Lakes group and its movement towards the idea of detailed regional co-operation and the involvement of all the key players in the region in solving this problem themselves. The regional aspect is very important, and I fully agree with the most reverend Primate that this is what we should concentrate on.

As to the cross-border issue, which was his other question-

Noble Lords:


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

I have been asked many questions, which produces many answers. The cross-border issue is very serious and we are looking at it very closely.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady King, has been trying very hard to get in.

Photo of Baroness King of Bow Baroness King of Bow Labour

My Lords, I have visited the Great Lakes region on 10 occasions over a decade and I have never ceased to be amazed by the resilience and dignity of the local populations and the barbarity and scale of the atrocities visited on them, such as a nine month-old baby who was raped with a military-issue rifle and who then sustained terrible gunshot wounds. Does the Minister agree that we need to hold Rwanda to account, and that we should also hold the Congolese army to account? Could he press for more military tribunals so that we can play our role in ensuring that innocent victims such as that nine month-old baby girl get the justice they deserve?

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

Yes. Obviously we encourage the bringing to account of the very evil people who are committing these atrocities; there is no question at all about that. Bosco Ntaganda has been indicted by the ICC, and Rwanda has its own tribunal and court for assessing the horrors of the past. In all other aspects of bringing those involved to account, we will certainly press as hard as we can in the ways I have described in detail to your Lordships over the past five minutes.