Democratic Republic of the Congo — Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 7:50 pm on 16th July 2013.

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Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 7:50 pm, 16th July 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments designed to halt the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity this evening to lead this short debate and to pose some questions to the Government about the situation in the eastern DRC. I am also particularly grateful, on such a sunny summer’s evening, to the Minister and other noble Lords for volunteering to speak on this topic. I should record my role as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa, partly because it was in that role that I recently had the opportunity to visit both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda as part of a parliamentary delegation from the United Kingdom.

When requesting this debate, I thought that it would be timely, partly as a result of that delegation visit, which took place at the end of May, and partly because I spent last week in Burundi at the regional conference on women, peace, security and development in the Great Lakes region at the invitation of the new UN special envoy, Mary Robinson. However, this debate has become even more timely with the events of the last 48, or perhaps 72, hours. There has been renewed fighting in the eastern DRC, not just in one area but across much of the region and involving, it appears, many different groups. Publicity this week will no doubt focus on the clashes between the M23 and the FARDC—the Congolese army—which now appear to be battling outside Goma, yet again, for control of parts of that area. Fighting appears to have begun at the weekend, involving a group called the ADF, which is at least alleged to be mainly made up of Ugandan-based rebels and which appears to have some links with Islamist extremists from elsewhere in the continent.

There has been a growing trend over recent weeks, which again appears to have been shown over the weekend, for the FDLR—a former Rwandan rebel group—and other smaller groups to use the fact that the main focus appears to be on the M23 around Goma to execute all kinds of attacks on local villages. There have been kidnaps and in some cases rapes and deaths. Yet again today we see an outbreak of accusation and counter-accusation from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwandan Governments, which will no doubt heighten tensions in the area and in the region as a whole. I have received a series of e-mails over recent days documenting the horrors that this means on the ground for local people who are living in small communities. To be honest, they are too painful to read out tonight.

The Great Lakes region has, as a whole, seen incredible conflict over the past 20 to 25 years. The eastern DRC is not the only area affected. There is the Central African Republic and the long-standing campaign for independence in South Sudan, with conflict continuing even after that independence has been achieved. There is the terrible civil war in Burundi and the horrific genocides in Rwanda, the 20th anniversary of which is next year. In and around the DRC itself, there is what has been described as Africa’s world war, in which over 5 million people have died in the past 15 years or so. The whole region is affected by each of these conflicts in turn, but tonight I want to concentrate on the situation in the eastern DRC.

This area, and indeed the whole country and the region, is populated by wonderful people. It has incredible resources and a beautiful landscape, but the poverty, violence and hopelessness at its core has been debilitating, as anybody who has visited or studied the region over recent years knows, while other parts of the continent have grown and prospered. Lives have been ruined and opportunities are being wasted on an incredible scale. That is why we, as the United Kingdom, need to continue to be interested in what is happening there.

Last year, a group called the M23 broke off, as we know, from the official Congolese army and eventually overtook the capital of the area, Goma. There are allegations against that group, the Congolese army and others for the way in which the conflict in 2012 was conducted. The UN failed to protect Goma. More than £8 billion has been spent on the UN peacekeeping force over the past 14 years, yet it has continually failed to contain and deal with these conflicts at the local level.

In 2013, however, there have been what might be seen in the context of the region as quite dramatic developments. On 24 February, a peace, security and development framework for the whole region was signed by all 11 heads of state in the Great Lakes region and by four supporting multilateral institutions: the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the African Union, the United Nations and the Southern African Development Community. Subsequent to that, on 28 March the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2098, which updated the mandate of MONUSCO in the region but also called for and started to put in place a regional intervention brigade, which for the first time in UN history will have the specific job of dealing with combatants at local level to try to secure peace for local people. It also bravely appointed the first ever woman special envoy in this area for the United Nations, Mrs Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland. She has begun her work and, as I said, I was with her in Burundi last week.

During our APPG visit focused on this area, we met President Kabila and senior Ministers from both Rwanda and the DRC. We met human rights campaigners, parliamentarians and senior officials in the UN. We also met a significant number of former combatants from the M23. This visit has indicated a number of things to me. First, the anger and suspicion in the area continue on all sides and are deep-rooted, but there is, perhaps for the first time, some hope that this regional framework can make a difference. There are at least public, formal commitments from everybody involved to work with the new framework. The President of Burundi reinforced that when I met him last week in Bujumbura.

Progress has been slow in implementing the details of the new framework, perhaps especially in relation to the peace talks presided over by President Museveni in Kampala. However, the UN has put in place the regional intervention brigade and Mary Robinson is in place and being very active. Her appointment has been welcomed by almost everybody in the region as someone whom they can trust. She has said that it is time to do things differently, by trying to implement a bottom-up approach to peace as well as a top-down approach, and in particular by trying to involve women in a way that is so needed, as was of course highlighted by UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

The DRC Government have at long last started to pursue, in a more determined fashion, security sector reform and genuine dialogue between different groups. Oversight mechanisms are starting to be put in place and improvements in governance are at least promised. However, this peace, security and development framework has not just national recommendations and commitments but regional and international ones, and it is to them I want to turn in my questions.

This is very complex series of conflicts involving identity, land, fear, greed and power. These different emotions and elements of history cross borders in this region perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. We need to see implementation and determination on national, regional and international commitments. Inside the DRC there needs to be real reform and genuine improvements in governance, including decentralisation. We need a balanced, negotiated political approach that ensures that everybody has a stake in the future. We need a regional context that will help to bring peer pressure and, I hope, economic progress to the area. Women must be much more involved than they have ever been before in these discussions and efforts across the whole region.

I want to ask the Minister some questions quickly within the time allocated. First, as this is a unique opportunity, perhaps a once-in-a-generation one, to see some progress, how strong is the Government’s support for this regional peace process and what actions have we taken to secure its success? Secondly, what actions have we taken to support the new UN special envoy, Mrs Robinson, and what discussions have taken place with her? Thirdly, do the Government have an update on the peace talks in Kampala, which appeared until recently to have stalled and whose stalling may have triggered some of the violence at the weekend? Fourthly, do the Government have an update on the events of the past few days and a response and reaction to them?

Critically, do the Government agree that there is a need for a regional approach not just by the 11 states of the Great Lakes region and the African Union as a whole, but also by the British Government, other major European and North American donors and the European Union? Can we do more to integrate our diplomatic and development efforts across the region, taking a regional approach to our development decisions and our diplomacy? Can we use the European Union more? Can we integrate our various initiatives, including the Foreign Secretary’s admirable Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, and can we review the decisions on aid to Rwanda and Burundi to secure their greater enthusiasm for this approach? The killing, rapes, fear and incredible violence against women and children in particular have gone on in this area for far too long. Along with others, we have been too inconsistent in our attention to this matter in the past. I hope that we can use this opportunity to say that we will be consistent and determined to see this through to an end that might actually bring some hope to the people of a land that has suffered for too long.

Photo of Baroness Chalker of Wallasey Baroness Chalker of Wallasey Conservative 8:02 pm, 16th July 2013

I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, for asking for this debate. It could not be more timely. Anything that we can do to halt the conflict in the eastern region of the DRC and its wider ramifications—as I will mention—needs to be done. I thank him, too, for the visit that he has made, because not many people have gone across this territory—with some fear, I have to be honest—in many years. The eastern Congo area is not a specific concern of my company, Africa Matters Ltd, at this time but I declare an ongoing interest in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, as stated in the register of interests, and I am an unpaid or volunteer chairman of that company.

My first journey to the Congo was in 1986—a very long while ago. I made other trips in the late 1980s. My first time in eastern Congo was in 1994 after the flood of refugees out of Rwanda following the genocide. One thing undeclared at the beginning of that was the number of ordinary people suffering from death and disease, not just in the camps but over a far wider region. Kinshasa, Kigali and until recently Kampala have not really focused on what this is doing to ordinary people who could otherwise be productive in agriculture or small business and making a change in those areas of Africa.

I want to say a word or two about the developing refugee problem. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some of the detail of what I know Britain is already doing through DfID and non-governmental organisations in the area. There are literally hundreds fleeing every hour into neighbouring countries, mainly women, children and the elderly. Mary Robinson’s comment, to which the noble Lord referred, that it is time to do things differently caused me to wish to speak in this debate.

Two days ago, in addition to more than 210,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in neighbouring counties, 63% of whom came from the DRC, a further 66,000 refugees had fled into the western part of Uganda. Today, Congolese government forces have attacked the M23 rebels near Goma and this is, as the noble Lord said, the third day of heavy fighting, causing hundreds more still to flee their homes. It is right that the UN should now be deploying the 3,000-strong intervention force of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops, patrolling and not yet in combat role. The new mandate may help, although it could hinder, because it will allow UN forces to attack if rebels continue to attack local populations. We hope that we will see some progress under the new mandate.

However, progress in stopping fighting is not going to be sufficient to sort out the immense problems in the region. I am quite certain that the UN would now block any attack on Goma, but that comes long after a period of waiting to see what would happen. If there is one thing that I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench, it is that we stop waiting to see what happens and, with others in the Security Council, ensure that Mary Robinson and others in the field have all the support that they need to make a difference.

Reuters recently reported that three Congolese government helicopters were in the area and were attacking the rebels in the town of Kibati, about four kilometres north of Goma. Congolese government forces are pushing rebels back to wherever those rebels come from, but there have been further attacks and so the churn of new refugees increases hour by hour. I know that, on Monday, rebels and the Congolese government troops traded mortar fire again in the north. This is happening not in a mining area, as some would have us believe, but in inhabited areas.

That is what I wish to underline in this debate. Over the past 20 years, millions have died from violence, disease, wounds and hunger. Whoever is arming the rebels is prolonging the unrest. What do the British Government know about the sources of the weaponry and the other means by which the rebel forces are prolonging the campaigns against ordinary people? One of the past failures in the area has been to communicate with people on the ground the reality of what they are doing. There is a need for a tougher line to explain to the rebels and to others who may be drawn into the conflict exactly where this is leading. I for one have deep fears about what is happening.

The other line that I hope my noble friend will pursue is the question of how people are recruited into the M23 or any other rebel groups. There must be some knowledge in the UN of exactly how people are recruited. It is not happening by accident. They may be recruited from border areas of neighbouring countries without the permission or blessing of those Governments. I am well aware that the Government of Rwanda have declared that they do not assist the M23, but if Rwandan people—and I do not just mean Tutsis who may happen to be in eastern Congo but are citizens of Rwanda—are turning up among the rebel forces, it must be for the Governments on both sides of the border to take action about those who are crossing simply to perpetuate the violence and warfare.

This is causing a real refugee crisis for the neighbours. The only way in which we can be of maximum help is by taking the sort of action that we took years ago, with clear direction, in Sierra Leone under General Sir David Richards. We need to give a lead to the UN troops about how they deal with this continuing insurrection because, unless we and others who have the ability to make the change do so, Mary Robinson’s task will be impossible.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 8:11 pm, 16th July 2013

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, on securing this very timely debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, for her very informative contribution.

The distance from the Atlantic coast of the DRC west of Kinshasa to Goma on the eastern border with Rwanda is not far short of 2,000 kilometres as the crow flies. If it were possible to make the journey by road, the distance would be at least half as much again. As in many African countries, the road network is at best patchy, mainly graded and rolled laterite. At worst, it is just muddy tracks. In fact, the maps show that the river network in the Congo is far denser than that of the roads.

Much of the economic activity in the DRC, apart from mining, is confined to the urban area around Kinshasa. Communications with the rest of this vast country are at the mercy of an unreliable internal air service. The difficulties of administering a country with such sparse infrastructure are bad enough. Factor in a non-existent local government and a central government described as weak and corrupt and the task becomes immensely challenging.

Local elections have never occurred in the DRC. They have been regularly postponed since 2006. Civil society, NGOs and international donors all agree that the organisation of these elections would form a critical education and empowerment process. Beyond elections themselves, the reform of the National Electoral CommissionCENI—has been under scrutiny since before the 2011 general elections. Prior to the election, I and a small team of parliamentarians met CENI in Kinshasa. Its main objective seemed to be to present an election funding and facilitating wish list beyond reason. We were not impressed. It may be that the mission that visited in May, which the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, described, has better news, and I look forward to seeing its report in due course.

Civil society sees revision of CENI as just one step in a wider process of reform of electoral institutions. A review of the electoral roll, the redefinition of constituencies and improving and supporting civic education are all on the urgent agenda. According to the constitution, the president should not be able to run for a third term but, having amended the constitution in 2011 to reduce the presidential election to just one round, many anticipate Kabila being tempted into further amendments to give himself a third term.

International commentators are slowly coming to the conclusion that there is little to show for all the peacekeeping missions, special envoys, inter-agency processes and diplomatic initiatives in the failed state that is the DRC. Since Mobutu’s removal from power in 1997, probably more than 5 million people have died in the DRC through civil war, massacre and criminal activities. The DRC is second only to Somalia in the failed states index. It is last in the UN Human Development Index, last in GDP per capita, behind even Somalia and South Sudan, and very close to bottom of the Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.

Since 2000, the DRC has received $27 billion in development assistance and is probably the world’s largest recipient of international assistance after Afghanistan, yet there is still no effective governmental structure serving the needs of the two-thirds of the population—60 million people—who live outside Kinshasa’s area of influence. To DfID’s credit, it has launched a humanitarian development aid programme from 2011-15 which, if the security situation allows, will begin to make a difference to the people of the DRC.

In November 2012, the M23 rebel group, which is thought to be backed by Rwanda, seemingly walked past MONUSCO troops and occupied Goma, North Kivu’s provincial capital. A few days later, their point made, the rebels melted back into the forest. This March, fighters of the Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga entered the DRC’s second largest city, Lubumbashi, clashed with government forces and then surrendered, harking back to events in the 1960s when Katanga province broke away from the Congolese state. The latest report from a UN group of experts given the role of gathering and analysing relevant information on flows of arms and networks operating in violation of the embargo on the DRC has to date found no evidence of support for the M23 rebels from Uganda. However, it has evidence of limited and continuous support to the M23 from within Rwanda. When my noble friend the Minister responds, will she say what impact the continuous outbreaks of violence are having on DfID’s programme for 2011-15?

The UN Panel of Experts report goes into great detail about the changes in leadership of the M23 and the rivalry between indicted war criminal General Bosco Ntaganda and his deputy Sultani Makenga. Their struggles led to a split in the M23 and, ultimately, to military confrontations and the surrender of Bosco Ntaganda. Supplied with arms in exchange for gold and ivory gained from poaching activities in many parts of the DRC, the M23 are now thought to have some 1,500 soldiers spread over an area of 700 square kilometres. Yet the authorities have been slow to recognise the dangers in the current situation, given Katanga’s pivotal prominence in the region’s economy. Meanwhile, Joseph Kony now has a window in which to regroup his repugnant LRA in the Central Africa Republic that could soon spread again to the DRC. This could well reverse the gains made in quelling the rebellion in the region which, with the help of US advisers based in Uganda, cut attacks by half. There is a real concern that, with this mission currently on hold, attacks will build again. Can my noble friend the Minister shed some light on when this US-supported mission is likely to recommence?

As part of the strategic review of MONUSCO included in the peace, security and co-operation framework for the region, the UN Security Council’s resolution 2098 provides, as noble Lords have mentioned, for a brigade of over 3,000 troops drawn from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi. At last, MONUSCO has been given a more offensive mandate, providing for targeted and robust offensives with a view to neutralising and disarming armed groups, while taking into account the necessity to protect civilians and reduce risks.

The MONUSCO senior staff I met in Goma would have been mightily pleased at the strengthening of their mandate. However, the emphasis on civilian protection will be hard to achieve. I met a group of five women in a church hall in Goma who had come to tell us how they had suffered multiple rapes at the hands of soldiers: whether they were rebels or army was not clear. They carefully and earnestly explained the details of their suffering. One had had a toddler snatched from her arms and butchered in front of her before they raped her. Another had been caught on her way to school and repeatedly raped. At that time, she was just nine years old.

Ban Ki-Moon has made it clear that the UN brigade is only one element of a much larger process. The peace deal has to deliver a peace dividend: health, education, jobs and opportunity. Can my noble friend tell the House where the allocation of additional resources needed to support the implementation of the peace, security and co-operation framework is to be made? What is the Government’s assessment of the military and logistics capability and capacity of the 3,000-strong UN brigade to take on and eliminate the 20 to 40 guerrilla groups consistently wreaking havoc across North Kivu and South Kivu alone? What does my noble friend believe has been learnt from the UN operations in 2009 that were intended to enable the government to regain control of the region? Finally, what plans are in place to prevent a repeat of armed groups being chased away to be immediately replaced by new ones, resulting in more displacement of civilians, armed groups fragmenting and spreading across Kivu and more retaliatory attacks on the civilian population?

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 8:20 pm, 16th July 2013

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend, Lord McConnell for tabling this debate. His recent first-hand experience in the DRC brings a terrific insight to the debate and highlights some of the issues to which all noble Lords have referred.

After a three-year period of relative stability and closer security co-operation between the DRC and Rwanda, the political and security situation in eastern DRC has once again worsened during the past year. As my noble friend described, it commenced with an armed rebellion by a breakaway militia from the DRC army—the M23 group—which, as we have heard, has close links with Rwanda and which seized the regional capital of Goma.

As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, have highlighted, this happened despite the presence of the largest UN peacekeeping force anywhere in the world, consisting of 17,000 troops. When tested, on this occasion and others, the force has unfortunately failed to maintain security and to protect the civilian population. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has just said, the humanitarian impact of conflict is huge and women, in particular, have suffered atrocious sexual violence which continues to occur with impunity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, has said, the Guardian reported today that some 66,000 Congolese refugees were pouring across the border to Uganda after a surprise attack by the Islamist ADF.

As my noble friend Lord McConnell highlighted, fresh fighting erupted near Goma on Monday when, according to the residents, more than 100 armed men, disguised in women’s clothing, entered the country from Rwanda. Like my noble friend, I ask the Minister what the Government’s immediate response is to these recent events.

As we have heard, eastern DRC requires radical security-sector reform, a political settlement and a focus, as my noble friend highlighted, on long-term development assistance. As the noble Baroness,

Lady Chalker, said, there is no doubt that Rwanda should immediately cease its interference in the east of the DRC. However, the DRC cannot continue to blame Rwanda for all its problems. It needs to tackle its serious governance issues. I, too, recognise the terrific role that DfID has played in the DRC in the most challenging of circumstances. The UK is one of the largest donors to the DRC and should be taking a leading role in the east, including setting up a DfID office in Goma; that was discussed in 2009 but never delivered.

We need to start to address the key structural causes of poverty and underdevelopment across the world. I welcome many of the initiatives that the Prime Minister has announced. However, those issues are nowhere more pertinent than in the DRC. As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, it is crucial that the international community supports the implementation of the peace, security and co-operation framework initiative, which attempts to bring stability and prosperity to the eastern DRC. Only a coherent strategy that combines security, a regional political process and a development focused on the long term has the possibility of achieving sustainable change.

First, radical, not superficial, reform of the security sector is necessary. The police and army need to be professionalised and properly paid. As we have heard, the UN’s MONUSCO force is unable to act sufficiently effectively at the most critical of times. Secondly, there needs to be a genuine political process between the DRC, Rwanda and their neighbours to negotiate a political settlement for the long term and to ensure that it is implemented by all parties; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said, to ensure that all parties are held accountable. The new framework and the role of Mary Robinson are undoubtedly crucial to this.

Thirdly, a shared strategy from the Government and donors is necessary for the country to move from humanitarian and emergency assistance, vital though that is, to sustainable economic and social development. This will have to include new governance arrangements and transparency to ensure that the benefits of the rich natural resources of that country are no longer lost to corruption. For this to happen, first and foremost, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, so ably highlighted, there needs to be a functioning DRC Government and state. Many of the political party representatives desire to rebuild the country, promote peace and rebuild their national economy. However, over many years the Government have failed to deliver any significant progress on these objectives.

The DRC is suffering a crisis of legitimacy and leadership. The most urgent task is to organise local and provincial elections, which the noble Lord referred to, which have been delayed since 2006. With the next presidential election due in 2016, the international community must make it very clear that any attempt by President Kabila to change the constitution to extend his mandate will be unacceptable and will lead to a strong response.

I also have questions for the Minister, but perhaps rather than simply repeating those which have already been asked, I will ask: given the concerns over the last presidential election, what are the Government doing in conjunction with the European Union, the African

Union and the US to help ensure that the Kinshasa Government are more representative? What are the Government doing to secure a more legitimate mandate for the Government of the DRC from the people of that country? I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the immediate concerns that noble Lords have raised, but also to focus on what my noble friend Lord McConnell described at the beginning of this debate—the longer-term sustainable development of a country that is rich in resources and in wonderful people.

Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Senior Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government), Senior Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Faith and Communities) (also in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:28 pm, 16th July 2013

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for introducing this timely debate. As noble Lords who took part in this debate this evening will be well aware, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has been subject to cycles of conflict for many years, and more than 5 million people have lost their lives as a result. Its people have suffered too much and for too long. Many have fled their homes, villages have been attacked, there have been summary executions, and there are high levels of sexual violence, including mass rape.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and my noble friend Lady Chalker referred to the ongoing tension, but also to the recent increase in fighting. The actions of the ADF-NALU militia have driven tens of thousands of refugees into Uganda, and the ongoing fighting between the M23 and the DRC army are, of course, concerning. This is an appalling record—more concerning in recent times—and it cannot be allowed to continue. We have urged all sides to show restraint and all militia groups to lay down their arms. We have heard reports of connections with extremist Islamic groups, but at this stage those claims cannot be evidenced and substantiated.

The UK has, of course, been a long-term partner of the DRC. The Department for International Development provides much-needed funding—£790 million between 2011 and 2016—to those in greatest need. UK taxpayer-funded assistance in the DRC over this five-year period alone will include: providing almost 2 million people with clean water; protecting 13.5 million people from malaria—the leading cause of death for children under five in the country—through the simple provision of insecticide-treated bed nets; providing assistance to almost 400,000 women in childbirth; and creating nearly 45,000 new jobs. Through its contribution to the UN, the UK helps to support the work of UN peacekeepers on the front line of the conflict, trying to prevent armed groups wreaking havoc among long-suffering local populations.

In response to my noble friend Lord Chidgey, I can say that I am not aware whether the recent fighting has had any impact on DfID’s programmes, but I can ask DfID to write to him with further information.

A different approach is needed if the cycle of violence in the DRC is to be broken for good. We have now reached a critical moment when there is a window of opportunity to help bring lasting stability and prosperity to this conflict-torn region. Noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Collins, have spoken of immediate responses, but we need to focus on long-term sustainability.

Four events now give us a window of opportunity. First, the signing of the UN-brokered peace, security and co-operation framework—the PSCF—in February marked a moment where 11 regional countries, including the DRC and Rwanda, came together to sign up to commitments which, if implemented, will lead to peaceful co-operation and economic integration across the whole region. This agreement was also signed by four organisations: the UN, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

For the DRC the framework means commitment to deepening security sector reform, consolidating state authority, working towards decentralisation, building economic development, and further structural reform of public institutions—the long-term developments needed for stability. The DRC’s neighbours have committed to respect their neighbours’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have also committed to neither tolerate nor assist armed groups, to strengthen regional co-operation, and to refrain from harbouring or protecting anyone accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The PSCF is a great example of the region coming together, with the support of the international community, to agree to the principle of peace and a way forward to make it happen.

Secondly, there was the appointment in March of Mary Robinson as the UN special envoy to the region. The Government strongly welcome this appointment, and we have offered our support to her and her office as she implements her mandate to oversee the implementation of the PSCF, which she has referred to as “the framework of hope”. We support her approach of working with regional Governments to bring stability to the region, but also with communities to encourage peace-building at all levels. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referred to that as both top-down and bottom-up.

I welcome, in particular, the noble Lord’s recent visit to Burundi, where he supported Mary Robinson at a women leaders consultative meeting, which looked at the role women across the region could play in implementing the PSCF. The noble Lord also asked about contacts. Foreign Office Ministers have been in contact with Mary Robinson, both in person and by phone, and I understand that the Minister for Africa saw her in London about three weeks ago. He underlined to her the UK’s support for her role, and offered to consider any requests for practical assistance that she may need.

Thirdly, there is the new mandate for MONUSCO peacekeepers. While protection of civilians remains the core principle of the peacekeeping operation, this mandate also, for the first time in the UN’s history, includes an intervention brigade—the FIB—with a specific task of preventing the expansion of, and neutralising, armed groups in eastern DRC. We have welcomed the deployment of the FIB, which we feel will act in support of the PSCF. We hope that it will help to bring a period of stability to eastern DRC to allow reform and peace-building to take root. The mandate also allows for the use of unmanned aerial systems—another first for a UN peacekeeping mandate. Given the size of eastern DRC and its hostile terrain, we think that this will provide a useful tool to help peacekeepers monitor the situation on the ground more effectively.

Lastly, talks in Kampala between the DRC Government and M23 continue. While this process has been somewhat irregular, and the talks alone cannot achieve a sustainable peace in eastern DRC, they have a part to play in the wider peace process. The confluence of these events, with the military track in support of political and development efforts, provides an opportunity to achieve lasting stability in eastern DRC, for the cycle of violence to finally be broken, and for the terrible human rights abuses that have afflicted the people of that region to end.

Of course, we recognise that the causes and drivers of conflict in eastern DRC are many and various, and often deeply entrenched, so we do not claim that resolving conflict there will be easy or quick. It will require the sustained effort of the signatories to the PSCF, which contains some hefty commitments. It is important that all signatories fulfil these commitments—for the DRC to carry out significant reform of its security sector, for example, and for the other signatories, including Rwanda, to respect the sovereignty of their neighbours and refrain from supporting armed groups. It is equally important that all signatories work together for the potential peace dividend, for greater regional economic integration and development.

We welcome the progress that has been made so far—for example, the steps taken in DRC towards its PSCF commitments, including starting to establish a national dialogue mechanism and providing an initial plan for security sector reform. But much more remains to be done. Ensuring the success of the PSCF will also require the sustained attention and collaborative efforts of the international community.

The UK will take a joint diplomatic and development approach to supporting the framework, in support of Special Envoy Robinson as she works to encourage the full implementation of the PSCF. This means that we will use our diplomatic assets to urge signatories to meet their commitments, ensuring that the Department for International Development’s work to support conflict resolution and peace-building in the region is effective and sustainable. A number of noble Lords asked about the EU. We are already working through the UN, the EU, the African Union and other organisations, with Governments in the region and other major donors to DRC and Rwanda.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey spoke of the appalling sexual violence. He will be aware of the Preventing Sexual Violence initiative launched by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary last year. This was the focus of his visit to DRC and Rwanda in March this year. The UK now has a specialist team of experts to deploy to conflict areas to support UN and civil society efforts to help build national capacity to investigate allegations of sexual violence, helping to replace the culture of impunity with one of deterrence. In the DRC, the UK is supporting the NGO Physicians for Human Rights with the deployment of an expert in eastern DRC. The expert is working with local health, legal, and law enforcement professionals in north and south Kivu provinces to ensure they are better equipped to conduct crime scene investigations. He will assist local professionals in the documentation, collection and preservation of forensic evidence to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence crimes are brought to justice.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asked about donor co-ordination. This is something that Mary Robinson has emphasised the need for in DRC, and we strongly agree with her. We are working closely with partners in Kinshasa to ensure that we remain co-ordinated with other donors. While effective donor co-ordination remains challenging in DRC, it is improving, and we are committed to investing the time and resources to accelerate progress in the coming months.

The noble Lord spoke about the visit by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa to eastern DRC. I pay tribute to the work of the APPG and am aware of the very successful visit that it paid to Rwanda and the DRC. The knowledge that it brings back to this and the other place helps inform much FCO thinking, as well as our officials on the ground.

We have no details on dates for the Kampala talks at this stage, but we are concerned about their irregular nature. We think that they should continue in good faith and that neither side should try to force an agreement through force of arms.

My noble friend Lady Chalker asked about the source of rebel arms and funding. Of course, I share her concerns about the source of the arms in eastern DRC, and we are working with the UN and the Government of DRC to challenge the activities of rebel groups of different allegiances, which are using conflict minerals to secure the irregular supply of arms. I absolutely agree that the one thing that the eastern DRC does not need is more weapons.

My noble friend also asked whether we have any knowledge of recruitment into M23. We are aware of reports of recruitment into M23 from Rwanda and of forced recruitment from areas that it controls. We have urged the DRC’s neighbours to ensure that such activity ceases.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the Democratic Republic of Congo faces enormous challenges. The Government of the DRC, regional Governments and the international community must work relentlessly to respond to these challenges if we are to bring lasting stability to the region. The DRC is of course a huge country—the often-quoted comparison in terms of size is that of the whole of western Europe—and in the east there are areas of seemingly impenetrable forest with very limited roads, communications and infrastructure. We know that there are deeply entrenched problems to overcome, but the framework for peace is in place and, with the commitment of the Governments of the region and the support of the international community, real progress can be made; progress that will be felt by communities and people across the DRC, so that the many who have waited far too long for the opportunity to live their lives in peace will finally see that happen.

Sitting suspended.