Burundi — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 11th June 2015.

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Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 11:06 am, 11th June 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they are responding to recent developments in Burundi.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa has called on all parties to end the violence and respect the principles of the Arusha agreement, urging the Burundian Government to delay the elections to ensure that they are credible and inclusive. A political solution must be found. We are working closely with the African Union, the region and the United Nations to achieve this.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, the decision of the President of Burundi to seek a third term—against the constitution of the country—and the violence that subsequently took place has pushed more than 90,000 refugees into Tanzania and other neighbouring countries. We know that violence in Burundi can spill over into Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and elsewhere, with grave consequences for the whole region. Will the Government support a strong and unanimous perspective from the international organisations—the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union—which have a role here, and will they push those organisations to be as strong as possible on the constitution and the disarmament of those armed groups linked to the political parties?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

I agree entirely with the view put forward by the noble Lord. We are galvanising support across all the nations that should have an interest in the stability of east Africa, but more broadly, as the noble Lord said, multilaterally with the United Nations and all like-minded countries.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, there is a much wider problem, as we all know, across Africa, of heads of state or government refusing to go when their term is up. I thought this morning of my son who, 15 years ago, was in Uganda when Museveni was yet again standing for re-election. Is there any way we can promote the sort of thing that Mo Ibrahim used to do, along with the African Union and the United Nations: offer prizes for relinquishing office to persuade some of these people in Congo, Rwanda, Gambia and elsewhere to leave when their time is up?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very serious point in a memorable way. I cannot think that we will have a competition to decide what should be offered, but it is a very serious point. Third terms are not conducive to a stable method of handing on power to another group.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

I have been waiting to say that for quite a long time. We saw recently the refreshing effect that elections can have.

In the case of Burundi, it is clear that the first term of President Nkurunziza was by appointment, not by election. It is therefore time for him to step aside, and to have open and fair elections.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

Does my noble friend accept that many sub-Saharan African leaders find it so profitable to be in power that the sums that will have to be paid to get them to go will have to be very substantial?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

My Lords, that is certainly an interesting point of view.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Labour

My Lords, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that increased government militia violence could push Burundi over the edge. Does the Minister agree that, since we are seeing the deepest conflict and violence for a decade in Burundi, there is a chance of old ethnic battles between Hutus and Tutsis reopening?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

The noble Baroness paints the picture about which we are all concerned—that this should not be an event that leads to Burundi returning to violence. The Arusha agreement of 2000 took them out of that, and they have a Government who reflect both Tutsis and Hutus. It is that kind of inclusive government that we will seek to continue. It is not a happy picture of the future if that were to break down.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, there is speculation in the media this morning about the future of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes. Could the Minister update the House on the current situation? It is vital that his role continue, and that he continue in it.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

Indeed, the noble Lord raises an important point. We have always expressed our clear support for the United Nations Special Envoy, Said Djinnit, as a mediator in the political dialogue. I know that there have been some rumours at the African Union summit, which is currently under way, that he may be considering resigning from that position. Our most recent information from conversations with him within the last 24 hours is that he has the will and determination to continue, but clearly it is a matter for other countries to determine whether they are prepared properly to undertake work with him. I hope that he is able to continue; I understand that he and others will be watching the discussions at the African Union summit to see where we can go from there. Our support is fully behind Djinnit, and we feel that he has the opportunity to find a resolution eventually.