Democratic Republic of the Congo

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:15 am on 23rd October 2012.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 11:15 am, 23rd October 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend Pauline Latham on securing the debate. She has shown a strong interest in humanitarian issues in this part of Africa, both before and since entering the House. She has raised some interesting points and I welcome the opportunity to debate the topic, as I share her concerns about the situation in eastern DRC, as do a number of hon.

Members, two of whom also spoke this morning. The region has also been the subject of a number of recent parliamentary questions. The topic itself is the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mark Simmonds, who is unable to be here today.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the DRC is extremely worrying. There are 2.3 million internally displaced people, up from 1.7 million at the end of last year. The strengthening and proliferation of armed groups in 2012 as the national army has redeployed to tackle M23 has led to a sharp increase in the number of attacks on civilians, including alarming levels of sexual violence, forced recruitment and other human rights abuses.

Access for humanitarian agencies to affected areas is limited. The UN humanitarian action plan called for $791 million, but only $412 million has been raised to date. My hon. Friend asked about UK aid to the DRC. As she notes, the UK is one of the largest contributors of development aid to the DRC, and over the next four years the UK will deliver significant results to the poorest and most vulnerable people. We are committed to providing a minimum of £27 million of assistance each year until 2016. We call on others to follow suit and give this crisis the attention and support it deserves.

The DRC remains one of the most challenging environments in which to deliver aid. Questions over further UK aid support to the DRC are first and foremost for my colleagues at the Department for International Development, and I will ensure that the debate is brought to their attention. I am also aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will continue to review the programme to ensure that the money is reaching the right places in the DRC while also achieving value for money for the British taxpayer.

Looking beyond the humanitarian crisis, we want a stable and prosperous DRC. The international community needs to respond to the drivers of the conflict. We therefore welcome the presidential statement issued by the United Nations Security Council on Friday 19 October. The statement condemns M23 and all its attacks on the civilian population and emphasises the need for countries to respect the principles of non-interference, good neighbourliness and regional co-operation. We want a regional solution to what we believe is a regional problem. We welcome the leadership that the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region has shown thus far. The ICGLR has achieved a ceasefire, or, more accurately, a lull in the fighting. I say that because clashes have, alas, continued. Although they are not at earlier levels, they are enough to remain a concern. The fact remains that a rebel group with external support is in control of part of the DRC. That is clearly unacceptable.

We also welcome the ICGLR’s proposals for a neutral international force to tackle armed groups in eastern DRC, though details remain to be decided, and an extended joint verification mechanism to monitor the border between the DRC and Rwanda. We urge its rapid deployment.