The Congo at 50 and the LRA – Save The Congo


Congo: International Crisis Group Report

 

Question

 

11.18 am

Asked by The Lord Bishop of Winchester

 

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the International Crisis Group’s recent Report Congo: No Stability in Kivu despite Rapprochement with Rwanda..

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the International Crisis Group states that civilians are still suffering shocking levels of violence in the Kivus, but the Democratic Republic of Congo’s rapprochement with Rwanda significantly improves the prospect for peace. The UK has close relations with both the DRC and Rwanda. We support MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force, both politically and financially, and the United Kingdom is the biggest humanitarian donor in the Kivus.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I ask for a greater level of realism from him and from the Government. The report to which he refers-he may have been toiling with its French, but it is now translated-makes it clear that the ICG believes that that rapprochement has got nowhere. As he says, the level of violence continues, the minerals are still in the wrong hands, and a great many people are being killed or made insecure. Will he reconsider and agree with the report

3 Feb 2011 : Column 1460

on those matters? Will the Government initiate with European partners, or anyone else they can find-and of course with the Congolese and other regional Governments-a fresh approach that will be non-military, whose terms will be known to the people, rather than kept secret, and that will grapple with the deepest causes of the conflict and give some hope of security, freedom from fear and even the most basic levels of economic development? Lastly, will the Government put an end to impunity for those who are causing the rape and mayhem?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the report is indeed very depressing. The Government are not under any illusions about the enormous task there is to try to create order in the Kivus. Perhaps I might help Members by pointing out that North and South Kivu together have a population of about 11 million. It is estimated that there are nearly 2 million displaced people in the DRC, many of them in the Kivus, and there are about 20 militia groups operating outside the Congolese armed forces in the Kivu-and the Congolese armed forces leave something to be desired in terms of discipline and order. We do not underestimate the tasks ahead.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said in terms of the practical help that is being given in the Kivus. Does he recognise the disarming of the militia to which he has just referred, in particular the Interahamwe genocidaires, who have used rape as a weapon of war throughout the Kivus, as well as the impunity that the right reverend Prelate mentioned? Will he say more about the flow of arms into that area and what we can do to halt it, and what we are doing to disarm these militia, especially the child soldiers who are involved in these depredations?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, again I must stress the sheer size of the DRC. There are 20,000 troops in MONUSCO. They operate across the entire DRC, which is roughly the same size as western Europe. At present, they have 24 helicopters. Unfortunately, the Indians withdrew their dozen helicopters some time ago. There are limits to what the international community is able to do in this area. As the noble Lord knows, some of the unofficial forces come from Rwanda and others from Uganda. Nevertheless, we are working with other members of the international community as actively as we can to try to build an effective administration in the area, which it currently lacks.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, has the Minister concluded that there can be no security in the DRC until there is security for women? Only this week, the UN registered that 120 women had been raped in east Congo in this year alone, and those are just the reported rapes. Is pressure being put on the Government of the DRC to push much harder on the issues of justice and impunity, and to put those issues further up the agenda? Is the noble Lord aware that only 0.1 per cent of the DRC budget is allocated to the justice sector at this time? We should surely ask what

3 Feb 2011 : Column 1461

has happened to that idea of zero tolerance that the president of DRC has spoken about. Rape cannot be seen as collateral damage, cultural or inevitable.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we are co-operating with other members of the European Union in providing assistance to improving the quality of justice in the DRC. We all recognise that the quality at present leaves a great deal to be desired. There is also an enormous task in improving the quality of training in the Congolese army. A number of countries, including Britain, are contributing in different ways to the training of the battalions. I should remark that the Chinese are also helping to improve the quality of training.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the United States has recently committed increased funding and logistical support to the regional efforts to disband the LRA and to capture Joseph Kony and his commanders who are still operating with impunity in the region? Is he also aware that the scant intelligence available on the LRA severely constrains the effectiveness of these operations? Will the Government initiate a call at the United Nations for a panel of experts to report on improving intelligence gathering and sharing in the region?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the problem with the LRA is partly that it operates across the borders of Uganda, the DRC, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, and it has not always proved easy to ensure that the different UN operations in some of those countries manage to co-ordinate among themselves. The latest information I have is that the LRA is now well under 1,000 strong but that it continues to cause an enormous amount of damage as its members maraud across those borders.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the report describes the DRC as the “heart of darkness” and concludes that the conflict continues,

“without credible hope for an improvement”.

Government troops act with impunity, the United Nations troops are discredited, there is widespread rape, and yet the international community is intervention-weary. The African Union has a poor record in relation to Somalia. Are there any signs of hope at all? What can the European Union do that we are not doing at the moment?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: One obvious thing is that MONUSCO needs more helicopters, more support and more troops. At present, the majority of the troops in MONUSCO are from south Asia. The noble Lord may know that the African Union forces are now extremely stretched, given the various different peacekeeping operations under way in Africa. We have to recognise that this is going to be a very long haul. The UK, I repeat, is one of the largest donors under a number of different programmes to deal with the various problems that the DRC is currently facing.

3 Feb 2011 : Column 1462

Lord’s Resistance Army

SIR – Britain should use its presidency of the United Nations Security Council this month to push the apprehension of the Lord’s Resistance Army up the agenda.

Over the last two years, the LRA has killed more than 2,000 people, abducted at least 2,500 and forced 400,000 others to leave their homes, often for good, creating terror, instability and fear across Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Many of the fighters are abducted children forced, under duress, to kill.

The extreme brutality of LRA attacks and the deliberate targeting of children compel an urgent call for action.

In July, while many of us in Britain were taking summer holidays, LRA members

in the Democratic Republic of Congo forced three children to beat their father to death.

During Parliament’s Christmas recess in 2008, some 865 Congolese women, men and children were slaughtered by LRA combatants using axes and machetes. Many were killed on Christmas Day as they gathered to celebrate.

Such stories should not make us turn away in disbelief, they should stir us to action. As the Government emphasised in its Strategic Defence and Security Review, prioritising conflict resolution saves money and lives in the long run.

The national armies and UN forces working in the regions where the LRA operates need to share information better, so that peacekeeping missions can better prevent attacks against civilians.

But we also need robust strategies to apprehend the militia’s leaders and rescue the hundreds of children held hostage by the LRA. Apart from any moral imperative, failure to act now will only cost more lives and more money.

Lord Alton (Cross-bench)
Baroness Chalker (Conservative)
Lord Chidgey (Lib Dem)
Baroness Kinnock (Labour)

Rachel Cummings

 

 

The Congo At 50

Fifty years ago, on June 30th 1960, Congo was granted its independence by Belgium – a colony which, in 1908, had literally been sold, with ruthless zeal, by King Leopold II to the Belgian Government.  In 1960 I was a boy attending the parish primary school. The good nuns who ran our school had links with the Congo and the entire class had been enlisted to raise money to support children in the Congo whose harrowing plight had been made real to us by television and newspaper reports.

I thought how little had changed when, yesterday, I met Juliet, at a meeting organised by Warchild. Juliet, from northern Uganda, was just 12 when she was abducted by the Lords Resistance Army – now pursuing a murderous campaign in the Congo. She was subsequently raped and lost a child in childbirth. Today she is delivering a letter to the Prime Minister, describing her experiences and asking for more help for young people like her, who escape from the LRA, and need education and help.

The LRA are currently a major force for instability in the DRC and across the region but from the first fleeting moment of post colonial freedom Congo’s fledgling democracy began to unravel – and ever since has been blighted by instability, by debilitating and incessant conflict and by corruption.

Back in 1960, within days of independence a military coup was underway and it was followed by widespread looting in the capital, Kinshasa. By July 11 the richest province, Katanga, seceded and the United Nations urgently sent 20,000 peacekeepers to protect Europeans and endeavoured to restore order: the fore-runners of today’s MONUC, the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world – which from the beginning of this month has been renamed MONUSCO.

In 1960 the peacekeepers were followed by a procession of mercenaries and militias – frequently hired by Western interests, especially mining companies.

In these events was the genesis of an endless bloody conflict, in which Congolese people have been hapless pawns in the hands of brutal and avaricious gangsters and war lords. Some six million people are estimated to have lost their lives in the years which have followed.  The cost of the conflict can be seen in the devastating statistics which I have read to the House. Without conflict resolution development is impossible.

When I visited Congo in 2004, and published a report about the scale of the violence and our apparent indifference to the haemorrhaging loss of life, I quoted the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Mbwinga Bila, who told me that as a consequence of the long corrupt and rapacious rule of Mobutu and the almost incessant armed violence since decolonisation “the decaying infrastructure we have today is the one we inherited at the moment of independence. In fact, we have even less now than we had then. The only change is that in 1960 the infrastructure supported a population of 14 million and today the population is closer to 60 million. We have had 35 years of bad government followed by 10 years of armed conflict.”

That conflict has destroyed all prospects of development and stability.  Wholly inadequate national and regional leaders have emerged – some, like Patrice Lumumba, and Laurent Kabila (father of today’s Congolese President, Joseph Kabila) were assassinated; others like Colonel Joseph Mobutu became a by-word for Africa’s worst corruption.  Others again, such as Jean-Perre Bemba created their own local armies and was backed by neighbouring powers such as Rwanda and Uganda.  At one point six neighbouring countries had militias fighting over Congolese diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan. It is often said that Congo has been cursed by its natural resources.  Natural wealth which should have lifted the country out of conflict and desperate poverty has proved to be a ball and chain.

The biggest obstacle to peace in the Congo is the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from neighbouring countries.

The Congo has more diamonds, more gold, more cobalt, more coltan, and more uranium –to name only some of its phenomenal assets, than any country in Africa; and in spite of the lamentable catalogue of crimes against humanity taking place, the Congo probably remains Europe’s and America’ s biggest supplier of uranium, coltan, cobalt, and tin.

For rebel groups and military elites from neighbouring countries, these riches, rather than bringing the populace out of poverty, have become a source of obscene wealth. It serves their interests to encourage the sickeningly chaotic situation. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have all been beneficiaries.

Only when the illegal exploitations of natural resources is tackled will we eliminate the capacity of rebel groups to buy  weapons; when economic incentives of neighbouring elites to export natural resources from Eastern Congo are undermined,   Congo will become a stable and secure state.

It appeared to moving in the right direction when today’s President, Joseph Kabila, succeeded his father in 2001 and a peace agreement was signed.

By 2006 it had proved possible to agree a Constitution and to hold multi-party elections – the first since independence in 1960.

But welcome though those developments have been, lasting stability  in this very fragile State remains elusive, and the world is fooling itself if it believes there is peace in the Congo, or that it will be possible, any time soon, to draw down its peacekeepers.  The continuing level of suffering in the Congo is wholly unacceptable.

The conflict has been fuelled by the avaricious greed of war lords and their commercial accomplices and the complicity of external quartermasters immorally selling weapons into the hands of local militias.

The loss of life has been in the millions – 6 million in Congo alone – and the cost in terms of social and human development is incalculable.   During the 15 years up until 2005 the cost of conflict throughout Africa was around $300 billion – equal to the money provided to Africa in aid during the same period.

Next year Southern Sudan will decide in a referendum whether to secede and become an independent nation – and on Tuesday the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan, of which I am the Acting Chairman,  considered the implications of secession. Again and again contributors warned that security questions are the most crucial issue facing Sudan; that people were aching for peace and security.

The British Government – along with others – needs to do much more to help prepare Sudan for post-referendum challenges; not least the danger of a slide back into conflict. One Sudanese contributor remarked that if border and territorial questions are not resolved it risks repeating the tragedy of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

.  I first went into southern Sudan during the 21 year long civil war – when 2 million people died and 4 million people were displaced. Is it surprising that today southern Sudan has only 20 secondary schools serving this vast region; that roads and infrastructure hardly exist; and that the conflict left a massive legacy of devastation with acute needs for many essential services, including health education and agricultural production.  I have also been in Darfur, where between 2 and 300,000 have died and 2 million people have been displaced – and 90% of the villages have been razed to the ground.  In each of these situations I have been struck by the lack of resources – food, water, medicines – matched by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of small arms and weapons.

  • 1,000 people die each day, victims of small arms. 95% of the Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa. Conflicts are costing African economies an average of $18bn a year – desperately needed money which could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education.

  • I have introduced a small Private Members Bill, the Re-Export controls Bill, which received its first reading on May 22nd, and which has the support of the charity Saferworld and members from all parts of Parliament.  Lord Judd is a fellow sponsor of the Bill and the Rt.Hon Tom Clarke MP  has agreed to steer it through the Commons if it completes its stages in the House of Lords.

  • The UK’s export controls regime is one of the best in the world, but on this particular issue the UK is behind the curve. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden all use some kind of no re-export without permission clause. The US (and even Russia and China) also make use of ‘no re-export controls’.  I am not inferring that UK arms regularly find their way in to Africa’s conflict zones but its lack of a no re-export clause weakens the UK’s position in being able to champion an Arms Trade Treaty (which is strongly supported by the UK defence industry). We are wrong to resist a belt and braces provision which other principal European governments have felt it necessary to enact. To rectify this situation, I hope the British Government will indicate support for the terms of the Bill.

  • Unless we resolve Africa’s conflicts and provide a secure environment for development, our aid programmes often become ineffectual. And the desperate need for development is self evident.

•        Globally, nearly three billion people  live on less than two dollars a day; the World Bank reports that more than 800 million people are wracked by starvation or despair, living below any rational definition of human decency; and many of them are in Africa; 30,000 children die every day due to poverty  and recurring cycles of violence.

In the DRC, UNICEF estimate that 1200 people are dying every day due to continuing epidemics and conflict related emergencies: children and women are invariably the hardest hit. In eastern DRC they say that there are more than 31,400 children identified with acute malnutrition have been treated and a further 100,000 children with acute malnutrition in need of treatment. UNICEF says that they only have funds to meet 15% of the needs.

•         Rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality are staggering. One in five children dies before reaching the age of five. Mothers die in childbirth in 13 out of every 1,000 deliveries.

•         Nearly one third of children are underweight. Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are responsible for nearly half of deaths among children under age five.

•         Vaccination rates for the most common childhood diseases are approximately 65 per cent.

•         Less than half the population has access to a safe source of clean drinking water. Less than one third has access to adequate sanitation facilities.

•         HIV/AIDS is increasing and is significantly higher in areas of recent armed conflict, where sexual abuse and violence against women has been widespread.

•         There are over 4 million orphaned children in the country.

•         School enrolment rates are declining. More than 4.4 million children (nearly half the school-age population) are not in school. This number includes 2.5 million girls and 400,000 displaced children.

•         Child labour is commonplace: More than a quarter of children ages 5 to 14 are working. Nearly 25,000 street children, 200,000 internally displaced children, and 3,000 child soldiers have received help from UNICEF

In the east of the country there are waves of explosive violence and terrible abuses of human rights. In North and South Kivu the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) continue to maraud – and as they displace terrified people the refugees become fodder for the competing militias.  Many refugees are reluctant to return to a Rwanda where a journalist was killed a fortnight ago, where the opposition has not been allowed to register, and where there has recently been more net migration out of Rwanda than into it. I have admired much that Rwanda has achieved but we must be careful in praising their achievements not to deceive ourselves about the challenges it still faces in creating a stable and inclusive civil society.

Many of the 100,000 refugees in the east of the Congo are of Rwandan origin.  Kinshasa has tried “divide and rule” – the divide has worked but the rule has not. At the latest count a mushrooming of local factions has seen the emergence of 22 different factions. One recent survey in the Kivus found that 60% felt less safe than they did a year ago.

Elsewhere, in Ituri MONUC has proved unable to contain the numerous militias; and in Northern Katanga the Mai-Mai – created by Laurent Kabila – are now at odds with Kinshasa.

Since 2008 a military offensive has been underway against the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army), and its leader, Joseph Kony, has regrouped and been recruit new children. It is a shocking indictment on the UN that Kony – against whom there is an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court – is still at large and still a major menace in the region.

In December 2009 the LRA carried out one of their largest ever massacres in the Makombo areas of north-eastern Congo, killing over 300 Congolese civilians in a four day orgy of violence.

Earlier in the year, in August 2009, a marauding band of LRA guerrillas invaded the town of Ezo, on the border of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group stormed into Our Lady Queen of Peace church and abducted 17 young people, mostly in their teens and 20s, and mutilated one leaving him dead. Three have returned safely, but 13 of the 17 abducted are still missing.

Less than a week after this incident, six individuals were found nailed to pieces of wood in a crucifixion-like scene in a forest in the nearby city of Nzara.  20,000 Christians gathered for three days of prayer and walked more than 2 miles barefoot in sackcloth and ashes in protest.   Catholic Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio appealed for international help to stop the attacks by the LRA but his words have fallen on deaf ears.

We need a much more coherent military campaign to hunt down the LRA leaders and bring them to justice.

After the death of countless numbers of people in Northern Uganda Kony’s LRA continues to kill, rape, abduct and enslave children – who become its fighters.

Kony is wilier than some imagine and he sees the ungoverned reaches of northern Congo as a safe haven. This territory has become the LRA’s new killing fields with chilling reports emerging of massacres perpetrated by the LRA. It is said that Kinshasa doesn’t give a damn about the depredations caused by the LRA. It is an ungoverned territory but failure to confront the LRA does not directly threaten the central government so they turn a blind eye. The UN peacekeepers also stay clear of the north, only one twentieth of their force is deployed there, yet the violence there has reached a fever pitch, with the outside world frequently unaware.   The LRA is a more deadly killing machine than even the FDLR in the east of the country.

What this failure to contain the LRA has led to is the creation of a no-man’s land from which it is able to launch new incursions into Southern Sudan – it is said, with the connivance of paymasters and facilitators in the north of that country who wish to undermine Southern Sudan’s fragile new democracy. The LRA are a useful tool in the hands of Khartoum.

Throughout the DRC the conflict to contain and deal with this violence is that two million people have been unable to return to their homes and thousands of women and girls – as well as boys and men – have been the victims of rape used as a weapon of war. As Alan Doss – who was head of MONUC put it: being a woman has become far more dangerous than being an armed militia

And the danger is matched by the danger to those who contest these depredations and who courageously speak out against atrocities and human rights abuses. That danger was graphically underlined on June 2nd when one of Congo’s leading and most ardent human rights defenders, Floribert Chebeya, was murdered. He was President of the non-governmental organisation, La Voix des Sans-Voix – Voice for the Voiceless.  In 1992 Mr.Chebeya won the Reebok Human Rights Award – and spent over twenty years fighting for the respect of human rights and the rule of law.

On June 3rd Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur of Extrajudicial Killings, made clear that in his view the circumstances of the killing raised questions about official involvement and he called for an urgent, independent investigation. MONUSCO should put this in hand without delay. It is certainly not something which can be left to the Congolese authorities to investigate.

Those responsible for this crime must not go unpunished. But the world must also realise that Floribert Chebeya’s death was not an isolated incident. A grim pattern of repression, threats to human rights organisations, the murder of journalists, arbitrary arrest and detention, the flouting of the rule of law, and the emasculation of genuine opposition, are deeply worrying developments. There have been reports of opposition groups being brutally crushed, of bodies turning up in rivers, victims blind-folded and hands tied behind their backs. It cannot be a matter of indifference that impunity has become the rule, justice non existent, and the security services disproportionately powerful. The Congolese army is too often a source of abuse rather than protection.  President Kabila is widely perceived to be reducing the political space; and creating structures which are usually associated with repressive states. He has used the clarion call of “fight against corruption” to attack the opposition.

Throughout this region of Africa there has been a culture of impunity.  What is our Government doing to encourage the Congolese Government to extradite Bosco Ntaganda, for whom there is an International Criminal Court warrant outstanding; or to persuade the Government of Rwanda to bring Laurent Nkunda, captured in January of last year, to trial; or to ensure that Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA is arrested and brought to justice?

The United Kingdom has become one of Congo’s largest donors – providing £130 million in 2010 – and has an increasing level of influence but to date has shown little sign of exercising any real clout. We should also question how we use our aid; and the role of UK companies working in the region.  What is the point of using UK aid to refurbish the Ministry for Mines – when war lords, not the Ministry, run many of the mines? Our support for the building of civil society – which has stalled – and security sector reform would be much more effective. So would engagement with other regional players and especially with China, which is now a significant commercial player.

As it looks back over the fifty deadly years since it gained independence Congo’s people need protection and stability. This will require security sector reform; the disarmament of militias; and the restoration of authority based on the rule of law.

It is said that the world is growing weary of the endless conflict in the Congo – but tired though the world may be- for the sake of Congolese people we need to remain alert to the country’s suffering and engaged with its plight.  The British Government needs to tell us what are the prospects for peace in the east of the country; what is being done to consolidate security sector reform;  what is being done to defuse potentially destabilizing flash points in advance of the Presidential elections; in what circumstances will there be a MONUSCO drawdown; what action are we taking to apprehend Joseph Kony and the LRA leaders and to bring them to justice?  What steps are the Government taking to promote better regulation of companies engaged in the extraction of the DRCs natural resources, that UK based companies trading in conflict minerals are subjected to targeted sanctions, in line with Security Council resolutions 1857 and 1896 – which the UK helped to pass; and how are we working with other international and regional players to ensure that the DRCs mineral wealth will befit the Congolese people; what are our development goals and priorities in the DRC?   These are just some of the questions which must be addressed if there is to be stability and peace in the Congo; and without peace and stability in the Congo there will not be stability or peace in the wider region.

 

Africa: Post-conflict Stabilisation: July 8th 2010

Debate

 

12.49 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, has made a fine, knowledgeable and impressive maiden speech in your Lordships’ House today. When we recently had a conversation, I asked him on which issues he intended to concentrate his efforts. Immediately he mentioned his love of Africa, especially Malawi. As noble Lords would expect from a former teacher, he is passionate, as he said in his maiden speech, about the important role that education plays in the development of countries such as Malawi. The noble Lord brings distinguished service in the Scottish Parliament to your Lordships’ House. He has been MSP for the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency since 1999, becoming both leader of the Scottish Labour Party and the longest-serving First Minister from 2001 to 2007. He has many fine achievements to his credit but I single out his commitment to his promotion of an anti-sectarian agenda in Scotland, thereby tackling an age-old scar in Scottish society and culture. I pay tribute to him for that.

As the coalition Government ponder changes to the voting system, to which the noble Lord referred, and reflect on the required give and take of coalition politics, they could do a lot worse than study how the noble Lord successfully managed a Lib-Lab coalition north of the border. In an article he wrote recently, he gave 10 tips for making coalitions work. Perhaps it should be required reading for all new Ministers. He said in that article:

“The policy detail needs to be underpinned by a shared sense of purpose—and values. The coalition needs to be clear about what kind of country it is trying to build”.

Those are wise words. He went on to talk about the importance of political maturity and setting aside tribalism. Gordon Brown was well aware of the noble Lord’s talents, which is why he appointed him as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Conflict Resolution Mechanisms, in which role he took a keen interest in conflict resolution in Africa. As First Minister, he pioneered the Scottish Government’s efforts to support development initiatives in Malawi, reflecting the historic ties which extend between Scotland and Malawi, going back to the time of David Livingstone. A co-operation agreement between Scotland and Malawi was signed in September 2005. As he has told us, he is an adviser to the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative in Malawi and Rwanda. In bringing this great experience of public affairs, and particularly of conflict resolution, to your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord will undoubtedly make many distinguished and thoughtful contributions to our debates. It is with great pleasure that we all welcome the noble Lord among us today.

We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. In opening it, he referred to the Lord’s Resistance Army as being the greatest threat to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It could reasonably be argued that it is also the greatest threat to stability throughout the whole of the region. Only yesterday I met a young Ugandan woman who goes under the pseudonym of Juliet and was a member of the LRA. In a letter to the Prime Minister, which she is delivering today to Downing Street, she sets out her story. She says in the letter:

“When I was 12, I was abducted by rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army … I saw many children being killed … At 14, I was forced into a sexual relationship with a man who was above my age”.

She went on to say that, after the death of a baby in childbirth:

“I was lucky and managed to get away. I made it back to my family and got help to rebuild my life … When I was in the bush I missed school for 6 years but I always had the desire to go back to school”.

I promised Juliet that I would tell her story in your Lordships’ House today. Her appeal now is for the LRA’s leaders to be brought to justice and for young women like her to be given a fresh chance in life, especially as regards education. I want to say more about the LRA, particularly as regards its role in the Democratic Republic of Congo—which was referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Cox—but also about the effect of its role operating out of northern Congo, particularly in Southern Sudan.

Fifty years ago, on 30 June 1960, Congo was granted its independence by Belgium. Within days, a military coup was under way and United Nations peacekeepers were dispatched there. They were the forerunners of today’s MONUC, the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, which, from the beginning of this month, has been renamed MONUSCO. In 1960, the peacekeepers were followed by a procession of mercenaries and militias, frequently hired by western interests, especially mining companies. In the ensuing years, 6 million people have lost their lives in the DRC; it is Africa’s World War One.

When I visited the DRC in 2004 and published a report about the scale of the violence there, I talked about our apparent indifference to this haemorrhaging loss of life. I contended that the biggest obstacle to peace has been the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from as many as six neighbouring countries. The Congo has more diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan and uranium—to name only some of its phenomenal assets—than any other country in Africa. In spite of a lamentable catalogue of crimes against humanity, the Congo probably remains Europe’s and America’s biggest supplier of uranium, coltan, cobalt and tin. For rebel groups and militia elites from neighbouring countries, these riches, rather than bringing the populace out of poverty, have become a source of obscene wealth. It serves their interests to encourage the sickeningly chaotic situation. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have all been beneficiaries.

The loss of life in these conflicts is incalculable, as is the cost in terms of social and human development. During the 15 years up until 2005, the cost of conflict throughout Africa was around $300 billion—equal to the money provided to Africa in aid during the same period.

Let us think about Sudan for a moment. I visited Southern Sudan during the civil war. Two million people lost their lives there and four million people were displaced, a situation which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has brought to our attention on many occasions. I visited Darfur, where between 200,000 and 300,000 people have died, 2 million people have been displaced and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground. Next year Southern Sudan will decide in a referendum whether to secede and become an independent nation. On Tuesday last, at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan, of which I am acting chairman, we considered the implications of secession. Again and again, contributors warned that security questions are the most crucial issue facing Sudan and that people were aching for peace and security—a phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, who kindly addressed that meeting. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will tell us what we are doing to help prepare Sudan for post-referendum challenges, not least the danger of a slide back into conflict. One Sudanese contributor remarked that if border and territorial questions are not resolved, it risks repeating the tragedy of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In both Sudan and DRC I have been struck by the lack of resources—food, water, medicines—matched by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of small arms and weapons. Globally, a thousand people die each day, victims of small arms; 95 per cent of the Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa. Conflicts are estimated to cost African economies an average of $18 billion a year—desperately needed money which could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria or provide clean water, sanitation and education.

I have introduced a small Private Member’s Bill, the Re-Export Controls Bill, which received its First Reading on 22 May and has the support of the charity Saferworld. One of its trustees and a sponsor of the Bill is the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke earlier, and, in another place, the right honourable Tom Clarke MP, who has promised that, if it succeeds here, he will take it through its stages there. The UK’s export controls regime is one of the best in the world, but on this particular issue the UK is behind the curve. The US, France, Germany, Sweden, and many other countries, all use some kind of no re-export without permission clause. In other words, arms from the UK are sold to other countries, which then sell them on into these areas of conflict. We are wrong to resist a belt and braces provision, as we have done thus far, when other principal European Governments have felt it necessary to enact such provisions. I hope to rectify this situation and that the Minister will feel able to support this small Bill. Unless we resolve Africa’s conflicts, stop the flow of arms and develop a secure environment, our aid programmes will continue to be ineffectual.

The desperate need for development is self-evident. I could give the House statistics, but it has already heard many. However, I shall mention just two. In eastern DRC more than 31,400 children are said to have been identified as having acute malnutrition and have been treated, and another 100,000 children are in need of treatment. These children have often been left orphaned as a result of the conflict. Indeed, there are said to be 4 million orphaned children in the DRC today. In the east of the country there have been waves of explosive violence, as the right reverend Prelate said. In north and south Kivu, the FDLR—Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—continue to maraud. As they displace terrified people, the refugees become fodder for the competing militias. Many refugees are reluctant to return to Rwanda, where a journalist was killed just a fortnight ago, where the opposition has not been allowed to register, and where there has recently been more net migration out of the country than into it. I have admired much that Rwanda has achieved, but in praising its achievements we must be careful not to deceive ourselves about the challenges it still faces in creating a stable and inclusive society.

Many of the 100,000 refugees in the east of the Congo are of Rwandan origin. Kinshasa has tried divide and rule. The divide has worked but the rule has not. At the latest count, a mushrooming of local factions has seen the emergence of 22 different factions. One recent survey, as the right reverend Prelate said, found that 60 per cent of people felt less safe than they did a year ago.

I will end by mentioning the LRA. Since 2008, a military offensive has been under way. I find it extraordinary that Joseph Kony, against whom there is an ICC arrest warrant outstanding, has not been brought to justice. I hope that the Minister will tell us what more can be done to bring him to justice and to end the culture of impunity.

I will also mention the recent killing of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, answered some of my questions earlier in the week. It is not enough simply to have an internal Congolese inquiry into his death. MONUSCO, too, should be invited to put in hand an inquiry. I hope that the noble Lord will raise that question with them.

Throughout this region of Africa, there has been a culture of impunity. What have we done to encourage the Congolese to extradite Bosco Ntaganda, for whom there is also an ICC warrant outstanding, or to persuade the Government of Rwanda to bring to trial Laurent Nkunda, captured in January of last year, as well as Joseph Kony, whom I mentioned?

In conclusion, as the Congo looks back over 50 deadly years since it gained independence, its people need protection and stability. This will require security sector reform, the disarmament of militias and the restoration of authority based on the rule of law. It is said that the world is growing weary of the endless conflict in the Congo. However tired the world may be, for the sake of the Congolese people we need to remain alert to the country’s suffering and engaged with its plight—for the sake of young women like Juliet, whom I mentioned earlier. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to say more about what the international community is doing to end the depredations of the LRA.

 

 

 

 

Universe Column – July 25th 2010

In 1960, the year in which the Congo became independent, I was a boy attending the local parish primary school. The good Sisters of Mercy who taught me had links with the Congo and the entire class had been enlisted to raise money to support Congolese children, whose harrowing plight had been made real to us by vivid television and newspaper reports. It’s when I first woke up to Africa.

I thought how little had changed when, last week, I met Juliet, at a meeting organised by Warchild.

Juliet, from northern Uganda, was just 12 when she was abducted by the Lords Resistance Army. The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, originated in Uganda and are now pursuing a murderous campaign in the Congo.

After her abduction Juliet was raped and lost a child in childbirth. On the day I told her story in the House of Lords she delivered a letter to the Prime Minister, describing her experiences and asking for more help for young people like her; children who escape from the LRA, and who need education and assistance.

Juliet’s is not an isolated case. There are thousands upon thousands of children like Juliet and teenagers like a boy called John.

John was abducted by the LRA when he was in his early teens. Beaten, force-marched, kept hungry for days, trained to use weapons, he was told to use other children as target practice. A friend who tried to escape was recaptured and staked out on the ground. John and other teenagers had to trample their friend to death. John did eventually escape and the LRA killed his father as a punishment.

Stories like these illustrate why the LRA is such a major force for instability in the DRC and across the region.

They have inflicted indescribable horrors on young people who desperately yearn for education and who want to build a future for themselves and to put the past behind them.

Failure to help former child soldiers risks the long term development and stability of the whole regions. When young people are left unemployed, psychologically traumatised and vulnerable, they are especially open to re-recruitment to the militias.

It is a popular western myth that the LRA is close to elimination.

This year, more than 600 people have been abducted, about 360 killed and more than 30,000 displaced. Human Rights Watch recently defined the LRA as the “greatest civilian threat” to the population of the DRC. There are signs that the LRA is regrouping in the ungovernable reaches of Northern Congo with the apparent aim of returning to Uganda as well as carrying out a campaign of destabilisation in neighbouring Southern Sudan.

It has already disrupted the elections in Sudan’s Western Equatoria State, with people too frightened to leave their homes to cast their votes, and has prevented the distribution of vital aid to the region.

There are now concerns that the LRA will attempt to disrupt Sudan’s January 2011 southern secession referendum. Well resourced and well armed, believing itself to be above capture and above the law, the LRA appears to act as a proxy army. It is alleged that forces in the north of Sudan, hostile to southern independence, have colluded with the LRA leadership. Paymasters and facilitators in Khartoum are bent on undermining Southern Sudan’s fragile new democracy. The LRA are a useful tool in the hands of Khartoum; and from this ungoverned no-man’s land in the north of the Congo they wage their brutal attacks.

After the death of countless numbers of people Kony’s LRA continues to kill, rape, abduct and enslave children who become its fighters.

Kony is wilier than some imagine and he sees the impenetrable tracts of northern Congo as a safe haven. This territory has become the LRA’s new killing fields with chilling reports emerging of massacres perpetrated by the LRA. It is said that Kinshasa doesn’t give a damn about the depredations caused by the LRA. It is an ungoverned territory but failure to confront the LRA does not directly threaten the central government so they turn a blind eye. The UN peacekeepers also stay clear of the north, only one twentieth of their Congolese force is deployed there, yet the violence there has reached a fever pitch, with the outside world frequently unaware.

There has been a pathetic lack of co-ordinated, sustained interest and action by the security forces of the regional government, by UN peacekeepers and by the international community, to stop the LRA. Consequently, more than 23 years after it first emerged, the reign of terror instigated by this most vicious of rebel groups continues to terrorise a vast swathe of Africa and its innocent inhabitants.

Since 2008 Joseph Kony, has regrouped and the LRA has sought to systematically recruit new children. It is a shocking indictment on the UN that Kony against whom there is an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court – is still at large and still a major menace in the region.

In December 2009 the LRA carried out one of their largest ever massacres in the Makombo areas of north-eastern Congo, killing over 300 Congolese civilians in a four day orgy of violence.

Earlier in the year, in August 2009, a marauding band of LRA guerrillas invaded the town of Ezo, on the border of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group stormed into Our Lady Queen of Peace church and abducted 17 young people, mostly in their teens and 20s, and mutilated one leaving him dead. Three have returned safely, but 13 of the 17 abducted are still missing.

Less than a week after this incident, six individuals were found nailed to pieces of wood in a crucifixion-like scene in a forest in the nearby city of Nzara. 20,000 Christians gathered for three days of prayer and walked more than 2 miles barefoot in sackcloth and ashes in protest. The Catholic bishop of Tombura-Yambio, Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala appealed for international help to stop the attacks by the LRA but his words have fallen on deaf ears.

We clearly need a much more coherent military campaign to hunt down the LRA leaders and bring them to justice.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is surely incumbent on the United Kingdom to be as effective as possible in securing support for the UN missions working in the LRA-infiltrated areas. The UK, as one of the largest aid donors in the region needs to be more effective in mobilising African governments and international peacekeepers in eradicating the LRA. We owe it to children like Juliet and John to end this blood-letting. There can be no stability, no peace, no development, while LRA warlords like Joseph Kony can operate with arrogant impunity.