Democratic Republic of Congo
Question Monday July 18th 2011.
Asked By Lord Chidgey
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the preparations for the forthcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we are closely following the DRC elections. Despite delays, there has been considerable progress. The election calendar has been published, the electoral law passed, and over 30 million Congolese have registered to vote. There have been reports of harassment of political activists and demonstrations in Kinshasa earlier this month led to violence. However, so far we have seen no sign of systematic attempts to undermine the process. The Department for International Development is providing significant support.
Lord Chidgey: I thank my noble friend for that response. Is he aware that, during a recent visit to the DRC, we found that CENI’s electoral calendar was unrealistic and unworkable? For example, in spite of a completion date for voter registration at the end of June, by July only four out of 11 provinces had been signed off. Is he also aware that, perhaps more worryingly, the most serious threat to forthcoming elections is the increase in LRA activities, with numbers back at 2008 levels; and that MONUSCO, with just 5 per cent of its peacekeepers active in the LRA-controlled areas, is deeply frustrated by the lack of resources to utilise the intelligence gathered for DDRRR purposes?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I was aware of my noble friend’s recent visit to the DRC and I appreciate his concerns about the timing of the election. We reckon that the independent national electoral commission, to which he referred, CENI, is going reasonably well with its operations. Of course the timetable is tight, but we think that it is just realistic and that it is managing to get wider participation and better registration than some feared earlier. The Lord’s Resistance Army is a plague, as it were, a trouble which affects both the DRC and other countries in the region. Our aim is to get the African Union to support and work with MONUSCO, the UN force, in meeting this continuing threat. I fully recognise that it is a problem but if we can get the African Union fully engaged, as we are trying to, we believe that we can create the conditions in which the problem can be addressed effectively.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, was right to direct the Minister towards the depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army, in a country where, after all, between 5 million and 6 million people have died in the last 25 years, mainly as a result of marauding militias. Has the Minister seen the report in today’s Telegraph online about Makombo, where 321 civilians died and 250 were abducted at the end of last year, and where 26 died and 53 were abducted in another raid on 6 July? Given that in 2005 the International Criminal Court issued indictments against Joseph Kony,
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the leader of the LRA, and two of his lieutenants, why has MONUSCO been so inadequate in gathering the necessary intelligence to bring these people to justice?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is quite right to deplore the endless slaughter and activities which are associated with the Lord’s Resistance Army. It seems to be a negative force both in this country and in many others. As I said earlier to my noble friend, it is our aim to get the African Union to work very closely with MONUSCO, the second largest UN mission in existence, in meeting this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked me why it has not been so effective so far; I cannot answer that precisely, but I can only say that we are working extremely hard with other countries, with the EU and with our colleagues and allies, to reinforce the determination of MONUSCO and the African Union to meet the problem. This is the way forward that we think will be most effective.
Question Tuesday July 19th 2011.
Asked By Lord Avebury
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces in the context of the Republic of South Sudan’s independence.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we remain deeply concerned by the continuing violence and humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan. We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and full humanitarian access. We fully welcome the Framework Agreement on Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, signed in Addis Ababa under African Union auspices, as a step in the right direction, but this needs to be implemented and followed up. We also welcome the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1990 which, together with the signing of an Abyei interim agreement, paves the way for a swift withdrawal of Sudanese armed forces from Abyei and the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops under a UN mandate.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, my noble friend did not mention the UNMIS report, which has not been published, on the regime’s devastating attacks on the Nuba people in these three territories and, particularly, in South Kordofan where Ahmed Haroun, the governor after a disputed election, is wanted by the ICC for war crimes. Does my noble friend agree that the UN decision to send a mere 4,200 troops to Abyei and none to South Kordofan is woefully inadequate in the face of an incipient genocide of the Nuba people in the whole region? Will the UK remind the Security Council that the responsibility to protect applies in these territories to a far greater extent than it did in Libya?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend is right to point to the reports of atrocities. I think he is referring to the report initiated by the UN Mission in South Sudan and these regions, which makes very grim reading indeed. As far as we understand its contents, it is extremely worrying. In fact, my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State, Mr Bellingham, who, incidentally, is in Sudan at this moment, was at the United Nations a few days ago and urged that the report should be put to the UN Security Council for full consideration. We are fully aware of that aspect of things. As to sending more troops, the problem at the moment is, as my noble friend knows, that the Khartoum Government are trying to veto any further extension of the UN troop mandate of the UNMIS mandate. That has to be overcome, and it is not easy for the United Nations to begin to meet the security needs through adequate troop provision by the UN over and above the Ethiopian mission I have already mentioned.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, when I was in Juba last week for the joyful celebrations of the independence of the peoples of the south, I had the opportunity to meet leaders from Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. They all expressed grave concern over President al-Bashir’s stated policy of turning the Republic of Sudan into an Arab Islamic state. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of al-Bashir’s policies with regard to the ethnic and religious minorities in those areas of the Republic of Sudan and, indeed, in all the Republic of Sudan?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The assessment we have is based on the wisdom and experience of the noble Baroness and on the visit of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to Juba 10 days ago for the independence celebrations. Our assessment is not at all encouraging. There is a clear attempt to use extremely violent methods and to carry them out in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile area and the Nuba mountains where some horrific things have gone on. This is not at all encouraging. President al-Bashir has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court. The pattern that has been pursued is a mixture. At least he did turn up at the celebrations in Juba, which was a positive act, and one hopes that more positive aspects will appear, but at the moment, there is not much sign of them.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I wish to return to the leaked UN documents. The report states that 73,000 people have been displaced and that 7,000 people who were not taken into the compound have disappeared. The situation has been described as resembling Srebrenica. There are aerial photographs of mass graves. So why has the UN remained silent about such disturbing evidence? As a member of the Security Council, what exactly is the United Kingdom doing when a sovereign Government in Khartoum are refusing to allow anyone to investigate what is happening and are continuing to obstruct essential humanitarian aid to the very needy people of South Kordofan?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness is right and reinforces what I was saying a moment ago. This report is extremely worrying and full of evidence of really serious atrocities. She has further elaborated and underlined that. The question is what the UN agencies, UNMIS itself and the reporting authorities are going to do about it. I have to tell the noble Baroness that as far as the British Government and my honourable friend Mr Bellingham, who was at the United Nations, are concerned, our urging has been that this report should go forward to the Security Council and be fully discussed in the light of the grim and terrible reports that it contains. That is the position so far. I cannot tell the noble Baroness exactly what is going to happen next or how it will be handled, but that is HMG’s position on the matter.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, on the UNMIS report which the noble Lord has referred to, and which I sent him a copy of yesterday, he will recall that two weeks ago I also sent him a report from Kadugli where UNMIS soldiers themselves were responsible for handing over people who were seeking refuge in the refugee camp there—“like lambs to the slaughter”, according to a witness. What does this tell us about the nature of peacekeeping in Southern Sudan and of the UNMIS force itself? Are we intending to refer these crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, not least because of the thousands of people who are trapped in the Nuba mountains and experiencing daily aerial bombardment?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I can only repeat what I said earlier. The noble Lord very kindly sent me a copy of this report, as did a number of other people. As I have already said twice, it makes very grim reading. The noble Lord has rightly raised the quality and behaviour of existing UN troops a number of times. Of course we are worried that there was inadequate behaviour or that troops stood aside while people were dragged from their cars and shot, and so on. We have encouraged the Under-Secretary-General at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to examine these claims very carefully and to bear them very strongly in mind when and—I regret to say—if a new mandate can be agreed and established for UN forces after independence, the original UNMIS mandate having finished. This is a very serious issue and one which we are watching very closely indeed.