Democratic Republic of Congo
Question3.30 pm Wednesday Januaray 11th 2012
Asked By Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in response to reports of violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo following recent elections.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the break.
We are working to tackle the threat of armed groups in a number of ways. We have pressed to ensure that the protection of civilians remains the priority for the United Nations organisation stabilisation mission-MONUSCO. We are supporting the disarmament, demobilisation and repatriation programme to remove fighters from the battlefield peacefully. We have also supported UN sanctions against members of armed groups who breach humanitarian law.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for reflecting the Government’s commitment to those actions. I had the immense privilege of being in the DRC for the recent elections as an international observer, and I praise the ordinary Congolese people for their determination to vote in secret and safely as often as they could, despite provocation at times. I also praise the ordinary Congolese people who conducted the vote at the local level, but the parties continue to dispute the result of the elections.
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Does the Minister agree that there is a need for maximum transparency in the election results so that any dispute is based on fact rather than accusation? There is also a need for reconciliation between the parties, perhaps led by the international community, to ensure that the country can move forward and develop rather than continue in conflict.
Lord Howell of Guildford: First, I salute and congratulate the noble Lord on the role he played in participating in EurAc, the network of European NGOs elections observation mission to the DRC elections in November. His questions are extremely apposite and are obviously backed by a deep hinterland of information.
The noble Lord asked what we can do to meet the particular problem that was reflected in the recently reported horrific FDLR killings in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo the other day. Our strategy has three elements. First, we are funding the demobilisation, repatriation and resettlement programme, which helps to remove fighters from the battlefield. Secondly, we are very substantially supporting the UN force, MONUSCO, to the tune of £69 million, which represents over 8 per cent of its entire budget and is coming from us here in the UK. Thirdly, we are supporting sanction regimes that are aimed on a continuing basis at identifying leaders of armed groups and seeing how they can be removed from the battlefields. Those are the three broad aims that we are activating over and above the fact that the Department for International Development has a budget over the next four years of £790 million of development in DRC. This is a hugely effective programme.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister believe that the sheer scale of irregularities in the recent DRC elections and the violence and intimidation that has arisen could have happened without the complicity of the authorities there? In the east of the Congo-the Kivu and Goma regions to which the noble Lord’s Question refers-rape has been used as a weapon of war, and in a country where more than 6 million have died in what many call Africa’s first world war over the past 25 years, what can the Government do to assist MONUSCO, particularly in the protection of vulnerable women and the bringing to justice of those responsible?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The killings in the east of the Congo that we were debating a moment ago are one thing, and it is not for me to declare that they were to do with the undoubted violence that occurred during the actual elections. I fully concede that, as the noble Lord has rightly pointed out, there were reports of irregularities during the elections, and we are not going to just ignore them and pretend that nothing went wrong; it did. The Minister for Africa, my honourable friend Henry Bellingham, has called on the DRC authorities to investigate all irregularities promptly and fairly, and we have pressed the Congolese electoral commission-CENI-to make key improvements in the compilation process for the legislative count. We will also urge CENI to carry out with international help an in-depth review of irregularities raised by the observer missions, and will press it to implement any recommendations. We are not letting the matter rest.
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We recognise that there were some serious irregularities and that these need to be pursued and reviewed with great vigour.Lord Chidgey: What will be the Government’s response to the UN group of experts’ report on the DRC, which highlighted the failure of the Mines Ministry to take control of mining out of the ICC-indicted military’s hands? This has resulted in increasing criminalisation and increasing funding streams to military groups, which are all part of the problems of violence in the Congo. What steps will the Government take to raise awareness among UK-based firms of the risks they run in the mining industries and of the international diligence standards for mineral trade? What has been done to put forward the UN conditions, which were introduced more than a year ago, on the trade in conflict minerals?
Lord Howell of Guildford: These are very detailed questions on which I would like to write to my noble friend in more detail. Generally, we recognise these problems and general approaches to them have been taken, particularly in our close work with MONUSCO and the UN, but I shall write to him in more detail on his precise analysis.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, does the Minister recognise the systematic violence being done to women by police, military and non-state armed groups in the DRC, which means that the engagement of women in security sector reform is essential? Through UK funding to the DRC, will the Government ensure that women’s groups are provided with the knowledge, the skills and the resources they need to hold the security services to account?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, we will. I think I can speak on behalf of my honourable and right honourable friends in DfID in saying that this is a central consideration in the substantial programme of aid, assistance and reform that the department is carrying forward, as well as in all our concerns in dealings with MONUSCO and the United Nations.
Lord Alton on Insecurity in The Congo:Insecurity is, perhaps, the most overlooked challenge facing the Congo. This is the case for two reasons:
1) Congo does not have an army, per se. What Congo has is a disprite collection of different armed groups, many of them responsible for crimes against humanity. Some have become suppoprers of Joseph Kabila’s after making “back-door-deals” – no one knows what they were given or promised to join the President’s armed entourage. However, what we do know with certainty is that leaders of these armed groups have not, in any sense of the word, integrated their militia groups into the national army. They remain independent and abusive – outing it mildly. The only difference now is that they can wear the national uniform and have access to the country’s munitions depots and arsenals.
2) The UN: Congo currently hosts the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world; and for many people this seems enough but it takes no account of geographical and other realities. Even if every one of the 18,000 UN troops were patrolling North and South Kivu, it would be equivalent to having 2 soldiers patrolling the whole of Brussels.
Essentially, what this means is:
1. fighting between rival armed groups will continue to break out – killing more people as well as causing new displacement and making it impossible for those already displaced to return home;
2. new armed groups could always pop into existence, because the state is absent; and
3. Millions of women, children and innocent men are left at the mercy of warlords, perpetually caught between rival, predatory armed groups fighting for control of Congo’s easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources.
No economic, social or democratic development can take root in such an environment. However, what we must always remember is that these issues: insecurity, as well as impunity, illicit trade of minerals and institutional failure, are not insurmountable. This conflict was caused by human actions; it continues because of human actions and can be ended by human actions.