House of Lords
Monday, 3 February 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con):
My Lords, after the surrender of M23 last year, 2014 provides an opportunity for greater stability in the DRC. We encourage the Government of the DRC to deliver on their commitments under the peace, security and co-operation framework, including the disarmament of militia groups, security sector reform and an elections timetable. We will continue to work closely with the UN special envoy Mary Robinson and other partners on these issues.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab):
My Lords, on the disarmament of militias, it is now nearly 12 months since the peace, security and co-operation framework was signed by the 11 countries of the region. Although there has been some success against the M23 armed group, other groups, including the FDLR, those responsible for the genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago, are still operating in the eastern DRC. Will the UK use its seat on the UN Security Council to press for continued action on this front to create conditions for development that require the removal of these armed groups?
Of course, the noble Lord will be aware that part of the conditions of the peace, security and co-operation framework, signed by 11 countries including the DRC and Rwanda and other countries in the region as well as the African Union and the UN, was about these militia groups laying down their arms. The M23 laying down arms at the back-end of last year is a hopeful step, but we continue to press countries and individual groups, including those linked to the FDLR, to move towards disarmament and reintegration.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are now some 2.9 million people displaced in the DRC, 60% of them in the North Kivu and South Kivu areas, where the M23 was most active? Half of those displaced people are children. Does the Minister therefore view with consternation the report from the United Nations group of experts that the M23 is continuing to recruit fighters in Rwanda and that sanctioned M23 leaders are moving freely in Uganda? Has she seen Navi Pillay’s report accusing both countries of hosting some of the most serious perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC? When did we last raise this with the High Commissioners of Uganda and Rwanda?
The noble Lord will take some comfort from the fact that the Minister for Africa, my honourable friend Mr Simmonds, will be landing in the DRC in about two hours. Part of his role is to look at these particular camps. The noble Lord will be aware that DDR—disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, which is effectively bringing these fighters back into the mainstream—has happened in the DRC, predominately in relation to foreign fighters, but there is not a particular programme, or a detailed enough programme, in relation to Congolese fighters who have laid down their arms. These are matters upon which my honourable friend is hoping to make progress over the next two days. I can issue a statement or put a letter in the House to give an update.
Lord Chidgey (LD):
My Lords, the news that the Government of the DRC are to postpone—basically, to suspend—a controversial oil extraction bill is welcome news. However, will the Government support the NGOs, other donors and local MPs in using this delay to press for the inclusion of strong transparency measures to root out corruption and to ensure that the country’s oil wealth goes towards helping the very poor in the Congo rather than disappearing offshore in dodgy deals through companies such as Nessergy, with links to the controversial businessman Dan Gertler?
My noble friend makes an important point and he is right: corruption means not only that the wealth of the country does not help the poorest but that money earned from minerals in that country serves to finance conflict and abuses of human rights. That is why we have been pushing both for UK businesses engaged in that country to make sure that they follow the OECD guidelines and for the DRC to make progress on the EITI, the extractive industries transparency initiative. The noble Lord may be aware that its candidate status was suspended and we hope that it will be restarted. We also hope that the new DRC oil law, which is under consideration, will make some progress.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be aware that my colleague and friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is visiting the DRC today with the Minister for Africa. Could she inform the House of the work of Her Majesty’s Government, currently being promoted by them, in the protection of women in the DRC, particularly from gender-based violence?
The Minister for Africa will have meetings with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of the DRC, particularly to support HEAL Africa, a project which aims to support women who have been subjected to sexual violence.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab):
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, since 1990, rivalries over the exploitation of natural resources have been among the root causes of at least 18 violent conflicts, particularly in Africa? In view of that, does she acknowledge the substantial risk that companies operating in the UK that purchase minerals are indirectly but significantly contributing to the conflicts in Congo and the Central African Republic, consequently undermining the peacekeeping efforts of the UK and others?
The noble Baroness’s assessment is of course right and that is why we expect UK businesses to respect laws and agreed international voluntary standards for responsible business when they conduct business in the region. The OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises are part of that.
Lord Bach (Lab):
My Lords, can I say from the opposition Front Bench how delighted we are that the Minister for Africa is in the DRC today along with the most reverend Primate? My question goes back to the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, or DDR, programme that the Minister talked about. What steps have Her Majesty’s Government taken in the past, and are taking now, to support the implementation of this crucial programme, especially in terms of funding?
I am not aware of the specific amount of funding which has gone into DDR. Of course, we have a very large aid programme, as well as work around the preventing sexual violence initiative. I know that the Minister will be going to a DDR camp to look at how much further we can assist and encourage other donors to be supportive as well. Once the Minister returns, perhaps I may formally write to the noble Lord and give him an update.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab):
My Lords, what discussions did the Prime Minister have with President Hollande about Franco-British co-operation at their recent meeting?
My Lords, this clearly shows that I did not get through all my boxes this weekend. I did not read the complete update on the meeting so I do not know what discussions were had in this area. I am, therefore, 48 hours out date, but I will write to the noble Lord.
David Alton’s comments on the Congo:
Fifty years ago, on June 30th 1960, the 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. It was my first attempt at raising funds for a good cause and the neighbours on the council estate where I was growing up were unfailingly generous – even more so as dreadful stories began to appear in our newspapers about the most terrible atrocities
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.
With the complicity of external quartermasters the conflict is fuelled by the sale of weapons and by avaricious greed.
During the 15 years up until 2005 the cost of conflict in Africa has been around $300 billion.
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.
• 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;
• the Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined; 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods; according to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty; nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
• 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 say 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
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 hemorrhaging 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.
When today’s President, Joseph Kabila, succeeded his father in 2001 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.
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. 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.
There are around 100,000 refugees in the east of the country. 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 local 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 militia; 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. We need a much more coherent military campaign to hunt down the LRA leaders and bring them to justice.
After the deaths 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 more wily 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.
The danger posed to those in the Congo who courageously speak out against these depredations, atrocities and human rights abuses, 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. MONUSC 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.
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, it should remember the truth of the motorway warning: “Tiredness Can Kill” – for the sake of Congolese people we need to remain alert to the country’s suffering and engaged with its plight.
The United Nations now estimate that 5 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1998 – the most deadly conflict since World War Two. They say that sexual violence is higher than in any other country – with more than half a million women raped overall, with an average, in the east of the country, of 40 women raped every day in South Kivu alone.
. The war continued and by 2007, it had claimed an estimated 5.4 million – and left 100 000 of women brutally raped – not to mention the million of internally displaced refugee.
See, rape and sexual violence is the cheapest weapons of war yet it is the most effective to instill fear amongst the population, punish community for supporting the wrong militia groups, humiliate the husband, destroy women and displace communities.
And in Congo, in addition to rape, in many cases, the damage is caused by the deliberate introduction of objects into the victim’s vagina when the rape itself is over. The objects might be sticks or pipes. Or gun barrels. In many cases the attackers shoot the victim in the vagina at point-blank range after they have finished raping her. The disastrous effect of both rape and Fistula on women and on the social fabric of the Congolese society is catastrophic – unimaginable.
In 2008, at the UN Security Council, Alan Doss declared:
“today being a woman in the Congo has become far more dangerous than being an armed militia.”
The International Community – Britain and the US in particular – made a conscious decision to pass on the issue, leaving it up to the ill equipped and ill trained UN force to protect the frightened population – – and remained silent as countless of Congolese men, women and children were being killed and raped.
The old, grey bearded traditional moralist, Lord Jakobovits, the late Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, once said:
“. . . Silence, indifference and inaction were Hitler’s principle allies”
And it was precisely because of inaction that a promised of “Never Again!” was made to the memories of six million men and women who perished in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Birkenau and many other places in Europe during world war two.
Yet we have. . . and we have done so in many occasion indeed: Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur and now in Congo – a conflict in which not only women are victims but every women is a target – a rape victim in waiting
Recently The Times newspaper highlighted the extraordinary humanitarian work of a remarkable Congolese doctor, Dr.Denis Mukwege, who works with the women who have suffered. He has founded South Kivu’s City of Joy – and his daughters have described their father, who is sustained by his Christian faith, as a “doctor without borders”. His work stands both as a rebuke to the world and as an inspiration.
The violence, torture and killing is perpetrated by militias and groups like the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) – against whom, as Ban Ki Moon has argued, we need to create a regional strategy. The intensity of the violence continues to threaten the DRC’s fragile stability, its development, and progress towards 2011 elections.
To put the scale of the violence into context, it is calculated that with a death toll greater than a 9/11 every single day for a whole year combined with the 1 million who died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, combined with the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, combined with the genocide taking place in Darfur, and the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2005, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all those deaths together then double it and you have the Congo.
That remains the daunting challenge.
I last visited the Congo in 2004. Since then geo-strategic battles for control of the country’s natural resources has gone on unabated. The intensity, scale, and effect of the continued use of rape to displace communities from rich mining areas and the speed at which HIV AIDS and Fistula are spreading as result of sexual violence against women, young girls and now men are all documented in a series of human rights reports .They describe a country catapulted into a living nightmare. Today’s particular tragedy – in the east – is inextricably linked to the genocidal destruction of the Rwandan genocide and an influx of 1.5 Million Rwandan refugees into Eastern Congo, then Zaire
The hidden obstacle to peace is the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from neighbouring countries. This remains the biggest obstacle to long-term peace in that region.
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 from Eastern Congo 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.
But for the long term we also need to target our development aid towards education.
Throughout the Congo we must surely promote education for all. Education is said to be the cornerstone of personal, social and economic well being of individuals and a vaccine against social, historical and political ignorance that often break harmony and peace within and between communities.
The Congo has a population of approx 60 million – 50% of which is estimated to be under the age of 18 and 1 in 2 are said to be unschooled
– and of which 100 000s sleep rough on the streets, 10 000s have been recruited into armed groups and another 10 000s live in virtual slavery –mining natural resources for armed groups for as little as $5 a month, whilst the vast majority live in dire poverty.
The education of women – empowering them and helping them to rise to positions of leadership should be central to our approach to development.
Perhaps the most revolting issue of the wars overwhelming the Congo have been sexual atrocities against women and the young – they have been gang raped on a blood chilling scale. As Alan Doss – who heads up the biggest United Nations peace keeping force in the world – put it: being a woman has become far more dangerous than being an armed militia.
Thos responsible for these atrocities must not be allowed to think they will get away with it. To date, there has been a culture of impunity. The Congolese Government is comprised of military, government and parliamentary officials responsible for dozens of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch says:, “In Congo, if someone starts an armed group or kills people, they have a better chance of becoming a senior minister or a general than being put behind bars.” A gang of people who have achieved political power through involvement in mass killings and who used sexual atrocities as weapons of war will ever successfully heal or lead a nation if they are permitted to do so with impunity. As in South Africa there must be a process of truth and justice. Without it reconciliation will never be achievable.
No Congolese official responsible for alleged war crimes should ever be allowed to benefit from UK aid – be it financial or military and no UK visa should be granted to such individuals. It shames the UK that the United Nations have had to criticise us for withholding information about the activities of militia leaders living in Britain. Nor have we done enough 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 trial.
The Congo is a nation in ruin: a nation which has been suffocating in its own people’s blood. Its people deserve much much better than this.
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