§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lightbown.]11.42 pm
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
Before the House adjourns, I wish to discuss the Government's policy on Rwanda, where we are confronted with a human tragedy on an unbelievable scale.
A few weeks ago, it would not have seemed possible for the world to throw up something worse than Bosnia, Sudan, Somalia or Angola, but it has. The scale of the slaughter in Rwanda is now reputed to be of about 500,000 people. Many hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's citizens have taken refuge in Tanzania and Burundi and other countries that are among the poorest in the world. The Red Cross has described it as the largest single movement of refugees in the history of the Red Cross. Five hundred thousand people is the equivalent of the deaths of all the people in Greater Edinburgh. In terms of the much greater population of Britain, it is the equivalent of 4 million people dying and 16 million becoming refugees or being displaced. Can one imagine tragedy on such a scale in Britain? Moreover, there is no sign that the violence is at an end, and there are major fears that Burundi, which has exactly the same tensions, will explode again. After all, just a few weeks ago Burundi was the major source of our fears about those two desperately poor and unhappy countries.
I intend to be very critical of other people, but it is right that Members of Parliament should start by criticising themselves. An unbelievable atrocity has been going on for months; yet this is our first opportunity to debate it. There has been no Government statement, and as yet the House as a whole has displayed very little interest, despite the fact that Rwanda dwarfs Bosnia in terms of casualties. At the tail end of a parliamentary day, in the minor event of an Adjournment debate, we are able to discuss the issue only because of my luck in a raffle. The luck of the draw determines whether an atrocity in which half a million people have died is debated in the House. We must look at our procedures and attitudes.
We must also admit with shame the racism that is involved. It is inconceivable that an atrocity in which half a million white people had died would not have been extensively debated in the House. In the press there has been a terrible tendency to dismiss these tragic events as just tribalism, with "What can you expect from Africans?" as the subtext. By calling this tribalism, we are, in effect, blaming all the people of Rwanda, whereas it is clear that it is vicious political violence led by the Rwandan Government or their agents. We justify our inaction by pretending that all the people of Rwanda are to blame. Even the United Nations reports that reliable indications are that the killing was started by unruly members of the presidential guard. Tribalism is not a black man's invention. The holocaust was European. Bosnia is tribal, and the Balkans is a powder keg for that reason. South Africa has just emerged from domination by a white tribe. To say, as some have said, that the United Nations should pull out because we cannot understand African tribalism is to invent a cosy excuse for ourselves.
Much of the seeming tribalism of Africa has its roots in European exploitation, which used ethnic groups such as the Asians or, as in Rwanda, the Tutsis as an elite. 309 Genocide is certainly involved, but the wellspring for it is the lust for political power. If that means wiping out Hutus as well as Tutsis, it is done. The country's Prime Minister and other members of its Government were slaughtered by this element in the presidential guard. We should not see the slaughter in Rwanda as primitive tribalism. It is politics —brutal politics practised overwhelmingly by one side.
There is much evidence that the slaughter by the Rwanda Government was premeditated to obliterate their political opponents, whether Tutsis or Hutus. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), I attended a House of Commons meeting at which the organisation Africa Rights presented to a large gathering its analysis of physical liquidation of the political opposition to the dead President and the present, self-declared interim Government and the genocide against the Tutsi people as a carefully planned strategy designed in advance. No one in the room dissented from that analysis. Do the Government agree that the so-called Rwandan Government are overwhelmingly to blame?
We must not take refuge just in discussing aid—justifying our actions, or inaction, by saying how much aid we are giving, commendable though that may be. This is politics, and it is foreign policy which is involved. What are we doing in our foreign policy to prevent fiascos of this kind and to bring under control those that do occur? We have to condemn the members of the United Nations Security Council for inactivity and ineptitude. As a member of the Security Council, the United Kingdom must take its fair share of the blame. Just why did we back the decision virtually to pull the United Nations out on 21 April? What an encouragement that must have been to the butchers. The world watched horrified, and it took until 16 May for the decision to be reversed. What was our position on that? We know that New Zealand and Nigeria were active in reversing the decision, but what were we doing? Why have the Government not sought to make a statement in the House on this enormous issue? Why did we authorise the withdrawal of the United Nations instead of augmenting the forces? We must have on our conscience the killing of citizens who would have been saved had the UN presence been augmented.
We must also condemn the United States for its strange behaviour in stopping the rapid deployment of troops once the UN Security Council had decided that up to 5,500 troops had to go in. We are suffering badly because of the American miscalculation in Somalia—thousands are now dying because of that procrastination. I hope that the Minister will say when he expects the troops to be deployed. The UN took the decision that those troops were to be deployed. When will they be deployed and from which countries will they come? Did we support the United States in that delay and, if so, why? Is it not realised just how much the authority ,of the United States is undermined when a UN resolution is passed and then held up by the United States and others?
We must also be critical of the French for their reported role in arming the Rwanda Government, alongside—it is reported—the Egyptians and the South Africans. When they armed the Rwanda Government, they must have known that they were a genocidal Government who would use the arms on their own people. What representations have we made to the French about that, or do we have to shut up because of our own dependence on arms sales?
Above all, we must condemn the Rwanda Government who—obscenely, at present—sit on the UN Security 310 Council. Why is a self-proclaimed Government, who are without authority and are committing genocide, allowed to remain part of the highest authority in the world? Why are they not condemned? What action are the Government and the world taking to express their outrage at the acts of the Rwanda Government, their army and their appalling militias? Why are we being so polite to such killers?
In a parliamentary answer to me, the Minister said that the Foreign Affairs Council appealed to all parties to bring an end to the genocide. He used the word "genocide" and it is admitted that it is genocide, but why does the UN resolution pull back from saying "genocide"? The UN convention on genocide was declared because we were never going to stand aside again: in 1948, the charter on genocide said that we would never stand aside again while genocide occurred. Now we do not even have the courage to use the word in a UN resolution.
Some of what we must do has to be long term. There have been too many UN fiascos like this one. But when we refer to UN fiascos, we must face the fact that a UN fiasco is our fiasco. We cause the UN to be inept. When will we face up to the fact that the UN charter, which states that we can act only through the Government of a country, can be an obstacle to stopping slaughter? Surely there have to be occasions when the UN must act first because the cause of the problem is the Government of the country or, as in Somalia, the lack of a Government. When are we going to give the UN Secretary-General powers to act and, if necessary, justify himself later? We cannot deal with wars or famines through committees that meet occasionally. I gather that the UN Security Council will meet to review Rwanda again not later than 20 June. That is a ludicrous way of conducting business and it helps only those who are carrying out ethnic cleansing. We must also look at the framework of the UN charter.
There seems to be general agreement that the Rwanda Government, and their army and militia, are overwhelmingly responsible for initiating and perpetuating the atrocities. Yet there seems to be some kind of belief that the UN has to be even handed in this matter. Why? We must find a way to give the United Nations Secretary-General his own rapid response force for such situations, so that problems can be nipped in the bud or at least contained —a force of people whose loyalty is to the United Nations, who know the conditions under which they join and who could be deployed instantly and face the risks associated with such a task. The business of touting round the world for troops and then having all the problems associated with incoherent command structures is not good enough. We now need to know the time scale for the deployment of troops.
Just what are we saying at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights emergency meeting which is being held today to debate Rwanda? Is there a Minister there to show the seriousness with which we regard the issue? Are we threatening to activate the 1948 convention on genocide? Has it ever been activated? We are signatories to it. In the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, we affirm that genocide is a crime under international law which we undertake to prevent and to punish. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the Rwandan Government intend to destroy the Tutsis and any of their political opponents. Has there ever been a clearer example of genocide? What is the point of these conventions if we do not take them seriously?
311 Surely events in Rwanda have convinced us that there has to be an international court of criminal justice. The people who set this madness loose have to be brought to trial. At the UN Commission on Human Rights, we need to appoint special rapporteurs as the dimensions of this horror need to be fully documented. The presence of international observers and speedy deployments of civilian police monitors will save lives and document human rights abuses.
I have not so far mentioned aid because I do not want the Government to take refuge in pretending that the world's response has to be limited to aid. I would be the first to mention, however, the wonderful efforts of the Red Cross and all the relief organisations that have acted swiftly and heroically. I mention in particular the 29 Red Cross people left in Rwanda, 10 more living in border areas and the two from Médecins Sans Frontières in France who were left in Rwanda. Their contribution has been simply magnificent. The best tribute that we can pay them is to do our job as they have done theirs under infinitely more difficult circumstances. To mention one example, Oxfam is the lead agency in providing water to 300,000 people at the Benako camp in Tanzania. It beggars imagination how one can try to provide for the needs of 300,000 people in a place where refugees suddenly decide to settle.
The needs will be colossal for months, perhaps years. Will the Minister give us a full report on the scale of the problem and what is being done to fill the gaps in food and other pipelines such as transport, water and provision of materials for shelter? Just what will be the role of the troops in arranging for the free passage of relief supplies and how will the United Nations arrange for the safety of those working for such organisations? Is it intended that safe areas will be established throughout Rwanda and not just in the border areas?
On the preventive side, what is being done to ensure that the problem does not spread to Burundi? Just a few weeks ago, Burundi had the same problems of relationship, which were seen as the major threat. In the face of reports of systematic extrajudicial killings in Burundi, the 1994 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights failed to appoint a special rapporteur. What is being done now? In this emergency are we going to pay more attention to what the UN specialist organisations are doing? In my analysis of these tragedies, including the ones that I visited, some organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, consistently underperform. We want to know what is being done to ensure that they perform in the way that the non-governmental organisations perform.
In the long term, we must also look at the underlying causes. The number one underlying cause in this case is that Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa, is grindingly poor. I want to hear from the Government about Britain's position in these African tragedies. Why do we seem to be so silent? Just how do we justify our permanent seat on the Security Council when we have so little to contribute in the continent where we were the dominant European power? I look forward to the Minister's reply.
§ 12 midnight
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has brought to the attention of the House a matter of great tragedy, and I am pleased to respond this evening to give an indication—I hope that it is a full one—of the Government's position.
All of us share the horror felt around the world at the appalling events in Rwanda in recent weeks. The images of mass killing, butchery, hopelessness and despair go to every heart. The reaction of decent men and women everywhere is that the United Nations should do something —anything—to protect the innocent caught up in the spiral of violence in Rwanda. All of us share the anger and frustration of seeing such things take place without being able to take effective action to step in and bring them to an immediate end. The fighting and the killings are continuing.
The Government's policy is to support all efforts to bring an end to the conflict and to the atrocities, and to give all the help that we can to the humanitarian relief effort. We are playing our full part in the efforts of the international community to achieve those ends.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I shall move fast to try to cover most of the hon. Gentleman's points.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda —UNAMIR—was established by a Security Council resolution in October 1993 at the requests of both the Government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front to monitor the Arusha agreement, which had been signed in August of that year.
Given the political will for peace in Rwanda, the Security Council agreed that a United Nations peacekeeping force should be deployed. There was, at that time, a measure of hope and optimism. The peacekeeping force, therefore, had a clear, carefully defined mandate; it had precise objectives and a timetable of two years, after which time democratic elections would have placed Rwanda firmly on the path to peace and, it was hoped, prosperity. Most important, the force also had the consent of both parties.
The United Nations was asked, and was able to respond to the call, to go to Rwanda because of its greatest asset —its impartiality. It was accepted by both sides and, indeed, was invited in because it was neutral. The experience of Somalia shows how rapidly the United Nations can get sucked into a war once it appears prepared to compromise on that point of impartiality. Its recognised impartiality has enabled the UN to help end conflicts in El Salvador, Cambodia, Namibia and Mozambique. I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for the consent of the leaders of the parties to a conflict for the United Nations to operate successfully.
As we know all too well, the disaster that befell Rwanda in early April made it impossible for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda to fulfil its mandate. Instead of disarming soldiers from each side in preparation for elections, the UN troops in Kigali and the surrounding areas, who were, of course, only lightly armed, suddenly found themselves in the crossfire of a bloody war. Some of them found that they had become targets, as they witnessed 313 the abduction and killing of 11 of their Belgian counterparts, and four Ghanaian solders have since been killed.
The Security Council was therefore faced with a very difficult decision: UNAMIR no longer enjoyed the consent of the parties to do what it was sent to Rwanda to do. It was not equipped to enforce a peace. That would have required resources that were simply not available. Nor, of course, would it have been responsible for UNAMIR to withdraw altogether.
On 21 April, the Security Council agreed unanimously to maintain a presence of 270 UNAMIR troops and to give it a mandate to concentrate on helping to negotiate a ceasefire, to assist to the extent feasible with the humanitarian relief and to monitor the situation generally. That reduced presence was the maximum that could enjoy consent on the ground.
However, the Security Council continued to follow the situation closely, and the United Kingdom was at the forefront of those insisting that the United Nations should remain engaged to the maximum extent feasible. Our representative at the UN argued strongly that withdrawal would be totally irresponsible. We supported the further decision increasing the authorised strength of UNAMIR to 5,500 and giving it an additional mandate to support and protect civilians at risk and provide security for humanitarian operations inside the country.
It is, however, essential that further deployments are properly planned and executed. As a first step, more than 100 UNAMIR observers now in Nairobi will return to Kigali; the Ghanaian mechanised battalion will also be brought up to strength—800 men. The Secretary-General will report as soon as possible on the next phase of UNAMIR's deployment, taking account of the cooperation of the parties, progress towards a ceasefire and the availability of resources.
I must emphasise that there is no question of UNAMIR's providing an interposition force in the civil war without a full ceasefire between the parties. UNAMIR's task will be to provide a protective presence for civilians caught up in the horrific atrocities. That will require the consent of the opposing factions. The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping arrived in Rwanda today in an effort to achieve that consent.
The hon. Gentleman asked me which side the Government considered to be most to blame for the atrocities. Rwanda has had a tragic history of ethnic-political violence since its independence. Both the Hutu and the Tutsi have been guilty of ethnic violence in the past. In the current conflict, it appears that the worst atrocities have occurred in the areas controlled by forces of the interim Government, although there have also been reports of killings in Rwanda Patriotic Front areas. It is essential that all in a position to do so take immediate, effective action to halt the killings: we have made that clear to all the parties.
When asking me to apportion blame, the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the fact that, whatever our personal views, the UN must operate with the consent of the opposing factions. That is less achievable if blame is apportioned by the Government or the UN. It is not a question of being even handed.
In parallel with the deployment of the UN forces, there are political developments. The UN, the Organisation of African Unity and the regional governments have been trying to bring about a ceasefire and relaunch peace 314 negotiations. Those efforts have so far been unsuccessful, but we and our partners in the European Union support all efforts to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table. The Foreign Ministers of the European Union issued a declaration on 16 May expressing their support, and my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has written to President Museveni of Uganda and President Mwinyi of Tanzania to express the British Government's appreciation of their efforts. We urge all parties to return to the Arusha agreement of August last year, which still offers the best available basis for national reconciliation.
Although I wish to deal with the political aspect, I must say a word about humanitarian relief. Since the start of the emergency, we have committed more than £4.5 million bilaterally in emergency aid. Initially, we gave support to those fleeing the violence by granting funds, through the British non-governmental organisations Action Aid, CARE and Oxfam, to pre-position relief items in the region and provide medical assistance. Then, following the massive influx of refugees into northern Tanzania at the end of April, we acted very quickly to provide further assistance for those in need, funding two British Red Cross relief flights and a further flight consigning technical equipment and personnel to set up an airbridge in Mwanza to facilitate an increased UNHCR airlift operation. We are continuing to support that effort, and have since provided more equipment and personnel to maintain the operation and ensure its continuing effectiveness. Last week, we agreed to help UNHCR by obtaining, in Britain, a Bailey bridge, which is urgently required close to the Benako refugee camp in northern Tanzania, where the largest number of refugees is located. That will speed up the relief effort. As I said at Question Time yesterday, we have provided the Save the Children Fund with support for its work with the Lutheran World Service in Uganda to collect and bury the bodies that have appeared around the north-west shores of Lake Victoria.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to comment on any possible gaps in the aid pipeline. We are informed that, despite major logistical problems, the world food programme is maintaining basic food supplies into all the refugee camps, which, as at mid-May, contain 322,000 refugees. In addition, it has been moving supplies into north and south Rwanda for another 200,000 refugees and displaced people. That has been achieved by a combination of local purchasing, borrowing from existing emergency operations and by taking advantage of the very generous gesture by the Government of Tanzania, taxed as they are with their own internal drought problems, to advance 5,600 tonnes of maize from their reserves. I am also glad to say that the Overseas Development Administration has agreed to provide United Kingdom-made grinding mills to produce maize flour in support of that, which will be flown to Tanzania very shortly.
This week, an ODA humanitarian assessment mission is visiting the region. It will assess the impact of the emergency aid that we and others have provided and it will determine priorities for future support. It will be reporting back on Friday. Rwanda, especially, is likely to need external help to cope with the longer-term aftermath of the dreadful crisis. When that stage is reached, we shall review the situation with our European Union partners and other donors. A European Union ministerial troika mission to assess requirements is being planned. The priority must be to alleviate the immediate suffering. I hope that the 315 political and humanitarian measures that I have described will provide a practical demonstration of the Government's commitment to that end.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes past Twelve midnight.