§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Judd rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what humanitarian relief they have mobilised for the Great Lakes region of Africa following the recent deterioration in the social and political situation there; and what action they are taking together with other members of the United Nations to secure the well-being of victims of this disaster.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should make clear to the House that I work, both professionally and voluntarily, as I have for most of my life, in the non-governmental sector in the spheres of humanitarian affairs and international security.
§ It is no exaggeration to say that we are faced with potentially one of the worst human disasters in the history of the world. Thousands are dying—many, far too many—as we debate this evening. While not a few are undoubtedly themselves stained with the blood of past Tutsi victims, very many are weak, sick, fragile, broken people—men, women and children—innocent victims of a terrifying and bewildering nightmare which has overtaken them; people frightened of war, frightened of disease, frightened of starvation and frightened of the bullies who herd them hither and thither as hostages for their own survival; above all, people frightened of death as they struggle even to suck moisture from the roots of plants to keep alive.840
§ There has been a welter of pontificating about morality, ethics and values inside Westminster and outside it during recent months. There is a real danger that history will condemn us all for sanctimoniously indulging in hollow rhetoric about right and wrong while we dither in indecision about how to respond to this immense humanitarian challenge. Our morality will and should be judged by the firmness and decisiveness with which we consistently turn it into action to meet the human crises which confront us. My Lords, just imagine: if it were Iraqi forces massing on the Kuwait border, would the West be wondering whether we could really spare troops for intervention? Or indeed did the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, lose time wondering whether a post-imperial Britain could really mobilise a force to take back the Falkland Islands? Any hesitation to act—to play our part—when the need is as irresistibly clear as it is in the Great Lakes Region will undermine the social fabric of our own society here at home. What kind of example would it be to our young about what decency and civilised values demand? By contrast, if we engage rapidly and effectively, we can help our nation to rediscover itself, to hold its head high as we approach the millennium ahead.
§ My message today therefore is one of support for resolute action by the Minister and her colleagues if they are prepared to take it. But time is desperately short. We must never forget that when genocide threatened in Rwanda in 1994 the calls for intervention by those who knew the situation were ignored. Indeed, we reduced the UN presence. The genocide happened, with consequences which are central to what confronts us now. We must not make the same dreadful mistake again.
§ We therefore look to the Minister to reassure us with a convincing action plan. This must, above all else, cover, first, the logistics of the relief operation and how the supplies will be delivered to all those in acute need: what are the implications of the dispersal of the refugees into remote areas, how will they be located, and what will be done to try to reach them?
§ Secondly, there is the return of refugees to Rwanda. How can we ensure that their return is genuinely voluntary and at the same time that all who want to return are able to do so? What will be done to guarantee their safety on the journey and their security and well-being when they get back; what external guarantees will there be? What additional assistance will be provided to Rwanda to help with successful resettlement? What will be done to screen out the militias and those known to be responsible for genocide so that those who return will be seen to be "clean"? What of those refugees who do not wish to return or who are not yet confident enough to do so but who are not accused of acts of genocide? What will be done, and where, to provide them with a secure haven and will it be at a suitable distance from the border? At the same time, what support will be made available for impoverished Zaireans themselves? They have sometimes seen Hutu refugees materially in a relatively advantaged position.
§ Third, and basic to future stability, is the need to bring to account those responsible for the genocide and atrocities in the past. What are now to be the procedures 841 for identifying them? What are to be the arrangements to ensure that there are adequate resources for the expeditious and convincing administration of justice? What will be the support for internment systems for those awaiting trial and for those convicted?
§ Fourth, we all know that Kinshasa has become the hub of the arms-smuggling network stretching from South Africa to eastern Europe. What will be done to monitor and control the arms flow into the region? Incidentally, what has happened about the UN request to the United Kingdom to provide information about a British-based company suspected of helping to ship weapons to refugee camps in East Zaïre? What of the arms alleged to be flooding into Zaïre from France and Egypt in preparation for an all-out attack on Rwanda in the near future?
§ All the measures will of course have to be policed. We welcome the news of one small convoy today but in the anarchic hell which much of the region has become there is no way that civil action alone will suffice on the massive scale that is necessary. To suppose otherwise is dangerously self-deceptive.
§ What, then, is the latest news about the proposed Security Council authorised presence? What will be the balance between African and other forces, and what will we ourselves contribute? How far advanced are we on all that? What is being done to avoid the unforgivable delays which hampered the military response following the genocide two years ago? Are we all moving as rapidly as we should be? If not, why not? How many more must die while the world prevaricates? Why on earth is there an 11-day delay at the UN? What are we doing to encourage President Clinton to turn his victory sentiments into substance? Will the military presence have United Nations Charter, Chapter VII, powers? Will the military be empowered to use necessary minimum force to enable them to be effective? Surely, we cannot have troops standing by in agonising frustration—as happened in Bosnia—while killing and wounding goes on around them. What is more, we cannot have troops in an international force passively at risk.
§ But the military mandate must be clear. It must be to enable the humanitarian and political objectives to be fulfilled. What therefore will be the co-ordinated civil and military command structure within the UN operation as a whole, and how will the non-governmental sector be expected to relate to it?
§ The plan for which we look is for immediate action to fill the political vacuum and to stem the bleeding. It is not and cannot ever be a substitute for a political settlement. It is the peacemakers who have the biggest and most important task of all. We look to hear from the Minister about the role for them and the way that she sees them taking their task forward. The objective must surely be to find those people within the total situation upon whom the future can be built, and to work with them and support them in taking the reins themselves. They must be empowered and neither directly nor indirectly disempowered. That will, it seems to me, require imagination. They may not always be the most obvious people in conventional political terms. Wider civil society may well have a key part to play.842
§ In the region there are in reality four conflicts which could all too easily converge into an apocalypse. There is the conflict originating in Rwanda with the genocide of Tutsis by Hutus, a conflict which two years ago moved over the border into Zaire with, at one point, 20,000 Hutu refugees an hour crossing the frontier as the Tutsis fought back and took control in Rwanda. Those refugees in their refugee camps right on the frontier became a running sore for the continued destabilisation of Rwanda as the armed Hutu militia took control of them.
§ There is the closely interrelated and intensifying conflict in Burundi. There is the conflict in eastern Zaïre as Zairean troops and Hutu extremists from the camps fight against threatened Zairean people of Tutsi ethnicity who seek to secure their safety. And there is the ominous developing conflict as various Zairean opposition groups form up to fill the vacuum of power as President Mobutu's sinister dictatorship loses its grip. It is essential that we look to the issues of the region as a whole and devise a comprehensive political strategy. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister what work is being done on all this and by whom, in the European Union, the OAU and the UN.
§ If there is one lesson from the bloody mess with which we are faced, it is that we must once and for all take the concepts of early warning, conflict resolution and pre-emptive and proactive diplomacy out of the realms of political rhetoric and put them at the centre of our political processes. Humanitarian commitment demands that. Economic common sense demands it. We cannot afford the exorbitant cost of repeatedly failing to act in time. It needs a sensible co-operative approach, properly serviced, to strive for shared foreign policy objectives in the European Union. It means a renewed commitment to the United Nations with the strongest possible secretary-general and secretariat operating in a supportive climate of international goodwill towards timely proactive peace-making initiatives. It means standby, earmarked forces for the UN, ready to go into action at short notice if it proves necessary, not least in support of humanitarian operations. And it requires more careful and accountable regulation of the arms trade.
§ Today, we look to the Minister for news of the Government's immediate plans. But we also look to her to indicate that the long-term lessons are being taken seriously and acted upon. In that, I can assure her, the Government will have our goodwill. If we want the status of one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, we have to shoulder the leadership responsibilities which go with it.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, no one doubts that there is a human tragedy going on in Zaire. It is natural that people, moved by the humanitarian crisis, should be urging the immediate dispatch of British troops. Their record in Bosnia, in Angola last year and on a previous occasion in Rwanda is a splendid one. They are a trained and disciplined professional Army and that is their strength. But they are also an Army which is clearly grossly overstretched and 843 recruitment, particularly in the infantry, has fallen dangerously. Meanwhile, they acquire more commitments.
The Armed Forces have been subjected and are still subjected to constant change and constant cuts. There is no time for training and no time for roulement. In those circumstances, the Government must be absolutely right not to move one step to commit British troops to yet another foreign adventure without absolutely clear rules of engagement—as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said—agreed beforehand, which allow them to defend themselves and those they are sent to protect, and a defined task and time-scale.
Moreover, we are right not to accept a command structure for a military operation in which military decisions are made not by force commanders but by UN officials. That is the untenable situation in which our troops had to operate in Bosnia before the creation of IFOR. It must not happen again and the UN must accept that.
I hope too that our intention is to enable all the refugees to return to Rwanda and be safe there. Then the world can provide aid and funds for reconstruction and require the Rwandan government to ensure their safety. I feel deep sympathy for the unfortunate Zairois left in the Kivu, but that is a civil war and an internal war in which neither we nor the surrounding African countries have any standing, alas, to intervene, except with aid on agreed terms. If anything can be done on that basis, I should strongly support whatever my noble friend the Minister, with her immense experience, advocates. It is not unlikely, at least while President Mobutu is alive, that the French, for reasons of francophony, may intervene militarily and unilaterally to restore order, as they have done before. But that is a matter for them and for Zaire.
For the sake of the stability of the region, where neighbouring Uganda is trying so hard to recreate a relatively stable and prosperous country and where Tanzania and Zambia respectively need and deserve peaceful neighbours, we have a proper interest in restoring the refugees to their own country in conditions of continuing safety. What we must not do is accept an open-ended, undefined commitment to a goal of bringing peace to the Kivu Province of Zaire. Especially, we must not re-establish or sustain, I suggest, any refugee camps within Zaire. The unfortunate villagers of the Kivu have suffered enough, first, from seeing the Hutus—not just the women and children but also the murderous militia who kept them there—fed and cherished by the UN while they had nothing; secondly, from seeing the hostage-taking, the killing and the destruction of their entire world.
I served in Zaire, and that included the Kivu, in the years 1959 to 1961 (the year before independence and the 18 months afterwards) when the UN was there in great strength. We need to understand and recognise the size of that vast country, the appalling lack of roads and other communications, the difficulties which the rains will bring and the absolute lack of law and order for any effective infrastructure. There will be no one to 844 negotiate with who has the power to deliver anything for more than a few hours, and that is probably true of the president himself.
Sadly, Zaire is not a product of colonialism but of the absolute failure of the Belgians to prepare the country for independence. Robert Gardiner, the great Ghanaian who was the last and greatly respected head of the UN operation in the Congo and who became head of the Economic Commission for Africa, always reminded Africans that the British brought the rule of law and ended the power of the witch doctors and the slave traders.
Very soon after the Congo became independent, three of Lumumba's ministers came to me to ask to become a British colony; and I was once summoned to Stanleyville as the consul three months before independence to face a group of ex-EOKA terrorists from Cyprus who had settled there and who demanded that Britain should take over the Congo before it collapsed into anarchy.
I say those things, first, because the state of Zaire arises from the fact that it entered independence with—though it had primary education—not one trained Congolese civil servant, lawyer, doctor or other professional infrastructure and with an army with not one black officer. The Congo was not a colony; it was a fief of the Union Minière and it has paid dearly for those beginnings. But, alas, it is an independent African country. We cannot intervene internally, tragic though the situation is, except to return the refugees to their own country with the consent of the government.
Therefore we are asked to commit our troops, scarce and valuable as they are. May we expect those same people who are calling for the use of British troops—in my view, quite rightly in the circumstances—but who cannot understand why a penny should be spent on defence to fight for more money and resources for defence? Supporting humanitarian tasks has proved to be yet another of the Army's remarkable skills, but it must be paid for. I urge the House to care for the suffering that is happening, but to keep cool heads; to support practical measures and measures that are reasonable and right. I am sure that we can rely on my noble friend the Minister to do all that needs to be done; she is a Minister of experience.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, everybody knew what was happening in eastern Zaire. The crescendo of violence against the native Tutsi population had been reported by NGOs, by the UN Special Envoy Raymond Chrétien, by Human Rights Watch/Africa and by the media. Yet no attempt had been made to disarm the Interahamwe and the remnants of the FAR in the refugee camps. As the noble Baroness said, we fed them and brought them back to strength so that they could resume the genocide in Rwanda and perpetrate a new genocide on their immediate neighbours in Kivu.
We knew about the copious flow of arms into the region, yet we did not insist on stationing observers at the airports and on the borders between Zaire on the one hand and Rwanda and Burundi on the other. That must 845 be done now, and vigorous measures must be taken against those supplying the weapons, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. There has been abundant evidence not only of the supplies he mentioned, but also of Russian involvement, and many allegations against other clandestine suppliers, such as the report which appeared in the Belgian daily De Morgen on Saturday, that the Belgian armaments group FN is supplying ammunition from a factory in Kenya to the Interahamwe.
The noble Baroness said that we had no standing to intervene. But do the Government consider that the crisis in Zaire is a threat to the peace? If so, will they help to formulate a resolution in the Security Council under Article 40 of the Charter to,call upon the parties concerned to comply with such provisional measures as it deems necessary or desirable"?That would have to be done, under Chapter 7, as a preliminary to any intervention which did not have the approval of Zaire or Burundi. The Zairean authorities would have to be asked to agree to stop their forces collaborating with the Interahamwe and the remnants of the FAR, and indeed to use their best endeavours to disarm their forces on Zairean territory. They would have to agree to stop the floods of arms and ammunition passing through Kinshasa. The leader of the Zairean armed alliance, Laurent-Desire Kabila, which now controls large areas of Kivu province including the main towns of Bukavu, Goma and Uvira, would have to be asked to agree to a cease-fire.
With those provisos, a UN force could undertake the task of protecting aid agencies operating in eastern Zaire. The object would be to establish a safe haven in the areas under M. Kabila's control, to be precisely defined, through which refugees could return to Rwanda in an orderly fashion, screening them in the process and facilitating the arrest of any persons accused of having taken part in the genocide.
The immediate task must be to bring help to the half million people now gathered at Mugunga, many of whom are already dying, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. As the Defence Secretary, Mr. Portillo, said on BBC radio this morning, the UN has to table a plan and we can then contribute on the humanitarian side certainly, and perhaps with troops as well, though I agree that the force must be African-led. If the South Africans are unable to offer more than logistical help, perhaps the United Nations would consult ECOWAS about the possibility of diverting some of the additional forces that were being sent to Liberia, as a temporary measure. Chad has now offered to contribute troops, and President Pasteur Bizimungu says that Rwanda has wholeheartedly accepted the recommendations reached at the Nairobi regional summit last week, including the formation of a neutral force in eastern Zaire to enable the humanitarian aid to reach the refugees.
The Zairean prime minister, with whom the noble Baroness had discussions only a couple of weeks ago, met the UN representative to the Great Lakes region, Raymond Chrétien, on Saturday. He said that he was in favour of a multinational force being sent to the region, though he made no comment on the Nairobi proposals 846 that a neutral zone should be created in eastern Zaire. The forced contribution of 1.6 million dollars from business in Kinshasa to finance what is described as the,war effort against the eastern invader",by the radio Voix du Zaire does not auger well for the restoration of peace in Kivu and I hope M. Chrétien will tell the authorities in Kinshasa that the cease-fire means an undertaking not to try to recover territory now controlled by the rebels.
If a UN force is sent in, as everybody agrees, it must have clear objectives and those must be compatible with the long-term political settlement of the region's problems. Horrendous ethnic conflicts have occurred in Rwanda, Burundi and now in eastern Zaire, and the legacy of fear and enmity makes it virtually impossible for everybody to return to their towns and villages and settle down together as though nothing had happened. The UN Commission which investigated the assassination of President Habyarimana of Burundi on 21st October 1993 and the massacres that followed, reported in August that acts of genocide had been perpetrated against the Tutsi minority, and that the Tutsi army and civilians indiscriminately murdered Hutu men, women and children. Since then Burundi has teetered on the brink of further explosion. The events in Rwanda, which resulted in the death of perhaps a million Tutsis, also constituted genocide. Now, in Zaire, a third tragedy is occurring, mostly out of sight but within the knowledge of anybody who reads the newspapers or listens to the radio.
In 1859 the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Malmesbury, said that Ministers took their stand on,the territorial arrangements of 1815, which have ensured the longest peace on record".We take our stand nowadays on the territorial arrangements that followed the peace of 1945, ignoring the fact that boundaries have always changed throughout recorded history and will continue to change. The only question is whether they do so by violence or by orderly, peaceful means. It may be extremely difficult to separate the disparate ethnic groups in the Great Lakes region so that homogeneous states may be created; but I believe that may be the only reliable way of preventing the nightmare of megadeath every 10 years.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, the horrific genocide in Rwanda in 1994 will remain a permanent scar on the face of the African continent. Now, two years on, fears are mounting, as many noble Lords have mentioned, of an equally horrific genocide; this time in retribution for the slaying of so many hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.
I have spent most of my life in South Africa and have seen and experienced much of the suffering there as well as in Angola and Mozambique. Therefore, my feelings for the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in eastern Zaire are almost those of an African. We have heard this evening of the desperate calls for concerted international military intervention. We have also heard 847 recently on the news of NGOs expressing the hopelessness of the situation there and warnings by the Tutsi leaders against international military intervention.
Last week Time magazine carried a two-page article aptly headed "Death cries of a Nation". The beginning of the article quoted Ernest Hemingway in 1954, soon after he visited Zaire, when he wrote,lake Kivu is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen … it is certainly much more beautiful than Lago di Como and I am quite sure that it contains less dead bodies, of human beings at any rate".Now, almost 40 years later, caught in the crossfire between Rwanda and Zaire, almost a million Hutu refugees are in squatter camps along that same lake, and on the move. The refugees are almost entirely cut off from emergency relief and have no food, nor clean water, nor medicine. In the words of Time magazine:As for Hemingway's lovely lake, the expected epidemic of cholera will certainly adorn Kivu's shores with a necklace of corpses".Those are emotional words, my Lords.
The Question of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, asks what humanitarian relief Her Majesty's Government have mobilised for the Great Lakes region of Africa and what can be done, with other members of the United Nations, to secure the well-being of the victims of this horrendous disaster. The deterioration of the social and political situation in the region has been apparent for many months and, to make a rather gross analogy, has been like a boil about to burst.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has, in a very poignant manner, described the crisis and the desperate calls for international assistance. He also asked many searching questions which will need to be answered. What is clear, however, is that time is not on our side and that there are no quick fixes to this crisis. The reality of the many civil wars of Africa has been that food aid has so often been used as a weapon by warring factions, thereby denying such aid to those at whom it has been targeted.
One of the major problems which is apparent in this crisis is the inability of the so-called Tutsi rebels to prise out the Interahamwe militia, a point that has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. They are immersed among innocent refugees. It is an impossible task to prise them out. Who, if anyone, has a solution to this problem? Moreover, if there is any chance of negotiating safe corridors for aid to get to the refugees, there will have to be safeguards to protect international peacekeepers where it is apparent that rebel Tutsi leaders cannot control their followers. As a spokesman from Médecins sans Frontières explained on the news this morning, aid workers need not just safe corridors to get the aid to the refugees, but more importantly need to assess those needs before the aid can be distributed and targeted.
With limited reliable information on the plight of the refugees, one of the most reliable and useful sources of gathering information has been the broadcasts of the BBC World Service. In the foreign affairs debate following the gracious Speech there were many calls for Her Majesty's Government not to make any further cuts to this invaluable service. I hope the Minister can give us some encouraging news on this point.
848 So what can practically be done to address this crisis and what are the major objectives? Although the Prime Minister indicated in a recent interview that Her Majesty's Government may be prepared to send a military taskforce to assist in securing a safe corridor for aid, in reality this seems unlikely unless an international taskforce includes American troops. The recent experiences of American troops in Somalia may deter them from sanctioning this action.
I believe that there has to be a short-term, a medium-term and a long-term solution if this exercise is to be effective. There have been many calls for a special African crisis reaction force. This initiative was promoted earlier this year by the United States. The establishment of a 10,000 strong African crisis reaction force had financial backing from the United States and commitments had been made by Britain, Canada, Ireland and Belgium. However, Nelson Mandela has made it quite clear that he does not want South Africa to be the policeman of the continent, but will respond to a call from the United Nations. The Tutsi rebel leaders have indicated a far more willing approach to an all-African crisis reaction force than an international one. Although President Mobutu has promised his support in trying to achieve a political settlement, can he be trusted? I doubt it. Many cynical observers say that this is an African problem and that therefore we should leave it well alone and let the Africans resolve their own problems. I find that view galling and beyond belief.
The medium-term solution must be to encourage the refugees to return to their homes in Rwanda and to ensure them some protection when they get there. If Her Majesty's Government are to send a military force, we shall need to determine and agree an exit strategy if it is successful in its objectives. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, has played her full role in seeking to address the many international crises that have erupted over the past few years. I hope that in her winding-up speech the Minister can give us some encouragement of what measures Her Majesty's Government intend to take. I do not profess to have any answers, but simply caution that unless immediate international action is mobilised, we are on the brink of another horrific catastrophe.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Judd for raising this subject. My noble friend asked a number of questions. Some were of immediate consequence while others were of a longer-term nature. I want to concentrate mainly on the longer-term question but I wish to say a few words about the immediate situation. Yes, there is an urgent need for humanitarian relief, but humanitarian relief is not a matter of food alone. When one provides humanitarian relief, one needs someone to ride "shotgun", otherwise the relief cannot be provided. It is not at all clear to me that British, French or American troops are the best troops to do this job.
The talk of a multinational African taskforce has to be taken seriously and encouraged as much as possible. We often feel, perhaps because of past colonial guilt or feelings of omnipotence, that if there is a crisis we have 849 to solve it. We may not be the best people to solve it but we may be the best people to help other people to solve it. Therefore, the long-term solution not only of this crisis as it unfolds but perhaps of future crises may be to set up an African taskforce or a force under UN leadership of various regional bodies which is ready to intervene whenever necessary. The great powers can provide the material support and the money. I know that they could provide troops, but I am not sure that troops are necessarily the right answer.
As many noble Lords have said, what we are witnessing is a crisis which was not unanticipated. It could perfectly well have been foreseen long ago. It is partly due to the general collapse of the state across Africa. This is not the only such crisis. There have been similar crises in Somalia, the Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have been civil wars in many countries. Indeed, the Zairean civil war has just started and it will continue for a long time. Any longer-term solution must consider the question of how sacrosanct are boundaries in Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to that. We must also consider which combination of African and other nations will guarantee that, as the economic crisis deepens in Africa, the political crisis there will not take too many lives. I am not an optimist on that score. I think that lives will be lost and we must do something about it.
The crucial problem is that last year, the 50th year of the United Nations, we failed to do anything fundamentally to reform that body. Although we all know of the problems of crisis intervention, we have not set up any machinery to deal with them. We have not been able to strengthen the humanitarian relief agencies with a military arm. Furthermore, the finances of the United Nations continue to be in a parlous state. The United Nations, to which we all look and to which we shall all continue to look, does not have any capacity to react immediately to crises. Vital time is always lost before the UN can act. Given the structure of the UN—perhaps we pay too much respect to national sovereignty—it cannot act unless with the consent of many nations, including that of the state where the intervention is to take place. If the Zaireans do not want United Nations troops, the UN will be crippled.
In the medium term, we must find a different way of thinking about global humanitarian crises. We need the UN to have the power to intervene in a crisis without invitation in the needs of humanity. The United Nations is not only a union of nation states. It must have something to do with humanitarian problems anywhere and everywhere and regardless of the country which has caused them.
One of the problems in the present crisis is that many Rwandan refugees do not want to return to Rwanda. They do not believe that the Rwandan government can give any guarantee of their welfare. Indeed, they have run away precisely because they have not given them such a guarantee. We think in terms of Rwandan refugees returning to Rwanda and of refugees from Burundi returning to Burundi, but that is not the solution because people there do not think like that. They do not come with national labels—and if they do, those labels are no guarantee of their welfare.
850 We are not used to thinking in such terms. We think in terms of a nation state taking care of its people. Sadly, it has been shown in Africa in the past 10 years that the nation state is not the best guarantor of the welfare of its own citizens. Therefore, the United Nations, which is hinged on the sovereignty of the nation state and which thinks through nation states, is not well prepared to intervene. I am sorry to have to raise this, but there will be more crises in Africa and we have to think now of how to solve the next crisis and the next but one.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, going over my notes at the weekend of a trip to the region two years ago I came across a section on refugees. "Destabilising factor", I noted, and in brackets "powderkeg—must be addressed". I say that only to illustrate that the refugee crisis has been long brewing. The broad criticism levelled at regional governments has been their inability to create an environment suitable for a return. But what aggravated the crisis can be summarised in one word: fear—fear caused principally by the militia groups taking refuge within the camps and spreading misinformation. Word had it, for example, that once inside the transit camps the returning refugees would be lined up alongside a pit and shot. That is not much of an incentive. A return of refugees would have exposed the militia and led to arrest.
The UN organisations must be commended, however, for doing what they could. Onward transportation was supplied from the transit camps and they provided the raw essentials to enable a fresh start—agricultural tools, seed and protective clothing.
There are, and always should be, lessons to be learnt from what has gone wrong, but they should not come at this stage. We are where we are and the questions can only be: what are we going to do about it now, and, how in reality is a pluralist society going to evolve? We must consider the longer term. The refugees and the local people of Zaire urgently deserve assistance. The priority is to convince the government of Rwanda, the leaders of rebels in Zaire and the government of Zaire to allow NGOs, or at least a number of them, to reach camps in Kivu. That authorisation should be extended to UNHCR and the World Food Programme. That would relieve the immediate situation.
I now turn to the question of any role for a military presence and in doing so wish to offer a cautionary note. It must not be forgotten that there are 500,000 refugees from Rwanda in Tanzania with no problem because the government of Tanzania are in full control of their territory. That is not the case in Eastern Zaire, almost a terra nulla. In consequence, military intervention should be decided upon only as an option of last resort due in large part to the absence of a front line. Indeed, a large foreign presence could exacerbate tensions and aggravate the crisis as it would give hope to Hutus that they will regain control of Rwanda and impose their views in Burundi. At the same time, it would have the effect of making the Tutsi more paranoic. Only extremists on both sides would gain from a military presence.
851 The following questions should be carefully considered before any UN-led force enters the region. For how long would a military presence be maintained? What would be the criteria for return if a crisis breaks out after departure?
What we must all do is turn to mechanisms to bring about peace, reconciliation and stability in the long term. Military intervention will not achieve that. It is my belief that the people of the region, Hutu and Tutsi, should be told without ambiguity that it is they who must find the way to peace. The international community can only help in facilitating the process of reconciliation.
I wish to propose that the following be undertaken after helping the refugees in Zaire. First, there must be assistance for the peaceful return of Zairians to their villages and refugees to Rwanda with an assurance as to their safety. Secondly, a credible effort must be made to separate armed Hutu extremists from the innocent refugees. Thirdly, a press campaign for reconciliation should be undertaken by the government of Rwanda targeting innocent refugees. Fourthly, funding should be made available for the Arusha Tribunal and the reconstruction of Rwanda. Fifthly, political issues such as constitutional reform and institution building should be devised in a 10 to 15-year programme to achieve a peaceful cohabitation of both communities. Sixthly and finally, one of the principal causes of the crisis is the absence of effective government in Kivu. The succession of President Mobutu, if he is really sick, should be anticipated and planned for; if he is to return, he must be made to commit to equitable, responsible and firm leadership.
In conclusion, Hutus and Tutsis have shared the same territory for centuries in comparative peace. They share the same religion, language and culture. The need for Rwanda and Burundi to adopt a similar approach on political, security and economic matters should be understood. A useful long-term objective could be joint integration into the East African Association or an enlarged SADCC. Only then will a world of peace with opportunity prevail.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I share with other noble Lords the concern that Nero-like we are fiddling while Rome burns. I looked up that reference in my encyclopedia and discovered that Nero was not fiddling but reciting one of his own poems of which he was particularly proud. It seems to me that that is more like the hollow rhetoric that has been referred to by my noble friend.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has said, in the past 24 hours there has been some good news. Both Zaire and Rwanda have said that they will allow aid agencies to send some aid convoys through to the refugees, if the refugees can still be located. However, it is right that they should be protected by some kind of miliary presence, as the Security Council has agreed. I understand the difficulties that this presents. I would much prefer to see an African-led force. If that were so, I would adopt the suggestion of my noble friend Lord 852 Desai that we should provide the finance. We are rich and African countries are exceedingly poor. They are in debt.
France has stated its immediate readiness to go in as part of a UN force. Interestingly, Spain has said the same. We have shown a rather more guarded readiness. The noble Baroness will be aware that there are problems about French intervention. Clearly, they have a highly effective military presence in Africa, with an almost non-nuclear force frappe ready to go. They are familiar with the area, having occupied part of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. While that exercise possibly saved some lives, it also allowed some of the Interahamwe, the perpetrators of the genocide, to escape. Since then it has forcibly taken control of the refugee camps inside Zaire and used them as bases from which to re-equip. They have boasted openly of plans to re-conquer Rwanda and have discouraged, and even actively prevented, ordinary Hutus from returning home. My noble friend and others have said that the camps have been a running sore on the borders of Rwanda.
I believe that a close parallel can be drawn between these camps and those of the Khmer Rouge and their allies on the Thai/Cambodia border just out of reach of Cambodian government forces. The difference is that Zaire, which has allowed its territory to be used by the Interahamwe while tolerating the Hutu refugees, is a weaker and less integrated state than Thailand, so that Rwanda, with its fellow Tutsi ethnic brethren on the other side of the artificial border, in Banyamulenge in Zaire, have lost patience and gone on the offensive.
By permitting elements of the previous genocidal regime in Rwanda to regroup and re-arm in the camps in eastern Zaire we have allowed the present tragic situation to develop. That theme has prevailed throughout all of the speeches today. I do not necessarily blame this country alone. Although we have given quite generous aid, we have chosen not to listen to the urgent warnings of representatives of the United Nations and many aid agencies about the growing arrogance of the Interahamwe and other unrepentant revanchist Hutus in the refugee camps. I agree that it would not have been easy to go into the camps and disarm these dangerous groups, but it would have been possible to do it with a small military commitment organised by the United Nations if the will had been there at a much earlier stage. Logically, the French might have been the leader of such a force, but it appears that they have another agenda—and a very much anti-Tutsi agenda.
I do not wish to go on record as implying that all in the Tutsi garden is rosy and all in the Hutu garden is murky. Over the centuries, particularly since the Belgians became the colonial power, Tutsis have exerted an arrogant dominance over the Hutus both in Rwanda and Burundi. This was encouraged by the Belgians, perhaps because of the vacuum which was created by the failure to train local people to take responsibility, so that when they left there was chaos. Old scores in no way excuse the blood bath of two years ago. As my noble friend has said, the first step to normality and the return of innocent refugees to Rwanda must be to bring the perpetrators of that crime to justice. We know that many are in Zaire and some have fled 853 further afield. As I mentioned in a Starred Question on 31st August, some have ended up in the francophone commonwealth.
How can the problem be overcome? It will be very difficult to mount an external operation which specifically excludes the French, since they made the first offer to go—some might say too eagerly. I suggest that this is a case for careful diplomacy. I should like to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We have a reputation for bringing law to colonial territories. Let us go back and adopt that role again. In our attempts to screen those in the camps and those who have left the camps we must bring these people to justice so that we end up with the right solution; that is, a regional conference to re-examine the entire structure of the nations in the Great Lakes region.
§ 7.8 p.m.
My Lords, before I address the question I remind your Lordships that I have an interest in this matter in that I am involved in an NGO which is operating in Rwanda at the moment. Further, a British military deployment may also present me with personal opportunities.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is to be congratulated on introducing this Unstarred Question so promptly. He referred to the consequences of delayed action. Last year time and again the Rwandans asked me where the international community was during the genocide. I could not provide a satisfactory answer. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others have referred to any UN mandate and the rules of engagement. The rules of engagement of UNAMIR were very limited. But there is also a problem about interpretation of a mandate. The differences in interpretation within the UNPROFOR contingents prior to NATO and IFOR were noticeable. The manifestation of this was the difference in protection provided to NGOs in different sectors of Bosnia.
The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, referred to the BBC. I echo his comments. How was anyone, including governments in Africa, to understand what was happening without the BBC?
The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, referred to misinformation. At one point the infamous Radio Mille Colinen was transmitting inside Zaire. Such a situation can be countered by the neutral BBC World Service.
The situation in Zaire is clearly one of chaos. However, it is important to remember that Rwanda is stable thanks to the efforts of the Rwandan government, the international community, and, not least, the Minister's Overseas Development Administration.
Over the next few days the situation will become clearer and we shall be better able to see what needs to be done. There is no point in making any military or other deployment if the requirement for it is not fully understood.
One of the past problems is that since 1994 the international community has sustained hundreds of thousands of refugees close to the Rwandan border. In fact one can see Rwanda from the camps. The camps should be at least 50 kilometres away from the border. 854 That would have solved many of the problems caused by the Interahamwe crossing the border and causing mayhem within Rwanda. The Interahamwe and former government forces have been mixed in with the refugees. Their mission has been to destabilise the Rwandan government.
One of today's problems is that we do not know where the refugees are, but they will certainly appear wherever there is food and safety. We need also to determine the situation of the Zairians themselves, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. On the food side, the local produce is not being moved to market, but that situation may change rapidly. There is bulk food in the region, but, as always, the difficulty is getting it to where it is needed.
One of the limiting factors is the rate at which refugees can be processed back into Rwanda. The aid machine can accommodate a maximum of 10,000 refugees a day. There are well over 1 million refugees to be repatriated. What can be done? The opportunity for large-scale repatriation can now be seized. The Rwandans and Zairians do not want refugees to be sustained inside Zaire. That implies moving the refugees to Rwanda and then separating the Interahamwe or former government forces. It is vital that the refugees cannot take any weapons into Rwanda.
For there to be voluntary repatriation, the refugees need to be confident that they will be treated properly. An international military force may be able to do that in co-operation with the RPA. The Interahamwe and others are unlikely to enter Rwanda, but they must not be allowed to stay near the border. They must not be sustained there by the international community, as it has done in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the need for voluntary repatriation. However that needs to be tempered with the need to resolve the refugee situation.
A further difficulty will be the real estate needed for huge transit and screening camps. The physical relief in the area around Gienye makes it extremely difficult to locate suitable areas for such camps. Indeed, the camps in and around Goma were less than ideal.
As for the use of a military force, as always one must be clear about the mission and its duration. Many noble Lords have referred to that point. There are three possible roles. The first will be to secure humanitarian aid corridors. We should note that they should largely be one way; that is, refugees back to Rwanda. The second role would be to provide logistic support, but to who, bearing in mind that the UN already has a large system in theatre? However it is an easy role and relatively risk free. It would be easily time limited. The third role would be to manage the separation of the Interahamwe and former government forces from the genuine refugees. That is a rather more risky role and could take a long time. If there is to be a deployment, I should be interested to hear the Minister say what that role might be.
As for who is to provide the troops, the most important point to understand is that any French or Belgian troops would not be acceptable to the Rwandan government. Again, many noble Lords have referred to 855 that point. I like and admire the French, but I do not believe that they should deploy to the Great Lakes. The USA is fearful after its Somalian experience, but its air logistic capability would be invaluable. The British Army's reputation and experience of such an operation are now second to none. Even now the staff will be planning for a number of possible missions in the region, although they will not admit to it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred to the British Army's manning problems. The problem is that the British Army already has about 30 per cent. of its strength on operations, preparing operations or recovering from operations. We were told by the Chief of the General Staff 18 months ago that he had 20 per cent. of the Army so employed. It is now 30 per cent. We clearly cannot sustain 30 per cent. indefinitely. However, there is room for just one more operation. We should clearly understand that any more operations will increase the already heavy burden on our forces.
We all have great faith in the Minister's ability to understand the situation and react accordingly. It will be interesting to hear her response to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, some time ago I was looking through a book of historical political cartoons. I came across one which had, as it were, an epitaph to the League of Nations. It read:Here lies the League of Nations which died of a surfeit of doing too little too late".There is a lesson in that for the UN.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Judd for giving us an opportunity to have a short debate on this issue. I appreciate that events in the Great Lakes region of Africa have moved quickly recently, and it is possible that the Minister will be able to update us when she responds. However, what is clear is that an enormous disaster has taken place and is taking place. The question is whether action can be taken in time to prevent that disaster from becoming even worse.
We owe a debt of thanks to the television crews who have gone in there and given us the news to alert us to what is happening. We owe an even greater debt of thanks to the staff of the many development agencies who, at grave risk to themselves, have been working in the region. Even if some of them had to withdraw for a time, they are brave people and deserve our thanks for what they have done, not for us, but for the people in the region.
I appreciate that we are wrestling with an issue with which we have wrestled on a number of occasions, and one with which I fear we shall go on wrestling; that is, what is the basis for intervention by other countries when there is a crisis of such dimensions that many thousands, if not millions, of lives are at stake? What do we do about that when it is taking place in another country which is not our own? Can we intervene or run the risk of being accused of interfering in the internal 856 affairs of other countries? Can we establish some basis whereby countries can intervene to prevent enormous disasters?
We have had a number of examples of that over the years. We have had the example of interventions in Iraq, in Somalia, in Bosnia, perhaps in Liberia and in other countries. There are different lessons to be learnt from them all. At some time we have to pool all our experiences to see whether we can find a principled basis for intervening to save human lives in other countries.
Some of the things that have come out of these experiences are clear. It is important that the UN takes a clear role in whatever happens, but we have to avoid one of the problems which occurred in Bosnia. I spoke to military people there who told me that they were constrained by UN orders. There was a crisis which was not expected or anticipated. They needed help on a Saturday and the UN was closed and there was no one there. We have to avoid such a situation as described to me vividly by a British military person who had served in Bosnia.
We must do everything that we can in Africa to involve OAU troops of some kind. We cannot have only white western armies involved. We must learn the lesson of Somalia: that our aims must be limited and we must not try to establish a sympathetic political leadership in these countries. That is not on for outsiders—a costly lesson which the Americans learnt in Somalia when they went further than their initial remit.
We must also do what we can to secure the support of local governments. I understand that both Rwanda and Zaire have moved a little way towards that position. We must try to gain their support, which I appreciate is difficult. Above all, we need clear, limited aims and objectives in whatever is to be done. First, any military forces which we send to the area must be there in order to deliver humanitarian aid. Secondly, we must enable any refugees who wish to return home to do so. Thirdly, we must protect civilians from intimidation and worse. Fourthly, and perhaps the most difficult, we must find a way of screening all refugees to see who has been implicated in genocide and intimidation. That is difficult, as recent experience in Bosnia suggests, but we must have a principled way of dealing with the situation. If not, we shall be accused of protecting the very people who committed genocide a year or two ago.
I appreciate that there are no easy answers and that slick comments made in this House do not have the same pressure and reality as they have on the ground in Rwanda. But I believe that we must do something. We must have a limited form of intervention, because if we do nothing the disaster will become even worse. We must not simply sit aside and do nothing or act so late that the disaster will have become immeasurably worse.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for initiating this timely debate. Although the Question is difficult to answer because the situation is so fluid, it is split into two parts; relief aid and action to be taken by the Government. As regards relief, it 857 would be unfair not to recognise the substantial amount of money which the ODA has already contributed to the relief effort in the region. I too recognise the work of the NGOs in the area in such difficult and dangerous conditions. However, I stress the fact that there is a desperate need to continue our relief efforts and to supply aid to the camps not only in Zaire but in neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda. Today I was fortunate enough to meet the President of Tanzania. He described the camps at Kigoma, which I visited when I monitored the elections in Tanzania. I was surprised to hear that since the troubles began the camps at Kigoma, which were already stretched to capacity, have received an additional 15,000 refugees who had taken the dangerous route by boat across Lake Tanganyika.
As regards government action, the Liberal Democrat policy is that we need to supply humanitarian aid supported with a military mission if that were considered necessary. However, we echo the attitude of the Government, and that expressed by many Members, that such a military mission could be undertaken only if it were clear, its duration defined and was international in nature. Obviously, that would include the United States and many of the African nations. I was surprised to hear from many ambassadors from East Africa how they view participation from countries such as France, which they do not consider to be neutral. I believe that the only way to avoid the problem would be to make a military mission truly international.
Due to the short length of time available I shall focus my attention on some of the questions raised. The problem with the debate is that there are many more questions than answers. The first question relates to the refugee camps and is significant in its complexity. We have heard how the refugee camps came into existence, but it is ironic that the present crisis is as a direct result of the formation of the refugee camp at Goma. As was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that camp, which was brought about by the short-term humanitarian needs of the time, was set up too close to the Rwanda border.
Furthermore, from the first day the camp appeared to be a permanent fixture and that had major implications for the local environment. The effect on the environment can be shown by the events at Kigoma. I was shocked by the devastation that the camp had caused. The president underlined that by stating that when he first visited the camp one year ago one had to walk seven kilometres to find firewood, but now one has to walk 15 kilometres. Of course, the major problem which underlies the present crisis is the lack of any significant policing of the camps. That situation has allowed the Interahamwe and the former Rwandan Army to rearm themselves and to launch offences into Rwanda.
It is ironic, therefore, that the camps must be reformed to supply humanitarian aid. That brings me to the major problem of the military option, which is a military corridor. I have significant reservations about such a corridor. As was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, there are significant difficulties not least of which is the fact that Eastern Zaire, although a ceasefire is in place, is a war zone. If troops were sent 858 to the area they must have the ability and authorisation to use force. As was shown in Bosnia, it takes only one man with a Kalashnikov to stop an aid convoy. Troops in Africa must be given the political backing and firepower to offset that threat and in a shooting war those troops would face an undisciplined force. That must be understood before any such decision were taken.
Furthermore, an international force, depending on how long it stayed in the area, might undergo a transformation from being a saviour to experiencing tension among its troops. It might end up on Zairian soil being fired at from all sides. If a military option is undertaken arms control must be examined. I was shocked to read in the press allegations made about a British company supplying arms to the camps. Can the Minister indicate whether investigations into those reports are taking place?
In the long term, the solution to the problem can only be political. There is no realistic attempt at a military solution. The refugees must be dispersed from the camps and moved back into the areas from which they came. I believe that the international community has an obligation to ensure that that can take place and that the refugees will be safe on their return. On an international level, it is up to local leaders to ensure that pressure is brought on all the parties involved to secure a lasting and sustainable solution. It is ironic that as East African countries become closer with the recently signed trade agreement, Central Africa appears to be breaking apart. It is also extremely important that respect should be maintained for existing frontiers. The problems in eastern Zaire could lead to the break-up of Zaire itself. If that happens, it may well be that the horrific actions which have taken place in east Zaire will pale into insignificance compared with what may happen in the future.
I have no answers as regards what should happen. I know that the Minister will do all that she can. I know that I counsel caution but in the past, for the international community, caution has meant no action. In this case, I do not believe that that is the right course.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I welcome this discussion of your Lordships' concerns about the deep crisis which confronts the Great Lakes region of Africa. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for tabling this Unstarred Question.
Perhaps I may be allowed to update the House on the extensive political and humanitarian preparations which are taking place. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, was rather unfair when he intimated that nothing is being done. That is simply not true. I hope that I shall be able to convince him of that.
Let no one be in any doubt—the Government are deeply concerned by the current crisis and determined to act effectively and as quickly as possible. The influx of well over 1 million refugees into Kivu province two years ago exacerbated the existing economic and political tensions between the Banyamulenge and the 859 Banyarwanda and the local population. Life was not very good before they arrived there but that made it so much worse.
The Hutu refugees who fled from Rwanda after the genocide in 1994 included much of the former Rwandan Hutu army and the Interahamwe, the militia groups primarily responsible for that terrible genocide in 1994. The population in eastern Kivu has rapidly become a major source of political and military instability in the region as a whole. But the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was right to say that it is not just eastern Zaire which is unstable. There is instability in many other parts of Zaire at present. There has been for a considerable time but it has gone unremarked, perhaps because journalists are not there. But there is no doubt that that is a very unstable nation.
This is a regional matter. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, underlined, those political and security problems have been long brewing. They lie at the heart and the root of the situation today. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was quite right to say that the long-term need is for a political solution, but I add to that that it must be a political solution which comes from within the region. No one can impose a political solution on this or any other region from outside. In discussing that with my European Union development colleagues last Thursday, I found that they were very much in agreement with that view. I am glad to say that many British NGOs are similarly in total agreement with that.
The past few days have shown us in no uncertain terms how essential it is to reduce the tension within Zaire but also between Zaire and Rwanda. I underlined that in the discussions that I had less than two weeks ago with Prime Minister Kengo of Zaire and Foreign Minister Gasana of Rwanda. I also took the opportunity to talk to President Bizimungu of Rwanda on the telephone. Nobody is in any doubt that, when dealing with the practicalities, a reduction of tension is essential over and above any of the other things which need to be done. Just two hours ago I was talking with President Mkapa of Tanzania about the need to resolve this matter through an immediate ceasefire. That is obviously holding in some ways at present but one never knows for how long. But that is essential.
The establishment of safe corridors for humanitarian assistance and for voluntary refugee return are just as important and, if necessary, it will have to involve the deployment of a neutral force to help that return as well as to help the humanitarian aid.
But, above all, as has been underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and so many others in the debate, there is the urgent need to separate the intimidators from the refugees. That was something that was tried at the beginning but without any wholehearted support. We are now left with this situation. Therefore, those are the priorities.
I must say that I have been very impressed by the way in which those aims are being pursued by the European Union Special Envoy Aldo Ajello. His 860 efforts have been outstanding. We now have the new UN Special Envoy, Raymond Chretien, who is equally active in the region.
On Saturday, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1078 which authorises planning for a possible multi-national force to ensure safe delivery of emergency relief and the orderly, voluntary repatriation of refugees. That planning is under way. Another resolution would be required before actual deployment. We have not ruled out a contribution to the force, but the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Dubs, were right when they spoke of the need for at least African representation, if not an African-led force.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said at the weekend that if the operation is to help and not hinder it must be well planned. That lies at the heart of what is going on at present. We must know what will be the aim; what are to be the rules of engagement and the leadership and command structure. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made quite clear in his interesting remarks, we must know what the exit strategy will be. Those are the key questions to be answered if a force is to operate effectively. But it is also crucial to address the important question which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised about how to screen the militia from the refugees. That is why urgent planning and discussions are already under way in London, Washington and other European capitals on those points.
We must stabilise the situation and reach the hundreds of thousands of unfortunate and innocent victims involved in the violence. That is why targeted, well co-ordinated international humanitarian intervention is much needed. The humanitarian agencies share that analysis for which I pressed hard with others in Brussels on Thursday. A European Union troika mission of my fellow development Ministers is in the region at present.
The problem which we face is a lack of reliable information on the numbers of refugees and displaced persons and their location within eastern Zaire. We know that many of them have fled deep into Zaire. They are seeking refuge in one of the most inhospitable places in the world for aid agencies to operate. It is probably the worst part of the rainy season for the aid agencies and, indeed, for the poor refugees themselves. Access into and within the region has always been extremely difficult. The recent fighting has made it much more so. Those are the difficulties which confront us when we ask ourselves what we can do to help.
We are in close touch with the Humanitarian Co-ordinators Office in Kigali. There are already substantial food and non-food stocks available in the region—WFP has food available for two months as it clearly demonstrated to us in Brussels last Thursday. Therefore, the urgent need is for transport and logistics assistance. However, I have to inform your Lordships that even those needs are unclear and will remain so until we get fuller access than, fortunately, was gained today. The UN and the NGOs have crossed into Goma to assess the situation. It is good that the process has begun and that small quantities of supplies have already been delivered. But we have to make this a start of a regular supply route. It is not clear whether Bukavu has yet been reached.
861 Many questions were asked during the course of tonight's debate. The noble Lords, Lord Dubs, and Lord Redesdale, both made reference to the work that we have done within Rwanda to try to make it the place that the refugees will want to come back to. I was grateful for that. I can assure those noble Lords that our efforts will continue. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, and others, talked about African peacekeeping. It was the United Kingdom African peacekeeping initiative which focused on helping Africans to help themselves in the field of UN peacekeeping. That work has been going on for over two years. You cannot suddenly put people into a situation of peacekeeping when all their training, except for a small amount in the past two years, has been of a very different nature.
The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, mentioned the African crisis response force suggested by the Americans. Quite apart from the fact that that builds upon what we and the French have been suggesting, we shall need time for the training forces if that is likely to be at all effective in the region.
The question of accusations regarding arms going into the area was raised. I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we are well aware of the allegations of Britain being involved in the supply of arms to eastern Zaïre. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has investigated all the reports. But, at this stage, evidence has not been found to support criminal proceedings in the UK. However, that is not the end of the matter. I can assure the noble Lord that we are keenly watching what goes on.
The noble Lord also asked me about the international tribunal and about the likelihood of it taking action against organisers and ring leaders of the genocide. That work is proceeding but there are appalling conditions to cope with. We are doing all that we can and have provided considerable support to restoring the Rwandan judicial system to Rwandan prisons. I should point out that one of the problems is that often the evidence is weak and to ensure speedy trials of those against whom there is sufficient evidence means being quite selective. It also means that not all those who are probably guilty of genocide can be picked up. Nevertheless, the work is proceeding.
Some very wise words have been spoken during the course of the debate, none more so than by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. The crisis in the Great 862 Lakes, which has raised the gravest possible concerns throughout your Lordships' House and in another place, is one which has not suddenly happened, not even just as a result of the events of the past two years. The crisis actually goes back centuries. That is one of the problems that we are seeking to help answer. But, as my noble friend said, it is an area of extreme difficulty and it remains so. We have been a major provider of assistance to the region. We have committed more than £130 million in the past three years. We are the fourth largest bilateral donor to the region this year alone, and that was before the start of the current crisis. Our priority throughout has been to support activities which will enable refugees to return voluntarily to their countries of origin.
Our programme of rehabilitation assistance to Rwanda has been worth about £13 million in the past two years. That is really at the heart of encouraging that voluntary repatriation. We are also very aware that special plans have to be made for those who do not return. I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord who said that the camps to which those people go must be further away from the border area. It is very dangerous to have those who clearly wish Rwanda considerable ill literally breathing across the fence into Rwanda from Zaïre.
The human rights monitors whom we have supported will have an enhanced role to play in creating the confidence for refugee return, whether it be through safe corridors or by some escorted means. But we have to put our immediate concerns at the top of the priority list; namely, the security and the well-being of those who have fled the conflict in eastern Zaïre. We shall continue to play a central role in pressing for a regional settlement and for the development of an international framework which will enable us to give effective, targeted relief. That is beginning to emerge. We cannot possibly tackle all these problems on our own. I have urged my colleagues in the European Union to work with us; we are ready to support the political negotiations in any way possible. But, first and foremost, we shall contribute as we have already done for the past two years to the effective use of humanitarian assistance which is so urgently needed in the region.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before eight o'clock.