HL Deb 28 May 2002 vol 635 cc1142-4

2.51 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Sandwich, at his request and with the permission of your Lordships, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they will help to revive inter-Congolese dialogue and peace prospects in the Great Lakes region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the inter-Congolese dialogue is a crucial part of the Lusaka peace process. That is why the Prime Minister has spoken to President Mbeki to thank him for his political and financial contribution and urged him to continue his efforts. At the same time we continue to urge all sides to resume talks immediately on an inclusive transitional government and impress upon them the desire of the people of the DRC to live in peace and security. It is the duty of all the parties to put aside their differences in pursuit of this goal.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it is extremely difficult for inter-Congolese dialogue to proceed constructively so long as neighbouring states park standing and occupying armies particularly in the east of the Congo to fight proxy wars and to plunder the mineral wealth which belongs to the Congolese people?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I wish the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, a speedy recovery. With respect to the inter-Congolese dialogue, and in particular the role played by other countries in the region, it is an essential part of the Lusaka peace process that neighbouring countries withdraw their troops. That is why the process is so important. Inter-Congolese dialogue is one aspect of it; the withdrawal of foreign troops is the second and DDRR R is the third. With respect to the exploitation of resources, we have pressed for the mandate of the UN committee to be extended. Its report is expected in July or August.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, as regards the UN panel of experts, have the Government noted the views that it expressed on the continued illegal exploitation of resources and in particular the presence of the Zimbabweans backed by troops in the Province of Kasai where they are illegally mining diamonds? Do the Government consider that the Security Council should publish the evidence on which the interim report has been based so that doubters who have already begun to question the UN panel, such as President Museveni of Uganda, could be reassured? Do the Government support the idea of a curtain of troops along the eastern borders of the DRC which was advanced during the recent Security Council mission?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the report of the UN panel on exploitation of the DRC's resources is an interim report which outlines the procedure and process which have been adopted by the panel. As I said, we expect the final report in July or August. I anticipate that corroboration of what is in the interim report will be contained in that document. The UN panel will also consider the role played by all high value commodities, including coltan. I think that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with respect to the eastern DRC related to coltan. It will report at that time.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware of reports of a number of human rights abuses in areas controlled by the RCD. Do Her Majesty's Government agree with many in the region that an international independent inquiry should be set up to investigate those allegations in order that the stalled peace process may move ahead? Does she also think that it is necessary that the UN strengthens the mandate of its mission in the DRC, MONUC, in order to avoid further violations of the fragile peace?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are very concerned about human rights abuses and about humanitarian standards in the DRC. That is a matter which is not confined to one side. We have registered those concerns. We have also contributed funds through NGOs to human rights projects in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. Through the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner we have worked to develop their capacity for monitoring the human rights situation. We shall continue to do that because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, rightly pointed out, until the human rights situation is addressed, peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes region will be difficult to come by.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there should be penalties of some kind on those neighbouring countries which fail to withdraw their forces which are now partitioning the Congo? Does she see some prospect of getting purchasers of diamonds to refrain from buying plundered gems? Can anything be done about tropical hardwoods which are being illegally chopped down?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have been part of the Kimberley process which is considering developing a certification procedure for diamonds so that diamonds which are mined illegally do not find their way on to the international market. We are awaiting the outcome of the UN panel report as we hope that there will be some recommendations in it on ways in which we might address exploitation issues with respect to other items including timber.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the nastiest violations of human rights that is occurring in the Congo at the moment is the high incidence of rape perpetrated by marauding military personnel and not only on one side, as I believe she indicated? What is worse, it has been estimated that 50 to 60 per cent of those soldiers are HIV positive. Thus they are spreading the epidemic which is already severe enough. Is that not a further reason why the international community should apply a little more energy to persuade the inter-Congolese dialogue to intensify and to persuade those countries which have troops in the Congo to withdraw them?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that the use of rape and sexual abuse against women and children is extremely distasteful. It is something that we are increasingly seeing in conflicts across the world. I also agree with my noble friend that the implications of that for the spread of HIV/AIDS are extremely serious. However, I say to my noble friend that along with the UN, our African partners and the European Union we have put a great deal of energy into the inter-Congolese dialogue process. At the end of the day a solution has to come from within the Great Lakes region itself. However, I believe the work that we have all done to support the dialogue process—I believe that the UN will become more involved at this point—is exemplary. International organisations, including the UN, but also the European Union and others, should be congratulated on the work that they have done.