HL Deb 03 April 2003 vol 646 cc1559-80

8.35 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response both to the final report of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to recent events there.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention; as bishop of a diocese with a partner relationship with the Anglican Church in the Congo; and as patron of the Congo Church Association. In those last two capacities, I spent two and a half weeks in the region last October and November at the invitation of the Congolese archbishop and in the company of Congolese—two of those weeks spent in four different locations in eastern Congo. Some 2.5 to 3 million people have died in eastern Congo during the past five years as a result of war, chronic theft and pillage on the grandest scale and the sheer absence of any order and security.

The armed forces of as many as six neighbouring countries have been operating in the DRC in recent years—those of some are still there, together with the forces of their various regional proxy warlords and all sorts of armed groups, bandits and deserters. They include a large number of child soldiers—whether taken from their homes or orphaned. Many hundreds of thousands of people live in the constant fear that a total lack of order and security imposes on them. Many thousands sleep in the bush every night. Many hundreds of thousands are displaced, many of them more than once. In a fertile country, there is widespread hunger. Disease of all sorts is rife. Millions are without any access to medical facilities.

Virtually the whole of the proceeds of the DRC's enormously rich mineral resources are stolen by its neighbours. Tribal and regional conflicts have been manipulated to near-genocidal proportions, especially in Ituri in the north-east, by neighbouring states, or by sections of their armed forces, in their own interests.

On March 5th, in another place, the honourable Member for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, initiated a debate on Rwanda and the Great Lakes with a detailed and distinguished speech. Ministers and officials from both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are, to my knowledge, giving the region significant and consistent attention. I thank them for their courtesy and the time that they have given me, but I share with Mr Lamb the conviction that the issues in question are of a scale and urgency that require from the Government—whether acting alone; in concert with European partners; or at the United Nations—a great deal more than they have yet committed themselves to seeking to deliver, and within a much shorter timescale.

The final report of the UN panel of experts was published last October. It makes shocking reading. Having read it within days of my return from the DRC, I can say that it rings true throughout to what hundreds of ordinary people told me was happening. The panel's reports have exposed in considerable detail—naming names of countries, individuals and companies—the character of the systematic looting and exploitation on a vast scale of the natural resources of the DRC during decades, which continues today. They have established multiple links between that exploitation, the continuing and endemic conflict and the suffering of millions of ordinary Congolese—links that a series of other reports, researched and produced by NGOs and the all-party group, have repeatedly described in recent years.

The final report details the equipping and training by foreign armies of a kaleidoscopic range of militias and warlords and their provoking what have become viciously brutal and destructive tribal conflicts. It notes that even where foreign forces withdraw from DRC territory, they embed proxy governments and criminal networks to ensure that illegal exploitation continues—to the extent that, as paragraph 152 states, the war economy operated by the three elite networks operating in the DRC'— those linked with the armed forces if not with the Governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe— dominates the economic activities of much of the Great Lakes region".

It is not surprising that the range of parties named and shamed in that report dispute its findings. The panel notes its uncomfortable relationship with the Porter Commission set up by Uganda to investigate the same range of allegations against its nationals and the UPDF. The panel of experts has been given a further mandate until 24th June to respond to its objectors and to provide the further evidence that some of them, including Her Majesty's Government, have required.

Since 1999, there has been a peace process for the DRC, perseveringly supported by not only South Africa but our own Government. Accords were signed in Pretoria in the middle of last year by the DRC Government—which controls from Kinshasa about two fifths of that whole vast country—Uganda and Rwanda. That process has continued through further rounds of negotiation between the various faction leaders and Kinshasa into the first part of this week.

Seen as a whole, those processes commit Uganda and Rwanda to the complete withdrawal of their armed forces from DRC territory and to ending their support for the range of competing factions that they have fostered and armed over the past 10 or 12 years. The processes promise an administration in Kinshasa in which most of the competing faction leaders will have a stake and will over time be able to exercise government over the whole country. Our own and other governments are poised to offer the range of confidence-building technical and military assistance through which a unified army, police, customs, justice and every other kind of medical and educational service can be developed to provide for the population's security and welfare.

Critically important obstacles have yet to be ironed out. The main players still do not judge that they can safely gather in Kinshasa to begin that intimidatingly large and delicate programme of work. Meanwhile, since the spring of last year, freshly in the last months of 2002, into this year, and then in the past few weeks the forces of some who signed the accords have continued to fight each other. There have been renewed and still-worsening outbreaks of vicious tribal killing, pillage and destruction in Ituri—where millions of already-weakened people are quite beyond the reach of those few NGOs that still have expert and committed personnel in the area. There are well-grounded fears—especially after the expulsion from Bunia on 6th March of the UPC, following the latter's increasing liaison with the Rwanda-backed RCD-Goma, and the subsequent wave of tribal revenge killings and destruction across the wider area—that Ugandan and Rwandan forces may again clash on Congolese soil. That would very likely wreck the already nearly stalled peace process and set back by years the chances for peace in the DRC arid across the region.

In the face of such a situation, I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the Government will publish—and when it will publish—a detailed response to the conclusions of the UN panel, with a commitment fully to investigate allegations made against UK companies and individuals. Will the Government press Uganda and Rwanda to do the same and press both to respond to the recommendations of the report by the International Crisis Group, The Kivus: The Forgotten Crucible of the Congo Conflict; and press Uganda to publish the report of its Porter Commission and to act on its findings? Will the Government work with others to ensure that the UN, through the Security Council, responds fully and imaginatively to its panel's report? What will happen if, on 24th June when the panel's latest mandate expires, there is still defensive argument about its findings?

On the issue of the availability of arms, and of arms of increasing power and sophistication, I welcome in the Government's export control Bill the inclusion of the DRC among "embargoed destinations" for arms sold from the UK or by UK nationals based elsewhere. But will the Government go further, as the US and others have done, and introduce end-use monitoring backed by real sanctions to ensure that British-made weapons sold to neighbouring countries are not sold on to the DRC?

The UN panel regards as a necessary condition of the success of all its other recommendations, the withdrawal of foreign forces beyond their own borders, together with an end to their arming and supporting a range of Congolese proxy forces. It makes detailed proposals about the tracing and closing off of the channels through which the DRC's minerals, and the wealth that they create, are siphoned into world markets and the pockets of individuals, companies and states. There are questions here for the UK, for the EU and for the UN.

What steps are the Government prepared and intending to take—and in what timescale—to impress these requirements on Rwanda, but also to discourage the Kinshasa Government from arming and supporting groups in the eastern DRC which Rwanda understandably perceives as threats to its security? Are the Government pressing Uganda to withdraw its substantial forces from Ituri where they may, for the moment, be providing some fragile security for at least some of the people, but where their presence is a provocation to Rwanda and promises nothing in the way of a longer-term contribution to the security of the region? What more can be done to reduce the very real risk of conflict within the DRC between these two neighbours?

Uganda recently asked for a "neutral force" to keep the peace in Ituri. But neither Uganda nor Rwanda have been keen to see the UN Force MONUC strengthened, whether in numbers or in mandate. Yet, to many observers—as to many Congolese who spoke with me—it seems imperative that MONUC should be strengthened in both respects urgently and with a stiffening of major power participation and determined leadership, both so that it can be more proactive, flexible and imaginative within its present mandate and so that it deploys very much closer to the Congo's eastern border, and in numbers sufficient to reassure ordinary people by beginning to provide some basic order and security. In these regards, for what are the Government, in concert with others, prepared to press? And in what timescale?

The Ituri Pacification Committee has barely started what could be its critically important work. As a matter of urgency, are the Government seeking to ensure that it is properly resourced and that it has an excellent chairman; and that, among its priorities, it attends to the need for justice to be seen to be done after so much killing and destruction? Within that, proper attention should be paid to the appallingly brutal treatment of women which is increasingly a feature of the conflicts in Ituri and, indeed, much more widely in the DRC.

Finally, will the Government respond positively to the request of the all-party parliamentary group that they publish a regional strategy paper expressing a set of positions and proposals agreed between the FCO and DfID, and initiate a regional conference? Will they develop a common wish-list and a stronger partnership with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in particular, so as to be able to pursue this whole range of questions effectively, both in the EU and in the UN?

Let no one think that the current concentration on Iraq can justify postponing attention to the crying needs of the DRC and of the Great Lakes region more widely. I end with some words from a comprehensive and profoundly depressing report published last month by Amnesty International under the title, DRC: on the Precipice—the deepening human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ituri: The scale of the tragedy in Ituri is appalling, but the situation could worsen, and sharply so … Amnesty International are convinced that a greater sense of urgency is needed on the part of the international community if the possibility of an uncontrollable human rights disaster is to be averted … Without decisive action, there is no end in sight to the tragedy being suffered by the Congolese civil population in Ituri".

I should add that there are signs that the situation further south in the Kivus is moving in the same direction.

8.51 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, we owe the right reverend Prelate much thanks for initiating such an important debate. What pressure can the UN and the world in general exert on the African Union, I wonder, which purports to represent the African countries and to have its own humanitarian organisations—all the stronger, no doubt, because Libya, by the act of the African Union, has become head of the UNHCR? What about its organs devoted to the promotion of good governance in NePAD? What, in particular, should the UN be urging both President Gaddafi and President Mbeki to do to end President Mugabe's monstrous exploitation through the Zimbabwe army and, indeed, his ministers, of the Congo's assets? What should the UN and the AU be saying to them, and, of course, to Uganda and Rwanda, about the impact of the plunder of a country on the people?

Where, I wonder, do the French stand? They have longstanding local interests, and longstanding local pressures. I have seen very little reference to them in the report. I find that interesting, and shall return to the issue.

I am also concerned about the desperate need for us to address the humanitarian crisis because the displacement of millions of people in that vast country has been internal: they do not count as refugees. Because the UN presence there has been largely to observe and negotiate, there is no safe environment for NGOs, although that has not stopped Médecins Sans Frontières and Merlin, among others, from operating.

I must declare an interest as the patron of a very small charity, Action Congo, which succeeded another, International Care and Relief. For some years, the latter ran a hospital and an agricultural scheme teaching 200,000 Africans to grow food, as well as a primary school—all in a desperately poor area in Manono, a former mining town. There was no work there, no public services, and no infrastructure whatever.

I went to the Congo first in 1959 accredited as Consul to both the French and the Belgian Congo, as it then was. I served there until 1961. I was there for independence; I was there for the mutiny and the collapse of the country. Why, you might ask, was a vast, rich country so wholly unprepared for independence and so utterly without any infrastructure? It is because the Congo was ruled by the Union Miniere, the parastatal bodies, and the Catholic Church. The Union Miniere wanted only workers able to read and write at primary level, so primary education up to the age of 11 was good, though Flemish was perhaps a strange choice of foreign language for a country bordered by anglophone and francophone countries.

There was not one indigenous civil servant when I went to the Congo in 1959, no doctors, no lawyers—indeed, no professional people. There were not even senior NCOs in the Force Publique, which controlled the country and put down fairly frequent tribal wars. The only thing that the Belgians taught effortlessly was corruption. So when after the mutiny the Belgians fled the country there was no infrastructure, no public service, nothing but warring tribes and shifting allegiances.

I had many friends among the leaders, from Lumumba to Mobutu, then a young, brave and honourable man. But successive Congolese governments were like rows of front doors with no house behind. So when the locusts came in numbers, after years of disorder and loss of hope, the people had no protection, and still do not, other than tribal leaders, each with his own cohort of unpaid and ruthless soldiery only good for despoiling their own people, not protecting them.

I have had a story from missionaries in the Katanga about the return of the brave Congolese army to a particular area which had been devastated by the Tutsi. What did the army do? It was welcomed by the people. It gathered them together and made them take off all their clothes, what they had left to wear. It burnt the clothes, laughed and went away. That is what it did for its own people.

It would have seemed quite natural to Kabila to join with Mugabe and his generals to despoil his own country, so a solution to that problem has to be found. Can the UN do it? Can it, with the EU, force the African Union to do something for good governance and against organised pillage? It sees to me that the Congolese Government is where we have to start. I doubt it, but we must urge the necessity.

It will not be enough to identify all the chief robbers, if they are allowed to continue. For what will be the point of the UN and the EU investing money and resources at one end while the country's life blood is systematically draining away at the other and that continues unchecked? It will not be easy to create an efficient and honest public service after 43 years of chaos. For when the Belgians went in the 1960s everything collapsed. There were no public services. The Congo is a vast, rich and diverse country, with some wonderful people—and some who are irredeemably violent and corrupt.

What has all this to do with the very full and terrible UN report, the follow-up to the first? My object is to urge that, although the report is extremely valuable in identifying the individuals who have conducted the systematic pillage of another African country, we must also consider and fear the long-term effect on the countries which have perpetrated this. I think, for instance, of the Zimbabwe army, which has come to believe, thanks to this experience, that pillage, corruption and brutality are normal, with terrible consequences for its own people when it returns home.

I hope that the men and the organisations named will be publicly called to account, both in the UN and in the EU—-and, indeed, in the Commonwealth. The report should leave European governments no excuse not to sequester their assets where possible. Again, I say that the French are the big question mark.

What action do the British Government intend to take to curtail, if not end, the activities of British subjects and companies? I do not know whether the UN report is based on sufficient proof for action. The UN is in a slightly odd position in that it can freely say things without having to answer for them. That may be a problem. But the UN report appears to be based on sufficient proof for action, and the detail is careful and convincing, particularly in its identification of elite networks and its recognition that there has been, apparently, a great deal of criminal activity.

Will it be possible from the Congo end, I wonder, to make it a condition of any UN or EU help that the new contractual arrangements set up—I refer to paragraph 17 of the report—to continue in the longer term shall be abrogated? For the Government of the Congo are at least as guilty of harming the interests of their own people as the Zimbabwe Government and the Uganda Government. A daunting feature of the report is the complicated international network of companies, involving even Mauritius.

I hope that another area, that of the environment, given the destruction of the valuable timber forests and the impact on animal life, will not be neglected either.

I fear that I am not optimistic about the country's stability, nor about the political will of the outside world—it is a very large task—let alone the local players and their chance of achieving peace. It is not easy to create a public service from nothing. But it is encouraging that the UN has grasped so many nettles with such vigour, and I hope that it will do all Africa some good.I should like to read to your Lordships an account which the intrepid director of Action Congo, who has twice been back to Lubumbashi, once at her own expense, and into the interior, received from one of the workers in Manono. This is an account of what happened in May 1999 when the war came to Manono. The children were on the way to school, the parents on their way to work. Others had left to cultivate their fields 17 kilometres or more out of the city. As the war escalated the children on their way to school were not able to return to their homes, and in the same way, their parents were unable to return home to get their children. Parents and children trying to reach their homes were killed by the Rwanda Army and Mobutu rebels fighting with the Army. Others, who found themselves wakening at home, fled naked. The people who were consoling the families whose members had died, left the dead bodies as they were at the entrance to their homes. The old persons who were not sufficiently strong to flee were abandoned, as were the blind, while the sick who were hospitalised and those who had been operated on the day before the war started, who had not been collected by their families, tried to flee also … one blind woman managed to walk more than 400 kilometres, and finally was helped to arrive at Lubumbashi 750 kilometres from Manono. In view of the Rebels and the Army having taken Manono completely, the military of Zimbabwe, pitying the little children, the old, the blind and the deaf (about 3,000 people in all) took these children and the elderly, etc, and put them into a large Catholic school for their security. The Rwandan military arrived and found the children and the old people in the school. Immediately, they started firing with their heavy guns into the school, and burnt down the school with everyone still living inside it. Large numbers of the people who fled fell dead on the road from exhaustion, for the lack of food, medicines, shelter and clean water, and on account of sickness, such as malaria". I shall not continue, but the director received another note a year later, She notes: A few months ago, some of the Manono people being desperate to grow food for themselves and fearful of likely death in the Lubumbashi, as well as finding the Lubumbashi cold and therefore causing illness, walked back' to Manono (800 + kilometres). The Rwandan Army there killed them all". That is what life is like in that large, rich, potentially wonderful country and it is an utter disgrace.

As there is just time, I might tell your Lordships two stories. When I was in the Congo at the independence celebrations, we had representatives from Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya. I arranged for them all to meet the Congolese ministers. Two nights after they left, when they were facing their future which was still quite rosy, three of the ministers came to see me in the middle of the night. They said, "We wish to become a British colony". I said, "That is rather difficult, because you have now become members of the United Nations and you are an independent country. Why do you want to become a British colony?". They said, "Well, because we have talked to all those others and they have organisation. They have been taught things, they have a government and they know how to run their lives. We have none of that, so we thought we would like it. Will you please ask for this?". I need hardly tell your Lordships that it was not feasible.

Since I am in the business of paying tributes to the British—and why not, passionately believing, as I do, that we were good colonisers?—the country was beginning to get a little uneasy. People were beginning to realise that the future was going to be difficult and strange. The vice-consul in what was then Stanleyville and is now Kisangani sent me a message to say that I was urgently required there and would I go up. So I flew up and it turned out that a delegation of shopkeepers, Cypriots who had fled from Cyprus having committed crimes against the British Army and murdered a few people, had settled in the Congo and were leading a happy and fruitful life because as well as being shopkeepers they were money lenders. They were therefore not popular. They said to me, "We would like you to make representation to arrange to take over this country as a British colony". I asked, "Why?", and they said, "Well, the British know how to run independencies and they know how to run African countries, so we would like you to do this instantly".

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, is not feeling well. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn for five minutes.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.5 to 9.10 p.m.]

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I shall conclude with one last story. It is not funny, but it is relevant. Robert Gardiner was a very great Ghanaian who ended his career as the chairman of the Economic Commission for Africa. He was also in charge of UN operations in the Congo for a while. The UN in the Congo at that time was the biggest disaster one could imagine.

I often wonder what would have happened if, after initially agreeing, the UN had not prevented us from training officers for Lumumba. Immediately after the mutiny, when 6,000 Belgians had fled overnight and the country was in turmoil, Lumumba sent Mobutu to me to ask whether the British would train some officers for their army, which was totally out of control. The British government agreed and we cleared it with the United Nations. But, by September, when the army officers were due to go to Britain, a new head of UN operations, Rajeshwar Dayal, had been appointed. He represented strongly to the Secretary-General in New York that it would be a disaster if the wicked British colonialists were allowed to train their army. Therefore, the aeroplane that was at the airport waiting to take these officers to England was cancelled and they were never trained. That was a sad incident in history.

Robert Gardiner once said to a group of young Africans who were about to become diplomats that the British gave two great things to Africa—the English language and the rule of law. The sad thing is that the Belgians left neither the rule of law nor any kind of infrastructure. The reason for all the trials and tribulations that we are now discussing, and the reason that the Congo—a rich country which is bursting with life, people and vitality—is in such a terrible state, is that it was left with no infrastructure and no rule of law. I hope that somehow, sometime, we will be able to help to restore them. That will be one of the UN's major tasks eventually.

9.12 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who it is always a privilege to follow on these occasions because of her immense knowledge of southern Africa, in the hope that we shall get our act together and do something positive for the people of the DRC in their hour of need, and help them to take advantage of the opportunity arising from the peace agreement which has recently been signed in Sun City.

I join in the thanks that the noble Baroness expressed to the right reverend Prelate. He has given us the first opportunity we have had, in either House, to look at the report of the United Nations panel. In my opinion, it has done an excellent job in exposing the criminal networks that operate under the protection and sponsorship of the various armed groups and of the many countries which have been mentioned, in particular, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Rwanda.

As has been said by both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, the DRC is potentially an immensely rich country, but the sums of money which are being syphoned off by the gangs which operate under the protection of its neighbours are enormous. In the government-controlled area, for instance, the report states that 5 billion US dollars-worth of assets have been transferred from the state-owned mining sector to the joint Zimbabwe-DRC kleptocracy in the past three years, and that the ZDF was planning to deploy a private military company, under its control, to protect its investment after its troops had withdrawn.

As we have heard before, the key players at the Zimbabwe end of the network are Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Speaker, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, the commander of the ZDF and executive chairman of COSLEG, the joint venture formed between Zimbabwe and the DRC to steal the people's assets, and Air Marshal Perence Shiri, who is said to be engaged in illicit diamond trading in Harare.

The report mentions a number of people living in the UK, and companies either registered here or effectively conducted from this country, which are alleged to be involved in the theft of resources from the DRC. Oryx Natural Resources, for instance, although registered in the Cayman Islands, is chaired by Dr Issa Al-Kawari, a London-based businessman who is said to manage the finances of the deposed Emir of Qatar.

The panel makes a number of detailed allegations about this company, and recommends placing financial restrictions on it. The company, in turn, has denied all the allegations—as it would—but the panel has given some evidence, particularly in support of the allegation that the 49 per cent interest in Sengamines, which operates a 720 kilometre square mining concession south of Mbuji-Mayi, is held on behalf of OSLEG, the ZDF investment vehicle. According to the Sengamines' website, the state mining company, MIBA, contributed its mining concessions, the DRC a regime favourable to investment, and Oryx the finance and expertise. On this one venture alone, the state has given away a concession said to be worth more than £2 billion, as company officials have told the UN, and received back a shareholding of only 33 per cent.

The problem in getting a comprehensive and transparent investigation of the allegations against Oryx or, indeed, any of the other 12 companies that are named in the report as being in breach of the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises, is that the UN panel has legal privilege, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has told us, but discussion outside the framework could attract legal proceedings. Oryx has challenged the UN panel to repeat its allegations in some public forum, but at the same time the company says that it is looking for a jurisdiction where the allegations could be tested by legal action taken by the company itself.

I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, on 28th May last year, at col. 1143 of Hansard, whether it was the intention of the Security Council to publish the evidence on which the panel based its findings. I repeat that suggestion now; I gave the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, notice that I would do so. If the documents were made available, either on the UN website or in some other form, together with any comments that the companies and individuals might care to submit, the general public would be able to evaluate the allegations for themselves. I mean by that not the public in this country particularly but in the countries concerned, primarily in the DRC, whose assets are being stolen.

In the case of the UK companies said to have violated the OECD guidelines, I hope the noble Baroness will have time, on some other occasion if not today, to study the suggestions that are made in the paper I sent her on rights and accountability in development. It gives some extremely practical proposals as to how the panel's allegations should be pursued, which would form a suitable model for the next steps to be taken.

I am, I think, the only person in the UK to have formally made a submission to the UK national contact point for observation of the OECD guidelines. I would be very happy to act as intermediary if the panel wishes to have its charges against UK companies properly considered by the authorities. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness would either facilitate an application to the national contact point for the panel or suggest that it looks for a suitable intermediary in the United Kingdom to make such a submission on its behalf.

The UN panel makes it clear that most of the problems in the east and north of the DRC are caused by foreign intervention, particularly by the evil coalitions of senior military pirates from Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda, with Russian and Lebanese businessmen. Ali the well known villains of the previous report star in these pages as well: John Bredenkamp, the Zimbabwe sanctions-breaker who continues to enjoy his millions here in Britain, in Sunningdale; Victor Bout, to whose gunrunning activities the authorities in the UAE turned a blind eye; and Major General James Kazlimi, who committed perjury before the Porter Commission in Uganda. These people, and their militia allies on the ground, have created a machine systematically to plunder the resources of the country, and to use the local administrations as a further means of extracting wealth from the people while denying them basic services. The Red Cross and other international humanitarian agencies have had to step in and provide clean water in Kisangani, for instance, at the same time as billions of dollars are being siphoned abroad to line the pockets of an evil multinational mafia.

The UN panel makes a number of recommendations, which, so far as I am aware, have not yet been considered by the UN Security Council. The latest resolution, of 20th March, contrasts the progress made at the meeting of Congolese parties in Pretoria on 6th March towards a transitional government for the whole country, and the frightful atrocities in the Ituri area—which we have heard about already—graphically described by Amnesty International in a report published the week before last, to which the right reverend Prelate referred. Bunia, the regional capital, is under the control of the UPC, which, of course, is not a signatory of the Pretoria Agreement.

The Security Council did not address the unanimous demand made by the Pretoria meeting for a UN force to help to guarantee the security of the population during the two-year transition to democratic elections It asked the Secretary-General to increase MONUC's human rights personnel, but I wonder whether that is likely to be effective if nothing is done about the causes. If Kosovo was a threatened major humanitarian catastrophe, the DRC is an actual catastrophe, and a few more human rights monitors are not going to be the answer. It is reported that the Ugandan army has returned to Bunia and intends to stay there until 24th April—the latest date for the coming into operation of an Ituri pacification commission. But the AU's Third Party Verification Mission says that Uganda is in breach of the Lusaka agreement and must withdraw its troops. I think that should be the firm demand of the United Nations and of all the countries which are concerned with the position in the region.

With regard to conflict diamonds, the Interlaken declaration of November last year approved an international certification scheme for rough diamonds, but several of the DRC's neighbours did not sign, particularly Rwanda, but also Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic. Would it not be feasible to embody the Kimberley process and its certification scheme in a mandatory Security Council resolution, and, if not, are there any levers that we can use with President Kagame to persuade him to sign?

What was billed as the final session of talks to adopt peace and power-sharing arrangements in the DRC came to an end yesterday with the signing of an agreement by rebel and government leaders on a two-year transitional government leading to democratic elections. Although all the rebel movements were said to have accepted the deal, the Mayi-Mayi immediately voiced objections to it, and at the very same time MONUC premises were being attacked. We echo the UN Secretary-General in thanking President Thabo Mbeki and Sir Ketumile Masire, the facilitator, for the work that they have done so far, but we also agree with him that much the hardest part is yet to come.

9.23 p.m.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester for introducing this very important debate.

It is debates like this that return our attention to some of the most insuperable problems in the world today. It is, indeed, too easy, when there are such pressing events as the war in Iraq, to focus on that alone and forget all the other areas that should demand our attention.

In his profound and wide-ranging account, with great clarity the right reverend Prelate described a desperate situation in which tribal warfare has been fanned and encouraged so that the country can be plundered. As he says, it is an uncontrolled human rights disaster. And yet the UN is playing a key role in exposing that. But, as he says, the UN findings must be followed up and implemented, and this is the challenge that must be put to the Government tonight.

The DRC could hardly be in a worse situation. Genocide reigns supreme, not international law. Contributing to and exploiting that situation are individuals and governments whose real reason for involvement in the country is, as we have heard, to plunder its rich resources.

As we have also heard, yesterday a peace deal was signed in South Africa which includes a new constitution and a power-sharing administration which is supposed to oversee in two years' time the DRC's first democratic elections since 1960. But neither President Joseph Kabila nor the MLC rebel leader personally signed the peace deal. As Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, said, the most difficult times lie ahead. He went on to say that: No one must imagine that this deal will implement itself'. If the deal is to mean anything, it will need to be backed up by international will.

The country is in an appalling state. The BBC's reporter, Mark Dummett, today described for the BBC's "Network Africa" programme the scenes of utter devastation he witnessed on a 40-kilometre stretch of road out of the regional capital, Bunia. Fresh graves had been dug at the roadside and all the villages he passed had been burnt out. Villagers showed him several mass graves, and that is typical. In many areas, journalists and international monitors cannot visit because of the lack of safety.

The DRC shares many of the problems of other African countries: extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, high levels of disease—at the moment it is afflicted by an Ebola fever epidemic—poor sanitation, inadequate drinking water supplies, lack of infrastructure and huge levels of ethnic conflict. But it has its special burden. As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention put it in its report in November 2002, the DRC is "cursed by riches".

The DRC is rich in mineral reserves. That wealth should lay the foundations for its people's prosperity, but it has had the opposite effect. It has been at the root of many of the country's problems. It has meant enormous strife as other countries and other groups have tried to lay their hands on the DRC's gold, diamonds and other resources. Thus there have been armies in the DRC from Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Burundi. Child soldiers have been used on all sides. In some areas, aid workers report that children form the bulk of the armies. The conflict has left 3 million people dead, while disease and abuse are widespread. There are reports of cannibalism.

The UN panel of experts referred to by other speakers in the debate was established in June 2000 to consider the illegal exploitation of natural resources and to consider in particular the link between that exploitation and the continuation of the conflict. The panel concluded that foreign armies were using the conflict as an excuse to continue exploiting resources and that this was taking place, "at an alarming rate". Army commanders, businessmen and governments were all exploiting the situation. It recommended sanctions against both countries and individuals. In October last year, the panel concluded that there had been a multi-billion dollar corporate theft of the country's mineral assets. It pointed to a network of senior military people, businessmen and government officials in the various foreign governments and in the Government of the DRC, acting together to continue that exploitation.

Those groups have not disbanded as the armies withdraw, so that the peace processes still leave in place terrible exploitation. As my honourable friend and colleague in another place, Norman Lamb, asked on 5th March in the debate he led on Rwanda and the Great Lakes region: what is the UK Government's response to that UN report? The right reverend Prelate echoed the question in his remarks.

The UN report recommends travel bans, asset freezing and banking restrictions on those they have identified. Again, as my colleague Norman Lamb asked, and as my noble friend Lord Avebury has expanded on, given the extensive business connections with this country, what action are the Government taking to follow those recommendations about individuals closely connected to the UK, and what is the time scale for that action?

What action do the Government intend to take against countries involved in the conflict in the Congo in terms of development assistance? The noble Lady, Baroness Amos, said on 4th March: In the light of the panel's findings, Her Majesty's Government will consider taking appropriate action where there is clear evidence of wrongdoing".—[Official Report, 4/3/03; col. WA 95.] Will the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, expand on what was meant by that, when such action might be taken, and what clear evidence is being asked for? Will she now take up the offer of the services of my noble friend Lord Avebury in that regard?

In addition, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to reservists being called up, to support operations in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo".—[Official Report, 4/3/03; col. WA 101.] Could the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, fill us in on what operations are taking place in the DRC with the assistance of the British Army?

Whatever the role of the British military, it is clearly essential that the United Nations has sufficient resources so that it can play a peacekeeping role. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, gave us in many ways a very pessimistic account based on great experience of the DRC. However, she too would seem to credit the UN as offering the only ray of hope that seems to be on the horizon at the moment. Only with some form of order will it be possible even to begin on the reconstruction of the country, building its infrastructure and setting in place programmes aimed at creating jobs and improving conditions for local populations, especially in relation to education, health and sanitation. That seems far distant in terms of the situation in the DRC at the moment.

At the Labour Party conference in 2001, the Prime Minister described Africa as, a scar on the conscience of the world". As he promised to concentrate on Africa, so he promised to concentrate on Afghanistan. He now says that he will concentrate on Iraq and the Middle East. I have no doubt that he means what he says, but the danger becomes the difficulty of one problem eclipsing another. It is therefore essential that we do not let that happen.

At a time when the UN itself is under much attack and seems almost rent asunder, that the ray of light in the DRC is the result of the UN's actions shows how important it is that we value what the UN can do, and that we ensure that it is further strengthened. The debate is a very sobering reminder of the key role that international law and international bodies must now play.

9.33 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester on raising this very important issue. I am only sorry that the debate has taken place so late on a Thursday evening, resulting in two very well informed speakers having to withdraw their names. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on an excellent and very moving speech on a tragic subject that is dear to his heart and that of his diocese, which has very close contact with the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. He presented a chilling picture of the horror taking place in the DRC.

My noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth also knows the Congo very well. She spoke with great authority on the background to the present-day problems and on what life is like today in what was once a very rich country. I always listen very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on such matters. The examples that he gave of how and by whom enormous sums of money are siphoned off were truly shocking. I look forward to the Minister's reply to his important question.

I have been concerned for some time about the apparent failure of Her Majesty's Government to take any serious action in response to the report by the expert panel. The right reverend Prelate said that the dreadful situation is of a scale and urgency that requires much more action than the Government have yet committed themselves to deliver.

According to the UN report, as several noble Lords have pointed out, the humanitarian consequences of what is essentially a financially driven conflict in the Great Lakes region have been horrific:. The panel says that in the five eastern provinces of the DRC alone, the number of deaths directly attributable to the war up to September 2002 was estimated to be between 3 million and 3.5 million people.

In view of recent world events, it is important to bear in mind that the panel was commissioned to carry out its work by no less a body than the Security Council of the United Nations. At this juncture, Her Majesty's Government cannot afford to dismiss lightly recommendations and resolutions that emanate from that council. To be seen to drag their heels, or to take action only unwillingly, weakens the position of the UK when the time comes to criticise the tardy response of other countries to our resolutions. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the UN is playing a key role in drawing attention to the full horror of the situation in the DRC.

Resolution 1457, which was adopted unanimously by the Security Council on 24th January, gives the panel the mandate to collect information on the, actions taken by Governments in response to the panel's recommendations", and urges all states to conduct their own investigations, including, as appropriate through judicial means, in order to clarify credibly the findings of the Panel, taking into account the fact that the Panel, which is not a judicial body, does not have the resources to carry out an investigation whereby these findings can be considered as established facts". While that resolution is dated January 2003, the panel's process of investigation has been under way since 2000. However, on 4th March, as the noble Baroness said, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, could claim only: In the light of the panel's findings, Her Majesty's Government will consider taking appropriate action where there is clear evidence of wrongdoing".—[Official Report, 4/3/03; col. WA 95.] While Her Majesty's Government appear to have been dithering, the response of some other countries to the report has been admirable. The president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, suspended several key government officials named in the report, including some of the most powerful figures in his government as long ago as November 2002. He also recalled his envoy in Harare, who had been implicated.

In Uganda, as the right reverend Prelate said, the government commissioned a judge, David Porter, to investigate Ugandan nationals named in the report. His findings were presented to the Ugandan Cabinet in February this year.

By contrast, Her Majesty's Government have apparently not even instigated any serious investigation into the allegations made, still less taken any punitive action. One area that is of very special concern to me is the connection between the illegal activities in the DRC and the ringleaders of the brutal repression that is occurring further south in Zimbabwe. Several noble Lords touched on that. Companies alleged in the report to be involved in underhand deals include Oryx Natural Resources and OSLEG, which have close links to the Zimbabwe national army.

The report demonstrates a very clear involvement by the corrupt regime of Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the plunder of the DRC's natural resources. Time and again Ministers have tried to give the impression of despair and that there is so little they can do to influence events in connection with Zimbabwe. But here is an opportunity handed to them on a plate and they have failed to take it.

Annex 2 of the report lists the names of, Persons for whom the Panel recommends a travel ban and financial restrictions". Two of those persons, Thamer al Shanfari and John Bredenkamp, spend time in the United Kingdom and, as has already been said, have business interests here. Annex 3 lists, Business enterprises considered by the Panel to be in violation of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises". One of those businesses listed, Avient Air, is according to the report, managed by Andrew Smith, a former British Army captain. He is also reputed to operate businesses from within the United Kingdom.

The time has come for Her Majesty's Government to take these matters seriously. We cannot lecture African nations on the need to deal with corruption and illegal business deals if we are not prepared even to investigate well founded allegations that are made against those who operate from within our own jurisdiction. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House that serious investigation, with a view to punitive action where necessary, is now under way.

9.41 p.m.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I am very grateful for this stimulating and constructive debate and thank noble Lords for their contributions. I will ensure that any answers to noble Lords' questions that I do not cover tonight are sent in written form. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester for giving us the opportunity to discuss these topics, and for his important contribution to the very positive role the Churches are playing in the DRC.

The debate has covered not only the important subject of the final report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it has also given us an opportunity to debate recent events there that are of concern to noble Lords.

The Lusaka agreement in 1999 effectively brought to an end the conventional fighting between the various Congolese armed groups and their foreign backers. But the foreign armies stayed in the DRC. The no-peace no-war stalemate that ensued, and which has been referred to by many noble Lords, benefited no one except those able to exploit the situation. Many did, including the foreign armies and almost all of the Congolese participants in the conflict. So, too, did the "criminal élites" referred to in the last report of the UN expert panel. Despite the stern strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, to us, in an otherwise excellent contribution, I assure noble Lords that the Government fully support the UN expert panel in its work on the illegal exploitation of the many and varied natural resources which the Democratic Republic of Congo possesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, from her great experience of the Congo, mentioned in particular the shameful role of Zimbabwe in that exploitation.

It highlights the need for proper and transparent regulation of the extractive industries of the DRC, which holds the key to the regeneration of the country's economy. The UN expert panel report highlights mismanagement and corruption in the DRC's largest mining operation, Gecamines, which has resulted in a huge slump in the contribution the company has made to the economy.

From once earning some 70 per cent of the DRC's hard currency export earnings, Gecamines' production, so the panel report states, is now at only one-tenth of its former capacity. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also spoke in his powerful contribution about corruption in the mining industry. It beggars belief.

Without that income and with the added cost of a seemingly interminable conflict the DRC could face an enormous economic crisis, even worse than it is at present. So we take very seriously the allegations in the panel's report against the 12 UK-registered companies. The report claims that those companies have been non-compliant with voluntary OECD guidelines on multinational enterprise. We asked for further information from the panel in November 2002 in order to substantiate the claims that it made. But there has been a technical hitch to which many noble Lords referred, although in terms of complacency, which I refute.

The panel's mandate expired when it submitted its report and it was therefore unable to restart work to produce the information requested until it had been granted a new mandate. With our strong support, the Security Council Resolution 1457 of 24th January 2003 extended the mandate of the panel for a further six months. I am pleased to report that the panel reconvened on 3rd March. We have again asked for information linking British companies and individuals named in the report with illegal exploitation of natural resources. We look forward to receiving the information that we have requested and will then consider taking appropriate action where there is clear evidence of wrongdoing. The UK Government have to act objectively in this matter, but cannot do so without more robust evidence.

This debate is also about the UK Government's reaction to recent events in the DRC. I therefore turn to the situation in the Ituri region in eastern Congo, on which the right reverend Prelate spoke at some length and which has featured in the newspapers recently, and to the peace process more generally. The eastern DRC remains violent and volatile. It is a cause of deep concern. The abuse of human rights in all its aspects, described as a disaster by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, whether it is brutal rape, the use of child soldiers or resource exploitation, is totally unacceptable.

Some of the violence has its own genesis and momentum deeply rooted in the historical, social and ethnic mix of the region. That is particularly true in Ituri, as the right reverend Prelate so strongly described, but also in the Kivus. However, it is fuelled by short-term military and economic interests of local warlords and both Congolese and foreign outsiders. In that respect, the recent outbreak of fighting in the Ituri region between the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force and the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), the newest armed group, is very worrying.

Last year when the Ugandans withdrew their forces from the DRC, we understood that they were asked by the Kinshasa government to stay in Ituri to keep the peace. However, since then, fighting and human rights abuses have continued. We were encouraged in February when President Kabila of the DRC and President Museveni of Uganda signed an agreement under which the remaining Ugandan forces would be withdrawn by 20th March. My noble friend Lady Amos, together with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, urged President Museveni to stick to his part of the bargain. But the most recent outbreak of fighting could not have been more badly timed. The subsequent reinforcement of Ugandan forces suggested that President Museveni would go back on his commitment. We therefore pressed him to honour his commitment. The Security Council Resolution 1468 of 20th March 2003 called on Uganda to withdraw "without delay". We continue to reiterate that message.

We are also giving urgent attention to a viable and neutral security force for the region. Several noble Lords referred to that. A variety of alternatives are under consideration and we are working closely with our partners in the European Union and UN to agree on the best option. We have also pressed Rwanda to show restraint and not to carry out its threat to reenter the DRC. Law and order must be restored to Ituri, and to the Kivus.

My Government believe that this can be achieved and that there can be an end to the violence and bloodshed.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. Was she going to say something about the Ituri Pacification Commission which has been mentioned by several noble Lords and which the Ugandans said would begin to operate on 24th April? Is that so; and will the Ituri Pacification Commission have a military component which will be strong enough to keep the peace in Bunia?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord. I do not have the details in my brief.

It was agreed in Kinshasa that peace could be brought to Ituri quickly, a peace which the international community could help keep. There has very recently been progress on this front.

The signing of the "Global and Inclusive Agreement on Transition in the DRC", which was signed in Pretoria on 17th December last year, as we were reminded by the right reverend Prelate, was a step in the right direction. But it left three main issues unresolved. They were: a new constitution, under which the transitional government would work; security in Kinshasa for members and institutions of the transitional government; and the formation of a new national Army.

On 6th March, in Pretoria, the Congolese parties reached an agreement on the constitution. Negotiations continue on the remaining two issues. This allowed for a final plenary of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, which concluded yesterday, and which should soon be followed by the formal installation of the transitional government. We look forward very much to this event. I would like here to give tribute to the hard work of those whose efforts have brought about a chance of real peace for the DRC.

As soon as there is an agreed, legitimate transitional government in Kinshasa, we are keen to play our part in helping the Congolese to rebuild the DRC, in the same way as we have been helping the Tanzanians, Ugandans and Rwandans to do so in their countries. We have offered to play our part in enabling the establishment of a reformed national army, drawing on the forces of the Kinshasa Government and the armed groups. We will also be helping with the enormous task of demobilising the tens of thousands of combatants who have taken up arms during the conflict. We have pledged 25 million US dollars over five years to the multi-donor regional demobilisation and reintegration programme in the Great Lakes.

Perhaps I may refer to some of the questions raised. If I do not answer them all, it is because we are running close to time. I shall ensure that all noble Lords receive answers. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester asked when the UK will publish a response to the UN panel's report and whether we shall press Uganda and Rwanda to do the same. We intend to respond to the UN panel's report as soon as the UN provides information that we have requested.

I was also asked what the UN is doing about allegations in the panel report against Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. We welcome the Porter Commission set up to investigate the allegations made in the UN panel report specifically about Uganda. We await publication of the commission's report with interest. We have encouraged the Rwandan Government to respond positively to the UN panel report. We have limited scope to encourage Zimbabwe to take seriously and respond to the allegations of the panel report.

Where a UK connection is clear, it would be possible to consider action in the light of the nature of such a connection and the strength of the information supplied by the panel during its work during the coming months. Where there is robust evidence, we will take what action we can.

The right reverend Prelate also asked whether Her Majesty's Government will press to strengthen MONUC. We fully support MONUC's activities. If any new mandate is required to bring peace and stability, we would support it. He also asked what the UK is doing to control weapons entering the DRC. We continue to uphold the EU arms embargo imposed in 1993, which bans the export of military equipment from the EU to the DRC, and to examine all export licensing applications against our national criteria and the European Union code of conduct. Similarly, we are upholding the UN embargo on the sale and supply of arms to non-governmental forces in Rwanda, which also applies to the sale and supply of arms to neighbouring states, if they are for use in Rwanda.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked whether we would take action on the evidence of the report against UK companies—what sanctions the UK might take. Where there has been a clear breach of UK law, such a breach could be persecuted—I mean prosecuted; they feel persecuted when they are prosecuted—under the relevant legislation.

Where there is an alleged breach of OECD guidelines, we would review the allegation and take appropriate action. We would also consider other mechanisms and measures to prevent a recurrence and to strengthen control to prevent further illegal or unethical exploitation of natural resources. I shall write to noble Lords about the timescale.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about UK support for security sector reform in the DRC. A joint DfID/MoD/FCO scoping mission visited the DRC in January to assess how the United Kingdom could contribute to integrating the armed forces in the DRC. We are working with European Union partners to co-ordinate our efforts.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for giving me notice of his question. He asked what steps the Government have taken for allegations of breaches of the OECD guidelines by British companies to be investigated by the national contact point. The national contact point, which is the mediator between the complainant and the company, has been made aware of the UN panel's report. We are ready to take steps when a formal complaint is lodged. Such a complaint would require more evidence than is contained in the UN expert panel's report. I shall write to the noble Lord about publishing evidence. I thank him very much for his offer of mediation with the national contact point; we shall speak to him about that. As the Department of Trade and Industry is the national contact point, perhaps I may suggest that the noble Lord addresses his specific points to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked what the UK was doing specifically about conflict in the DRC. Britain is providing people and money for the military, political and peace observation aspects of the Lusaka peace agreement. I shall enlarge on that to the noble Baroness in writing.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. This has been a very important debate. The DRC—as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said—is such a rich country, with so much that could be going for it. It is a crying shame that there is so much illegal exploitation of that country. I will ensure that noble Lords have complete answers.

House adjourned at ten o'clock.