§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Dan Norris.]9.30 am
§ Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I am grateful to have secured today's Adjournment debate on an area of the world that continues to demand the attention of the international community. Rwanda is a country that suffers from all the problems endemic throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but it also has to cope with the effects of one of the most horrendous incidents of genocide in the 20th century, in which more than 1 million of its population were massacred in about 100 days in 1994. The failures of the international community at that time are well documented, but the question now is how we are contributing today and what we shall do in future to ensure peace and justice for that troubled land.
In October this year, I was fortunate to be part of a cross-party delegation organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I am delighted that several colleagues who were part of that delegation are here today—including my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who so expertly led that delegation. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), who is chair of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention and has done enormous work to highlight the problems facing Rwanda, is unable to be present. However, I am sure that hon. Members will recall from her address sponsoring the Queen's Speech this year that our delegation faced some unusual challenges, including a closer than expected encounter with a group of silver-backed gorillas who managed to instil more terror in our party than an invitation to a personal meeting with our Chief Whip.
I believe that I can speak for all members of the delegation when I say that our visit greatly increased our insight into the scale and depth of the challenges that face the Rwandan nation. I wish to concentrate on one particular day during our visit. It brought it home to me that the reconciliation that so many seek is not only a personal desire for justice, but essential to the survival of the nation. The day started with an unscheduled meeting with President Kagame, who answered our questions candidly. We focused on relations with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a matter to which I shall return.
We then travelled to the genocide site of Ntarama. The site was an abandoned Catholic church where terrified Tutsis and moderate Hutus had gathered, under the false belief that they would gain sanctuary from the rampaging mobs. Churches were often the site of horrendous massacres in 1994. More than 5,000 people—mostly women and children—were killed at that site alone. Their skulls and bones were laid out on shelves, a dreadful reminder of the legacy that the people 240WH of Rwanda have had to cope with as they struggle for survival. Even eight years on, the atmosphere of death and despair was overwhelming. That the survivors had deliberately left the remains of their families and friends where they fell was an accusation to the world that had abandoned them and a warning for the future. All they ask for is a proper memorial to the dead.
We continued our journey to one of the Gacaca courts that is made up of local lay justices. It was set up this year to deal with the outstanding backlog of cases—about 115,000—from the genocide period. At first glance, the scene seemed almost idyllic. Women in brightly coloured clothes sat on the ground in the shaded wooded area, along with numerous babies and toddlers. More women, together with men of the rural community, stood at the back or at the side of the loosely formed square—about 500 in all. On the other side of the square, perched on small wooden chairs, sat 18 men and women with a man sitting next to them, huddled over papers on an unstable wooden table. The sun streamed through the trees as the children of the local school ran up to stand behind the seated dignitaries. My eyes were then drawn to the four men sitting on the bench dressed in bright pink shirts and shorts—the prisoners.
After a short introduction from the president of the judges and a minute's silence in honour of the victims, the prisoners walked up to the desk in turn and were asked to identify the killers of two local people. They gave out a list of names dispassionately, and returned to sit on the bench. However, the president called back one of the prisoners, Martin. He looked as though he was only in his early 20s, which meant that at the time of the genocide he would have been in his early to mid teens.
Martin was asked to give an account of his actions on a particular day. He stated that he was part of a group that went out to look for and kill some of the local Tutsi population. The victims were put into an irrigation ditch and the group started to attack them with machetes. A local senator came along carrying a gun. He asked Martin whether he had ever used a gun before. Martin said no, at which point the senator suggested that he try it out in an attempt to kill off the remaining victims.
The assembled community heard the confession in silence. Suddenly, a woman who was sitting behind us walked up to the judges and stood beside the prisoner. Some of the women assembled gave her a quiet handclap of support. She asked how her father, one of the victims, was killed. Martin did not look at her but confirmed that a sword was used to kill him. Then she stated that the mob had cut off her sister's breasts before she was killed, and that her mother had been stripped of her clothes. Again, Martin did not deny the contention.
Still outwardly composed, the woman asked whether Martin had killed her three children. Due to a mix-up at that point, she was forced to hand the microphone directly to Martin. He stated without showing distress that he had murdered 13 people on that day, including her three children. She walked back to her seat, where she later broke down in tears. The clerk wrote a statement for Martin to sign and the president announced the end of the hearing—hearings are held weekly—and the crowd dispersed.
It is difficult to guess the feelings and reactions that must have been raised in the community by that stunning confession. Many are still deeply traumatised 241WH and find it difficult to discuss their loss. Many are afraid that the current peace will fail and that the country will again descend into violent revenge. Some who took part in the genocide but remain free are afraid of being identified by the prisoners. To us in the west, such a lack of outward emotion from both the victims and perpetrators seems incredible, but the courts are the first nationwide attempt since the genocide to recognise the truth and achieve some form of comprehensive reconciliation among the Rwandan people.
Two days later, we visited one of the country's prisons. Inside were gathered more than 700 prisoners—men, women and children—who were literally squashed in appallingly squalid and tiny accommodation. Even after only a few days' stay, it was glaringly apparent that the Government do not have the resources to maintain so many prisoners while such a large proportion of the population outside is living in abject poverty. That is the main reason why the Government have offered such a generous deal to those prisoners who agree to confess.
Martin's punishment will be determined not by the local Gacaca court, but by a superior district court. The maximum penalty for those who murdered under the direction of others and have confessed is 20 years, of which one half will be served in the prisoner's community. As Martin has been imprisoned for more than seven years, he can expect to return home in less than three years. In turn, the victims' families and the local community are encouraged to accept the confessions and, in a few short years, to allow the perpetrators to live among them again.
The United Kingdom Government have assisted in funding some independent research into the new system, and that research is being piloted in various areas throughout Rwanda. Although the initial reaction has been largely favourable, significant problems still exist in achieving consistency and implementation. It is clear that the meetings revive very painful memories that can lead to even more trauma for the witnesses, and the support offered to them is still weak. Prisoners can appear emotionless or even aggressive when giving evidence. In many cases, that is probably a symptom of traumatic stress, which many of them are experiencing in corning to terms with their participation in the killings and many years of brutal imprisonment.
In addition, many of the local judges are illiterate, and at present they receive a maximum training of only 36 hours in Gacaca law and the legal process. Understandably, their decisions are at times unsatisfactory, and they find it difficult to respond to complex questions about the process asked by members of their community.
The Rwandan Government have still to find much of the funding for the scheme, including the implementation of the community service programme. By contrast, this year the international community will contribute $177 million to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was established in 1995 at Arusha in Tanzania to try the leaders of the genocide. To date, only nine cases have been fully processed, although in a welcome step the United Nations agreed in August this year to treble the number of judges to speed up work on the backlog. It is unprecedented for the Gacaca system of justice to be applied on such a scale 242WH and the risk of failure is high. The necessity of establishing an international tribunal regarding the ringleaders is not in question, but there has been a weak response from the international community to the struggles of ordinary Rwandans in coping with the aftermath of the genocides.
The UK's record of assistance was consistently commended by everyone whom we met during our visit. I would, however, urge the Secretary of State to persuade our European colleagues to take greater heed of the need for justice. Despite the inherent risks of such a process, it has received widespread support and it is, at present, the only viable solution whereby reconciliation might be achieved. Time is not on the Rwandan Government's side. The transitional Government will come to an end next year and, for the first time since the genocide, there will be elections for both the Parliament and the President. There is growing cynicism in Rwanda about the work of the international tribunal, which is expressed at the highest levels from President Kagame down.
Last month, Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, visited Westminister. She reported that the Rwandan Government and their agencies were increasingly reluctant to co-operate with the tribunal's investigations, particularly with those that related to inquiries into crimes of retribution by forces that are loyal to the Administration. There is mounting speculation that the Rwandan military are putting pressure on the President and his Government to block inquiries.
Carla del Ponte rightly mentioned the old maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is closely followed by the Serbian population, but there is little access to television in Rwanda. Accordingly, most of the people there are unaware of the extent of the complex and expensive work that is carried out by the tribunal and of the scale of the evidence against the genocide ringleaders. Despite the criticisms, the tribunal has achieved the first finding in international law of the crime of genocide. Anyone who meets Miss del Ponte will quickly become aware of her professionalism and her determination to fulfil her remit. She herself acknowledged the inherent weakness of instituting such proceedings many hundreds of miles away from the nation, and from the victims who suffered the dreadful crimes.
I am concerned that the remit of the UN regarding the tribunal and the scope of the inquiries should take some account of next year's political changes, because at the end of the current, transitional Government a new constitution will go to a referendum for approval. This is not to suggest that any person should escape justice, but to accept that it is important that none of the international agencies provide—even inadvertently—causes for destabilisation in this sensitive and vital period of change. The Secretary of State might want to comment on whether she would consider it appropriate for the UN to suspend direct investigations in Rwanda for a short, defined period until all elections are complete and then to propose that all further hearings of the tribunal be moved to Rwanda, wherever possible.
243WH Internally, the Rwandan Administration must become sensitive to avoiding a build-up of tension and mistrust among their own population. The restrictions on political and civil liberty, which are to some extent understandable in view of the fragile security situation following the aftermath of the genocide, are radicalising opposition in such a way as to stifle reconciliation and hinder the transition to democracy. It is counterproductive and even dangerous to clamp down on institutions of common ground, where both Hutus and Tutsis can meet, talk and, hopefully, agree on their nation's future.
I would refer to the independent monitoring document that was commissioned by the Department for International Development last year, which commented that the law on non-profit associations, the press law and severe constraints on important political parties limited the scope for genuine political dissent. We must bear it in mind that 115,000 prisoners will be released into the community in the next three to four years, and it is also anticipated that there will be an influx of demobilised soldiers. It would be disastrous if those people were the focus of recruitment into an aggressive anti-Government sect. It would be preferable for the current Rwandan Patriotic Front regime to permit more peaceful public criticism and debate. I hope that the Secretary of State will use her best endeavours to encourage the Rwandan Government to permit a more open political system.
Another important aspect of long-term peace is the cessation of conflict in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Rwandan Government are to be commended for the prompt withdrawal of their troops following the agreement that was reached between the two countries earlier this year in South Africa. Yesterday's announcement of a new peace deal between the warring factions within the DRC is very welcome and to the tremendous credit of the South African negotiators. However, as President Kagame made clear to us at our meeting, the eastern DRC has not been an effective state for many years. It will take time to address the root causes of that situation. If the militias that are operating in that part of the DRC are not disarmed, and if they continue to pose a threat, the President says that there is a strong likelihood that Rwandan forces will have to re-enter to secure their own borders. That may be understandable, but the consequence is likely to be a collapse of the Pretoria peace process and renewed conflict.
Despite yesterday's announcement, and contrary to the pronouncement of the DRC Minister of Information, I believe that the continued presence of an international peacekeeping force is vital to facilitate an effective disarmament. The recent UN decision substantially to increase the MONUC force is very welcome; but as the Secretary of State well knows, the current force is under strength and there will be great difficulty in persuading neighbouring states to provide further forces unless the richer nations of the world—including our nation—are prepared to provide the appropriate finance. The UK is in a strong position to influence decisions in the area and I am pleased to note that the UN recently considered providing finance for a peacekeeping force in neighbouring Burundi. I hope that our Government can argue a similar case for forces in the DRC.
244WH Sadly, the humanitarian situation in eastern DRC has not improved. There is an urgent need to address the political vacuum and protect the civilian population. The conflict has claimed the lives of 3 million people since 1998. The suffering continues. Most commentators feel that there will not be sustainable peace in the region until economic factors, such as mineral exploitation, are taken into account.
The recent report by the UN panel of experts—about which the Secretary of State has reservations—and last month's report by the all-party great lakes group, provide disturbing evidence of the involvement of Rwandan-backed military groups and companies in large-scale mineral exploitation that provides no benefit for the local population. For example, in recent years there have been noticeable increases in production and export figures in Rwanda for certain minerals that are not found in large quantities in Rwanda itself. It is alleged that such economic interests have been funding as much as 80 per cent. of the Rwandan army's operating expenditure. There is also strong evidence of the involvement of a number of European Union companies in that type of exploitation. That involvement is in clear breach of the guidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for multinational enterprises. In the light of the reports, will my right hon. Friend tell us how her Department intends to respond to the recent recommendations? What assessment has she made of the reports?
Given the recent history of the great lakes region, does my right hon. Friend agree that none of the problems faced by any one country can be assessed in isolation? Should the Government not now be taking a more integrated, regional perspective by producing a regional policy paper? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan Government should be strengthened in the area of conflict resolution to cover human rights issues and mineral exploitation? With a lack of local, national and international regulatory bodies in the DRC, certain western companies have paid little or no regard to the rights and concerns of the local community.
The most recent report from the UN panel of experts named 12 UK businesses that are considered to be in breach of the OECD guidelines. I urge the Government to carry out a review of those businesses and to contact them to remind them of their corporate responsibilities and the need to abide by the OECD guidelines and the UN declaration of human rights. We must not forget that there has been a mass of human rights abuses by all sides in the current conflict. As in Rwanda itself, the right to justice must be addressed if reconciliation is to be achieved.
Carla del Ponte suggested that such issues might properly be investigated by the new permanent International Criminal Court. I hope that the UK Government, and the Secretary of State, will take an active role in setting up an appropriate international mechanism to bring the culprits to justice.
The UK Government—and my right hon. Friend in particular—have taken a commendably pragmatic view in assisting the Rwandan Administration to develop essential public services. The UK has made a major contribution to its reconstruction. However, the 245WH approach of the European Union, which has major influence in that part of the African continent, has been disjointed and slow.
Not only does Rwanda suffer from all the major problems that afflict sub-Saharan Africa, but the overwhelming majority of its adult population witnessed acts of violence during the genocide. Their scars are deep, and unless the global community—and the west, in particular—is prepared to support with substantial measures their search for peace, democracy and justice, the possibility of further genocide cannot be discounted.
§ Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate. I failed to secure it last week, but she has succeeded this week. We applied for it for the same reason; we were both part of the group to which she referred. I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the way in which she expounded on many of the various issues that we learned about in Rwanda and the rest of the great lakes region.
It is a testament to the importance of the debate that the Secretary of State herself is replying to it, because that is not the usual practice in this Room. She has visited Rwanda several times, and she has probably seen far more of it than the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) and me. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill has comprehensively explained the situation as we found it and as it has developed since our visit, I will not speak for long.
Unlike a couple of other members of our delegation, I had never been to Rwanda before and I had not taken a great deal of interest in its affairs, so I was on a very steep learning curve. I was quickly struck by one thing: there is a recognition that one does not talk about Tutsis and Hutus because Rwandans are trying to blot out the tribal distinctions as part of the reconciliation process. It was also regularly pointed out to us that people from both backgrounds were actively involved in that process.
There was a great deal of discussion about the origins of the denomination of Tutsis and Hutus. It frequently referred back to when Rwanda was controlled by the Belgians, who issued all Rwandans with identity cards on which their race was stipulated. The story goes that the designation of their race depended entirely on how many cows they had, which was a measure of wealth. I do not know whether that is true, or whether—as others would argue—the origins of that distinction can be traced back to tribal movements in Africa many hundreds of years earlier.
One of my first impressions of Rwanda was that it is very different from anywhere else in Africa that I have visited: I do not pretend to be very widely travelled, but I have been to several countries. Like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill, I was astonished by what we saw of the Gacaca system of justice. It looked as though it might have a chance of working, and I hope that it does. The memory of that man admitting to the slaughter of so many people, including the children of a lady who 246WH was present, is seared on my mind, and her deportment as she simply turned and went back to her seat—instead of trying to strike him, or bursting out screaming—was a huge testament to her inbuilt strength of character.
I do not think that many of us would have behaved in such a way. I cannot help but reflect that when a person in this country is accused of a horrendous crime against—for instance—children or women, large crowds gather outside the court and people scream, shout, push the police and thump the passing vehicles. Sadly, an event such as that happened in my constituency, but regardless of how dreadful the crime is, that is not responsible behaviour. It contrasts starkly with the ability of people from a less educated and poorer background to be much more resilient. Perhaps we have a lot to learn from them.
As our visit continued, I began to be struck most obviously by what I can describe in public only as a question of whom I should believe. Everything seemed to be too good because we constantly heard about reconciliation. However, something in my mind made me think that the people who came to power since the genocide were the winners. They had done a tremendous amount to put that behind them successfully, but at the back of my mind I wondered whether another—perhaps larger—group of people was somewhere feeling huge resentment because it was on the other side. However, we saw that the process of reconciliation was genuine, determined and successful.
§ The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)
There are groups that have been overthrown. They are organised in the DRC and several are determined to return and to complete the genocide. They are out there and organised, which is part of Rwanda's problem.
§ Mr. Paice
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I was fully aware of that and I was going to mention the groups outside. I was not referring to armed groups but wondering about the level of resentment in the general population. In other words, I was wondering about the level of support that the outside groups would have if they came back.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill said, the Rwandan Government should be congratulated on the withdrawal of their troops from the Congo under the terms of the Arusha accord. However, we challenged the President and others on the basis of several stories about such things as plundering mineral wealth. They flatly denied that such events had taken place, but I understand that there is clear evidence that they did.
I shall cite another example about which I do not know the truth—I can call that only misinformation. A person who made the visit with us and works with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) and the great lakes group went on to Burundi. He said thatthe Rwandan Government claimed in a letter to the UN SC on the 17th October this year that Uvira"—which is in Burundi—was attacked by Interahamwe and ex-FAR forces using military boats with rocket launchers operating on Lake Tanganyka. However, I was in Bujumbura—close enough to see Uvira clearly across the lake—on the 18th of October and no-one had seen these boats. Equally, journalists in Uvira reported that the town was captured by Mai-Mai forces, not Interahamwe or ex-FAR.247WH I do not know the truth of that, but every time that one hears such conflicting information it raises the question of what one should believe.
I want to discuss food and agriculture, a subject that those who made the trip will recall was of particular interest to me, and to share my thoughts with hon. Members and, especially, the Secretary of State. I have visited several African countries and, indeed, countries that are well known for their agriculture such as Britain and Australia, but I have never seen land so comprehensively cultivated as that in Rwanda. Every hill and slope is cultivated. The downside is that there has been considerable erosion of the natural jungle, which, to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill, is the haunt of the rare mountain gorillas. It is important to address the conservation of the gorillas, but the gorillas might also be valuable for tourism in Rwanda. I hope that the Rwandan Government will recognise that and not allow further erosion of the jungle.
It was obvious to me that although Rwanda is a poor country, it is not food-poor. We did not see anyone who appeared malnourished in any way. Everyone, including the 7,000 prisoners to whom the hon. Lady referred, was healthy and well fed. It is not a country that starts off with food poverty, as so many others do, and it is obviously an agrarian community. We were asked several times by people whom we met how Britain could help them to develop their agriculture. That is my question for the Secretary of State. The more I pursued my questioning with them, either with our group or privately, the more I realised how basic were their needs.
The Rwandans had read that the common agricultural policy was not allowing them to export to Europe, which, without getting into the realms of the CAP, is only partly true. We know that many African countries are exporting fruit and vegetables to Europe—I have seen that for myself elsewhere in Africa. The CAP is not in itself a block, but there are huge problems.
Having spent 10 years working in an agricultural cooperative in this country before coming to the House, I have strong views about encouraging working together and farm co-operatives. What struck me was that the Rwandans would not require a high-powered delegation, or aid workers trying to impose a system from on high. Although I do not suggest that that is being done, it often has in the past.
It struck me clearly that all that the Rwandans wanted in so many areas was for a few people with good, solid, basic experience of encouraging people to work together, to go in to help build the local organisations. That will take time. Those people should teach the Rwandans about the need to produce consistent products in a reliable supply, so that potential buyers will be interested. That would take the Rwandans beyond the largely subsistence level of agriculture that they have at present.
From the parts of the country that I saw, I realised that Rwanda would never be a country with a huge, large-scale agricultural industry in modern technological terms because the landscape is not suitable, although I understand that parts of the eastern side are much flatter and might be more easily mechanised. However, there is great potential. 248WH Rwandans have suffered dramatically as a result of the collapse in commodity prices for coffee and tea, which have been their only real exports in the food world. Coffee prices have collapsed, so over the past five years the export value of coffee has all but halved, which is terribly serious because it is virtually the only source of export earnings. We must help the Rwandans to find a replacement for coffee; because of the lack of other natural resources, other types of agriculture must be regarded as the main contender, along with tourism.
I hope that the Secretary of State will agree that the Rwandans' need is at a low level. They do not appreciate or understand world markets. They require not lectures but on-the-ground help from a few people who are prepared to go there and commit themselves. Those people must have a considerable knowledge of what happens elsewhere. It would not be expensive and is something that we could do to help the Rwandans in the long term. It may be more effective than anything else that we can do and is well worth considering.
I hope that Rwanda comes through the end of transition next year satisfactorily. For all the reasons mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill, I hope that the Rwandans can resist potential incursions from extremist Hutu forces outside their country—I hope that they stay outside the country.
Rwanda has huge potential but, as the hon. Lady said, it requires a lot of support from the rest of the world. I believe that Britain should be a significant provider of that support.
§ 10.4 am
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who was a member of the IPU group that visited Rwanda two months ago. I join him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) not only on her participation in that excellent group but on her good fortune in obtaining the debate and on her excellent speech. I join her in expressing our best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), a proactive member of our group who continues to follow those interests in the House; we look forward to her return after the Christmas recess in full health.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill gave a moving account of some aspects of our visit to Rwanda. She reflected on the terrible genocide that took place there, and then brought us up to date by speaking of yesterday's talks in Pretoria. I hope to touch on that subject during my brief remarks.
I first visited the region in 1994; I went not to Rwanda but to Uganda. Given that 1 million of Rwanda's population of 9 million were lost in 100 days, the spin-off to the neighbouring country of Uganda was dreadful. Sir David Steel, I and others saw the bodies floating down Lake Victoria, and saw the mass graves and the refugee camps. We saw then, and we are reminded of it today, that Rwanda cannot be considered in isolation. Nations in that region have problems and ambitions.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will be replying to the debate, because everywhere we went during our 249WH IPU visit people had the highest regard for DFID's work and said that if its contribution could be emulated by other countries, within the European Union and elsewhere, even more progress could be made.
Given the problems of genocide, there are issues that clearly could not be resolved in the short time since 1994. Even today, they represent a major challenge to the international community. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill was right to remind us that, at our memorable meeting, President Kagame made some criticisms of the international community during that period of genocide; most of us felt that he had a point. We do not want to sit back and have the same criticisms levelled at us—with the same justification.
The Secretary of State is of course very much aware of the memorandum of understanding between the United Kingdom and Rwanda, which is so important in trying to solve some of the problems. She will recall the major aspects of that memorandum—respect for human rights, media independence and transparency. Some progress has been made but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill said, we would be greatly mistaken if we thought that we had made anything like the progress that we would wish to see. Certainly, the evidence of the Gacaca courts was impressive.
On one point, however, it is important that we place our frustrations and impatience on the record—the achievements of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Regardless of what we have heard—the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire made some relevant points—we must bear in mind the tribunal's lack of achievements. It has not indicted one RPF member, and the fact that an investment of $800 million over six years has brought only nine convictions suggests that there are still serious problems.
We know the pressures on the Rwandan Government, but there are still questions about their role. I have no doubt that people are genuinely committed to the reconciliation about which we have heard so much, but I would add one point to the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill made about justice. If there is to be reconciliation, we must remember that justice delayed is justice denied. That is why we were very aware of our responsibilities when we visited Giterama prison, which holds 7,000 to 8,000 people. We welcome DFID's contribution of resources, but it is clear to us all that we must encourage those involved to speed up the process of justice.
We had other opportunities to say how we felt. I hope that what we said was accepted with humility—as I hope that what I have said today about the role then and now of the international community will be. For example, we were glad to have the opportunity to raise a case of clear injustice on behalf of a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), who may catch your eye later, Mr. McWilliam. I am sorry that there has been a delay in responding, despite the promises that were made at the time.
We look to the future of Rwanda with realism and, I hope, more than a degree of optimism, particularly given the role of the Secretary of State. However, we 250WH cannot forget the valid criticism that was made fairly recently in, for example, the UN panel report. Nor can we overlook the International Crisis Group report, which was published in November 2002. It said:The RFP wields almost exclusive military, political and economic control and tolerates no criticism or challenge. For the past three years, opposition political parties have either been dismantled or forced to accept the consensus imposed by the RPF, the independent media has been silenced, and civil society has either been repressed or coerced.We are concerned about the July 2003 elections. We want pluralism to prevail, and Opposition parties, which seem unable to compete with the RPF, to be given the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, many people will regard the whole exercise as a mere sham.
I shall now mention the decision taken yesterday in Pretoria, because it offers great hope. There was a need for a peace process, and there is a need to ensure that it works this time. We recognise the role of the President of Rwanda, and he was very forthcoming when we met him. We welcome the withdrawal of his troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but I remember one of his comments in particular. He said that he would not hesitate to send his troops back if the Government of Rwanda thought that there was a challenge to the country's borders. The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Burundi and in the whole region remains worrying. Any suggestion that Rwanda is isolated does not reflect the realities of the region.
I hope that we can examine the peace process in Pretoria and consider the opportunities there, including those for tourism. When some of us were at Lake Kivu, we observed the enormous potential for tourism in Rwanda. The mineral resources, properly shared, offer a great deal of hope to all the people of the region. The greed that has been associated with them may have been the source of some of the strife that has occurred, including the terrible genocide.
I hope that we can view Rwanda in a regional context and address it from that perspective. I pay tribute to the tremendous work done by the Secretary of State, and hope that, reflecting what was said during our visit, she will consider the possibility of a regional peace conference.
I end, given that we are in Great Britain approaching Christmas, by quoting the words of Charles Dickens:It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".What we saw and have debated represented the worst of times for Rwanda and for the region. However, given the tremendous opportunities ahead and the region's natural resources, I believe that, for Rwanda and its region, the best is still to come.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (in the Chair)
Order. If hon. Members keep their contributions short, I can fit them all in.
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark)
I am privileged to follow the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), and I join colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) on having secured the debate.
251WH I have never been to Rwanda, but I have had two experiences that I associate closely with the area. The first was in 1986, when I had the mixed pleasure of serving for nine months in Uganda with a British Army training team. That was when President Museveni's forces successfully defeated President Obote's and established what we hoped would be a new era of prosperity, hope, common sense and justice in that country.
I was a young man, and it was my first experience of genocide. Sadly, I seem to have become a genocide tourist ever since, having seen what has happened in Kosovo, Northern Ireland, the Balkans and various African countries.
§ Patrick Mercer
Well, one has to make a judgment as to whether that is genocide; it might be classified as such over the past 300 years. I first really understood what was meant by genocide when I saw the large corrugated metal platforms that were established outside Ugandan villages, laden with the bones, the skulls, the ribs and other body parts of those who had perished in Uganda under various regimes. It was a horrifying sight. Sadly, I recognised the names of some of the young Ugandan officers whom we had trained and who had served under us as being associated with the continuing problem and, perhaps, having contributed to it. I hope that they had not.
The second experience was, strangely, in north-east Nottinghamshire, where I am lucky enough to have an organisation called the Aegis trust working in a house outside the village of Laxton, sometimes known as the Holocaust centre. It started by examining specifically the problems experienced by Jews under Nazi rule in the second world war, but it has evolved and has generated itself into a much greater concern, opposed fundamentally, root and form, to genocide. It has, rightly, concentrated recently on Rwanda and the lessons that can be drawn from the genocide there for the whole of the world, especially the great lakes region of Africa. Thanks to that coincidence within my constituency and to my personal experience, I feel reasonably closely associated with the area.
I shall talk briefly about the extraordinarily dangerous situation that continues in the northern Kivu area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I need not tell the Minister what has happened there in recent years. The two nations of Rwanda and Uganda have elevated what might be called a tribal quarrel into a conventional conflict, bringing much additional misery to the region on top of the Rwandan genocide. Despite the several mentions that there is a sign of hope in the Congo and of the warring factions signing a peace deal, the area is still enormously dangerous. Both nations must accept that they cannot fight on foreign soil, kill 600 civilians, destroy the second largest town in the Congo and not be made to pay the reparations that are due under UN Security Council resolution 1304. I wonder whether the United Kingdom should review its aid policy to both Uganda and Rwanda if the reparations are not paid properly—perhaps some moral arm-twisting can help to redress the regrettable situation.
252WH The governance of the two countries has been mentioned. Their military elements can distort the proper democratic rule if that can be seen to influence events. Can it be acceptable for international donors to be involved with nations that go to war on a whim? If there is a risk of renewed fighting in the area, the international assistance programmes should be scrutinised and, perhaps, suspended.
MONUC, the United Nations observers' mission to the Congo, has been mentioned. I am delighted to hear suggestions that the mission should be reinforced so that its already very effective job can be improved. With more personnel, better communications equipment and further transport, especially aircraft and helicopters, it might be even more effective—particularly, in view of the news of an upsurge in violence by insurgent groups in the area, through its monitoring positions established on the border, at Kanyan Bayonga and Lubero. By addressing all these points, we could help to prevent a recurrence of violence in the region.
I shall finish by concentrating on the work that has been done to commemorate the slaughter that has occurred in the past decade or so. There are more than 200 sites of mass killings in Rwanda, and a number of projects are trying to put money into turning seven of them into appropriate permanent monuments to the folly of genocide. It is hoped that they will instruct nations near and far about the effects on countries, nations and Governments of policies that run out of control.
On 3 September, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pledged £300,000 to preserve mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She stated thatif the Great Apes are to be anything more than a memory this is a fight that we have to win. I am confident that we will do so.Clearly, that is good for the gorillas, and I am delighted about that, but perhaps we should be looking to fund more important or more focused projects. It is pleasing to hear that, in the past couple of days, local government officials from the Congo have gone to visit sites in Rwanda. They have gone to learn lessons from what happened in the past, so that they can, perhaps, be avoided in future. If more funding can be found to ensure that the sites remain as a permanent memorial, and if the victims—those who looked on, those who took part, and those who suffered, even as second parties, in the killings in Rwanda—remember and are remembered, the lessons of what happened in 1994 may not be forgotten.
§ Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)
Of necessity, I will be brief. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate.
I shall illustrate the problems that we have talked about with the tragic case of Charlotte Wilson, a 27-year-old teacher and the daughter of one of my constituents. Almost two years ago, on 28 December 2000, she was murdered in Burundi. There was significant publicity surrounding the event. I have an article from The Guardian, published at the time. The crime was horrific. Charlotte was travelling on a bus from Rwanda to Burundi when, about 15 miles outside 253WH Bujambura, the 30 passengers on the bus were ordered off. Charlotte and her fiancé, along with 21 other people, were massacred for no apparent reason.
Charlotte worked in Rwanda for Voluntary Service Overseas. Interestingly, she was told that Rwanda was safe at the time, but that Burundi was not. However, because of her interest in the region, she chose to travel there with her fiancé. As her mother will attest, she was committed to the work that she was doing there, to the children, to Rwanda and to the region. Since Charlotte's death, her mother, Margot, and her brother, Richard, have worked tirelessly to pursue justice on her behalf and on behalf of the other victims of that particular crime. They, too, have a commitment to Rwanda and to the region, have travelled there both before and since and continue to take an interest in the area.
During the two years since those events, there have been reports from non-governmental organisations and local people. Indeed, a witness, Eric Marango, came forward, and there was concern in Rwanda about his safety. The family tried to bring him here as an asylum seeker, but they met the usual Catch-22, which is that if someone presents himself to an embassy or high commission and asks for a visa as an asylum seeker, he will not receive one. He must deliver himself to the shores of this country to be received as an asylum seeker. Therefore, Eric Marango remains in the country.
There has been a police investigation. Indeed, officers from Scotland Yard went to Rwanda, but they face enormous difficulties there, and we have discussed how fragile the situation is in Rwanda. Of course, witnesses are reluctant to come forward because there is a widespread climate of fear. However, the police and others have assembled various witnesses from nongovernmental organisations. Local reporters for international newspapers and magazines and others have identified the Force Nationale de Liberation as the organisation responsible for the crime. It is an extreme Hutu group which, sadly, is still very active, especially in Burundi and the DRC.
I will not go into the situation locally, except to say that although significant progress has been made in Rwanda in establishing legal institutions-we should pay due attention to the work of DFID and others in achieving that—the situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate. There is great concern about that.
I should like the Minister to take on board a number of issues. I hope that DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to put their best efforts into trying to resolve a heinous crime. They have been doing as much as they can, and I welcome that. I hope also that they will not give up on the case, but will continue to do what they can to bring the perpetrators to justice. Legal institutions must continue to be established. There is a particular problem in Burundi, where the situation is still tense and unstable.
There have been reports that the FNL is not only active in the region but has contacts in Belgium, and perhaps in other parts of the EU. It has been reported that its leader, Agathon Rwasa, has travelled to Europe on numerous occasions. I hope that the Minister and the Home Office will consider whether that organisation should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation. I do not 254WH know whether anyone is active in this country but, if possible, action should be taken in the United Kingdom, in Belgium and throughout the EU to proscribe that terrible organisation. I hope that the Minister will continue to focus on the region. If things continue to deteriorate in Burundi and in the Congo, we could face circumstances similar to those of eight years ago. No one wishes to see that. The international community—and perhaps Britain in particular—has a responsibility not to allow that to happen.
§ John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate, and other hon. Members on their interesting contributions.
Like the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) was on the visit but is unable to be here this morning. I have discussed the issue with her at length, and she is optimistic about Rwanda's future and about what is happening on the ground there. She congratulates the Secretary of State for the work that her Department has done, with particular emphasis on education. My hon. Friend has also commented on the success of the vaccination programmes.
The plight of those living in Africa has once again grabbed the attention of those who write this country's newspapers, with the main focus on Ethiopia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Rwanda, however—a country that dominated the headlines in the mid-1990s—tends not to take up much column space these days. That is why debates such as ours are so important in keeping Rwanda on the agenda after the news teams have left the country. As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) mentioned, the problem does not recognise national boundaries. It spills over into neighbouring countries, as other hon. Members said. The problem affects the entire region, whether it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda or Burundi.
Condemnation of genocide unites the world community, which has an obligation to step in and stop it when possible. That did not happen in 1994, however. It is difficult to find words that properly describe what happened then. "Horrifying", "appalling" and "sickening" do not seem to sum up the scale of the tragedy. We all remember the pictures on our television screens and the stories in the newspapers. The operation was meticulously organised, as the journalist Linda Melvern wrote in her recent book:The 1994 genocide was planned in detail. Elaborate lists were drawn up of those to be massacred; half a million machetes and huge numbers of axes, hammers and razors as well as guns were purchased in advance and stockpiled—the costs met by cunningly diverted aid funds. One of the organisers of the genocide, Colonel Bagosora, boasted that he was preparing 'apocalypse deux'.Much has been said already about how those who perpetrated the genocide that has killed more than 1 million people, in far and away the largest-scale organised killing since the second world war, should be brought to justice. Of course, it is important to the people of Rwanda to believe that justice has been done. It is to be hoped that the new Gacaca court system will help to speed up a process that has so far been painfully slow. However, I share concerns about the increasing 255WH number of reports of intimidation and bribery—and even of the murder of witnesses who were due to give evidence. In Kigali alone, investigations are taking place into the deaths of 20 people believed to have been killed to prevent them from giving evidence in a local court. It is clear that a strategy for the protection of witnesses is a missing piece of the jigsaw, which must be put in place if the process is to be a success.
Reservations have also been expressed about the lack of training available for the so-called people's judges who pass judgment as part of the Gacaca system. The fact that defendants have no right to legal representation must be questioned by all those interested in fairness and justice. The Foreign Office has queried the matter.
Although it is important for Rwanda to deal with its past, it is doubly important for the country and its people to look to the future and face the challenging questions of how to bring about the development and advancement that we would all want for it.
Part of Rwanda's commitment to development and poverty alleviation must come through a commitment to peace with its neighbours. The peace agreement signed by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was welcome, but it will work only if all aspects of the agreement are implemented. So far, that does not seem to be happening. The key elements of the agreement were, of course, the disarming of thousands of ex-soldiers and their repatriation from the Interahamwe back to Rwanda. However, that itself will bring problems as soldiers begin to move round the country. The problem of AIDS is, as for other African nations, a scourge of Rwanda.
It seems that both countries are taking steps that are not exactly consistent with what many of us thought would happen after the signing of the agreement. The ongoing occupation of the eastern Congo by Rwandan soldiers is not acceptable. I read with interest a recent story in The Observer accusing many Rwandan soldiers of collaborating with Hutu militiamen to stay in the Congo and raid the rich mineral resources of the country. As one American diplomat said:The Interahamwe is now a very convenient excuse for Rwanda to loot Congo. Maybe it's 20 per cent threat, 80 per cent for show.Another UN officer said:How serious are they"—the Rwandans—about solving the Interahamwe issue when they seem to be fighting everyone in eastern Congo except the Interahamwe? Their security concern has become a joke.As for the DRC, there are reports of civilian Hutu refugees, including many women, now being wrongfully arrested as part of the repatriation programme and taken into military camps such as the Kokolo camp in Kinshasa. One Hutu, a refugee from Burundi, reported that he was taken to a camp, tied up and locked in a lorry container. He was told that he was being sent to Rwanda simply because he was a Hutu. Surely that was not the repatriation that we envisaged when the peace deal was signed.
As others have said, Rwanda, internally, remains a country in real need. The latest figures from the World Bank show the percentage of households below the poverty line at around 70 per cent.—an increase of 17 256WH per cent. since 1994. Life expectancy is not even 40 years and almost a third of children die before reaching the age of five. I mention the latter point because, of course, it relates to one of the key development goals set by the United Nations, classed as one of the key indicators in the eradication of world poverty. Illiteracy levels are high too, with an estimated one third of adults unable to read or write.
I do not make light of the efforts of the UK Government, and in particular the Department for International Development. It would be wrong not to note, and welcome, the commitment shown by the Government to the development of Rwanda, as set out in the 1999 country strategy paper. That is not to say that I have no criticisms to make—I am sure that that will come as no surprise to the Minister, for whom I have great respect.
Rwanda, not unlike its neighbours, is living in the stranglehold of HIV/AIDS. The country is among the 10 most heavily infected African countries, with almost 13 per cent. of its population now infected. The genocide of the mid-1990s and the massive mobilisations of population that followed served only to break up family units. That has been accepted as a factor in the increase in the number of HIV-positive people. It is important to remember that a staggering 60 per cent. of the population of Rwanda are under 20 years old. Among that group 10 per cent. are believed to be infected.
We need long-term commitments from the Government, so that countries like Rwanda can tackle HIV. The HIV problem threatens Rwanda's way of life. The Rwandan Government need new resources to overcome the massive overcrowding of Rwanda's prisons. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park mentioned that she thought that people were stacked like chickens in the prisons that she saw with the group that recently visited the country. The recent United Nations report on the situation was distressing. It stated that in some detention centres four inmates can occupy every square metre of floor space in open courtyards, and that there are six inmates to every square metre in dormitory buildings.
The Rwandan elections, which are planned for July 2003, offer a chance for real reform and reconciliation in the country. That opportunity cannot be squandered. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has had time to read the International Crisis Group's report that called for the international community to withhold any finance for the elections because of problems with the Rwandan Government's lack of respect for political associations. It is clear that there are very serious questions about apparent restrictions on Opposition parties and on reporting in the independent press.
Several things must happen in order for Rwanda's future to be bright. The tourism industry in what is generally recognised as a beautiful country requires supporting projects—
§ Mr. John McWilliam (in the Chair)
Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to bring his remarks to a conclusion? We should like to finish the winding-up speeches.
§ John Barrett
257WH The least that we in the developed world can do is to help the Rwandan Government in their efforts to meet the challenges ahead. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State what can be done.
§ Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate. I also thank other members of the IPU delegation for taking the time to give us the benefit of their experiences. Several hon. Members spoke specifically about constituency cases and brought their experiences to bear on the situation in Rwanda. In the spirit of good will at Christmas, I acknowledge the Secretary of State's work on bringing reconciliation and helping to maintain peace in Rwanda—it is right to record that. We have heard that there is fragility to the peace, which should concern us all. I shall endeavour to keep my remarks as short as possible because many questions have been asked—I shall add several—and we want to hear what the Secretary of State has to say.
I shall focus on next year's elections, but not because I believe that Rwanda's past is unimportant—its outworking will be with both us and it for a long time. However, it would be helpful today to think about the country's future. Democratic elections will be held in July next year. That is good news, although questions remain. There are still multiple restrictions in Rwanda on political and civil liberties and there is no sign in the outline of the constitutional plan of a guarantee, or even an indication, that any political opposition will be able to participate in the elections on an equal footing with the RPF. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to reassure me on that point and will answer two important questions. What are her assessments of how the elections will take place and of the viability of the opposition in Rwanda?
The International Crisis Group, which is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that works to prevent and resolve conflicts in all parts of the world, has made an assessment of Rwanda's journey toward democratisation. Although the group shows an understanding of the RPF's desire to hold a tight rein on such a potentially volatile situation, it also urges greater freedom for the press and for the RPF to allow public criticism. It recommends that an independent authority should be put in place to create and oversee the foundations of general reconciliation.
Does the Secretary of State support the creation of an independent body to oversee the politics of the country through the election period? What lessons have we learned from the recent local and district elections? The International Crisis Group claims that the national electoral commission abused its powers to veto unwanted candidates and guarantee that only supporters of Government policies were selected for the district elections in March 2001.
Elections were held this year. What is the right hon. Lady's assessment of the implications of those elections and what they augur for the future? The ICG says that the RPF should recognise that its authoritarian actions, whatever their motivation, have worked against its own 258WH stated objective, which is to restructure Rwandan political culture away from purely ethnic lines through popular education.
The general tenor of the ICG's report on Rwanda is that President Kagame should try the carrot rather than the stick in the fragile peace. The Secretary of State is well aware of the situation and has faith in President Kagame. What is her response to the more critical aspects of the ICG's recommendations published last month, to which I have referred?
The non-governmental organisation Saferworld, of which I am sure the Secretary of State will be aware, works mainly on demilitarisation and weapons collection programmes and is urging our Government to support and monitor the Nairobi declaration signed in March 2000, when the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda agreed to work together to combat the problem of small arms and weapons. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) about the importance of monitoring work and the fragility of the border situation. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that the monitoring process is effective? Will she respond to my hon. Friend's remarks about the under-provision of equipment required to be effective in that process, especially in the light of the recent peace accord, which will mean the return of thousands of disaffected Hutu refugees, many still armed? That will also bring volatility to Rwanda.
I should like to pick up the point about AIDS in Rwanda, which the Tear Fund has called a second genocide. I am sure that the Secretary of State has, with me, been appalled to see the outworking of rape used as a weapon of war that has infected many female-headed households that struggle to survive. That is another disaster waiting to befall Rwanda.
Will the Secretary of State reflect with me on an incredible irony: that a country that, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) said, has an infection rate of 30 per cent. of HIV/AIDS must use 30 per cent. of its export earnings to service the debt owed to countries such as Britain? I am deeply troubled by the morality of the situation, when so many sub-Saharan African countries with high rates of infection remain heavily indebted to us and other rich countries and have to use resources that could provide better health care for their citizens. I am troubled by that bitter irony.
Another area of concern mentioned by hon. Members has been raised by agencies working the Gacaca community courts set up to try genocide cases. We have heard from hon. Members who have visited them and tried to understand where the truth lies in the highly charged emotions in the court as confessions come out and reconciliation is sought. One thing that concerns them and the agencies that work in Rwanda is that there is a desperate shortage of professional legal help. Some of those who preside over the courts have no legal training. Should we not be trying to ensure that the courts gain more support from us in terms of legal provision and civil service support? The civil service has been decimated by all the tragedies that have befallen Rwanda.
May I endorse a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) about the agrarian situation in Rwanda? Given the 259WH terrible famine in southern Africa and now in Ethiopia, it is a plus point—as he said—that agriculture is relatively well developed in Rwanda, but its principal exports of tea and coffee are badly affected by the collapse in commodity prices. Will that be considered in relation to the reworking of Rwanda's debts?
The Chancellor said in his pre-Budget report that the heavily indebted poor countries initiative was failing, partly because of its failure to cope with exogenous shocks. The collapse in commodity prices is one of those shocks. I appeal to the Secretary of State to examine Rwanda's case, which cannot be worse. Although the agrarian situation is good compared with that in other parts of Africa, the framework cannot cope with the country's capacity to produce and meet the market need. It must be said that Rwanda has recovered remarkably well, given that the worst attempted genocide in Africa, in which both sides lost hundreds of thousands of their people, ended only eight years ago. Let us hope that the proper execution of the election process in July will underline that potential achievement.
§ The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) on organising the debate and on the clarity and sweep with which she put her case. We are debating the genocide in Rwanda and the great lakes—the most recent genocide in which the world failed to act, even though we have a genocide convention since the holocaust in Europe that obliges us to act. Moreover, the United Nations presence was pulled out and the people who were camping around its site were being slaughtered. That is a deep, recent historical failure.
I have been a major actor in efforts to bring peace and reconstruction to that area of the world. For the first time since 1997, there is a debate on the situation in Rwanda in which my policies have been subjected to parliamentary scrutiny, apart from parliamentary questions. Unfortunately, we have so little time left this morning that I cannot answer all the questions that have been raised. In terms of parliamentary accountability, that seems a poor way in which to scrutinise such a crucial policy. The United Kingdom can make a difference and give people who have been terribly hurt by history a chance of a better future.
When I first visited Rwanda, there were still bones and rags in many churches. There were little collections of skulls and bones outside those churches. The north of the country was still occupied by the forces that were trying to take over the country to complete the genocide. I do not remember much television coverage of the genocide, but I remember the coverage when the people moved out and became refugees. The cholera outbreak and the fact that they were living on difficult territory were relayed all over the media. The leaders of the genocide were driving out the population as the Rwandan Patriotic Army came in to liberate the country. The international community made terrible mistakes by providing food through those military leaders, which reinforced their power. That is part of the continuing instability in the region. Those who organised the genocide are still around. They are in 260WH Kinshasa, armed and still trying to invade the country. Rwanda is trying to rebuild at the same time as forces that want to promote a complete genocide attack it.
When I first visited the country, the international community took a humanitarian guise. No country or institution was willing to engage in rebuilding the country. Although we had no historical link and our colonial experience was bad, there was general support in the United Kingdom for my decision to take a lead in helping to reconstruct the region; otherwise, its people would suffer a continuing disaster. We had to make a commitment to long-term aid to get the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to create a programme that would offer any economic growth to Rwanda, because the country is so poor. The land is fantastically rich, but it is very densely occupied. That was one of the tensions. Then there was the drop in coffee prices that led to the genocide. There are hungry people in Rwanda because not everyone has land, but the land is fantastically fertile. There are hungry people; that is unquestionable. It is in the statistics. Statistics were quoted earlier about the number of children who do not survive to the age of five.
The state of affairs is interesting, and it led to a UK shift to giving long-term commitments that enable countries to be more ambitious about their development. Our long-term commitment enabled the IMF and the World Bank to have a more ambitious programme, and enabled Rwanda to start to rebuild. The country went on to qualify for debt relief and is seen as a successful reformer, which is remarkable when one thinks of Rwanda in 1994. When those organisations took over, everything had been smashed.
Most of the educated people in the country had been killed because the more liberal and educated Hutus—the lawyers and so on—had opposed the genocide. There has been a big achievement. There is peace across the country and the north is stable. There are more children in school than ever before in the history of Rwanda. Some 74.5 per cent. of children are in primary education. Rwanda is on track to have universal primary education by 2010. Access to education was used in the colonial experience to divide people, so that is a wonderful achievement. The books of the past have gone, and children are not labelled as Hutu and Tutsi. All children are now getting access to school.
Those are all important achievements but, as has been said, there are still hundreds of thousands of prisoners charged with genocide. Some in the prisons might have had false allegations made against them, but many are responsible for engaging in monstrous acts. There are very few lawyers in the country, as many were killed, but to get any kind of normalisation, the problem must be dealt with. Given the rate at which trials were being held in the country, it would have taken more than 100 years to deal with everyone charged with genocide.
The prisons are well organised—the local Gacaca goes on—but are like sardine cans. They are absolutely full of people in pink outfits. That is Gacaca; it tries to use a traditional Rwandan way of using community justice to get the truth out. Very senior figures might be imprisoned, but those who have done less gross things might be accepted back into their communities and do some sort of repentance or work, so that there might be some reconciliation. That is a fantastic strain on the country. Those who have killed others' children will
261WH come back and live alongside them in their village in a country in which land is scarce. Of course, after the killing, land and possessions were stolen, so there are also disputes about who has the land, and so on. However, the country must do something; otherwise, the prisoners will be there for years to come. What Rwanda has achieved is great, but the release of people will strain communities across the country.
I am running out of time; I am very sorry. I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill about MONUC, the DRC and the UN panel. There are many important things to say. There is a danger that in Burundi there will be bouts of genocidal killing, rather than one spectacular genocide. The FNL, which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) mentioned, and which is said to be responsible for the killing of his constituent, is the one group that has not come into the Burundi peace process. I will respond to all those complicated and important questions.
One of my personal ambitions, and one of the things that the UK can help to do, is to give this generation of Rwandans a chance to move forward and have elections and a constitution, not another bout of genocide. However, Rwanda cannot be safe if the Congo is not safe and if Burundi is explosive. To care for Rwanda, one must get a settlement in the region. There have been divisions in the international community and among members of the UN Security Council. The hostility within Rwanda is like anti-semitism as it used to be in Europe. There is real prejudice and division in Africa on such questions, and it needs to be understood. I think that we can make progress. The UK can play an important role. The present generation in this country do not have a colonial experience in the region, so we may be able to contribute to its rebuilding.
I will write to hon. Members on points that I have not been able to answer. The allocation of time for this debate has been unfortunate.