Thursday, February 04, 2010

Democratic Republic of Congo

Yesterday we had an hour's debate in the Grand Committee on the appalling problems in the DRC, initiated by my colleague David Chidgey. He summarised the situation brilliantly in the ten minutes he was allotted. But I couldn't help reflecting that the previous debate on the DRC, as long ago as November 2008, was in Government time, and I asked the Minister Bill Brett to see that we had regular periodic opportunities of reviewing the UN's involvement, and the UK's influence on UN policies. The DRC is after all the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world, having a budget this year of $1.35 billion, to which the UK is a major contributor.

In spite of this vast expenditure and the presence of 20,000 UN troops, eastern DRC still endures not only the massive human rights atrocities committed by independent armed groups, but also the crimes perpetrated against civilians by the national army. Belatedly, the UN plans to cease cooperation with any units that are found to have killed or displaced civilians, but that's too late. I asked whether consideration might be given to an element dropped from earlier UN strategy, of embedding UN troops in every army unit, or at least in the units that had been formed out of former rebels.

The Minister said that he counted 47 questions put to him during the three quarters of an hour taken by Lord Chidgey and others, and he would have to answer most of them in letters. The trouble with that is that although Ministers' letters are put on the Parliamentary website, they don't get the same public attention as what is said in the debate itself. And just to get it off my chest, knowing that David also feels this way, what is said in the Grand Committee is treated as somehow less important than what is said on the floor of the House itself.

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