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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 27 Nov 1996

Vol. 149 No. 10

Great Lakes Region of Africa: Statements.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I would like to begin this important debate on the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa. When the seriousness of the crisis facing Zaire and Rwanda emerged, many people believed it would be on the same scale as the disaster which hit Rwanda two years ago. We should be grateful that this did not result in widespread loss of life and that many Rwandan nationals were able to return to their homes. Although the crisis has subsided, it does not mean that the problems which beset the continent have been solved.

I would like to congratulate my Labour Party colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Burton, who headed the EU Troika of Development Ministers on a visit to Rwanda and Zaire. Following the visit of the Minister, who is currently President of the EU Council of Ministers on Development, she told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs of the need for the rapid deployment of a UN Force to protect a large scale humanitarian operation which would, in effect, be the key to saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

The humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region is at a critical phase. The large scale population movement in the region has caused serious problems and it is imperative that these problems are addressed by the international community. As the Tánaiste and the Minister for Foreign Affairs said in the Dáil today, since 15 November 1996 an estimated 500,000 Rwandans have returned to Rwanda from camps in eastern Zaire. In the same time-frame significant population movements have also occurred from camps further west into Zaire, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi. In addition, a further 500,000 million Rwandan refugees remain in exile in camps in Tanzania. Given that the current population movements which are causing so many problems are not yet over and that there are further significant movements through the region, the need for a rapid reaction is obvious.

As I already mentioned, the Minister has visited the region and her description of the abandonment of children in forests with little hope of survival was particularly disturbing. It is hard to believe such a thing could happen in today's world. The notion of children being abandoned in forests because their parents can only carry babies is something which belongs to books on the trauma of a bygone colonial age.

More frighteningly, the deteriorating situation in the Great Lakes region has brought the awful spectre of genocide and ethnic division which we witnessed Rwanda in 1994. It was in the context of this frightening scenario that the EU recently agreed to a series of measures to provide both immediate and long-term humanitarian and development assistance. As a result, a package of 170 million ECU for the Great Lakes region was proposed. This funding would be used immediately to provide food and shelter for refugees. However, it is also intended that this money will be used to initiate a long-term programme of social and economic rehabilitation in the region. The Minister's dedication and committed work in heightening international awareness about the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes region is to be commended and I acknowledge the work she is doing.

As the recently published White Paper on Foreign Policy notes, Ireland's foreign policy is much more than self-interest. For many of us, it is a statement of the kind of people we are. This notion is illustrated in our concern for human rights and our exemplary record in the field of humanitarian help. Irish NGOs have been the vanguard of crisis management in developing countries for many years and have set an example for other countries to follow. Those of us who visited countries such as Somalia, as I did many years ago, or Zaire, as the Minister did, can testify to the work these people are doing. The international aid agencies, including Concern and Trócaire, are involved in the distribution of essential food and non-food items. In addition, the Government has already announced an aid package of £2.25 million which is being channelled to the Irish NGOs involved in the operation in the Great Lakes region.

Ireland has had a long association with the United Nations and is rightly proud of its ongoing support for effective international action in areas such as peacekeeping and the protection of human rights. I welcome the Government's decision to agree to a request from the UN to contribute to the humanitarian mission and propose that we send a contingent from the Defence Forces.

From what I saw on television, it must have been very frightening for the Minister when she was in Rwanda. I agree with Senator Maloney that she did great work there for the best part of a week and it is nice to see matters improving. The Minister had her hands full but she seemed to make great progress.

Everyone is horrified by what is happening out there. There seems to be no end to the number of refugees. It is unreal to think that such poverty and starvation should exist today. Maybe the United Nations could have acted more decisively. I would be critical of them after what the Minister has done because we cannot stand idly by. We must make an effort. I do not suggest that the Minister, the Government and the Irish aid agencies did not do anything as it would be fair to say that they were to the forefront in getting aid to the region. I hope it arrived on time.

I remember listening to Nell McCafferty on the radio one morning and she could not understand why, if she was only half a mile from the camp, someone from the United Nations or the international aid agencies could not go to the camp and get the people to move back to their homes. She painted a horrifying picture.

It seems to me as an ordinary individual who reads the newspapers and watches the news on television that something has gone terribly wrong if helpless people are forced from their homes. The situation is now slightly improved. A half million people have gone back to their homes but Senator Maloney mentioned that another half million are still in exile. I hope the efforts of the Minister, the Government and the Irish aid agencies will help to solve the problem. The Minister's efforts are not going unnoticed because it was the one piece of news I watched every night for the last three to four weeks.

I thank Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Maloney for their kind comments. I was proud to represent Ireland in Rwanda, a small country the size of Munster. Zaire is a large country the size of western Europe. We have, as a result of our historical experience and peace process, an understanding of the complexity of trying to build reconciliation and trust and rebuild the countries involved as well.

The European Union has offered a substantial humanitarian package to the Great Lakes region of 170 million ECU which is absolutely essential. We must examine four separate areas in this crisis because it is complex. We must examine Rwanda, Zaire, Burundi and Tanzania.

Over 500,000 refugees have returned to Rwanda which, as Senator Lanigan will know from his participation in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, is little short of a miracle compared to a month ago. So far, those people have returned in conditions of remarkable peace, without any violence or killing. In order to sustain that, it will be necessary for the European Union, Ireland and the development agencies to put money, resources and effort into supporting the return being maintained on a peaceful basis. I cannot stress the importance of that. We need to supply money for food and seeds for the first planting season to make refugees self-sufficient. Rwanda is a very crowded but very fertile country with a lot of potential as it has volcanic soil and two to three crops per year can be grown.

Second, we must put more money in the medium-term into housing provision for refugees. This is a big political problem. At the moment, the Rwandan Government has told people, some of whom are survivors of the genocide and took over empty houses, that they have 15 days to get out and make way for the returning refugees, some of whom are implicated in the killings of the families of those who survived and occupied the houses. In order to sort out this political and humanitarian situation — the need for both parties to have shelter — there has to be a huge housebuilding effort in Rwanda. This will be done by local people, using local materials such as bricks which are easily handmade, but with the international community supplying the money for door and window kits and tin for the roofs. Rwandans can work in partnership with the international agencies to build hundreds of thousands of shelters and housing units, which will be important in the long-term.

The issue of justice must be addressed. There are more than 80,000 people in Rwandan jails who are accused, to a greater or lesser extent, of involvement in and or the carrying out of genocide. They will be brought to trial in the next few months. In assisting the Rwandan Government, Irish aid has specifically funded elements of the justice system. Some of the many people returning home will inevitably be charged with genocide. We must insist on the Rwandan Government putting a justice system in place. I visited Rwandan jails. No jail in Africa is a pretty place and Mountjoy is a paradise — it is first class luxury — by comparison. Many prisons in Rwanda would be similar to this Chamber holding 2,000 people standing up. Prisoners are well provided for as regards water, food and medicine and there are no complaints of ill-treatment. However, there is the most inhuman overcrowding it is possible to imagine, resulting in phlebitis, other diseases and the risk of prisoner's legs rotting. The justice system is important, both as a human rights issue and as a focus and force for reconciliation in Rwandan society. The European Union should be willing to assist Rwanda in rebuilding all the areas I have spoken about, as well as in health and education.

Zaire is the second country we need to address. It is a large country with more than 300 major national ethnic groups. The rebel forces, some Banyamulenge and some who have been fighting since the time of Lumumba — it was Ireland's first international peacekeeping involvement — have come together in East Kivu. The EU is supporting an election process in Zaire, which must be open to the participation of all Zaireans. The Banyamulenge have been there for 300 years and cannot suddenly be deprived of their Zairean citizenship. Equally, along the borders of the eight countries to Zaire, different groups cannot be picked out and told they are no longer Zairean. We are dealing with borders drawn by the great powers in the aftermath of the Berlin and Vienna Conferences at the turn of the century. We must ensure that, if possible, Zaire proceeds to change to the post-Mobutu period by peaceful means rather than having a civil war. An election would be the keynote to peace. Somebody involved in our intricate peace process could offer suggestions on what is critical.

Burundi is in a dangerous state and there has been much killing by the army. We do not have the full details because the international agencies do not have access to Burundi. There has been some separation of men from women and children among returning refugees and some of the men have been subject to arbitrary execution and killing by the army in Burundi. President Nyerere of Tanzania was in Dublin earlier this week. He proposed that now is the time to engage the two parties in Burundi in negotiation. We support this. Now is also the time to insist that the humanitarian agencies have access to Burundi so that we can find out what is going on and deter the random killing which appears to be taking place.

Tanzania at the moment has about 500,000 Rwandan Burundian refugees on its western border. The town of Kigoma received more than 90,000 refugees in the last week in addition to the 500,000 who have already been in Tanzania for some time. The good news is that the Rwandan refugees in Tanzania are sending emissaries to say they want to come home. They are selling their possessions. That is another 400,000 going home to an area the size of Munster which now has a population of almost 7,000,000 people. This must constitute the greatest mass movement of people in history in such a small concentrated area. We and the Tanzanians would like to see those people going home. They will need support to ensure their return is as peaceful as possible.

In relation to the refugees in Zaire, there has been a debate about the numbers involved and whether it is 380,000 or 750,000. This is obscene — what if it is not 750,000 but "only" 300,000? This is a vast number of refugees and we must have access to them in order to assist them.

Ireland has supported the UN proposal in relation to the temporary multinational force. During the Troika's visit we stressed that the force should have a clear mandate to disarm the armed elements who are still in Zaire — the Interhamwe and the militia who planned, plotted and committed genocide and who would still carry it out if they had the capacity and could get back into Rwanda. An international force that does not have a mandate on disarmament has one hand tied behind its back before it even goes in. We want the force to provide security for the humanitarian agencies and the returning refugees. Above all, we want them to disarm the genocidal elements in Eastern Zaire — the Interhamwe, the militia and the ex-army of Rwanda.

Even though the force is not fully constituted, something could be done while the discussions on it are proceeding. I urge the generals to go as observers to Eastern Zaire, establish the numbers of people there and the kind of assistance they need. They could set up their headquarters in Kampala where food is held under the World Food Programme and they could move it into Zaire and the areas where it is needed. It is so glaringly obvious I do not understand why they are not doing it at the moment.

There are larger questions about the mandate and size of the force. In my view, a smaller force is now appropriate. Two and a half weeks ago, I would have told the force to disarm Mugunga camp. That did not happen but Mugunga camp is now free. I would have told the force to bring lorries so people could be saved a 100 mile walk home. This week I would tell them to go to Zaire with lorries and food and tell us the number of people there and their needs. They could give them the kind of assistance they need and help the international agencies to get to them. Next week the force could be required to do something different. This week, it could do a job that could save a significant number of lives. I find the discussion of numbers obscene. Many people left refugee camps four weeks ago and they need our support. As Senator Maloney said, the Irish Government has set aside £2.25 million to meet this crisis and has also established an extremely good working relationship with the Irish agencies in Rwanda. The agencies are standing by ready to assist in Zaire and Burundi if they have the capacity but it must be safe for them to do so.

We have also devoted money and attention to monitoring human rights. Some £250,000 has been released for this operation in Rwanda and it will provide for up to 300 human rights monitors. It is important that the plight of refugees who have returned home under peaceful conditions be monitored. If there are human rights abuses or revenge killings they can be brought to light as quickly as possible and dealt with.

It made me feel proud and humble to see the work being done by Irish aid agencies. I endorse their appeal to the Irish public for financial support in the run up to Christmas. Irish agencies in particular are working to re-unite lost children with their parents. At each border crossing, there are a couple of thousand children who are lost or left. In some cases children who could not walk were left behind by their mothers in Zaire and at the border. The agencies perform an excellent job reuniting those children with their parents and for that alone the Irish public should be as generous as it can be to the different agencies.

I am delighted this debate is taking place. It is hard to know how effective one will be but if a debate in the Parliament of the country holding the EU Presidency does not have an effect, nothing will. The Minister of State is also speaking in her capacity as President of the Development Ministers Council and the Seanad must be used to the best of its ability to ensure Ireland gives some semblance of leadership during the short few months it holds the Presidency.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, on what she has done over the past couple of months. I am a Member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and a number of its subcommittees. The Minister of State has been generous with her time, not alone to the committees, but also to the people who are suffering in various conflicts in the world.

These areas are not similar to traditional European and western societies. Lines were drawn in the sand many years ago by colonial powers, most of which were European. They did not take into account the indigenous population and the tribal system. When people talk about tribes they give the impression that this name should not be used, but these were ethnic groups. Europeans suddenly colonised and divided tribes via lines drawn in the sand. Unfortunately, it was similar to what the Spanish and Portuguese did in South America. They thought that by using straight lines, they would create states. This is the genesis of some of the problems that exist. Just as suddenly the Europeans decided to leave these areas and the flags of the new countries were raised. Unfortunately the lowering of the flag has led to genocide in the Great Lakes region.

The resolution of this problem has only just begun. The Minister of State appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs two weeks ago. Nobody would have thought that there would have been such a change in the attitude of the refugees towards those who were keeping them out of their country and that there would have been such a mass emigration from Zaire. They now have to deal with the problems of assimilation in their homeland. A number of people who left because of the genocide now find that their homes and communes have been taken over by others. As in every other conflict, there are people who will jump at the opportunity to take over somebody else's land.

Rwanda and Burundi are countries which have superb agricultural processes that allow for the production of three crops per year. They had an agribusiness without having the sophistication of university research and used concepts such as crop manipulation and cross fertilisation which people in European universities are trying to develop. Apart from the situation in Zaire, there is the problem of hundreds and thousands of people returning home to try to re-establish themselves in their own areas. How do we react to that? The international community has not been successful in resolving the problems of people who have had to leave their homelands but they have never been confronted with the problems associated with the return of people to their homelands. I have never heard of such a mass influx other than in the Talmud, Koran or the Bible. It has never happened on such a scale.

We have been protected from having to react to the exodus and the genocide and also from the problems of poverty and disease in the camps. The international community was trying to deal with one of the results of genocide and it is now faced with another. It cannot deal with the problem completely. The first person in one of the camps who decided, whatever the consequences, that he or she would go back to Rwanda effectively triggered the mass movement. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that the solutions may come from those who are suffering.

The international community must organise an international force, although not necessarily a military force. We must give the UN the power it needs. The United States must pay its bills to the UN. The African countries have the will to organise an international force to resolve problems in southern Africa but they do not have the money to do so. They are members of the UN and some of them are up to date with their contributions. The US is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and if it paid its dues there would be enough money to give the African countries to form an international force which might be acceptable in the region.

For the last two to three years consideration has been given to the formation of international courts in Rwanda. Almost all the judges and lawyers were killed in the genocide and there is no judicial system. The international community promised to help set up a judicial system but has not done so to date. There are thousands of people in jail in Rwanda. Many of them would have been involved in the genocide but many others who had nothing to do with it are in custody. Many women have borne children in the jails and those children are up to five years old.

The jails are overcrowded and there is often not enough room for people to lie down and sleep. I remember there was a sixpenny doss house next to my father's garage in Kilkenny where, for six pence a night, tramps could sleep leaning over a rope. They could sleep on the ground for a shilling. The people in the jails in Rwanda do not even have a rope to lean over. The international community should provide a mechanism to deal with those accused of being involved in the genocide, secure convictions for the guilty and release the innocent.

The Irish aid agencies have done excellent work. The Minister of State referred to the provision of seeds and tools. It is worthless to send processed goods as food aid to Third World countries because they will be stolen and sold. Furthermore, the indigenous population cannot get the benefit of growing and selling their own food if the country is flooded with food aid. If the indigenous farmers cannot plant and sell goods they cannot develop a cash flow and the agri-economy dies.

The EU is a developed society. The poverty line in Ireland is nine times above the poverty line in some African countries. We have a protected society. Poverty in Ireland is not the same as the grinding, day to day struggle to survive which characterises life in some of the African countries.

Television operates on two of our most important senses — sight and sound. The day that smell can be transmitted by television is the day we might start to tackle poverty. It is the smell of death and deprivation that strikes one in such camps. Of course, the smell of death will never be transmitted by television because nobody will sponsor a programme, either through the State or commercially, to bring the smell of poverty into the living room. The day that is done poverty might be eliminated but the station would go out of business.

The Minister of State talked about the force having a clear mandate. If it is a UN mandate it has to be clear, enforceable and enforced. Over the past number of years we have had the best people in UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon but their mandate does not give them the power to do the job they were sent there to do: to make certain the integrity of the State of Lebanon was protected. They cannot protect the legitimacy of the State of Lebanon because there is a cordon sanitaire which is controlled by Israel. Our troops are part of UNIFIL. When they go out there they are not Irish but UNIFIL troops.

How do we address some of these problems? Some NGOs are working to protect their own place in the NGO world. That is an enormous political entity. There are NGOs with bigger budgets than the GNP of some of the African countries in which they work. That does not make any sense. In many cases, they create an NGO support society that has nothing to do with the deprived people or those who are very rich in these Third World countries. Those who work for the NGOs feel they are doing a great job. They have fourwheel drive vehicles and stay in hotels. They have the best of food from their home countries and they spend a fortune making certain their standard of living is as good as the one they enjoyed previously, giving as little as possible. In Mozambique, Angola or wherever there is an NGO society. Then there is the UN, another level of bureaucracy. The conditions these people live in are different from those of people they are supposed to serve.

Zaire will break up. There is no doubt about that. Areas in the country have enormous potential for wealth and other areas do not. The international community will go into Zaire in the near future to reinforce that breakup. Profits will go out of the country. Angola is a typical example, with MPLA and UNITA using the diamonds and oil in a country which could be one of the richest in the world. UNITA control the rural areas and most of the diamonds and MPLA control the urban areas and most of the oil. Examining the diamond and oil industries, one finds the controlling companies are based in Britain, France or the United States. Those in Zaire who want to encourage the breakup were delighted when there were refugees coming into Eastern Zaire because everybody could attack everybody else. Such an atmosphere will contribute to the breakup of Zaire and that will be very serious for Africa and Europe.

Julius Nyerere was here last weekend. He commands huge respect and I hope the Minister of State, or whoever is working with him, can work to resolve some of the problems in that area. International action has to be political, economic and social. There is no point in pretending that a multinational force going in to to preserve peace will do anything. A concerted effort must be made involving all elements of society. Having read Julius Nyerere's proposal, there seems to be hope for the area if we back him as his is an African agenda.

There is no easy solution. The £2.5 million we give will be spent on seed and tools for long-term use. It will do nothing in the short-term. It is given to small, local seed and tool developments and could have major benefits in the future. It is a good move and I compliment the Minister of State on the work she has done but I am frustrated because we are talking about a problem we cannot resolve. If the Minister of State does nothing more than advance the position of the people in the area she will have done an enormous job. It will not get her a vote in her constituency but she might leave office saying: "At least I was able to help those people to help themselves". If the Minister of State does a little for those who have nothing she will have achieved more than being re-elected, although that is also important.

We have a committee in my area on the famine in Ireland. Most people who went into workhouses died but some survived and their descendants still live in County Offaly and in the midlands. Ireland at that time went through the same problems being faced in the Great Lakes region today, which brings home to us our duty to help those people. In our difficulties we did not receive enough support from Britain and other countries. We received some money from America — it was a small amount but it was welcome. Our President appealed to our television and radio stations and national and local newspapers to continue to highlight this crisis and to bring to the attention of the Irish people the seriousness, sadness and the human tragedy of the disaster in the Great Lakes area. Her hope was that we could become more aware and would continue to use our influence both on the Government and on public opinion to help avert this disaster.

Let there be no doubt that hundreds of thousands of lives could potentially be lost. Those who survive could have their health and that of their families damaged by lack of food. We have an obligation to help. The Rwandan Government is trying to absorb a vast number of refugees but it cannot cope with this challenge on its own. We should use our position of holding the Presidency of the EU to do everything to provide assistance and aid. We should make every effort to ensure that the Rwandan Government is helped to absorb the refugees returning from eastern Zaire. We have seen on television that these people are walking with little water, food and clothing. They have no destination. This has brought the challenge home to us.

The organisation to which we must turn is the United Nations. As Senator Lanigan said, it is regrettable that the most powerful nation on earth, the US, has not made its financial contributions. It is sad that a country with such wealth at its disposal is not fulfilling its obligations. Perhaps the comments made in this debate will make the American Government aware of our feelings. If one country fails to contribute, others will follow and the UN will be facing problems. Since its establishment, the UN has been the forum to which people from all over the world could come to debate problems. Its work to date has made an enormous difference and it can help ensure that the problems in the Great Lakes region are resolved.

The Minister mentioned the UN Security Council's Resolution No. 1080, which is worthy of our support. That resolution, passed on 15 November, sanctioned the establishment, for humanitarian purposes, of a temporary multinational force to facilitate the immediate return of humanitarian organisations and the effective delivery by civilian relief organisations of humanitarian aid to alleviate the immediate suffering of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk in eastern Zaire and to facilitate the voluntary, orderly repatriation of refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the voluntary return of displaced persons. I am pleased that Canada has given a lead in this.

To be precise, there are two main problems — the humanitarian one and the political one. As regard the humanitarian problem, the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, attended meetings on 7, 22 and 23 November. Those meetings have resulted in positive developments, which are to be welcomed. Both the Tánaiste and the Minister of State have played a significant role and in years to come they will be seen as having contributed a considerable amount to the relief of the humanitarian problems that exist. The problems are serious and I hope the financial contributions will assist in providing food, shelter, housing and clothing. About 170 million ECUs have already been provided, with further moneys to come.

We are sending in a multinational force but the area is vast and many people are well armed, so the force must have sufficient numbers and strength. We must have a positive plan, know what we are setting out to do and have people with the expertise to do it. We must ensure that we do not send the UN contingent, of which we are a part, without a proper brief because it could have serious consequences. Great care must be taken because we are not going in just to keep the peace. There may be considerable conflict and our people may face risks. Unless our group has the necessary back up and sufficient strength, it may be placed in danger. Any plan must be carefully thought out.

Progress has been made. The European Union and the United Nations have been criticised. Some of this criticism may be deserved but they have made an effort to respond to the greatest crisis in that area during my lifetime. I welcome the Government's efforts in this regard and I wish the United Nations every success in its attempt to alleviate this problem.

I welcome the Minister's efforts on behalf of the Government to resolve this problem. In 1994 we witnessed scenes of the most appalling suffering in Rwanda and in the sprawling refugee camps around Goma. Then, or so it seemed from the media coverage, it all died down. Some kind of law and order was restored to Rwanda and a few half hearted attempts were made at putting those responsible for the genocide on trial, while the refugees tried to live in Goma and the other camps.

A few weeks ago, hostilities between Hutus and Tutsis flared up again in Eastern Zaire and the world looked on in amazement as the scenes of 1994 were replayed. Recent events in the Great Lakes region should have surprised no one. My greatest fear is that the international community may sink back into complacency now that the refugees are returning to Rwanda. The Minister will play a major role in ensuring that every effort is made to restore peace to that region.

I am glad we are debating the situation in the Great Lakes region. That part of Africa is Europe's business because the great European powers carved up Africa with set squares at the 1870 Berlin conference. Ethnic, religious and linguistic groups found themselves divided by arbitrary borders as Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Portugal bartered their colonial possessions to greatest advantage. Deals were made where a seaport was exchanged for a mineral rich strip of land and the people were transferred from one jurisdiction to another like pawns. Some 126 years later the people in Africa in general and in the Great Lakes region in particular are still paying the price for the game of monopoly played in Berlin.

The exploitation did not end in 19th century Berlin. Political colonialism was followed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by corporate colonialism which wreaked havoc in countries such as Nigeria. The World Bank and the IMF have combined to ensure that many post-colonial countries are shackled by debt and the policies adopted by the World Trade Organisation have undermined any prospect of food security for many countries in Africa.

Underlying everything is the arms trade. Only recently we learned that a British arms company, Mil-Tec, had supplied large amounts of arms and ammunition to the former Rwandan Government before and after it murdered an estimated 1 million people in 1994. I have little doubt that European arms companies are currently supplying both the Zairian rebels and President Mobutu's kleptomaniac regime. It has become clear that UN and EU arms embargoes will have little or no effect unless a concerted effort is made to get rid of existing loopholes. Mil-Tec was able to continue supplying arms to Rwanda after the embargo by producing Zairian end-user certificates. The current arms embargo against Nigeria is not worth the paper it is written on since EU arms companies can continue fulfilling supply contracts concluded before the embargo; arms supply contracts can take several years to fulfil.

There are those who would have us believe that Africa is doomed to be a political and economic basket case beset by tribalism and violence and that the developed world should keep well away from what are essentially internal tribal conflicts. I do not subscribe to that view. Europe needs to start picking up the political and economic tab for the great wrongs done to Africa in the past.

I am extremely concerned at the smug complacency displayed by the international community following the return of refugees from Zaire to Rwanda. The voluntary nature of that return was hastened by the civil war raging in Zaire. The return of refugees merely alleviates one immediate symptom of the ethnic conflicts plaguing that region, without addressing the root causes.

The response of the United Nations to what was a looming humanitarian crisis a week ago has been like a turtle chasing a snail. The lack of urgency was almost palpable and the major players in the UN were more intent on passing the buck than on addressing the issues. In this regard, I welcome Canada's initiative in agreeing to put together a multinational force and I welcome Ireland's intention to participate in it. I wish the response by the EU and the UN had been quicker. While resolutions were passed, assessments made and more red tape spun, hundreds of thousands of people were in danger of dying from military action of famine and disease.

A cynic would say the response was delayed until the matter sorted itself out. In the eyes of the United States and others, it has more or less sorted itself out since the refugees have returned to their country of origin.

Significant population movements bring their own problems, whether in Africa or in Europe. In the past fortnight, half a million refugees have returned to Rwanda from their camps in Eastern Zaire. There have been significant migrations from the west into Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi. Large numbers of Zairians have been forced to flee from the fighting in Eastern Zaire and there are still half a million Rwandan refugees in camps in Tanzania. In total, the various forced migrations taking place in the Great Lakes region equals the entire population of Ireland. The Tánaiste is right in his assessment that these population movements are not yet over and I believe that both the EU and the UN need to plan for the future as well as the present.

I welcome the aid packages agreed by the European Union as well as the aid package announced by the Government. However, a long-term resolution of the crisis facing the Great Lakes region demands more than short-term sticking plaster responses. I especially welcome the proposal, favoured by Ireland and the EU, that there should be an international conference on peace, stability and development in the region. Such a conference, if properly convened and given the appropriate powers, may go some way towards clearing up the territorial mess left in the wake of the 1870 Berlin conference. Any conclusions must be backed up by appropriate financial, technical and material assistance. The EU also needs to examine its own policies to ensure they do not militate against stability and development in the Third World.

The refugees in the Great Lakes region are fleeing from war, whether earlier in Rwanda or now in Zaire. Was is fed by arms which, for the most part, are manufactured in the United States or in the European Union. A binding code of conduct governing EU arms exports is urgently needed to ensure that armaments manufactured in the European Union do not find their way into the hands of repressive regimes. At a time when global arms control agreements are facing increasing obstacles regional organisations, such as the EU, have a crucial role to play in controlling and limiting the arms trade. Such a code of conduct should strictly control the countries to which both arms and so-called dual use goods can be exported.

The current EU export controls are relatively lax and focus on criteria relating to international security rather than on human rights observance in individual end-user countries. An EU code of conduct should, at a minimum, require all exporters of arms or dual use goods to obtain end user certificates and EU member states should be banned from exporting arms to repressive regimes.

It is only by addressing issues such as arms exports that the EU will be able to make a lasting contribution towards settling the conflicts currently raging not only in the Great Lakes region but also in other flashpoints around the world.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I compliment the Minister of State on her concern, the direct action she has taken and her knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the Great Lakes area of Africa. I also commend the Irish aid agencies that have been active in the area, particularly Concern and Trócaire, and the good work they are doing.

I welcome the fact that the Minister of State concentrated on the issues of disarmament and justice. Obviously there are other issues such as humanitarian aid and helping people to get back on their feet economically and socially, but disarmament and justice are the ones on which I wish to focus. The Minister of State indicated that one of the major tasks of the international force should be to disarm people who should not have arms and who are threatening the stability of the community and the attempt to return to some form of normal life. Senator Sherlock rightly concentrated on the availability of arms and the role of the rest of the world in confronting people in so-called civilised and developed states who peddle arms. There has been a failure to tackle this issue on an international scale because sometimes it is against the interests of some of the most powerful countries in the world. It is important that a country such as Ireland, which does not have a colonial past and which is small and neutral, affirms its role in that regard. I commend the Minister of State and the Minister for Foreign Affairs for standing firmly on those issues. We must continue to use our Presidency of the EU to assert the importance of dealing with them.

I wish to focus on the issue of justice. There is a need for people to believe that war criminals will be brought to justice. However, in this case there does not appear to be confidence that it will happen. It is essential that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and other international criminal tribunals work effectively and that the UN and EU do what they can to ensure that. A report by Tom Ndahiro of the Kigali Institute for War and Peace stated:

Rwandans, particularly the victims and survivors of genocide, express fears about prosecutions especially those brought about by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Their misgivings are based on several factors: the pace and bureaucracy of the ICTR; the perceived failure of the tribunal to arrest the "cardinal criminals"; the intransigence, if not conspiracy with the criminals, of government harbouring hundreds if not thousands of political and military leaders of the regimes that planned and then committed genocide; and the failure of the United Nations to take measures against countries that are reluctant to cooperate in bringing the alleged culprits to book.

It is most important that these issues are confronted and that we play whatever role we can under international law such as the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the 1948 Genocide Convention.

During our Presidency of the EU we should insist that countries harbouring indicted persons — Camaroon is one example — co-operate with the tribunal and hand over persons sought by it. There has been a proposal that the UN designate somebody as a representative to the tribunal with a brief to facilitate its work and to keep track of its administration. That proposal should be considered.

The other issue is security of witnesses and the fear of giving evidence. People fear for what might happen to them after giving evidence. I understand the Minister of State is scheduled, in the near future, to meet a group who are concerned about these issues. I hope she will do what she can about their concerns in the context of Ireland's Presidency of the EU.

On Monday evening I spoke to somebody who is familiar with this issue in the context of Bosnia. The person had been in Bosnia several times in recent years and he gave me first hand information. He outlined vivid pictures of the experiences of people who have been victims of genocide, which would have been the experience of people in the Great Lakes area of Africa. In Bosnia people had witnessed appalling atrocities. Women had been gang raped by soldiers and children had seen members of their families killed. There is terrible trauma attached to such experiences and there is a need for people to see justice done so they can get on with the vestiges of their lives. These experiences must be given the serious attention they deserve and whatever can be done must be done to ensure people, who take appalling risks to give evidence at tribunals, will see that criminals are brought to justice.

The Minister of State is aware of the issues involved and the need to ensure that the international community shows it cares. It is in the interest of many people and governments in certain areas of the world to prevent the international community informing itself and ensuring that justice is done, but it is extremely important to those who have suffered to see that the world cares and is willing to stand up to certain members of the international community. We are aware of powerful countries whose interests would not be served by them being as determined on these issues as is our country.

I commend the Minister of State on her work and I hope she will take my comments on board.

I congratulate the Minister of State on her speech. It is clear she has carried out a great deal of research and has put much work into this issue. She understands, in so far as people can understand, the miserable mess in that part of the world.

In 1994, I worked in the Goma region for the summer. It was an incredible experience. I was in the Mugunga camp which was vacated last week. It was clear during that summer that the Hutu militia was in control of the camp. A family which decided to go home would no longer be a family the next day as bodies would be found strewn in the camp that morning. It was interesting that as soon as the militia left the camp the people immediately returned to Rwanda.

There are many interconnected difficulties in the area which we find impossible to understand. The unsophisticated nature of society in eastern Zaire is one. Irish people find it impossible to grasp the reality of conditions there. One would have to go back 300 years into Irish history to see anything of that nature. The lack of civil rights is incredible. There is no support for people in the region. I visited Rwanda briefly so I am not sure of the position in that country.

This is an incredible problem. I am critical of the response made over the last couple of weeks. The Minister and the Tánaiste have done everything in their power to try to move things on but it is clear that many people are starving in eastern Zaire. They have left camps where they had clean water and some food to go into the interior where they have neither. We should respond to their needs in a totally non-political way. The first priority is to keep those people alive but we have not been showing an interest at the level I would like to see.

When I arrived in Goma at the end of July or early August 1994 there were bodies all over the place. It is hard to imagine it. When people drank from Lake Kivu, which was the only source of water, they died like flies. It was an incredible experience. There was a mass grave into which bodies were thrown before being covered over with clay. The following morning lorry loads of bodies were again thrown into that big hole in the ground at Goma Airport. People do not really appreciate what we are talking about. We try to judge it according to our own experiences but we cannot because it is so incredible.

People are dying because they are not getting aid, including food and clean water, to ensure they survive. The political side of it is a minefield. In any African country with a number of big tribes there will be difficulties with people jockeying for power. They are all armed. When we worked in the camps we put our lives in danger every day. We had to carry money to pay labourers $1 a day and people who supplied transport for us had to be paid as well. People did not have guns but they had machetes which they used to cut down trees, dig holes in the ground and, when necessary, chop off heads. Every machete should be removed from that part of Africa because the people are all armed.

They have machetes and need them for their daily work.

When we built small villages the people working for us used machetes to dig holes in the ground to put poles in so that we could build huts. The machete is part of every day life. During the strife in Rwanda a huge number of people were killed by machetes. I saw their bodies; pieces of their heads were missing. That experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I am not sure how one can deal with the political side of the problem. People will try to seize power in those countries again and it will eventually work itself out. I assume that education will have to hold away. In the long-term, I would like to see strings attached to aid entering those countries but it is difficult because we are not talking about democracies. If aid workers do not travel with the aid it will end up in the wrong hands and those in control will get the money or whatever else is sent in.

It is called an EU subsidy here.

Yes. I do not know how the problem can be tackled in the long-term. If aid is being made available in a particular area it should be tied to educational resources being put in place. The Minister of State has rightly decided that the system of justice in Rwanda, for example, must be activated immediately so that those held in jail can be dealt with. That must be done.

The Minister of State's analysis is excellent. It is as if she had spent the same length of time I spent there. We must stage another Live Aid show as quickly as possible. After that an attempt must be made to bring about reconciliation in Rwanda, although I am not sure how one can even begin that process. Huge numbers of the population were evidently involved in genocide at that time. I find it difficult to imagine how one could get those people to live peacefully together in communities when they all know who was responsible.

When we worked in the camps we decided to take a completely non-political view. We knew we were feeding Hutu Interhamwe, keeping them alive so that they could kill others at a later date, but we could not do anything about it. They were in the camps and we had to keep everybody alive. We fed everybody. When we got up at 6 o'clock in the morning to drive to work we would find bodies all over the place. A rumour went around that a certain family was going to return to Rwanda and their bodies would be found the following morning. That was the sort of justice system we had to deal with every day.

The Minister of State should keep trying to save lives. She should then try to put aid in place to restore ordinary life in that part of the world. It is a long haul and will require a long-term hands-on approach. I urge the Minister to get food out there as soon as possible to save lives before moving on to stage two which will take longer.

I felt it important to make some small contribution on this debate although I am not as well prepared as I would have liked because this has been an extremely busy day and I am going abroad tomorrow. However, I made a special effort to come here for three reasons. First, because of the extraordinary seriousness of the situation in human terms. It is a disaster, although not of unprecedented proportions because unfortunately these kind of disasters have a tendency to recur. There is, however, something special about this kind of disaster.

Second, to salute this Minister of State because she has done something very important — she went to Rwanda to see the situation on the ground. Nothing can inform the view or commitment of a Minister more than actually seeing the deprivation and misery, touching the people and smelling the odours of carnage. From the Minister of State's sombre expression, it is apparent that the memory of the shocking events she witnessed in recent weeks remains with her. It is important that someone of the Minister of State's standing bear witness on our behalf and ensure that this disaster is not the subject of a cover up.

I have great respect for the Minister of State. I attended a recent committee meeting where she vigorously defended her position. Some Members attempted to highlight the cause of East Timor and, while the Minister of State was somewhat embattled, she stated that these situations are interconnected and that her time, resources and capacity are limited. She also stated that she is obliged to prioritise situations and that she has given priority to problems in the Great Lakes region, Rwanda and the Congo. I accept that and I wish her success in attempting to ensure that the world pays attention and that practical action is taken.

Although I only spent six months there, I was actually born in Zaire. I believe European nations have a responsibility to those parts of the world where they created a mess. Despite the fact that I have many Belgian friends, including the present Ambassador, the Belgians did not cover themselves in glory in their dealings with that country. They exploited the natural resources and did not display a sensitivity to the local culture or the indigenous inhabitants, who are not merely of Tutsi or Hutu origin. There are many smaller tribal and racial groupings in Zaire whose needs may have been ignored because of the blast of publicity given to the two principal warring factions.

I am ashamed that I am not better prepared but it is important that I speak on this issue. This is a problematic situation and I referred to the involvement of the Belgians in that regard. Ireland also has a noble record in certain respects because Sir Roger Casement investigated the barbarous treatment meted out to the indigenous people in Zaire. He conferred a significant service on humanity by so doing. Even then the situation was ghastly and it was also recorded by the novelist Joseph Conrad in "Heart of Darkness". One can only echo the words of Kurtz in that great novel who, on emerging from the jungle, uttered the words "The horror, the horror.".

It is horror in human terms when one sees television pictures showing a small, bewildered girl separated from her family and unaware of their or her own whereabouts The distress of the correspondent was visible when she stated that her natural instinct was to take the girl with her and try to do some good. However, she knew this would be a mistake because it would further complicate the situation and perhaps lead to the girl never being reunited with her family. Following the Second World War there was a mass of displaced persons and one of the most important actions taken by the Red Cross was to try to keep records and ensure that families were reunited. The picture of bewildered children, many of them younger than the young girl to whom I referred, left to fend for themselves at the end of the war must strike at the hearts of everyone, particularly at Christmas when we celebrate the power and vulnerability of children.