Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (73, 74)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

200 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will advise on the political situation in Uganda and the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25220/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

357 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25517/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 200 and 357 together.

Uganda's track record in poverty reduction and economic management over the past 18 years stands up favourably to comparison with much of Africa. The country has seen the development of key institutions of governance and earned a good reputation in some areas such as press freedom. The announced intention to move to a multi-party system offers the possibility of greater democratic change in future. However, there are concerns about some current trends in governance. On the economic front, macroeconomic stability is being maintained, although recent trends have indicated a fall in the levels of growth and some inequities in the distribution of its benefits.

Continuing insecurity in the northern region of Uganda has caused widespread disruption and loss of life. The 17 year old civil conflict, caused by the brutal campaign of the Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, involving atrocities against the civilian population and large-scale abduction of children, intensified in 2003, resulting in a humanitarian crisis with approximately 1.5 million people displaced. The ongoing tragedy represents a major challenge to the Ugandan government, but there are recent indications that the conflict may be entering its final phase. While the Government is pursuing a military campaign against the LRA, it has also indicated willingness to seek a negotiated settlement and has introduced a successful amnesty process. The humanitarian situation remains fragile.

In mid-September 2004, members of the donor community in Kampala, led by the Irish embassy, visited northern Uganda to send a message of solidarity to the people on behalf of the international community and to stress the international community's support for the amnesty process and for dialogue and reconciliation as a way to bring finality to the conflict. The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs also visited northern Uganda in late September 2004.

On the domestic political front, Uganda has commenced a process of transition from its current no party but one movement democratic system to a multi-party system. On 22 September 2004, a White Paper was published on proposals for constitutional change which endorsed the move to multi-party democracy and the necessary changes in legislation required to enable political parties to operate. A referendum will be required to change the constitution and this is expected to take place during 2005. It is hoped that this process will culminate in multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006. While the move to multi-party democracy is welcome, proposals emerging from some quarters for a change in the Ugandan constitution which would facilitate a third term by President Museveni are viewed with concern by donors.

The position of donors, including Ireland, is to continue close engagement with the Ugandan authorities with a view to ensuring that the process of constitutional change and the subsequent elections are transparent and free. It will also be important to ensure that the political space is opened up in sufficient time for an opposition to organise and contest the elections in 2006.

Respect for human rights is enshrined in the Ugandan constitution and Uganda has good policies and strong institutions in support of human rights, in particular an active and respected human rights commission. It also has a free press which plays a constructive role in highlighting abuses. An important step to promote press freedom was a ruling by the supreme court in February 2004 that journalists could no longer be charged with publication of false news. At the same time, donors are concerned about incidents of torture and illegal detention by security forces in 2003 and have kept the Government under pressure in this respect. In July 2004 the security agencies agreed to work together with the Uganda human rights commission and the director of public prosecutions to fight torture. This is a positive development, although concrete results will have to be awaited.

In response to donor pressure, Uganda established the Porter judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the DRC. The Government has underlined its commitment to following up on the commission's findings and bringing to account those implicated in such activities. While there is still unresolved business, action has been taken against key people whom the commission found to be involved, including the army chief of staff, General Kazini, who was dismissed from his post, and the president's brother, Salim Saleh, who was removed from parliament. In mid-September 2004, a number of donors, including Ireland, met President Museveni to stress the need for the government to reconfirm its political will to fight corruption and act accordingly.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, the peace process remains largely on track, although recent events, particularly the assault and capture of the town of Bukavu in eastern DRC by rebel forces last June, have underlined the fragility of the transition process established under the Sun City peace accords of 2002. There is a clear need for accelerated progress in implementing the transition if the target of elections in 2005 is to be met and lasting peace and security are to be achieved in the country and, indeed, in the wider Great Lakes region.

Some recent positive developments have occurred, including agreement on establishment of a border joint verification mechanism between the DRC and Rwanda, which will deploy permanent joint verification teams to two border towns; a second agreement concluded en marge of the UNGA ministerial week under US auspices between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and providing for establishment of a tripartite mechanism between the three countries; and final settlement of a long running disagreement over the core membership of the international conference on the Great Lakes which is currently scheduled to take place in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, at the end of November.

UN Secretary General Annan presented proposals for a substantial reinforcement of the MONUC mission in the DRC to the UN Security Council in August. The proposals provide for an effective doubling of MONUC's strength from just under 12,000 at present to over 24,000 personnel and also adjustments to MONUC's mandate to allow it to focus more on essential tasks such as support to the transition process and improving the security situation in eastern DRC.

The UN Security Council adopted resolution 1565 on 1 October 2004 which extends MONUC's mandate until 31 March 2005 and provides for an increase of 5,900 in MONUC's strength, with the additional resources being used to provide an extra battalion in the troubled Kivus region and also a rapid reaction capability. The EU has made clear its willingness to assist the UN in reinforcement of MONUC.

Support for the peace process in the DRC was a major priority of the Irish Presidency and the EU is actively contributing to strengthening the transitional institutions and helping them to extend their authority throughout the territory of the DRC. Apart from financial support for the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, the EU is also providing support, in a two phase project, towards the establishment of an integrated police unit in Kinshasa, with the emphasis in the initial phase on training and rehabilitation of the training infrastructure. Ireland has contributed €75,000 towards the costs of establishment of this unit.

Recent events in the DRC have also underlined the importance of the regional dimension to building peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. The European Union fully supports, and has been actively engaged, through the EU special representative for the Great Lakes region, in the preparations for the proposed international conference on the Great Lakes region which is currently scheduled to begin in November 2004. The conference will focus on peace, security, democracy and development in the Great Lakes region and will be held under the auspices of the African Union and the UN. Ireland has provided €200,000 in support of this conference.