Democratic Republic of the Congo: Presentation.

It is proposed to hear a delegation which wishes to address the committee in relation to the Congo. The delegation includes representatives from Goal, Concern and the Campaign for Democracy in the Congo.

To facilitate the discussion on the Congo, I will not delay at this stage on matters arising from the minutes of the last meeting. However, there are two items in relation to Iraq, as well as my own letter, which can be taken later under correspondence. We should allow sufficient time to deal with the disparate range of matters involved.

We will proceed as expeditiously as possible. The next item on the agenda is a discussion on the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the world's media has been concentrating on the war in Iraq and the conflict in the Middle East, a far greater, more destructive war is being waged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For nearly five years, war has devastated the country leaving between 3 million and 4.7 million people dead as a consequence. At the height of the war nine armies from all the countries in the region were involved. Most of these have now withdrawn, but conflict rages on, particularly in the east of the country where armed groups have murdered thousands of innocent civilians.

Members will have seen a press statement issued by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, who is currently visiting Uganda. The United Nations recently asked France to lead a force into the region to safeguard UN personnel and the local civilian population. Ireland offered a contingent of troops for the mission but this offer was not taken up, although we have some monitors in the region. It is feared that, like previous UN missions, this action may be too limited to bring about much needed peace in the region. Unfortunately, these limited actions on peace-making call into question the UN's effectiveness in resolving conflict.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a vast country with poor access and an extremely neglected population. In addition to the conflict, its people suffer the fate of a great deal of sub-Saharan Africa, namely, abject poverty, HIV-AIDS and other diseases which are endemic in the region. Much has to be done, but this is made all the more difficult by the extreme dangers posed to aid workers.

We are pleased to be joined today by two Irish organisations, Goal and Concern, which are working in the area and have agreed to provide us with an update on the position in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr. John O'Shea, who is accompanied by Mr. Willie Galvin, is anxious to discuss the issue. Mr. Tom Arnold arrived back from a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week and is accompanied by Mr. Mike Williams. We are also joined by Mr. John Lannon and Mr. Maurice Kikangala from the Campaign for Democracy in the Congo, a newly formed organisation made up of Congolese and Irish people. Many of its members are also members of the UPDS, the largest democratic party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The CDC has actively supported the inter-Congolese dialogue and other peace initiatives in the country.

Before we commence, I wish to draw attention to the fact that while members of the committee are covered by privilege, others appearing before the committee are not. I invite Mr. Lannon from the CDC to make the opening presentation.

Mr. John Lannon

As the Chairman stated, this presentation is being made on behalf of the Campaign for Democracy in the Congo, a non-profit organisation consisting of Irish and Congolese people based in Ireland. Its mission is to participate in the reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by establishing a real and sincere partnership between that country and the Republic of Ireland.

The presentation will cover three broad areas. It addresses the current political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the economic exploitation of the country's natural resources and the widespread human rights crisis in the country. It makes recommendations pertinent to the Irish Government in relation to these three areas.

I will first address the current political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the lack of respect in the country for peace agreements. As members of the committee will be aware, in April 2003 a power sharing agreement was ratified by the main protagonists in the ongoing conflict. This followed the inter-Congolese dialogue in Sun City, South Africa, which included parties to the ongoing armed conflict and representatives of political parties and civil society. Prior to this, Rwanda and Uganda, two major actors in the conflict, signed separate bilateral accords with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, agreeing to the total withdrawal of their troops by 5 October and 15 December 2002, in line with the Lusaka ceasefire agreement.

Until the signing of these peace agreements, the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had cost more lives than any other since the Second World War. Numerous estimates of fatalities have been made and it is difficult to ascertain how many people have died. The New York based aid agency, the International Rescue Committee, estimated that at least 3.3 million Congolese died between August 1998 and November 2002. During that period the mortality rate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was higher than United Nations reports for any other country in the world. Deaths were directly attributable to the fighting, easily treatable diseases and malnutrition, or were linked to displacement and the collapse of the country's health services and economy.

While the peace agreements afforded a valuable opportunity to break with the terrible violence and human rights abuses of the recent past, there are grave concerns regarding the implementation of the inter-Congolese dialogue, in particular the establishment of a transitional government for the whole country in accordance with its outcome. This is mainly as a result of the actions of the President of the follow-up commission appointed by the inter-Congolese dialogue, Joseph Kabila, who is also Head of State. Practices of cheating and fraud, which have been denounced by the United Nations Security Council, appear to have become a permanent feature of the governance and management of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There are a number of concerns regarding the undermining of the workings of the peace process, particularly by the Kabila regime. One of the key requirements of the follow-up commission of the peace accord is "to reconcile and help in the solving of disagreements between the signatories." The commission has neither reconciled the opposing sides, nor helped the parties to solve the conflict. Furthermore, the country is effectively still under the control of six separate groups or administrations, namely, the Kabila regime in Kinshasa, the MLC in the north under Jean-Pierre Bemba, the RCD-Goma in the east, the UPC in Ituri, the RCD-ML in North Kivu and the RCD-N in the north-east.

Joseph Kabila has been quick to sign all legal acts which would legitimise his power but to date he has ignored all other parts of the agreement. The practices currently being followed by the Kabila regime are marginalising and excluding other forces of democracy and change from participating in the political process during and after the transition period.

The Campaign for Democracy in the Congo has two requests to put to the Irish Government. It should do all in its power to ensure the United Nations brings about the full implementation of the inter-Congolese peace accord and, in the event that the transition Government, which is intended to bring the country to democracy, is not implemented, insist that the UN takes strong and effective action to disarm the warring parties and put in place a transitional administration that has effective control over the entire country.

I will now address the economic destruction of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, elite criminal networks have become so deeply entrenched that continued illegal exploitation of its natural resources is assured, independent of the physical presence of foreign armies. This is according to the 2002 report from the United Nations panel of experts on the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the DRC. According to that report, "the looting that was previously conducted by the armies themselves has been replaced with organised systems of embezzlement, tax fraud, extortion, the use of stock options as kickbacks and diversion of state funds conducted by groups that closely resemble criminal organisations".

The northern and eastern regions of the DRC, which are under the control of Congolese armed groups sponsored by Rwanda and Uganda, are rich in many precious resources, including coltan, gold, diamonds and timber. These resources have been systematically pillaged by the warring parties, with senior members of the Rwandese and Ugandan armies and their Congolese allies being the major beneficiaries. While they have grown excessively rich, the vast majority of the local Congolese population face widespread abject poverty, insecurity, displacement, abduction and death.

In the east, and in other regions such as the oil-producing west and Katanga where there are significant diamond mines, the desire to exploit the natural resources underpins political and military alliances. Control of a territory goes hand in hand with control of its natural resources. In many parts of the DRC, wealth for a small military, political and commercial elite has come at a huge price. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese civilians have been tortured and killed during fighting to secure control of natural resources. Thousands of others have died due to malnutrition and lack of access to humanitarian assistance after being forced to flee their homes.

Although the international community knows what is happening it has consistently failed to respond in a timely and decisive manner. The UN panel of experts has published three extensive reports, and submitted them to the UN Security Council, identifying the major economic players in the region and has proposed concrete measures to censure the states, individuals and companies involved. Despite this, governments of the alleged perpetrators, as well as the Security Council, have done next to nothing to hold economic actors to account for their commercial activities in the DRC, or for the human rights abuses to which these activities have given rise.

We call on the Government to do all in its power to ensure that the actors who were identified by the UN panel of experts are held responsible for the illegal and immoral plundering of the DRC's natural resources and be made accountable for their commercial activities. This is something on which we need follow-up. The reports have been clear and extensive but we need to follow this up and ensure there is accountability, transparency and openness in regard to these activities.

We seek that these actors be made to co-operate fully with an appropriate commission of inquiry set up to investigate abuses of human rights and corruption. The Government needs to call on France and Belgium, where there are close links with many of the companies operating in the DRC, to ensure that the work of companies involved in mining and other forms of resource exploitation and processing is consistent with their obligations under international law. Furthermore, governments must take steps to ensure that businesses active in the DRC do not cause or condone violations of human rights and that revenues generated from commercial activities involving the DRC's natural resources contribute to the progressive realisation of the population's social and economic rights.

Fighting continues to afflict many parts of the DRC, despite the peace agreements involving many of the protagonists, and the withdrawal of troops by many neighbouring countries. There was an upsurge in fighting by armed opposition groups and militias, particularly in the east and north east. According to the 2003 Amnesty International report, the population continued to suffer enormous hardships, with widespread hunger and frequent human rights abuses by government forces, armed opposition factions and foreign troops. Ongoing abuses include killings of unarmed civilians, torture, including rape, and repression of political dissent.

A recent report from Human Rights Watch on the war in the east reveals a level of sexual violence against women and a barbarity which local doctors describe as unprecedented. The consequences of this growing culture of brutality are grim, particularly in view of the potential health crisis rendered acute by galloping HIV-Aids.

The international community, including Ireland, should support and provide resources for judicial mechanisms, such as an international commission of inquiry, aimed at enforcing accountability for human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The way forward must include a stable and sustainable administration that can take its place politically and economically in the international community. This must be one in which the rights of its 60 million people are respected and protected. The full implementation of peace agreements, including the Lusaka peace agreement and the inter-Conglolese peace accord, needs to be guaranteed. The Government must do all in its power to ensure that the actors that are contributing to the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the Ugandan administration, is held accountable and that effective action is taken by the United Nations.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about the situation in the Congo and to hear such an accurate assessment of the situation from my friend who has just spoken. I hope I do not repeat anything he said.

Back in 1939 when the little corporal marched into the Low Countries, the international community and the free world got very annoyed about it, as they were right to do. They went to war because Hitler had no right to do what he did. Hitler went on to kill six million Jews. Although five million people have died in the Congo the international response has been pathetic. There is not yet, in fact, a word in the English language that can describe what happened in the Congo. The word "genocide" exists but a word will also be coined to describe the response of the international community to what happened in the Congo. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide it here but my anger is such that I pray that somebody will and that we will all remember the feeble, almost non-existent response.

It would be untrue to say that the international community has done nothing, because it armed the protagonists during the past four years and provided grant-aid to countries that were centrally involved. Recently it sent in 1,500 troops but only with a very narrow mandate. They will only be there for three months but by then they will consider they have done our duty and can do a runner.

That has been the extraordinary response of the international community to this nightmare. One has to ask oneself why that has been the case. I can only think of two reasons. The first is the West, and this includes Ireland I am ashamed to say, is so desperate for success in Africa. When we see a country, in this case Uganda, achieving some form of success because of the money and diamonds it has raided from the Congo, we are so taken by it, that we are prepared to close our eyes to the brutality, savagery, rape and plunder of a neighbouring country. Perhaps it is simply the case that we have all heard about, and some of us have witnessed, so many tragedies that we do not care. When has the international community ever cared about black people? This is in stark comparison to how we responded to Iraq, Afghanistan and so forth.

This is something that makes me feel quite ill. I feel especially sorry for the gentlemen on my right who are natives of the Congo. They wonder why we, as an allegedly civilised nation with allegedly educated people can continue to support a country that is centrally involved in the rape and plunder of this nation. That defies logic especially since all these reports provide conclusive evidence. This is not the ranting and raving of some Third World junky or some guy attached to a Third World agency in Ireland - these are the reports of the United Nations, which have pointed the finger very clearly at certain governments.

For years I have fought with the Department of Foreign Affairs over its involvement in Uganda. I was told at first that Uganda had nothing to do with it and was eventually told that the Ugandan army had promised the Government that it was leaving. Finally, last Friday, in a rather surprising development when we were speaking at a function to honour Nelson Mandela, a Department of Foreign Affairs official admitted that the Ugandan government was centrally involved and was responsible for the deaths of 50,000 people in Ituri because it had armed the two rival groups. Suddenly, out of nowhere, comes this admission. However, it still has not stopped the juggernaut which continues to plough down the aid road and, not alone that but, we are giving the Ugandan government budgetary support. Translated, that means the Ugandan government can use that money for whatever purpose it so wishes.

Five million deaths do not seem to worry us one iota. We are not interested in the big picture, only in providing evidence that another small group of people have lived as a result of our aid operation or whatever. Have any of them listened to what Nelson Mandela said in Galway last Friday, when he looked straight at the Irish Government and said that it must have the courage to stand up to injustice? The Government did not understand he was talking to it. He was, of course, referring to the Iraq situation. He did not mention the United States but he was saying that the Government must find the moral fibre to speak out against injustice because it is not doing so now. I repeat the charge today that we are not doing that - we are taking the soft option. We are running down the aid road and claiming that we are doing something while turning a blind eye to the excesses and brutality of Museveni and his thugs.

As an Irishman, I am ashamed of my Government for what it has done in this regard. We are a caring nation. We have people who care and who have risked and continue to risk their lives and we have provided great missionaries and humanitarians. The entire aid programme is under threat because of what we are doing in Rwanda in regard to Uganda.

Ten or 12 years ago, a Minister in the Government had the courage to do the admirable thing and break off all contact with the Sudan because it was indulging in Sharia law, whereby they were chopping off arms and legs, which is terrible. However, in the Congo, they chop of heads - five million of them. Can we tolerate that? We could not tolerate arms and legs being chopped off ten years ago. The Government has the arrogance to say that it has to stay in Uganda. What did the missionaries and NGOs do over the years? The Government feels it must stay in Uganda because it appears it is the only body that can administer aid. This is despite the categoric evidence that the Ugandan regime is rotten from top to bottom. I have provided the committee with some information from a well-respected magazine which confirms, yet again, that corruption is institutionalised and endemic in Uganda. Would any of these people who give this money in Ireland's name give their own money? I have never heard of a Minister giving his or her own money to Museveni and people of his ilk. However, we give tax payers' money. We can take action, as the previous speaker quite rightly said, and we should, because we care. The nation has always cared and always will.

The first thing we should do is persuade the Minister for Foreign Affairs to go to the Congo to see for himself - to look at the women aged between five and 85 who have been raped and ravaged, to smell the death and see the way the diamonds have been mined from the ground to make Museveni and his fellow thugs millionaires. He has to see that and, when he does, he will be able to go armed with that information to the UN, the EU and the other fora and let them know that they have a moral obligation to help the Congolese people. He must do this from a position of strength. As politicians know well, words mean very little unless they are followed by action. That action has to be a cessation of all government to government aid to Uganda until Uganda has washed itself of their dirty tricks in the Congo and until it repays all of the money and diamonds robbed from the Congo and until it has cleansed itself of institutionalised corruption. Our duty as a nation is to help the poorest of the poor. It is not to help Museveni and his gang.

There are millions of poor throughout the Third World who we, as a nation, can be helping. Surely, we are not that bureaucratic that we have to stay in a place out of stubbornness or stupidity. These are the things that we can do and the Minister for Foreign Affairs is the man to do it on our behalf. Otherwise, a stain will be left on our reputation which would be wrong because we are a caring nation. We care for the brothers and sisters of the gentleman on my right. Irish people do not want to see our money given to corrupt regimes. It is the taxpayers' money after all - it does not belong to the politicians or the bureaucrats - and they want that money to go to the poorest of the poor. I hope the Minister will follow that suggestion because it is the single greatest thing we can do.

Mr. Tom Arnold

Like other speakers, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak.

I returned from the Congo last week. When one is there, one gets a sense of the major complexity of this problem. It is complex for its history, both long-term and modern. Under Mobutu, this country has been in major decline. It is complex because it is now part of a wider political problem in central Africa, with a number of actors involved. However, for all its complexity, there are a few simple truths which must be acknowledged - if this country has any chance of going anywhere, the killing and violence has to stop and all efforts have to be devoted to making sure that happens. The second truth is that a basic form of governance has to operate in that country. As Mr. O'Shea said in his contribution, we can see how difficult that is at present because there quite a number of factions are involved and the writ of the government does not run. However, at the end of the day, there is a process in place and the question is how that process can be advanced.

That brings us to the issue of the role of the international community. It is quite clear that even though the primary responsibility for this country has to rest with the domestic political leaders, if it is to have any chance of succeeding, it will have to receive sustained support from the international community and specifically from the UN. Ireland has a key role to play in supporting that process and in playing its own role in the region.

The paper I have distributed attempts to give a flavour of what the current situation is from a political and humanitarian perspective. It also attempts to set out the priority actions which need to be taken by the Congolese government, the UN and neighbouring countries, such as Uganda and Rwanda.

Politically, this area is clearly in a state of transition. The question is whether the commitments that have been undertaken as part of the Pretoria Agreement will be honoured. This is up to the leaders but it is also up to the UN. A UN Security Council mission visited the Congo within the last two weeks. Its participants have taken stock of the situation and the Security Council now has an obligation to follow this very closely and ensure that there remains a focus on the problem.

The wider role of the UN has political, security, economic and humanitarian dimensions. As has already been said, the problem in the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is particular difficult. The area in which I was, Kasongo, which is about 700 miles south of Goma, is one in which no major warfare is taking place, but there is low-level warfare. The results are already quite staggering. Human rights abuses have been referred to. The violence against women that has occurred was extraordinary. It is ongoing and the impact is devastating, not just for the women but for the whole life of the country. Women cannot go to market as they are in danger of being raped. The whole economic and social infrastructure of the country is breaking down. The isolation caused by the fact that neither the rail or river systems have operated for the past five years means that the economic and social life of this part of the country is grinding to a halt. The roads are in chaos - I spent three hours travelling 45 km. It is very hard to describe - certainly I have never been in a place in which the breakdown of economic and social systems was so profound.

What must be done? The important question is what role the UN must play in the area of security. If it is to have any impact, the mandate of the MONUC force must be broadened to take account of peacekeeping as well as peace enforcement. The resources also have to be increased. There is a simple choice for the international community: will it accept its responsibilities or not? There are other things that can be done by an enhanced MONUC, such as monitoring troop movements in the border areas, protection of civilians and active investigation of violence against women and looting. I met many people who had moved into the forest because they were not safe in their villages and had spent three to six months living in the most appalling conditions. During that time there has been a significant mortality rate, particularly among children.

The human rights situation in the DRC is of great concern, with both short and long-term problems. There are also other immediate humanitarian needs. The level of malnutrition is severe in certain places. Concern is dealing with both supplementary and therapeutic feeding. The whole health system has broken down; Kasongo general hospital has had no investment since it was established in the 1950s. The equipment dates from that time. There is no electricity or running water. The figures suggest that 10% of the population have access to primary health care and that is probably an overstatement. Mr. O'Shea referred to the problem of HIV and AIDS; this is obviously compounded by the reality of violence against women and rape. It is appalling.

If economic development is to have any chance it must be within the framework of political stability. If some political stability is established there are some clear priorities. The first thing that must be tackled is to get the railway going again and re-establish transport on the Congo river. The roads are in such a state that it will take years to get a proper system up and running but if the railway and river systems are operating that will make a big difference. There is a role for the UN here and also for the World Bank. Agencies such as Concern can also help in this regard. Reference was made to the question of illegal exploitation of resources. UN panels have reported on this and there are clear recommendations. People in these countries have to be held accountable.

The role of the Irish Government and Ireland Aid is profoundly important in terms of supporting the UN in its activities and exercising such influence as it has with countries such as Uganda and Rwanda. I am in favour of the Irish Government exercising such influence to the maximum degree possible. It is not certain that this will succeed but we can choose whether to engage with these countries. My preference is to do so on the basis of the relationship we have. We must focus not only on the relationship between these countries and the DRC, which is a serious issue, but also on their own internal governance arrangements. This process is ongoing and should be continued.

Ireland Aid has channelled significant resources into other countries in the region which have been regarded as priority or programme countries. Because of the scale of the humanitarian crisis in the DRC, it is important that Ireland increases its support to that country, even though it is very unlikely that in the foreseeable future that country will become a priority or programme country. The scale of the humanitarian problem is such that there is scope for more support from the Irish Government, particularly through NGOs.

I appreciate being called early as I must return to the Seanad to discuss my proposed amendments to the European Convention on Human Rights Bill 2001. I thank those who made submissions. I was born in the DRC so I take particular interest in this subject. I know a little about the country and I feel strongly about what is happening there. I agree with what Mr. O'Shea has said: it is insupportable to continue making moneys available to governments that are corrupt if we cannot be sure where the money is going. I know there is an argument that a limited amount of good is being done and one cannot neglect the interests of the disadvantaged people in Uganda. The way around that is to make the money available, as far as is feasible, through organisations such as Concern, GOAL and the various missions.

Uganda is now a major exporter of diamonds, but diamonds are not found in Uganda. What are we doing about this daylight robbery, compounding genocide? Will the organisations represented here help us to compile a list of those European companies, especially the Belgian and French ones, which are, quite illegally, complicit in the commercial devastation of the DRC? For each case we need the evidence: the name of the company, the product it exports and a statement that the legal framework does not exist. I have asked some of my friends over there to do this already. Once we are armed with this we can go to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and ask him to raise this with the governments concerned.

Europe has an appalling history in the Congo going back to the time of King Leopold when five million people were slaughtered and mutilated as part of a civilising process. We civilised them all right: we taught them how to do it to themselves. They learnt the worst possible things from us. Perhaps some of the delegations could comment on why the French rejected offers of assistance for their force, from countries such as Ireland. France has no colonial obligations to the Congo but it has been implicated in a most negative and malign way in arming the combatants. Why does France not want us there? Is it because it is afraid of witnesses to what has been happening?

I support what John O'Shea has said about Uganda and the importance of taking up the question of the Congo but by pouring money into a regime that is known to be corrupt and malign in its involvement in the Congo we are encouraging it. The way to help the ordinary people is to try to make this money available, where feasible, through reputable agencies which will be able to get it to those in greatest need. Perhaps Mr. Arnold could reply to this because I got the impression that he wants us to continue supporting Uganda financially and I am not sure that is the best way. Perhaps he will have additional reasons but I am not at all convinced, although my good friend Deputy O'Donnell probably takes a different view on this.

I certainly do.

Not even she has convinced me. Behind what Mr. Arnold said was the idea of constructive engagement. I have heard this in every campaign in which I have been involved and I defy anyone to give me an example of where constructive engagement operated to the benefit of the citizens. It was tried in Myanmar, it was tried everywhere. It is usually a cloak for discreet commercial operations and their continuance. It has never worked, it did not work in East Timor. It is an alibi for not having the kind of courage that John O'Shea and Nelson Mandela spoke about. It is time we had courage, took a different line and broke through the bureaucracy.

I can understand the position of the decent people inside the Department of Foreign Affairs but the bureacratic mindset is: we have established government-to-government co-operation, the machine, the bridge and the delivery systems are there so we continue using them. That is not a good enough reason. Even if it is painful and difficult to dismantle these things and put them in a different context, let us do that, instead of staying with this old machinery because it is a way of dispensing the budget to Africa so that the Department does not have to explain why the money is not in the budget at the end of the year. I am a compliant taxpayer and I object to my tax dollars going to what has been ranked as the third most corrupt government in Africa. There are serious questions to be asked and there may be answers to some of them. When we talk about constructive engagement please remember that it never works.

I apologise if I have to leave before I get the answers. It looks awfully ignorant to ask a question and then disappear but I do have other duties and I will be able to read the report. There will be voices that disagree with me and while I keep a reasonably open mind I would be surprised if I will be convinced by the answers. I am grateful for having the opportunity to support Mr. O'Shea because passion and feeling for these issues are needed, not bureacratic fumbling.

About 40 million people died in Europe as a result of the Second World War and about one eighth of that number have died in the Congo. That is massacre on a scale that is hard to measure and take in, apart from the rape and the other issues of corruption in the Congo. Why has the UN not acted before now? It is all very well for us to turn to companies in France and Belgium but while I agree that they must be called to account we must remember that we were on the Security Council until 31 December 2002. When did these people die and what did the UN do about it? Nelson Mandela said we must make the UN work because if it does not work and multilateralism fails we cannot blame the Americans or Russians or Chinese if they go off on their own. That is the starting point. Why has it taken so long for the UN to become engaged in proportionally the worst massacre since the Second World War? The purpose of the UN was to maintain co-operation and security in such a way that something like that could never happen again.

I do not know why the UN asked the French to lead the force in the Congo. I understand from the Minister for Foreign Affairs that Ireland did offer but that we were told we did not have specific skills, such as special forces. If there is some other agenda I would like to hear about it.

I was struck by what John O'Shea said, and I notice in the statement of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, that on his visit to Uganda the deputy foreign minister assured him that all Ugandan troops had left the DRC, and that Uganda was co-operating with the interim multi-national force. Is that the case and if anyone has information to the contrary could he or she please let us know?

I notice the difference in emphasis between Mr. Arnold and Mr. O'Shea, and Mr. Arnold's suggestions about ringfencing aid. It is not possible to put a coin in a slot and get answers straight away but maybe Mr. O'Shea's approach is the right one. If it is not could we hear from the Campaign for Democracy in the Congo, and from Mr. Arnold and Concern, please? This is a serious issue. If we asked the Government to discontinue aid to Uganda it would have implications. Is this the right thing to do? I would like to hear an answer to that question from the other deputations, and I thank them all for their presentations.

It is timely that we have a debate on the humanitarian trouble in the Congo and the future of the DRC. It is not true to say that the international community has forgotten about the DRC. It has been an issue of great importance to Ireland and we have been supporting it on a humanitarian basis and at a political level at the UN. We have been very active there on the crisis in the DRC and the Great Lakes and the panoply of problems facing the African continent, particularly the pandemic of HIV and AIDS.

Mr. O'Shea is entitled to say he is ashamed of his Government, but many people in Ireland can be proud of its commitment to and solidarity with Africa generally. I agree with Tom Arnold when he says that the greatest priority is now some form of political stability in the DRC achieved with the assistance of the international community. Ireland should use its influence at the United Nations and in the European Union, where we have clout and a certain amount of prestige in such matters as a neutral country with a strong commitment to development, human rights and justice.

I would like to reply to Mr. O'Shea's view that we should postpone or cancel all our development co-operation assistance to Uganda, one of the major recipients. Very recently we carried out a review of the Ireland Aid programme. We did so with the assistance and co-operation of OECD experts and such people as Tom Arnold, who are experts in the field. We consulted widely, deeply and sincerely with the broader Irish NGO aid community. We took advice internationally, and there was no recommendation that we should discontinue our assistance to Uganda. There could be arguments made at any point that for a variety of reasons we could all throw up our hands and abandon Africa because it is an extremely difficult place with a complex mix of concerns, including humanitarian, health, economic and incapacity issues, a lack of human development, and a terrible history of war and colonisation.

It is a panorama of doom, and yet there is great hope in Africa, and there is now great engagement with some of the countries which are trying to build up their capacity for human and economic development. Uganda is one of those countries. It is certainly a fallible business, and no one would pretend that it is anything else. It is not perfect, and there are governance issues in all the countries with which we have long-term development partnerships.

When I chaired the review committee dealing with the Government's programme of assistance to Africa and the developing world generally, which stands at over €450 million this year, we examined such issues, for bad and weak governance is a pervading theme of development, constituting an issue in itself, just as conflict is a development issue in itself. All those cross-cutting economic, health, educational, political and stability issues are part of the mix that makes up the challenge of development. With the best will in the world, we listen to people who have views on that. We liaise and discuss matters with our donor partners in the EU and work very closely with them. In areas in some of the countries in Africa in which we work, we are the biggest donor. We cannot pull out of a country such as Uganda, where we have been engaged for many years in long-term development assistance, working with the Agriculture, Health and Education Departments to build up all those areas of human development over many years. We have saved millions of lives in those countries by promoting the economic development, health and education of the people. I do not deny that there are issues regarding Uganda's involvement in the DRC, and it has been internationally monitored. Those concerns were raised by us with our Ugandan partners. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has just returned from a visit to Uganda, where he raised those issues at the highest level.

Regarding the Irish taxpayer's money going into Uganda, we have the most rigorous monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure and account to this Parliament to the effect that none of our money goes into weapons or anything military that might be associated with activities in the DRC. That is all we can do. The mechanisms for accountability are rigorous. It would be useful, however, given that such issues have been raised at a public meeting such as this, with a very strong recommendation from Mr. O'Shea of GOAL that we pull out of Uganda, to see what the other members of the NGO community feel. We would have to consult with the broader aid community, the churches and our missionary orders active in Uganda to see the good that is done with Irish taxpayers' money, whether it is channelled through the Department of Health, the education system or NGOs. The Irish taxpayer's money goes to a mix of activities, including the UN, international agencies and the governments of the countries in question.

It would be useful for the Minister to attend the committee and respond to these challenges. Let us have an open discussion of these matters. From my point of view as a former Minister of State, the previous Government decided to hold firm, though not in a completely unconditional way. We certainly agreed and were mindful of the need to monitor and evaluate the uses to which our money is put and ensure that we exert our political influence on the leadership in Uganda when we have concerns on governance or military issues such as those which have been raised here today. Perhaps the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is not formally represented here today, might brief us and return to the committee to report on the challenges made to the efficacy of its programme in Uganda and other countries here today. That would be a useful exercise in public accountability.

It will be necessary for us to invite the Minister to come to discuss the situation in the Congo.

I will make a few points by way of context. Deputy O'Donnell has just been discussing aid, and she is right to examine the need for aid in Africa. I wish we were not discussing this simply at a committee of the Oireachtas. I wish we had discussed it generally in its main assembly and that we could discuss such areas more often and more meaningfully. I wish to raise the point later regarding another matter: that there are very few opportunities to discuss these issues. It might be a good position for the committee to take as a policy decision that in its limited travel it should go to areas such as the Congo and Iraq to examine the humanitarian situation and listen to the story taking place to be informed by it. That would be better than involving itself, as many western countries do, in meetings that are formal and do not produce many conclusions.

What I was saying about Africa contextually is important. We must deal with realities. Since 1990, aid in the world has gone down 30% relative to trade. My understanding is that the continent of Africa is responsible for 0.4% of foreign direct investment. Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for 0.2%. If one takes aid and what I have just said, by 2005, all of the limited advances made in over 40 heavily indebted countries through the Jubilee initiative promoted by Bono and others will have been wiped out.

We have been discussing Uganda, where the coffee crop has fallen in value and its yield to the country by about 30% or 35%. The world has walked away from the continent of Africa. We talk about a digital world in which people can communicate between one part and another, yet there are hundreds of millions of people who lack the most basic means of life. Foreign direct investment has turned its back on Africa and levels of aid have fallen. John O'Shea's recommendation must be viewed in that context when assessing the likely outcome of its implementation.

Even in relation to the debt issue, I am tired of making these figures known, because I do not believe the public need to be informed about them any more. For every 1% of gross domestic product shifted from debt repayment to combined education/health expenditure, 11,000 children per day survive. If in 1997 there had been general debt relief across the most heavily indebted countries, some 21 million children would be alive today. The world turned its back some time ago on Africa. When Mr. Mandela visited Ireland, Mr. O'Shea attended a seminar in which I was involved, held in honour of Mr. Mandela's visit so that we would appear to be trying to revive our interest in Africa.

John O'Shea raises a very important point. I will deal with it but I first wish to express my views on the crisis. In its worst manifestation, what has been happening in the Congo is a rape of the country, although I use the word "rape" with some reluctance. Several countries have been involved and there has been a surrogate influence in the country that runs across even countries that have not been mentioned, such as the relationship between President Mugabe and Joseph Kabila junior. I could list them all.

There are Ugandan people in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland who seek a couple of hundred euro for assistance in producing a newsletter about their experiences as Ugandans abroad, but they do not get it. Frequently they seek assistance from those of us involved in foreign affairs. If the world is not interested in Africa, there is also considerable neglect of those who are from the different factions in Uganda. This goes back a long way to Patrice Lumumba and others - there are many different sections of the Ugandan community who should be assisted in telling us the full story. Theirs is an horrific story. I wonder what we would do if it was announced in the Dáil tomorrow that the Belgian royal family was paying us a visit. Would Members buy copies ofKing Leopold’s Ghost and get postcards andplacards and start picketing? Not everyone in the Dáil would join me on my picket of such an occasion.

The European relationship with the Congo is a horrific one, of barbarity, colonialism or whatever. That enables me to shorten what I have to say and come to the point: the background alone is sufficient to reject the idea that the French force should be there on its own. Certainly, the committee should look at the mandate of the French force. Mr Arnold, in one of his two papers makes a suggestion to change the mandate from peacekeeping to peace-enforcing. I certainly agree with him in that, but equally I believe that this mandate should not be given to a national force, which is unacceptable to many people. No adequate basis has been given for its involvement.

It is not for the French to decide who will work with them to implement a United Nations mandate. I hope the Department of Foreign Affairs can inform us about this, but so far as I can recall, that aspect is not included the mandate. This is an important point and we can do something about it, for example, with regard to the considerable negligence surrounding the original peace agreement and the transition process, aspects of which are addressed by Mr Arnold in his paper.

Mr Arnold says the original peace agreement involving Joseph Kabila junior should be assisted by a number of vice-presidents or whatever. I get the impression that after that agreement had come into being, people walked away. The problem was the absence of a presence to deliver it. Hence the difficulties in relation to the argument about posts. I recall having discussions with people who represented different sections of the Congo shortly after this phase. The international community had hardly departed before the demands started while the person in possession of the field was hammering down what he had and not fulfilling the agreement.

The agreement needs to be followed through. That is something practical we can do. As for the European Union, everyone is too polite to mention that member states do not have a common position. Some member states are heavily contaminated by their history. French multinationals are present in the Congo, as we know.

There is another practical thing we can do which, in fairness to the presentations by Mr. Arnold, Mr. Lannon and Mr. O'Shea, I believe they are urging us to do. The United Nations report on the pillage of the Congo identifies multinationals and individuals. There should be a follow-through on that. The committee should urge the Minister of Foreign Affairs to say how he intends to use his influence to ensure this happens UN level. For example, a well-defined set of purchasers exists for the product coltan, which is mentioned in the report. It is enormously valuable and it is possible to trace it right through to the consumption end, to the computer industry. Is there anyone in Ireland who will ever say that the end-purchasers are those we seek to encourage in terms of foreign direct investment? Are we going to be silent about where the product ended up because of this? Ask the question, because future generations in Ireland will want an answer to it. I believe they have been half-answered by recent events here, but I must try not to be too contentious.

Again, in relation to the limited security mandate, there has been a big change in the nature of Irish aid within Uganda. I visited the country not long ago. It has moved on following direct contribution to its budget for areas such as universal primary education. This is to some extent monitored by monthly meetings between the principal donors and the appropriate Ugandan department, in this case the Department of Education.

It could be argued that there are difficulties with this on both sides. If I was a Ugandan Minister there is a considerable concession of sovereignty to be considered. On the other side, there is a mechanism for tracing where the money is going. John O'Shea is right. The question should be answered: what is happening the money we put into the education budget in Uganda? We are entitled to an answer and we should get one so as to relieve any doubts that may exist.

Travelling out of the capital and down into areas where people are moving into new buildings from open classes under mango trees, I would not want to delay for a day the right of access of a single Ugandan child to universal primary education. An enormous amount of brick has been purchased, the construction is being done by voluntary manual labour and eventually schools are opened. There are houses for teachers and so forth. It is a fact that more children have been getting a basic primary education in Uganda.

The country is now terribly affected by the Aids crisis. During my visit I could see the gender effect that HIV-Aids was having. It is also having a general effect on which child in a family will be sent to school and so forth. If there is accountability for aid in Uganda, channelled into universal primary education and delivered through a Department of Education that can account for it all, it should continue. On the other hand, as a result of the identification of the second most important general, and President Museveni's brother, legal cases should be brought. Such people should be brought to justice. It might be said that as long as Museveni is President this will not happen. It is not just an issue for Museveni. It is an issue for the international community. If we intend this for real, we should press this issue. There is the possibility for considerable leverage on the Government there.

The other issue that arises in relation to the Congo is that it is unrealistic to be passing resolutions and imagining that notice will be taken of them. As Senator Norris has been saying, there needs to be implementation. I worry about what is happening in Africa. The Congo was torn, not just by Uganda, but by Rwanda and Zimbabwe. If we say, for example, that after the peace accord and step two of the dialogue that was mentioned, that we are in favour of a transition government, the duty falls on us to make the transition happen. No resources have been provided at the level of the Security Council for strengthening up the capacity of the transition. No monitoring was put in place for the assurance of the dialogue for the six parties or more that were involved. Equally, with the exception of attempting to stop the killings and rapes in the north-east of the country, the whole French adventure is unsatisfactory as well. Where I would agree with Mr. O'Shea is that these are inextricably linked. The idea that the murder and rape in the Congo would not be raised at the monthly meetings is outrageous. We are entitled to an assurance that it will be raised. These are issues where we can use the conduit that we have, to say to them that we are raising this in the Security Council; that we are in favour of the President's brother, and general number two, being brought before an international court and that we are in favour of the purchasers of stolen materials being brought before an international court on a legal case. In that case it might well be similar to a conference where Mr. Museveni left at lunchtime when the corruption issue was raised. It might be that people will try to cut the monthly meetings short because they are distasteful to them. In that sense it will be the Ugandan government depriving the Ugandan children of primary education, but in the short-term we should stick with the Ugandan child and we should not be afraid of speaking to Museveni.

When I raised my hand to signal that I wanted to ask a question or make a comment, I had intended suggesting that we should requst the Minister to attend, but it is obvious many people have made that point. From my position as a new Deputy who is totally unfamiliar with the matters highlighted, other than what I read in the media, and not being familiar with the in-depth analysis, it would be helpful to me, prior to bringing in the Minister, if an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs presented a short paper, outlining no more than five or six points, on what the consequences might be of we followed the path proposed by John O'Shea, compared to that of Deputy O'Donnell.

I am not sure of the consequences of withdrawing aid from Uganda. Would it do anything for the Congo? Mr. O'Shea says it would but Deputy O'Donnell holds a different view. If this committee is to be effective it should do something, subsequent to hearing from the Minister.

The picture painted today is appalling. The ravaging of the diamond mines reminds me of my time in primary school, where I learned that our colonial masters destroyed our forests and sent the produce abroad. It is somewhat similar to the famine, where corn was exported and four million Irish people died. We have an historic responsibility to get involved. The only way I would see myself being involved as a Deputy is through this committee. Will the Department of Foreign Affairs give me a briefing of the consequences of withdrawing aid from Uganda before the Minister addresses the committee, so that I will be able to make up my own mind on how the committee should proceed?

The Deputy's suggestion is a good one, additional to the Minister's appearance.

Mr. Maurice Kikangala

Because of my language problem it would be more comfortable for me to speak in French. My friend Joseph will act as an interpreter for me.

I would like to comment on Belgium and France. Countries in Europe and members of the UN are accustomed to accepting France and Belgium as experts on Africa. If this is so, we can judge their expertise on the results after 40 years of independence. We can describe them as negative experts.

On the matter of the inter-Congolese dialogue, I would like to thank Ireland for having supported us during the time Ms O'Donnell was the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ireland supported us financially and acted at the UN to ensure the dialogue could be inter-Congolese. The problem is that at the end of the dialogue the French and Belgians returned in a negative sense, and were not in favour of the people who were armed, and despised those who were not armed. We are saying to the armed groups that if they give power to the non-armed opposition they will stop the support. Some obstacles arose after the signing of the accord in Pretoria and after the UN Secretary General's representative in the Congo went to meet President Jacques Chirac in France. When he visited President Chirac in France, he told him to tell the Congolese Government not to apply the Pretoria accord, which none of the groups is applying. That is a major hindrance because there is no transitional government. That is why we wish to ask Ireland, acting through the European Union, to seek to impose pressure on the armed groups to comply with the accord signed in South Africa. If they apply it, they can disarm and ensure a United Nations presence in the Congo until such time as elections are held and a new army is in place.

The warring groups are proud because of the weapons they hold. More than three million people have died. Former President Milosovic killed less than that number, yet he was brought before an international court. We do not understand why France and Belgium continue to support people who have killed more than three million people.

With regard to the United Nations report, during four years of turmoil in the Congo, the people identified have stolen more than $4 billion worth of resources, goods and so on, and are still unpunished. Nobody has brought them to appear before a court. There is also an implication of involvement by foreign armies such as those of Angola, Rwanda and, especially, Uganda. Their presence arises from the oil they found in the region which, according to a recent report, is worth more than $30 billion.

Meanwhile, Uganda is supporting one of the armed groups in the east of the Congo and supplying it with weapons. In return, it is taking resources such as diamonds and gold. This is the situation in the Congo. We ask Ireland to impose as much pressure as possible in seeking a resolution. There are two United Nations representatives who are French speakers, one from Senegal and the other from Cameroon. They listen more to France and Belgium than other countries.

We have also heard that a former United States ambassador in the Congo is in charge of the United Nations mission in the region. We are happy because he comes from an English speaking country. Ireland is also an English speaking country. We ask that pressure be applied to ensure compliance with the Pretoria accord.

Does anybody wish to add a further point of clarification?

I do not want to see a single child in Uganda suffer at any time. I am calling for a stop to bilateral, or government-to-government, aid. There are many other more effective ways to proceed which have proven to be far more effective. There are NGOs, UN agencies and the missionaries who are by far the best deliverers of aid I have encountered. Deputy Dempsey asked what would happen if the Department of Foreign Affairs withdrew aid. Nothing will happen, other than that Ireland will have made a political point. There is no point in talking to the people concerned unless words are followed by action. The people will not suffer because there are other routes which have nothing to do with the corrupt Government.

I do not want any child, be it in Uganda or any other country, to suffer. The former Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, never mentioned any way of stopping the deaths. The people of the Congo are dying and being raped in their hundreds of thousands. To talk of the great work done by the Irish Government in Uganda is hardly related to the fact that five million people have died.

I have suggested a way of putting pressure on the Ugandan Government which would, I hope, create a situation where fewer people would die and suffer. We do not have much leverage other than the money we are providing. I do not want anyone to think I want children in one country to benefit while children in another suffer. Every child's life on this planet is precious. There are many ways of getting aid to the children of Uganda.

Everybody would accept that. I have been struck by the forthrightness of Mr. O'Shea's position, on which I invited comment but there has been no response.

Mr. Arnold

I have not forgotten what Deputy Mitchell has said. The debate has raised many big issues but a starting point is the comment made by Deputy Higgins that Africa has been forgotten. It is a continent that is falling behind on every measurement one wishes to apply. I saw within the last two weeks a report about African businessmen who were worried because they felt people only associated Africa with corruption and AIDS. It is for these reasons that there is no foreign investment and aid is under question in many respects. If this image is to be changed, conflicts and governance issues will have to be dealt with. That is the basic thing that has to be done. These are the two fundamental issues which will provide the foundation for a change in the perception of Africa.

The total loss in terms of trade since the Uruguay Round is 200% of what the continent has received in aid. While I agree with Mr. Arnold, that is a huge issue.

Mr. Arnold

It is, but at the end of the day Africa will not be able to assert itself in trade terms unless it tackles the other issues. It is too weak economically in many respects to engage in international trade. If we are talking about change - one cannot say this often enough - primary responsibility rests with African political leadership. However, it is particularly the case in the Congo which has not had a tradition of serious domestic political leadership other than corrupt political leadership. The international community will have to play to a role. In particular, the United Nations will have a role to play for a long time to come.

On the specific issue of where the Congo goes from here, the speaker from the Congo pointed out that there were commitments in the Pretoria agreement. The question is whether they will be honoured and delivered on. That is where the international community has a specific role to play through constant monitoring and calling to account the people who made those commitments.

Deputy Mitchell asked why it had taken so long for the United Nations to pay attention to this region. It is part of the general neglect of Africa and the fact that other places receive more attention. What is good about this debate, which reflects the wider attention received by the Congo over the past few months, is that there is, at least, a dawning sense of the scale and complexity of the humanitarian tragedy over the past number of years and that if the country is to move forward there must be political stability. That is the first thing that must be done.

Other issues relate to security. I very much share the view that the French cannot run UN peacekeeping forces, given their history and that of the Belgians in the region. We point out in our paper that it is important that the peacekeeping force should be managed and composed in such a way that it is perceived by all actors as being neutral.

This brings us to the question of the exploitation of resources. There is no question that there has been an appalling exploitation of resources in the Congo. This is on record in a number of UN reports. There are no clean hands in the region, whether it is Uganda, Rwanda, commercial or other interests. People must be held accountable.

Including the purchasers.

Mr. Arnold

Including the purchasers. Senator Norris asked for a list but one does not have to go too far for one. There are lists in the reports that have been published which the committee can read.

I will conclude on the question put by Deputy Mitchell and Senator Norris who said I was somehow less forthright on certain matters than Mr. O'Shea. While we agree on many matters, we do not agree on everything nor should we necessarily. There is room for divergence and the question of constructive engagementvis-à-visUganda is one of them. Ultimately, it is a matter of judgment as to what is the most effective way of moving an agenda along. I do not in any way support the notion of blank cheques being given to Uganda or any other country. I do not suggest that some of the things identified in the reports should not be held absolutely to account. However, at the end of the day a judgment has to be made when a country has built up a relationship with another over a number of years as to how it can influence the other in a constructive way.

My sense is that if we engage in the way stated by Deputy Higgins, we will not shirk from asking the awkward questions. They should be put fairly and squarely and made conditional on continued support. That is the way to proceed, of which I am supportive. To that extent, I am broadly supportive of current Government policyvis-à-visUganda.

I assure Mr. Arnold that the committee is well used to accommodating different styles.

Mr. Mike Williams

I would like to comment on governance issues. There is often a perception that governance is a national or bilateral issue between governments. There is also a perception that organisations such as Concern work by giving people food or building schools. Bilateral donors and NGOs have moved quite a bit in the development approach as a whole. For example, in Uganda we examine governance issues closely on the ground. A cornerstone of our work is empowering people in knowing what are their rights, how to achieve those rights and working with local government at grass-roots level, on which we tend to focus most of our work. That is absolutely essential but it is not enough to build schools and give people food. There are occasions when it is absolutely appropriate in emergencies to do this but, by and large, it is about empowering people and giving them support in that respect.

If we are working on these issues and empowering people at local level to, say, access funds through decentralisation programmes - the norm in many developing countries where funds are decentralised to district level - and if people do not know how to access them and what this entails, there is not much point in having a decentralisation process. However, it is also crucial that bilateral donors such as Ireland Aid and others work at national level on governance issues. There is an important linkage between what happens at national level and what we are trying to do at local level. Governance is not only about what happens between governments.

Mr. Arnold has indicated he does not support the proposition that the Government's bilateral programme with Uganda should be discontinued. That is important. He said this in a balanced way. It is important also that Concern has indicated it supports the current Government bilateral programme with Uganda.

While I support Deputy O'Donnell's comment regarding Concern and others, I do not know whether we would be discussing this issue with the same acute interest if people such as Mr. O'Shea had not made the running and were it not for the noises they have made. While there is a role for organisations to give a different assessment, there is always the capacity for somebody in such a terrible position to rock to the boat. We owe people such as Mr. O'Shea a debt of gratitude for forcing us to realise the committee must address this issue. Could we try to get the Minister in sooner rather than later?

The Deputy has taken one of my final comments. On behalf of the committee, I sincerely thank the three delegations for appearing and bringing to the attention of the committee the reality of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which I accept there are different ways of presenting. There is shock treatment as well as discussion and debate. Mr.Lannon has also made clear his position and what he considers the best way to proceed. It has been valuable for the committee to hear these presentations.

I assure the witnesses that this will not be the end of the matter from our point of view. This is the beginning of a consideration of the situation in the Congo. We will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to meet the committee, in advance of which we will seek a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs in deference to members who may wish to have an opportunity to consider matters before meeting the Minister.

There is no doubt or question from what we have heard that there needs to be more proactive involvement by the international community in the tragic and disastrous situation in the Congo. There is a need to strengthen substantially the United Nations presence and general involvement in attempts to restore and maintain a workable peace and promote social and economic development, the objective we all desire.

This discussion has highlighted many of the difficulties which the committee will consider further with the benefit of the presentations the witnesses have made. I trust we can refer back to the groups for information as it is needed. On behalf of committee members, I thank the witnesses for attending.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.20 p.m. sine die.