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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 842


Mr VAN MANEN (8:40 PM) —I thank the member for Chisholm for her motion. I have spent some time researching this issue and it is certainly a terrible situation. It was not something I was aware of, and I am sure a lot of other people I have spoken to are not.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a vast country with immense natural resources, yet its development is retarded by corruption and a war that is referred to by some as Africa’s ‘world war’. As this motion correctly points out, this conflict has left the country in the grip of a humanitarian crisis.

The crisis in the eastern region of the DRC dates from August 1998 when rebel forces, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, launched a drive to overthrow the government, resulting in the instalment of Laurent Kabila as President. In 2001 he was assassinated, only to be succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila. This episode is but a sad reflection of the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a history of mutiny, attempted succession, assassinations, civil war and corruption. A peace deal, a transitional government in 2003 and elections in 2006 served to bring some respite. News of elections later this year is also good news.

However, in 2008 a series of coup attempts and sporadic violence heralded renewed fighting in the eastern part of the country. Rwandan Hutu militias clashed with government forces—displacing thousands of civilians and leaving people in the east of the country in terror of marauding militia—and this has lead to the deaths of an estimated 5.4 million people since 1998 and continues to cause untold death and suffering today. It is a sad fact that these atrocities are carried out by all sides as they knowingly target civilians, who are killed, raped, arbitrarily arrested, pressed into forced labour and their possessions looted. According to Human Rights Watch there are currently more than two million people internally displaced and a further 145,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. The war has an economic as well as a political side. Fighting is fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources at the expense of the country’s future.

The United Nations have had a peacekeeping mission in Congo since 1999. This mission was renamed the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—MONUSCO for short. Its brief has been to work with and assist the Congolese army. However, their record has also been mixed. Human Rights Watch reports in their January 2011 report that while MONUSCO has sought to improve its organisational and operational process, the actual implementation has proved difficult and consequently known perpetrators of human rights abuses continue to be supported in the Congolese military. I note that the Congolese government has requested the withdrawal of MONUSCO. At this date no time frame has been agreed on.

Everyone in this region has the right to feel safe and that their life is not at risk. They have the right to enjoy the freedom to go about their daily lives. They also should not be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The UN special representative Margot Wallstrom visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo in April 2010 and described the vast African nation as ‘the rape capital of the world’. This is a sad indictment on the Congolese government, particularly when some of these rapes are being carried out by its own military personnel.

We call on the Congolese government to urgently deal with the corruption within their own military forces and the government to ensure that these basic human rights are respected, that abuses of any kind are not tolerated and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. The Congolese government needs to recognise that if it does not bring its own house into order it is going to be very difficult to ask others to do so. We also call on those neighbouring countries that are either actively or tacitly supporting these rebel elements to withdraw all support for these groups and work with the Congolese government to bring an end to this conflict.