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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 843

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (8:45 PM) —In common with my colleague the member for Chisholm, the mover of this motion, I have a close affinity with the Congolese community. In 2009 I took the opportunity to bring a number of Sydney representatives to this parliament to inform members about conditions in the Congo and to get their views on movement towards solutions. It is no accident indeed that, whilst we had approximately 200 Congolese in this country at the time of the 2001 census, over 3,000 Congolese have entered the country in the 10 years since then. An important challenge to our settlement processes is that 44 per cent of those predominantly refugee newcomers are under 15 years of age, and they often come from very dislocated families.

The Congo has 80 per cent of the world’s coaltan and is strong in diamonds, zinc, copper, cobalt, tantalum and, very importantly, hydroelectricity. Despite that wealth of opportunity and resources, it has a per capita income of only $342 a year. A variety of issues have contributed to the situation which exists in the Congo, including the previous government, which was described as a kleptocracy; the fall of that government; and the intrusion of a number of foreign powers—Namibia, Angola, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Uganda—who were helping those internal Congolese with whom they had some tribal affinity but, more importantly, were exploiting resources. Often, whether a group is supporting Hutus or Tutsis or other groups in the country, it is essentially an excuse to seize resources, and in many cases to enslave local Congolese to exploit those resources.

This is not a new phenomenon, as people have indicated. Human Rights Watch noted that all sides targeted civilians, who were killed, raped, arbitrarily arrested, pressed into forced labour and looted. In 2009 the United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston spoke of sexual violence causing death, vigilante groups, the murder of human rights defenders, a campaign against alleged witches and a situation where many hundreds of people were killed by the FDLR and the FARDC, which are both, in some manner, related to previous developments in Rwanda. He called for the indictment of senior commanders; the integration of forces into the national army; a budget for prisons, which were severely overcrowded and basically run by the prisoners; and better monitoring by the United Nations, the organisation he represented.

In the last week we have read in the newspapers about a roving court which has indicted some people for rape. Previous Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo has been sent to trial for his crimes. But, overall, we can have no optimism about the current situation. In another recent development, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has caused so many internal problems in Uganda over the last few decades, has moved into the Congo and late last year bludgeoned to death 345 civilians. Another problem in the country is the failure of the Congo to ever move away from hostility towards what are, at times, very longstanding migrant groups. Groups that arrived in the country before its independence from Belgium have been denied citizenship. They have tribal and ethnic confreres across national boundaries who tend to intervene for them. There has been a failure by the administration to tackle localised native tribal power and to give the country a sense of national identity.

I do congratulate the member for Chisholm for bringing forward this motion relating to a country in which at any one stage—there are various figures—two million people are either internally displaced or in exile. It is a serious situation: 5½ million people are dead. It is well past due that we in this house take the opportunity to speak on this matter.