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Meles remains in illegal occupation of some Eritrean territory (Lord Avebury – 13 December 2007, House of Lords)

posted 29 Jan 2012, 06:13 by D Woldeab

My Lords, I join in the congratulations expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on returning to a subject that has been discussed several times during the current Parliament; in the debate on the Address, in his own Question on the Oxfam report and in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on liberal intervention.

The Government have agreed with the estimate that conflict in Africa is costing $18 billion a year, which is roughly the same as the amount of aid by the whole of the world. In the year to June 2008, the UN budget for peacekeeping in six of the seven major conflicts where it is involved comes to $4.9 billion, which does not include the amount for Chad and the CAR, for which the budget has still to be agreed. In addition, there is the 3,700-strong EU force to be deployed in Chad starting early next year, the UN Peacebuilding Support 

Office in CAR, and the UNHCR's operations in Africa, for which it is requesting $380 million in 2008. That is to consider only the direct costs of the seven larger conflicts, leaving out the numerous indirect costs to the UN and its agencies such as those incurred in the conflict in Somalia, and of the smaller conflicts in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, and so on.

The Oxfam estimate is a conservative one, as Oxfam acknowledges. It includes nothing for Somalia, for the simple reason that there are no data, and nothing for the cost of armed crime, on which the only data, in relation to Ghana and Nigeria alone, are seven years out of date. There are also no data for piracy along the coasts of Africa, including 27 hijacks or attempts near the Somali coast alone this year. The downstream costs, extending for a generation or more, are also neglected in these estimates, as has been highlighted by the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Crisp, simply because they are utterly incalculable. However, as the Commission for Africa said:

“War does not only harm people. It destroys roads, bridges, farming equipment, telecommunications, water and sanitation systems. It shuts down hospitals and schools. It slows trade and economic life, sometimes to a halt”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, those effects carry on for many years after a conflict has ended.

One contributory factor identified by Oxfam and highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the steady flow of weaponry into the hands of private militias and organised criminal gangs. Most of the arms and ammunition come from outside Africa, and in spite of the EU code of conduct, which prohibits arms exports that provoke or prolong conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts, one EU state is the largest supplier of ammunition to sub-Saharan Africa. The international arms trade treaty, which all noble Lords have agreed is absolutely necessary, will have to include better provisions for reporting and enforcement than the EU code. It will be useful to hear from the Minister whether in the light of experience that code is to be strengthened, and what the EU is intending to propose to the UN group of experts when they start work on drafting the treaty next month. Will they seek to include an international monitoring mechanism such as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has indicated would be of great importance?

One answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is that it is impossible to generalise about the causes of conflict in Africa, although I agree to some extent with the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, that many of them are due to ethnic and religious differences. For instance, there is only one that I can think of that is based on traditional antipathy between two neighbouring states, ostensibly but not mainly about the boundary between them. That is the confrontation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and their proxy war in Somalia, which stems from the grievous mistake of the UN in 1950, when Eritrea was compulsorily federated with Ethiopia in the absence of any proper democratic consultation. When the people of Eritrea rose against the colonialist occupation, and there was a war of independence lasting 29 years, the international community did not lift a finger to help, and the Foreign Office throughout continued to parrot the mantra that some form of federal solution was best for the people of Eritrea.

When the Eritreans finally gained their independence, but war broke out again over the boundary, the international community failed to act firmly against Meles Zenawi's refusal to accept the findings of the boundary commission. Now, after that commission has been disbanded, Meles remains in illegal occupation of some Eritrean territory, and refuses to accept the commission's final recommendation for the boundary to be demarcated by co-ordinates. One-quarter of a million troops are confronting each other along this border, and Eritrea, a desperately poor country of 4 million inhabitants, has become a militarised police state, dubbed the worst country in the world for press freedom. Those are the reasons that the UN has to spend $120 million on the peacekeeping forces of UNMEE this year, and they help to explain why the two states are involved in a war in Somalia. Even now, if the UN took a robust line on the border decision and on withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, it could solve this problem, which would allow both countries to reduce military spending, to benefit from trade through Assab and Massawa, and to release the agricultural potential along the border. What is the UK doing, as a friend of both countries and as a permanent member of the Security Council, to avert this potential war?

I do not underestimate the risk of a resumption of the conflict between north and south Sudan, which has been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who urged us to take action to shore up the CPA and to make Abyea into a demilitarised zone. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on that. The situation in Darfur, which is turning into the most expensive of all UN peacekeeping operations, illustrates the problem of mobilising international action even when you have in front of you “an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe”—to use the language that justified the intervention in Kosovo without the approval of the Security Council, as we discussed the other day in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Soley. Although objectively the Darfur statistics on the loss of life and the dispossession and involuntary displacement of inhabitants far exceed the worst that could have happened in Kosovo, the deployment of the hybrid force to protect the people and to allow refugees and IDPs to return home has been thrown into doubt by Khartoum's refusal to accept non-African forces, and by the persistent obstruction by President al-Bashir, which is still continuing. Yet there was no mention of Darfur or any of the other conflicts in the EU-AU summit declaration. The communiqué said that a high-level EU delegation discussed the refugee situation with President al-Bashir, and President Sarkozy said:

“We told him it is in Sudan's best interests ... that there is a halt to the massacres on its territory and that in order for the massacres to stop, the hybrid force needs to be deployed as soon as possible”.

Is that really all that the EU has achieved? It must be clear to Khartoum that there are no penalties attached to its intransigence over the UN deployment, and that with the EU unable to come up with the hardware necessary to make it a success, there is no real political will in Brussels either. If I am wrong, I sincerely hope that the Minister will correct me.

To return to where I started, the debate has amply demonstrated that conflict and insecurity have been identified as the greatest barriers to development for poor people across the continent of Africa. As Saferworld emphasises, all the evidence—the World Bank's Voices of the Poor, the report of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the Commission for Africa's report, among others—points to the conclusion that secure environments are fundamental prerequisites to the achievement of human development. Collectively, we are still not doing enough either to restore peace in several of the most severe conflicts or to prevent new conflicts breaking out where there are clear signs of imminent danger.