HL Deb 15 March 1962 vol 238 cc364-88

6.13 p.m.

LORD COLYTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to investigate the allegations of atrocities committed by United Nations troops in Katanga, having regard in particular to the alleged killing, wounding or maltreatment of British subjects and the looting of property, and to punish those responsible. The noble Lord said: My Lords, a month ago I paid a visit to Katanga. It was a tragic and harrowing experience. I should like to make two things clear from the outset. First, I have absolutely no interest in Katanga, and I do not own a single copper share. Secondly, I did not go to Elisabethville to collect horror stories; I went there to inform myself on the political and military situation in Katanga, and I hope to be able to make use of this material in our forthcoming Foreign Affairs debate. It was only when I and my wife, who accompanied me, met a number of people in Elisabethville and elsewhere, including clergymen, missionaries, Red Cross workers, and others, who gave us first-hand information of United Nations atrocities, and who begged us to get them investigated, that I decided to report the facts to your Lordships and to urge Her Majesty's Government to press for a formal investigation. I would add that our informants included Americans, British, Belgians and Katangese.

I do not propose to go into details of the events of last September. Many incidents occurred then of violations of the rules of war of the Geneva Convention, some of which were reported in the British Press. None of these so far as I am aware, has been investigated. Although deliberate shooting of civilians certainly occurred the incidents mainly related to the killing of prisoners of war, or attacks on Red Cross ambulances. I propose to devote my time this evening to actual cases of individual or mass atrocities committed by the United Nations forces in the December fighting. Under this heading I include not merely murder, but rape, assault, and looting of property. In a number of them British subjects were involved.

After the December fighting, and up to January 31, the Medical Officer of the Legal Department of the Katanga Government had examined 79 bodies, of which 27 were those of Europeans, including four women. Of these 27 Europeans, not one was a so-called mercenary. Of the 52 Africans, 23 were civilians, including six Northern Rhodesians, who had long been resident in Katanga. In a debate on the Adjournment in another place on March 7, considerable time was devoted to the case of Mrs. Van Damme, a British subject 72 years old, who was beaten up and had her house looted on December 18 by a party of Ethiopian soldiers of the United Nations. She escaped only in her bare feet, and has lost most of her possessions. Her Majesty's Consul, Mr. Dunnett, to whom I should like to pay the highest tribute for his conduct of affairs throughout this series of crises in Katanga, has been looking after her and supplying her essential needs. I visited her house and can corroborate the statements of the condition in which it was left.

I should perhaps mention next the case of Mrs. Dyer, an elderly lady, a British subject, and the wife of the representative in Elisabethville of Messrs. Cooper Brothers, the London chartered accountants. She was killed by mortar fire while in bed at night in a residential area. I also visited her house and saw the destruction caused.

Then there is the case of Mr. James Biddulph, a British subject, and at the time the Federal Broadcasting Corporation's representative in Elisabethville. Mr. Biddulph is now employed by the African News, and I spoke with him in Salisbury. He and an American colleague were in the hotel at Elisabethville on December 18, and when the fighting appeared to be dying down decided to leave by car for Northern Rhodesia. They took with them M. Favre, a Swiss accountant. Mr. Biddulph was driving a civilian car with Northern Rhodesian markings. At 10 a.m. they approached an apparently unmanned road block at the level crossing near Camp Massart, on the Munama road. They slowed down to remove one of the empty tar barrels which constituted the road block, and were immediately fired upon by Swedish troops concealed off the road with a 15 millimetre cannon. M. Favre was killed, both journalists were wounded, and I understand that two Africans on bicycles were killed also. I asked Mr. Biddulph whether this could have been a mistake, and he assured me that this was impossible as three other civilian cars coming along the road later while he was waiting for transport to hospital were similarly attacked.

Then there was the case of Mr. de Deken, married to an English lady, who left the house of his cousin, Mr. Smith-Sheridan, during a lull in the fighting, taking some personal belongings with him. Eye-witnesses told us that they saw him shot in the back and killed by an Ethiopian soldier. Again, there was the case of two Katanga African policemen, who had United Nations passes to enable them to remove their families from the battle area. A clergyman and a missionary saw them fired upon in their car by troops using a United Nations bazooka and killed with their wives and seven children.

Then there is the case of Mr. Derriks, a civilian engineer 60 years old, who with his mother, aged 87, and his African cook were machine-gunned in their house by Ethiopian troops as they were having coffee after lunch on December 16. These people, my Lords, could hardly be described as mercenaries. The kitchen boy, who hid under a table lived to tell the tale. I visited the house myself which was exactly as it was two months earlier when they died—sacked from top to bottom, every door and window broken, and the floor still covered with blood. Like many other houses I saw in Elisabethville, all sacked and pillaged, it was worse than anything I saw during the Italian campaign.

A number of cases of rape have been reported, including one of a middle-aged Frenchwoman by Ethiopian troops and one of a Belgian lady by an Indian officer with pistol in hand. My informant, a clergyman, saw that unfortunate lady immediately after the incident in a state of hysteria. Just a few days before our arrival in Elisabethville, the bodies of two young European building contractors, missing since December, were found in a shallow grave in the garden of their house in the United Nations Area by Swedish police dogs and Red Cross investigators. They had been shot and mutilated, presumably by Ethiopians.

In addition to reckless and wholesale machine-gunning of civilians in the streets, mortar attacks were carried out on the African hospital, on the Church and Mission of Saint Jean and the Leopold Stadium. It is really impossible to understand, for example, how 22 mortar bombs could be lobbed into an enormous hospital covered with Red Crosses without the United Nations authorities knowing what they were doing. Indeed, one Red Cross worker told us that he had personally reported the attack to the United Nations Headquarters, but with no effect. In addi- tion, there was the attack by Swedish jet fighters, using cannon, on the Hospital of Shinkolobwe near Jadotville. This again was marked with a large Red Cross.

Then there were 14 cases of pillage of properties of British subjects, though not in all cases necessarily by United Nations troops. I understand that these, together with other cases of looting and occupation by the United Nations Forces without payment of rent or compensation, are being investigated by a claims commission. In all these events, the only contingent of United Nations troops in Elisabethville to emerge with clean hands are the Malayans, to whom tribute was paid by all whom we met.

The only case of murder which is actually being investigated is that of M. Olivet, the Swiss head of the International Red Cross in the Congo, his lady assistant and his Dutch driver. M. Olivet was in an ambulance and, with his companions was kidnapped by Ethiopian troops. The ambulance was later shot up; M. Olivet, the lady and the driver were murdered and, I understand, were buried in a ditch. This case is being investigated because the International Red Cross insisted that this should be done. But no formal inquiry is being held into any one of the cases of murder and assault to which I have referred, or many others, involving Italians, French, Greeks, as well as Belgian and Katangese civilians.

In replying to an Adjournment debate on March 2 in another place, the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs explained that the difficulty about such an inquiry was that the Commander of the United Nations Forces has military power but no power of court-martial, and consequently any question of discipline is a matter for inquiry by the senior officer of a particular contingent. On the other hand, Mr. Undén, the Swedish Foreign Minister, in an interview with the Stockholm representative of the paper, Le Soir, in February, said that accusations of attacks on civilians should be addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. What, then, is the real position? Or has it never been determined?

Another reason given by the Under-Secretary of State was that there was no use in holding such an inquiry without investigating similar allegations on the other side. I quite agree. But I should have thought that there was every advantage in holding an inquiry into these and all other allegations of atrocities by an impartial judicial Commission, provided that it is under a judge of the International Court at The Hague, with two or four assessors. Such a commission would have to be absolutely nonpolitical, and personally I should hope that it might be actually selected by the International Court.

It may be argued that there is no advantage in raking over the ashes of the past, but although the situation is now easier, and there is, I believe, a real hope of a successful meeting to-day between President Tshombe and Mr. Adoula, I am convinced, from the condition which I saw myself in Elisabethville, that a further set of such incidents could occur at any time. The town itself is virtually an occupied city. When driving or walking about, you are constantly faced with United Nations road blocks, with a tommy-gun pointed at your stomach. If you do not have a pass, I may say, you are told, pretty roughly, to "Move on" or "Clear off".

So long as United Nations troops are occupying Elisabethville, an incident could occur any time, whether deliberately provoked or otherwise. I have no doubt that, having regard to the lack of discipline of some United Nations troops and the mentality of the United Nations commanders, a series of further atrocities and acts of pillage would then follow. I will give an example. When I was in Elisabethville, President Tshombe (who, incidentally, is one of the most outstanding African leaders I have ever met) received a demand for the despatch of United Nations Forces to the mining towns of Jadotville and Kolwezi, ostensibly to apprehend a few dozen mercenaries remaining in those districts. And this, in spite of the fact that President Tshombe had already agreed to set up mixed Commissions of United Nations and Katanga officers and officials for the same purpose, which had already begun their work. These demands were later withdrawn but, having regard to the mood of the United Nations authorities in Elisabethville, such a situation could occur again.

The only real solution, I am convinced, is to withdraw the United Nations troops, first from Elisabethville and secondly from the whole of Katanga, when I believe complete peace and quiet could be soon restored. But unless there is any likelihood of this arising in the near future, I would most strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to press the United Nations authorities in New York to set up a judicial commission of inquiry, such as I have described.

In conclusion, my Lords, I would only add this. In July last year, a great and successful international fair was held in Elisabethville to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the city. A large sign on the central building proclaimed the slogan of the fair—"Towards a Better World". To-day that sign is riddled with United Nations bullets. This is indeed a sad commentary on the activities of the United Nations in Katanga.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us deplore that any civilians, British and other nationals, should have become victims of a situation such as that which existed in the Congo, particularly in Katanga, during the last months of last year. We all deplore the loss of life; we deplore the atrocities; we deplore the damage to property. But the noble Lord's Question is limited to allegations against the United Nations forces. I think the noble Lord might have received much more sympathy if he had asked for an investigation into all alleged atrocities—


I did.


Not in the Question—in Katanga, instead of singling out United Nations forces as alleged culprits. Throughout the Katanga affair there has been an unrestrained campaign of hostile or tendentious propaganda against the United Nations, its representatives and its forces. Rumours have been given wide currency, but official denials have been largely ignored. Now we have the noble Lord's Question which calls for investigation into allegations of atrocities by United Nations forces, with not a word about allegations of atrocities by any other element in the recent Katanga troubles.

For myself, I should welcome the fullest inquiry into all allegations of atrocities by both sides, and I think it is unfortunate that the noble Lord did not in his Question suggest such an inquiry. I would remind the noble Lord that in the Foreign Affairs debate on December 18 last he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 236 (No. 23), col. 565]: … we know so little and have so little accurate information, about what has been going on over these past four months that we ought to press strongly for an impartial judicial inquiry into the events of September 13, the intervening period and the current events. I myself had earlier also made a suggestion that the United Nations should conduct an inquiry into all these allegations. But to-day, as I say, the noble Lord's Question is directed to the United Nations forces. His original wording, as we all know, was couched in far more specific terms. It referred to "atrocities and killing", not to "the allegations of atrocities" and "allegations of killing"; and it was only after my noble Leader had raised the matter that the noble Lord amended the Question to include the word "allegations".

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he has read the report of Mr. George Ivan Smith, who was serving as Commander of the United Nations civilian operations in Katanga which was issued by the United Nations on January 25 last. The report indicates the confused conditions which existed in Elisabethville during the period of operations, in which, contrary to all rules, civilians entered into the fighting. I think that most noble Lords will agree that the result was bound to be misunderstanding, error, rumours and propaganda.

The noble Lord referred Ito attacks on the Red Cross vehicles, murder, rape, assault and damage to property. If I may, I will read just two paragraphs from this report. It says: Soldiers were trained to expect that military operations could involve them only against military personnel in uniform; therefore firing by mercenaries and some non-Congolese residents in civilian dress and the use of houses and Red Cross vehicles for offensive attacks created deep and dangerous uncertainty. New command arrangements were made to brief and control all troops in these unusual conditions. Joint patrols consisting of military personnel of all nationalities involved were sent out. Within four days the situation was brought under effective control. However, at that time some thousands of Africans, because of tribal warfare, had been driven from their communes by Katangese gendarmes. They were in the camp just outside Elisabethville— They filtered into town and along the fringes. Concurrently, many European families, on account of disturbed conditions, had evacuated their homes. Many of the Africans began to enter empty homes and to loot them. Incorrectly, and often for deliberate propaganda reasons, such looting was charged to ONUC forces. Orders to ONUC troops are clear. If found guilty of entering houses without reason or looting or apprehending civilians unjustifiably, they are to be punished accordingly. Two cases of rape involving United Nations personnel appear to have been substantiated. One or two isolated cases of looting by United Nations personnel also were confirmed by investigations instituted by the commanders on the spot. Those found guilty of these violations of the strict orders of the United Nations Command either already have been punished or will be after due process. The noble Lord cited individual cases in support of his Question to Her Majesty's Government. I have no information about them. I do not know what is the authority for his statement that United Nations troops were responsible.


May I interrupt? I thought I made it quite clear that in all these cases it was on the evidence of eye witnesses.


I do not know whether either the United Nations or Her Majesty's Government are in possession of the information on which the noble Lord's assertions are made. But the allegations are serious ones, and they are made with the prestige of the noble Lord, who is a former Minister. In that sense, although he is quoting the stories of eye witnesses, the repetition of the charges now gives them the weight and authority of the noble Lord. I think it only right that the House should be told the sources of his information. As the noble Lord has now said, they are not official sources; they are private person sources. I think that it is clear from Mr. Ivan Smith's report, to which I have referred, that cases which come before the notice of the United Nations are being investigated, and that, where charges are proved, the guilty parties are being punished.

I do not know whether we are to draw the conclusion from the noble Lord's Question, and also from his speech, that most of the atrocities and other misdeeds of which British nationals were the victims were the responsibility of United Nations forces and could not conceivably have been perpetrated from any other quarter. That, on the face of it, given the circumstances that existed at the time, would seem to me to be beyond credibility. The noble Lord did qualify his statement by saying that he did not charge all these crimes against the United Nations forces.


My Lords, those were the cases of looting to which I was referring in that connection, not the murders.


I accept that. But whether it is looting or murder, I think it is difficult to lay it down that these must have been the responsibility of United Nations forces. I feel that the repeated assertion of these charges justifies the view which we have taken, that there should be a United Nations inquiry into the charges against bath sides in order to try to prove what is actually the truth.

I would repeat what I have said on an earlier occasion: that one of the most regrettable features of the Congo affair has been the hostile attacks upon the United Nations and its operations. We have expressed our resentment against these attacks, the exaggerated reports and unfounded rumours. I will only add that I regret very much the terms of the noble Lord's Question, which seems to me both one-sided and tendentious. I hope that, if there is to be an investigation of any sort, it will be an investigation into all allegations, and that it will be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.

Having said that, I hope that the discussions now proceeding between Mr. Tshombe and the Central Government Prime Minister will prove successful and will lead speedily to the restoration of peaceful conditions in Katanga. That, to me, is the urgent matter of the moment. I do not subscribe to the noble Lord's suggestion that the United Nations' forces should be withdrawn. I think they should be withdrawn after peaceful conditions have been restored. When that happens, I think we may have a chance of getting the Congo on to the basis on which it should have been from the very beginning.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want this evening to go into the wider issues of the Congo situation; no doubt an opportunity for that will occur when we have a debate on Foreign Affairs, which I believe is coming at the end of the month. But, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has said, I should like to appeal most earnestly to Her Majesty's Government to consider seriously the desirability of pressing for the independent inquiry for which the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, has asked. After all, he told a very dreadful tale, and, what is more, it was no mere hearsay story picked up thousands of miles away from the place where the crimes were committed. The noble Lord has been there himself; he was in Elisabethville within the last few weeks. Can we ignore entirely the well-founded information which he has given us? And axe our consciences so blunted that we should wish to ignore it? Indeed, I would say this to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson: is it in the interests of the United Nations themselves that we should do so? The noble Lord, greatly to my surprise, rather tended throughout his speech to play down these things. At least that is the impression he made on me.


My Lords, I hope I can correct that impression, because I opened my speech by saying that we all deplored these things, and I think we can agree that, where responsibility can be placed, there should be punishment.


But the noble Lord did not give any real impression of being deeply shocked by the authenticated stories which have been told. He did not seem to me to think that they mattered very much.




That was the impression the noble Lord made upon me. But if these stories are baseless and exaggerated, have not the United Nations more to gain than anybody else from having an inquiry? Their good name would be cleared. If any of us were the United Nations and had nothing to hide, I think we should be the first to welcome a proposal of this kind, especially if it was conducted by a completely independent body. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, seemed to think that it ought to be conducted entirely by the United Nations themselves. I do not agree at all, and I do not think the United Nations ought to agree. The report would be all the more impressive in clearing its name if it were conducted by an impartial body.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Marquess? If the United Nations do not appoint the Committee, or the Committee is not appointed under the auspices of the United Nations, who would appoint it?


I am not averse to the United Nations being concerned in the appointment of the Committee, but it should be a completely impartial Committee, whatever the investigation is to be. If, on the contrary, unhappily the stories turned out to be true, how much less invidious for the United Nations that some outside body should have to say so. I do not think it is suggested by anybody—I am sure it is not by the noble Lord, Lord Colyton—that these things could possibly have been countenanced by the United Nations' authorities in New York. Nobody would believe such an extraordinary thing as that. But there are some troops—and we all know it—who are at present being employed by the United Nations in Katanga and who are pretty tough customers. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, would not disagree with that. If they have done these dreadful things, it is far better that the world should know it, for that would be the best safeguard for the future. And, at any rate, Her Majesty's Government certainly should not give the impression that they condone these things.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said—and I thought quite rightly—that if there is going to be inquiry, why not have an inquiry into atrocities by both sides? My answer to that—and, I am sure, the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Colyton in fact he said it in his speech—is, by all means let us have the inquiry into atrocities by both sides. But do not let us, for heaven's sake!, give an impres- sion on any side that we want to hush these things up. That would be an absolutely disastrous thing. Therefore I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and to the Government, with great respect, that in the interests of the good name of the United Nations itself, and for every other reason, they should consider most urgently the proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, has made. I believe that if this inquiry were made by an impartial body—the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, suggested one such body—it would be to the interest of the world in general that these growing stories should be checked up on and, if they are true, that the United Nations in New York should he given an opportunity of seeing that these things do not occur again.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say only one or two words. First of all, I think the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, has placed the House in some difficulty in putting this Question on the Order Paper—not that he should not have done so but it is a contentious matter and it appeared only on Tuesday and it is now Thursday. We have had a busy week, and many of us who are interested will have had great difficulty in finding out things from one side or the other. The Question the noble Lord has put down, even in its amended terms, could be construed in some quarters as an attack upon the honour of the United Nations. War at any time is a dirty game, and when there are attacks upon civilians of a type which the noble Lord has described to us this afternoon the attack upon the honour of any organisation is very great.

In the course of the noble Lord's statement this afternoon I thought he was even more specific. In fact, he has made some grave charges against the honour, not only of the United Nations, but of certain countries. This is something about which we must always be careful. If you accused this country's soldiers of having committed atrocities as described by the noble Lord, if British soldiers had been accused of an atrocity, that would have been regarded by every soldier or officer in your Lordships' House as an attack upon the honour of the British Army.


My Lords, I think every noble Lord and officer in this House would want the thing cleared up by an impartial inquiry.


I say that the noble Lord in his statement this evening has made specific charges against Swedish soldiers, Ethiopian soldiers and an Indian soldier. I do not in any way say that these things did not happen. If they happened they are terrible and wicked. But the question I would ask the noble Lord is this. The atrocities happened last December. Was this information placed before the commanders of the units or, shall we say, the countries concerned? Were means made to convey this information to the Governments of the countries concerned? My Lords, I would be one of the first to resist any outside allegation against the honour of a British soldier if it had not been in the first instance made to the Government concerned, the Government of my country.

The noble Lord has come here and has made these specific allegations. I must ask him two questions. Now that he has got this information himself, has he placed it before the countries concerned, perhaps through their Embassies? Because the noble Lord in his Question before the House is talking of a broad allegation. He has given specific cases and quoted names of the forces concerned. When he made that statement had he informed the Government of the cases he was proposing to raise in order that we might have a reply from the Government fully cognisant of the serious allegations that the noble Lord has made? I do not in any way wish to underrate the seriousness of the charges. If these things have happened—and I personally think there have been certain cases—as I say, war is a dirty game when tempers are up, and many nasty things happen on both sides. First of all. I should like to know whether this information has been made available to Her Majesty's Government. Have the specific allegations against the national forces been passed to the Governments of the countries concerned?

If there is to be an inquiry—and, I would agree, I should rather like an impartial inquiry—it cannot be an inquiry concerning specifically the United Nations forces, because you would immediately say that it is only the United Nations forces who are on trial. It has to be a full inquiry. I personally should prefer a full inquiry regarding the forces of both sides. I should like to have a full report on what has happened on both sides; the political negotiations and political manœuvres that have led up to the military action of both sides. I do not think you can just take the military action away from political action. I should welcome it, and I am sure that most noble Lords would, because I should like the name of the United Nations cleared of these terrible charges against its honour.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I say just a word or two? I am very glad that the little debate on this Unstarred Question has taken a wider view than was likely to have arisen from the original wording of the Question. I welcome very much the end of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, in which he begged the Government to press for an inquiry which would cover both sides of the question. On the other hand, I want to be fair to the Government. Some people say I am never fair to the Government. Nevertheless, with these matters of fact, and with an inquiry, it is essential to see what has been said. So I have been looking up the consideration which has been given by the Government and the Answers made to three specific Questions which were put to the Government in another place on January 29.

I felt that Mr. Godber, the Minister of State, who answered the Questions, found himself in particular difficulty because of the varying information which came in involving both sides. That I think was what was especially in the mind of my noble friend Lord Henderson, when he drew attention to the fact that the original Question was directed only to the reiteration of the charges which the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, as an eye witness, had obtained against United Nations troops. As a matter of fact, on January 29, Mr. Godber said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 652 (No. 43), col. 694]: As regards requests for an independent inquiry into these events. I am not convinced that a general inquiry would be useful". That was at that stage. At the request of the International Red Cross the United Nations have already agreed to conduct an inquiry into the deaths of M. Olivet and his two fellow international Red Cross workers. If we look over to the next part of that particular discussion we find, at the top of column 695, that Mr. Godber said: I have no confirmation of the case of the colonel to which my honourable friend has referred. He is a person who would come within these charges. Then Mr. Wilson, having asked for and stated that we should welcome the fullest possible inquiry into all these allegations of atrocities by both sides, by the mercenaries as well as by the United Nations, asked whether, in order to get this matter in balance with his honourable friends, the Minister would make available information which he understood was in the possession of the Foreign Office, about the extent to which mercenaries were using hospitals for firing on United Nations troops; about the extent to which military vehicles were being painted with the Red Cross, and about the extraordinary fact that the number of ambulances said to have been damaged by United Nations forces far exceeded the number of ambulances known to be in the Congo. Mr. Godber said: It is these counter conflicting claims which make the whole thing so difficult to see. There are certainly allegations on both sides. This is not a one-sided matter. These are matters for the United Nations rather than Her Majesty's Government at the present time. I could quote more answers from the Government to the two Questions on that particular day, but I do not wish to detain your Lordships. However, I hope those who have not read the Report will read it through.

But consider: here we are, well on in March, dealing to-night with the evidence of an eye-witness who has listened to the people's case of one side—and no doubt he has satisfied himself that they are all true. We have no opportunity of seeing, say, the legal report upon their evidence, though no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, has satisfied himself on these particular points. On the other hand, so far as I can see, Her Majesty's Government, waiting for the report on the inquiry set up at the instance of the International Red Cross Society, do not seem prepared to have the general inquiry.

If the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, wants to put pressure upon Her Majesty's Government to ask the United Nations to have a general inquiry into both sides of the question—or, rather, into the general question, if I may put it that way, of atrocities committed—and find out, if possible, the guilty persons, then I think we in this House are all prepared to support that. It is reasonable. But I do not think the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in his general attitude to what my noble friend Lord Henderson has said has been quite fair; although I do not think he intended to be unfair to the general balance and well-meaning case that my noble friend put to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, if I misrepresented the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, I am the first to apologise, but I would say to the noble Viscount, with regard to the things he said in the latter part of his remarks that I was not quite clear whether he was in favour of a United Nations inquiry into atrocities on both sides or an entirely impartial inquiry. I would put this to him: supposing it was an inquiry into atrocities committed by Katangans, would he agree to an inquiry by the Katangan Government? I feel sure he would feel some difficulty about that; and in the same way, if there is to be an inquiry into atrocities by United Nations troops I think some of us would feel the United Nations were not the right people to conduct that inquiry. If it is a question of a general inquiry into atrocities by the troops or supporters of both sides in Katanga, and that it shall be carried out in an impartial manner by an independent body, I think we are probably all in agreement.


My Lords, I think we have to remember, first of all, the obviously considered reply of the Minister of State in another place, that at the stage when he was speaking this was a matter for the United Nations—that is, with regard to what should be the procedure of the Government's representatives at the United Nations Organisation in presenting the case on the matter. As my noble friend points out, a matter concerning the United Nations must be raised there first, in order that some procedure may be followed in the particular instance. I take it that there is no reason why the Government should not be asked to instruct their representatives to present the case to the United Nations, for them to set up, in whatever Committee should deal with it, an unbiased, impartial inquiry. I think it would be quite a reasonable request that it should be referred to a court set up under the auspices of a body like the International Court of Justice, or whatever similar organisation might be found to be acceptable among the nations who usually deal with these matters under their procedure. But I do not want it to go forth to the world that this country of ours has some special "down" on the United Nations and the forces they employ without having a proper inquiry all round.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with very great sympathy to all of your Lordships who have spoken about this question of atrocities in Katanga. In replying, I think I should try very quickly to recapitulate the setting in which Her Majesty's Government are able to act in matters of this kind. Then I will try to tell your Lordships the substance of all we know about atrocities in general, and finally I will try to mention more particularly the case of British subjects, who are specifically mentioned in my noble friend's Question and who are, of course, the only people towards whom the Government have any direct responsibility.

As your Lordships know, we have always supported the United Nations' operation in the Congo. We believe it was the right thing to do in order to prevent a kind of Spanish Civil War situation, in which large numbers of Communist weapons and personnel would be sent there for the purpose of making trouble; and we think the United Nations' entry there has had the effect of stopping that. Naturally, we are all anxious that the United Nations should accomplish its task and be able to withdraw from this expensive operation as soon as may be possible. We have given our support in that. At the same time, we have made no secret of the fact that we did not agree in certain respects with the judgment of those who were responsible for the conduct of the United Nations' operation in what was done in the Katanga. We have said that openly, not only in Parliament but in New York to the Secretary-General.

We have frankly given our advice. We have been worried about the effectiveness of the chain of command. It seemed to us that very often the people on the spot had quite a different notion of what they were supposed to do from the people in New York. We also felt that the United Nations had made a mistake in appreciation of the situation in Katanga: that they had taken military action which ought not to have been taken. We are very glad that, partly owing to our efforts, a cease fire has come about. As we told your Lordships, we thought some of the people they removed were not mercenaries at all, but civilian advisers who ought not to have been removed and whose removal has been a great disadvantage to the general situation.

This has naturally opened the Government to attack from two angles at the same time. When we say we support the operation, we are criticised for any mistakes which may be made in Katanga. On the other hand, when we state frankly our criticisms as a member of the United Nations, as we are entitled to do, about the errors which we think have been made, we are criticised from the other angle and told that we ought not to give support to the United Nations in this selective way, and that we ought to have vetoed the Katanga operation and withdrawn our financial support if we did not approve of it. The Government, as your Lordships know, do not accept these criticisms. We could have done what our French friends have done: turned our backs on the whole show and paid nothing. In my view, that is a mistaken attitude, and of course it would mean that we could not do anything to moderate and guide, as well as we can, events in Katanga, nor have any status at all in dealing with the question of atrocities.

We are not a member of the United Nations Advisory Committee on Katanga; that consists of the countries who have sent troops there. It does not include any of the great Powers. We have only a very indirect status in this matter, but naturally it has given us concern, as it ought to give everybody concern. We are paying our share of this United Nations' operation, and although we have no control over the matter except ordinary diplomatic duties towards British subjects, we naturally feel that we may have some indirect responsibility, as a member of the United Nations, for anything that is done wrong.

I was very interested to hear Lord Colyton's personal account of his visit to Elisabethville, and I have no doubt that what my noble friend said was on good authority, as he represented it to be. I myself gave your Lordships a number of cases, when we were discussing this matter before Christmas, on which we had, I believe, good and authentic information. But my noble friend who has been there will, of course, agree that there is a vastly greater number of allegations about atrocities, some without any foundation at all, which are widely circulated in Elisabethville and Leopoldville, and perhaps an equally great number of stories with some foundation which are due not to United Nations' troops but people like Baluba tribesmen who have got out of the concentration camp, many of whom have perpetrated a great many criminal actions in and around Elisabethville. Of course, the United Nations are very often blamed unjustly for that.

It is sometimes, as I think my noble friend appreciated and I am sure our Consul there would have told him, quite impossible ever to be sure what has been the true cause of whatever damage it is you may be considering. There have been some cases in which we have practically no moral doubt, a few of which were mentioned by my noble friend. Some of those actions which have perhaps had the most unfortunate effects are not always actions which are militarily unjustifiable. For instance, one I mentioned to your Lordships before Christmas was the action of the United Nations in occupying and temporarily putting out of work the electric engine which operated the water supply to the African quarter of Elisabethville. That might not have been against the Geneva Convention or anything of that kind when we were conducting a military action, but it had the effect of creating deep resentment and hatred against the United Nations among all the native Katangan population which had no water for a long time.

Then there are incidents like the bombing of hospitals, which I also mentioned. To be fair, we must recognise that there was a good deal of sniping from certain houses, although I do not know that there was any from the hospital. Of course, anybody who knows anything about the sad facts of military fighting is aware that sometimes a civilian edifice (it may be a hospital or a monastery) may be destroyed in the genuine belief that it is being used by the enemy, although the information on which this action is taken may afterwards be found to have been mistaken. I think we have from our Consul fairly good and accurate information, as much as ever could be obtained on everything of that kind which has taken place.

With regard to individual misbehaviour, breaches of the Geneva Convention, there have been many about which Her Majesty's Government have expressed their disquiet to the United Nations. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has mentioned one or two cases of rape, loot and murder which appear to have been substantiated. My noble friend Lord Colyton told us something about the procedure for dealing with allegations of that kind. Let me just repeat it, for the sake of the Record. When reports of misconduct by United Nations troops are received, what happens is that the local commander promptly institutes an investigation. He then submits a report, with recommendations, to United Nations Headquarters, on the basis of which a decision is made by United Nations Headquarters as to whether a court of inquiry should be undertaken.

As my noble friend rightly said, there is no authority for court-martial by the United Nations Command as a whole. What they do is to set up a court of inquiry, and if it establishes misconduct they then refer the matter back to the officers of the contingent concerned, with a request for disciplinary action according to the military rules of the country to which this battalion, or whatever it may be, belongs. That is what is done; and in such cases, in addition to whatever the military punishment may be, I understand that the offenders are always repatriated—sent home. They may be replaced by others, but they are not allowed to remain in Elisabethville. I have not got the names of any offenders who have been convicted or punished, but I understand that a considerable number have been disciplined and sent home, including some of the Ethiopian personnel to whom my noble friend referred.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? Is that not standard procedure: that disciplinary action must be taken by the commander of any national force? If you have a number of national forces together and anything goes wrong, it is the commander of any individual national force who is responsible for disciplinary action.


Exactly. I just wanted to make it clear, in order to avoid any confusion between the United Nations Command, which holds an inquiry but has no power to inflict punishment, and the powers of the commander of the national contingent who takes the necessary disciplinary action.

Several of your Lordships have thought it a good plan that there should be not only these individual military inquiries, followed by the necessary action, but also a general judicial inquiry into the question of atrocities on both sides. I cannot see any positive objection to that course. If such an inquiry were to be held, obviously it could not be held unless the United Nations appointed the people to hold it. On the other hand, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury said, no doubt it would be better if the people who held the inquiry at the request of the United Nations were people in a judicial position.

As I say, I see no positive objection to that. I would say only two things about it now. One is that I think it is most unlikely that the United Nations would agree to it. I think that either the Security Council or the Assembly would say "No; we already have our machinery for dealing with breaches of the Geneva Convention. We do not want to have a general roving inquiry."

Moreover, I am inclined to agree with the noble Viscount opposite that, if they were to agree, it probably would do not much good. Imagine a judicial inquiry going out there. Imagine the vast number of unsubstantiated cases which would be brought to their attention. Think of the kind of evidence which, in most cases, is all they would have before them in conditions which prevail in the Congo at the present time. Then there is the vast amount of work they would have to do in considering the thousands of rumours and misconceived allegations. I rather doubt whether they would manage to prove more than those cases which have already been established and in regard to which we are already all agreed—some of which I have myself mentioned to your Lordships in this House.

I must, however, particularly say something about British subjects, in regard to whom we really have no status, except as a general member of the United Nations who has paid her subscription. We are not a member of the Katanga Advisory Committee; our status is no greater than that of anybody else in this matter. But with regard to our own subjects, I think that my noble friend already had the figures. Of the 62 British subjects of European origin living in Elisabethville on December 1, one, Mrs. Dyer, was, as my noble friend told us, killed by mortar fire during the fighting while living in a civilian quarter of the town. Thirty-two had left by mid-January; 3 had expressed an intention of leaving; 16 possessed exit permits but did not want to leave unless the situation got worse; 4 did not wish to leave immediately and 7 had not made their intentions known.

I think that, of those who suffered loss, perhaps the most pitiful case is that which my noble friend mentioned, of Mrs. van Damme, whose house was much damaged. She is now being looked after by the Consul. As my noble friend said, the case was dealt with at great length and in great detail by my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary in another place last Wednesday, and I do not expect your Lordships would want me to go over it again.

I am glad that my noble friend paid the tribute he did to our Consul, Mr. Dunnett, who I think has done the most extraordinarily good work there and who keeps us very well-informed on all other matters. He has reported that fourteen British subjects have had their properties pillaged, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, pointed out, it is not clear by whom, whether by roving criminals—of whom there are a very large number loose in Elisabethville—or by Balubas, or, in some cases, as in the case of Mrs. van Damme, undoubtedly by Ethiopian troops. But in most cases it is not clear. Mr. Dunnett reports that the houses occupied by United Nations troops are not in a good state, but it is not clear whether this is due to fighting or to their occupation by the United Nations. There are six British properties which are occupied by United Nations troops.

As has been mentioned already, three Northern Rhodesians were killed when they came into the line of fire between United Nations and Katangan forces. I have already mentioned Mrs. Dyer, who was killed by a mortar bomb which is alleged to have been fired by United Nations troops. Individual cases involving British subjects who have suffered losses have been taken up with the United Nations authorities on the spot at Leopoldville—which I think is the best way Ito do it—and the question of responsibility is under consideration. Details of claims for damage by British subjects are now in process of being collected for record purposes, both by Her Majesty's Ambassador in Leopoldville and by our Consul in Elisabethville. Any further action will be decided in the light of the information thus obtained.

My Lords, may I just conclude by adding my hopes to those of Lord Henderson that the meeting to-day between Mr. Tshombe and Mr. Adoula in Elisabethville may lead to some agreement which will in due course make it possible for the United Nations to withdraw their troops from Elisabethville and bring this operation to an end.