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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House so soon after his return and for his courtesy in providing an advance copy of the statement. There is clearly a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions emerging in Darfur and I congratulate him on the role that he has played in drawing it to the attention of the international community. What additional measures can the UK Government take to encourage the Sudanese Government to issue forthright statements condemning the murders in Darfur and to issue the military orders that are needed to bring those killings to an end? Can we also perhaps provide some training for the police who will have to be deployed in the area to ensure that they are properly representative of the communities and therefore not seen as a threat to the displaced people when they return?
What action can the UK Government and the international community take if the Sudanese Government do not respond to those requests? Does the Secretary of State agree with the definition of ethnic cleansing deployed by the Sudanese Foreign Minister, who believes that it is not currently happening in Darfur?
Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman asked what more the Government could do. They can do what they have tried to do up to now, which is to say to the Government of Sudan that they bear the primary responsibility. To be frank about the current problem, we know that there was a rebellion, which started this whole process off, that the Sudanese Government had some difficulty in dealing with and therefore invoked forces that they now have some difficulty in controlling. It is their primary responsibility to use all their influence and power to rein in the militia, provide security and deploy police.
I must say that I do not think that it would not be the best use of our resources currently to train the police. The responsibility for effective security rests with the Government of Sudan and there are enormous humanitarian needs that will still need to be met, which is why I announced the further substantial commitment of money from the UK when I was in Khartoum yesterday.
"perpetrated by the Government of Sudan and its proxy militia, many of which may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity."
In some senses, this is a conflict that has got out of hand. The Sudanese Government have come to realise that a military solution will not work, which is why I found in my discussions yesterday a greater willingness to consider the need for political talks, building on what was achieved in Naivasha. One of the tragedies is that the real and substantial political achievement, which the whole House will recognise, of negotiating the framework agreement, bringing the hope of an end to the longest running civil war in Africathat negotiation took great courage and commitment on both sideshas now been overshadowed by the crisis in Darfur.
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Yet if the same spirit of partnership, of give and take and of discussion that has characterised that agreement can be shown by the parties to the conflict in Darfur, there is hope of trying to deal with the agony that the people of that part of the country face.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the action that he has taken, which is extremely important and will make a real difference to the lives of many people. I spent a week in southern Sudan last month looking at some of the problems and I was strongly lobbied about actions in the Shilluk kingdom that have been similar to those in Darfur, but on a smaller scale.
Based partly on that experience, and partly on information that my right hon. Friend has provided, I urge three things on him. First, will he continue to put maximum pressure on the Sudan Government, who have at worst fomented, and at best permitted, some of the devastation? Secondly, will he look urgently at the UN's capacity to deal with the crisis? From what I saw, it does not have the kind of resources needed to deal with the scale of the problem. Thirdly, I urge him to ensure that we consistently fund the rebuilding of Sudan, both to deal with the humanitarian problems and to enable local capacity building for the transition to peace. In the long term, what is happening in Darfur and the rest of Sudan will be resolved only if there is a lasting peace so that people can start to rebuild their lives, and some of the awful wrongs and sufferings can be put right.
Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the visit that she undertook and I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss with her further the details of what she saw in Sudan. I undertake to continue to put as much pressure as I can on the Government of Sudan to fulfil their responsibilities. As I expressed in my opening statement, I share the concern at the lack of speed and urgency with which the UN has responded to this crisis. I think that that is beginning to change, however, and I met Kevin Kennedy, who is in Sudan in an acting capacity and will be replaced during the next two or three weeks by Eric de Mul. There is now a much stronger sense of urgency on the part of the UN, and we must build on that and make sure that it turns into action on the ground.
On my hon. Friend's third point, I could not agree with her more. One of the tragedies of Darfur is that we are having to spend moneyalthough rightlyon dealing with the humanitarian crisis when, if there were peace and stability in Sudan on the basis of the Naivasha agreement, we could use those resources to help the development of this desperately poor country. She is right to draw attention to the problems in other regions of the country. As well as the historic north-south conflict, there is a problem between the centre and the periphery of Sudan. That is why a solution has to be based on the principles that have been so carefully negotiated in Naivasha.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con):
I, too, pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the interest that he, like his predecessor, has shown in Sudan. That is to their credit. Does he agree that the Government of Sudan have form? At the very time when they were discussing
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peace at Naivasha, they were employing exactly the same tactics in Darfur as those that they have employed over a number of years in the south and in the upper Nile, including using helicopter gunships and armed mounted militia trained or sponsored by the Government. Can anyone have faith in the Sudanese Government and can the people of Darfur trust them ever to provide security there after the way in which they have behaved?
Hilary Benn: I apologise for being unable to attend the Westminster Hall debate this morning. I had been very much hoping to participate, but a sandstorm delayed my arrival back in the United Kingdom. As excuses go, that takes some beating.
The hon. Gentleman is right about what one might describe as the instinctive reaction of the Government of Sudan to difficulties that they have faced. However, the fact that the Naivasha protocols have been negotiated, in recognition that it was not possible in the end to find a military solution to the conflict between the north and the south, shows that there is sufficient political recognition in the system that another way forward must be found. I simply express the hopealthough I will understand if the hon. Gentleman is scepticalthat exactly that same spirit can be applied to resolving the conflict in Darfur. If it can be done in relation to the north and the south, then I believe that it can be done in Darfur.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): I commend both Opposition spokesmen for their recognition of the work that the Secretary of State has done. I hope that the Secretary of State will ignore the ill-informed criticism from people who ought to know better that he is supposedly preoccupied with Iraq and ignoring Sudan. The evidence is quite to the contrary.
Does the Secretary of State accept that it is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government to solve every problem around the world on their own? The first responsibility is that of the parties to the conflict in Sudan, and the Government must tell us what more can be done to try to find some peace agreement or accord. Further, will there be a donor conference to bring together those countries that are not yet participating? It is not just Britain and America that should provide the resources for dealing with all these conflicts. Other countries have equal responsibility.
Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As he knows, the two largest bilateral donors in response to the crisis in Darfur are first, the United States of America and secondly, the United Kingdom. That point bears some reflection. On the action that I now propose to take, I discussed the situation in Darfur with my EU Development Minister colleagues when we met in Dublin on 1 June, and I promised them that I would report back to them following my visit. I shall do so as quickly as possible, to make the point that the needs there are enormous and that we must all do more in response to the humanitarian crisis.
My right hon. Friend will also be aware of the meeting in Geneva last week. The UN appealed overall for $288 million for its 90-day plan. The UN in Khartoum told
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me that it estimates that it is still short of between $80 million and $100 million, although since then the UK has announced a further pledge of £15 millionabout $27 millionwhich will make a contribution. However, I take on board my right hon. Friend's point about the need for others to contribute to solving the problem.
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