Previous Section Index Home Page

18 May 2006 : Column 352WH

The UN and African Union officials whom we met during our visit were people of very great calibre and ability. I think in particular of the African Union’s No. 2, General Kamanzi from Rwanda. Indeed, the Rwandan element of the African Union, one of the best groups in the Union, is a symbol of the President of Rwanda’s comments who, when asked to deploy a force as part of the African Union, said that his country had suffered terribly and that it would make a significant contribution to the African Union force in Darfur, which it has. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell us what progress has been made in that respect.

The Opposition believe that we need a muscular chapter 6 engagement. The difficulties of getting a serious United Nations mandate in Darfur to take the necessary action were eloquently underlined in an intervention by the hon. Member for Stroud, who pointed out that the Chinese have been extremely difficult over the wishes of much of the international community. The United Nations does not lend itself to an easy solution because of the veto structure. I fear that a proper muscular mandate will prove difficult. I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on that.

An astonishing coalition exists throughout much of the world in support of the resolution. It is extraordinary to see complete agreement in America, from left-leaning liberals to the religious right, about what needs to happen in Darfur. Although America may have been preoccupied elsewhere, it agrees about the steps that the international community must take. I hope that the Secretary of State can tell us that the European Union, too, is playing its part in resolving those difficulties.

The Secretary of State mentioned the World Food Programme announcement, which has caused such concern. Britain has done much to support that programme, and I hope that he will be able to tell us that other European countries are putting their shoulders to the wheel to help with this extremely difficult humanitarian situation. We need to provide adequate food, yet we are advised that the amount of food available means that those in receipt of it will receive only 1,000 calories a day, which is barely subsistence level.

Within the constraints set out by Kofi Annan, there are grounds for some optimism. I am deeply concerned that the international community will find it difficult to put muscular, persuasive force behind the agreement signed in Abuja. I hope that the Secretary of State will say a little more about what is to happen on the ground in respect of the translation from the African Union force to a UN force. I very much hope that the challenge in respect of the Sudanese Government and the situation in Darfur will be met through the international collective will as expressed through the United Nations and as supported forcefully by the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the British Government. I hope that that challenge will be faced down and that real progress can now be made for those whom the Secretary of State mentioned, who have had to live in the camps, often in desperately serious and worrying conditions, so that they can return to where they lived before in peace and security.

18 May 2006 : Column 353WH
3.25 pm

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I am glad to join in this debate, and I thank the Government for bringing this subject before the House. Not only do Members of Parliament have a great interest in this issue, but the British public are increasingly taking an interest, too. The public are rightly preoccupied with issues such as that campaigned for by Make Poverty History and with trade, aid and debt, but Darfur is now coming on to the radar screen. We as MPs will need to account to them for what is happening, as well as reflecting their interest in this debate.

We are at a tense and fragile moment for peace in Darfur. We all applaud the peace agreement signed in Abuja last week by the Sudanese Government and the largest of the rebel groups, the SLM faction led by Minni Minnawi. That is a significant achievement. We also join in the congratulations to the African Union on its leadership. By chance, I had a brief word with the Secretary of State shortly after he returned from Abuja, and he talked strongly about the effectiveness of the African Union in this situation, in moving discussions forward and providing a frame for an effective process. We congratulate him and the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). The United States, in the person of Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, has also always played a role.

However, I remain very concerned that the two smaller rebel factions have not signed this agreement—most significantly the faction led by Abdel Wahed, who has the widespread support of the Fur people. We often forget that Darfur is the land of the Fur, and Abdel Wahed is a Fur. Although he has relatively few fighters at his command, having split with Minni Minnawi about a year ago, he has overwhelming support within the Fur community. His refusal to sign the peace agreement was based on the issue of compensation, and there have been riots across Darfur—in the west, the south and the north—in the past few days over compensation. We must be clear that people who lost their villages and livestock, either to the Janjaweed with the Government in complicity or directly to the Government through aerial bombing, are looking for restitution, and the restitution offered under the peace agreement is relatively modest: $300,000 as a one-off payment and an additional $200,000 over two years.

People will say, “Look, there is international aid, which will be coming in to support recovery, so this will not be the only money in play,” but I understand from people close in on the ground that because of the suffering that is put at the doorstep of the Government, many of the Fur people feel that it is imperative that the restitution comes from that Government, as that would in a sense be an admission of the damage they have suffered and, so to speak, a down-payment on a different future. I wanted to raise that issue and to ask the Secretary of State to tell us more—if he is unable to do so now, then whenever that is appropriate—about the compensation issue and how that obstacle can be overcome.

The peace agreement also sets up a structure for power sharing, with the rebels now to play a role in government. Sometimes such arrangements work, and sometimes they do not, but the rebels will now have the
18 May 2006 : Column 354WH
opportunity to have, in effect, a vice-president, a senior assistant to the President. However, if I understand correctly—perhaps the Secretary of State will help me if I am wrong—that is likely to be Minni Minnawi, and Mr. Minnawi is a Zaghawa. He is not Fur, and I do not know how this arrangement would be adjusted if the Fur were to come into the agreement, but we have surely largely missed the point if the largest ethnic group does not play a role in the Government structure. I have serious issues to raise about that. We know that the rebels will have guaranteed seats in the national state assemblies and will be involved in the ministries, but how will those jobs be divided up between the many factions? Has any of that been resolved? We know from the example of Iraq that it is easier to appoint members to a Government than to turn them into a Government.

I have also been troubled that whereas the discussions in Abuja pretty much engaged the national and regional leadership, from what I understand of Darfur and Sudan more generally, tribal leaders are key participants in what happens. Nazir Saeed Madibu heads the most significant or important tribe in Darfur and has managed to keep most of his people out of the conflict by creating pacts with neighbours and taking a different, individual stand. There are others like him and I should be interested to know how those people will be brought into the process.

The Darfur-Darfur dialogue seems a long drawn-out, distant process, which is what troubles me. It seems critical that the individuals concerned should buy into the peace process as soon as possible, if things are to move forward. How realistic is the idea of planned elections by July 2009? Can they be delivered? How willing will the Khartoum Government be in three years’ time to hold a referendum leading to an autonomous region of Darfur?

Security is a key precondition of the peace that we hope for. The peace agreement calls for the disarmament of the Janjaweed. Most of us would probably believe that all groups should be disarmed and that a reformed Sudanese military is needed—or one whose leadership is committed to a very different role. Otherwise arms and conflict will not be taken out of the situation. How realistic is the idea of integration of the rebel forces into the Sudanese military, given the history on both sides? Once again, Iraq is an example of a place where such an issue has been discussed from day one, and has proved nearly impossible to implement.

Any hope of security requires the transfer of peacekeeping authority from the struggling African Union, which has inadequate resources and about 7,300 troops, to a UN peacekeeping mission. What is the likelihood that the Sudanese Government will fall in line with that idea?

Mr. Drew: Don’t hold your breath.

Susan Kramer: I leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), who has been following the Sudanese press, to provide an update on those concerns. The length of time needed for that transfer is a difficult issue, and the sedentary comment that I heard seems quite pertinent.

18 May 2006 : Column 355WH

If we assume that there is an agreement to move to UN peacekeeping, we must presumably re-hat the African Union troops, but who will make up the numbers? Like the Secretary of State, I have seen 20,000 cited as an effective, meaningful number of troops to deploy.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: When the Secretary of State comes to address that point, will he advise us what else is meant by a UN force? Clearly, it is possible to re-hat the African Union soldiers, who are, within the constraints upon them, doing such a good job, but have there been discussions with NATO about providing logistical support—heavy lift support? There are, for example, 2,000 French troops close to the Chad-Darfur border, with aircraft. Clearly, NATO could make a significant contribution to a UN force. What consideration has been given to that?

Susan Kramer: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the direction of my comments—I am glad to have given a good steer. It seems critically important that the UN force should as far as possible be made up of troops from other African countries, or, potentially, from the Arab League. How do we deal with the concern that deploying white troops—troops from the west—on the ground will be treated as an echo of an imperialist past? I have concerns about bringing in NATO; I understand the logistical need, but how do we do that without creating a concern about those troops that could fracture an already fraught and rather fragile Government in Khartoum? I was concerned to hear a statement by President Bush in which he basically said that there would be NATO stewardship of the UN peacekeeping operation. That is an area in which we have to think things through extremely carefully.

Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Lady is entirely right, and no one is suggesting that NATO troops be placed on the ground—indeed, the Government have eloquently set out how non-African troops could be a magnet for conflict, rather than a help in resolving it—but it is clear that only an organisation such as NATO has the heavy lift equipment and the logistical support to give real muscle and mobility to African troops on the ground. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State addressed that point.

Susan Kramer: Our difficulty in finding the appropriate peacekeeping force—the African Union is not in a position to provide a sufficiently robust on-the-ground presence—is an indictment of the international community. We have so often talked of Africa sorting out its own problems; here, in many ways, is an example of Africa attempting to sort out its own problems, yet we have not provided the resources, the back-up or the resilience that would have enabled the African Union troops to manage the situation without giving rise to the questions that we now face.

I do not want to take up too much time, but let me quickly turn to two more issues, both of which have to do with aid. International donors are standing in line to offer recovery aid to Darfur. I raise a note of caution, not about the amount of recovery aid or the need for it, but about its timing. My concern springs from various conversations with non-governmental organisations in
18 May 2006 : Column 356WH
the area, which pointed out to me that sequencing matters. We must not attempt to bring in aid before there has been disarmament, before issues such as compensation are agreed on and the Fur are tied into those agreements, or before the issue of forced land ownership has been resolved. Hon. Members will know that many people have been displaced and land has been occupied, particularly in west Darfur, which has some agricultural potential. There is fear that recovery aid would lock in that occupation, rather than deal with the issue of who owns that land.

We have not tackled the issues of tribe-on-tribe violence or most issues of extortion—“self-protection payments” would be the language that we would use if it was happening on our streets—and that needs to be resolved before recovery aid is moved in. The Government have not yet lifted their unofficial embargo on trade outside the main towns. I just wanted to sound a note of caution about the overall situation and get the Government’s comments on that. There is real fear that if recovery aid is brought in, people who are displaced will return to their villages, although they are unsafe, and rebuild them, that new livestock will be provided and that people will then merely become a magnet for yet another attack. So I raise the issue of the preconditions, and ask the Government how they intend to approach that set of issues.

Humanitarian aid is obviously an entirely different matter and is desperately needed. We were all shocked to find out that only 20 per cent. of the UN’s appeal had been funded, and that the World Food Programme had to cut rations by 50 per cent. We understand that food stocks in the country are very low, and that the only way to get large amounts of food in now could be through airlifts, which are extremely costly.

I have been told that the World Food Programme has done an excellent and very much unsung job in distributing food, despite the violence. In the light of what has been happening in Darfur, the very fact that the WFP has been able to reach out to remote areas and reduce malnutrition rates is entirely to its credit. However, we are entering the hungry season, and as Members will know, that is not only when food stocks are at their lowest, but when most energy is needed to cultivate the next harvest, which will be in September.

Some might say that we should fill the gap with aid, but it seems to take some five months between a pledge of aid to Darfur being made and food being delivered on the ground. The World Food Programme was telling people as early as January that the crisis was coming, and it pointed to the timetable, but aid has been slow to arrive. Although I congratulate the Government on putting in another £9 million, that was in May, and the question is whether we will have a far more significant crisis on our hands by the time that money is available on the ground.

I have a couple of questions about that for the Secretary of State. First, he is one of the architects of the United Nations emergency relief fund, but where are its representatives in Darfur now? Secondly, he is one of the architects of a co-ordinated approach to aid, which, in Darfur, takes the form of the UN common humanitarian fund. Those on the ground tell me that that approach seems a positive idea, but that the bureaucratic layers that have been added to the process
18 May 2006 : Column 357WH
have delayed aid distribution to such an extent that we face a potential crisis over the next several months, until new aid, as it were, turns into food or cultivated crops provide in-country resources.

John Bercow: Given that the World Food Programme has received only 32 per cent. of the funds that it needs in 2006 to sustain its operations and that there is an estimated funding gap of $443 million, does the hon. Lady agree that it would be reasonable to put every member of the United Nations that signed up to the idea of the peace agreement on the spot by asking them exactly what they will contribute in pounds, shillings and pence that they have not previously contributed? It logically follows that that is the only way we can plug the gap.

Susan Kramer: I could not agree more. It would be the ultimate tragedy to lose the chance of peace because we failed to follow through and to lose so many Darfurians, if not quite a generation, through lack of food aid, just when we thought that we had achieved a resolution of the conflict. What people at large very much want to tell this Government and Governments across the globe is, “Don’t give us the spin. Give us the beef” and, in this case, “Deliver the food.” I therefore agree that the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is significant.

I shall make just two more quick remarks before I sit down. We must be conscious of the context of the Darfur crisis, and it would be helpful to understand how much Darfur is at risk from surrounding instability. Civil war is spiralling out of control in Chad, and many of us are anxious to ensure that at least the Chadian rebel strongholds in Darfur are closed down and dealt with in the context of the peace agreement. East Sudan is scarcely ever discussed, but many people say that a potential humanitarian crisis is developing there, on a scale that overshadows the crisis in Darfur. Who on earth is negotiating with the Eastern Front rebel group? Knowing more about that would help us to set the current issue in context. The Secretary of State talked about the success of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement in the south, but many feel that it is not playing out with quite the robustness that was intended. Simple measures, such as the promised publication of data on oil resources, which would allow us to understand the allocation between north and south, do not seem to have worked their way through into practical reality.

Darfur, like Sudan generally, was once a peaceful multi-ethnic society. Then came drought, and people started to move, to look for other land and to displace other people. In a strange way, we have seen a microcosm—a very localised form—of the disruption, conflict and suffering that comes from climate change. There is a lesson in that, but if we cannot deal with Darfur, as contained as it is, I wonder how we will deal with the much larger dislocation that climate change will cause in the future.

3.44 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer). I shall come back to some of the
18 May 2006 : Column 358WH
points that she made. It was also good to hear the spokesman for the official Opposition, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who went to Darfur and, I am sure, learned a lot.

I also want to say how much I appreciate the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I have been able to put that in print in the form of an early-day motion. He addressed the all-party group on Sudan just after he had got off the plane from the Darfur peace talks. I thought that he could not do any more, but he went off to northern Uganda and Somalia and returned to address us today. I do not know whether there is much more that one can say about his stamina, let alone his interest in these issues, with all the problems that they bring with them.

It is easy to criticise some groups for the way in which they raise money and for some of the lobbying that they undertake. However, the all-party group on Sudan is a model for what it has tried to do in this place and beyond. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Hilton Dawson, who was a wonderful chairman and who went to Darfur with the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and me. I also pay tribute to our current co-ordinator, Senait Petros, who keeps us wonderfully well informed of everything that is happening with Sudan, and to her predecessor, Sultana Begum.

I do not want to speak for long because this will be a consensual debate, albeit we could disagree on what more could be done and what lessons could be learned. However, something that may not have come out as clearly as it should is that, although we have had to analyse and play our part in trying to resolve the recent crisis, many of the problems date back some considerable time. Anyone who has time to read the two recent books on Darfur by Flint and de Waal, who are well known commentators, and by Gérard Prunier, whom I have had the opportunity to meet—yes, I will put those books back in the Library shortly—will at least gain an understanding that these are, in some respects, age-old conflicts. I am talking about the question of who belongs to the Fur and who belongs to the Zaghawa. The Masalit is another tribe that is very dominant in Darfur.

Sadly, tribal conflict goes back a long way. In many respects, this is where, as always, the British come in, because it was largely our decision that put Darfur in Sudan. We cannot escape that responsibility. With regard to what the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, I would not exaggerate and say that this is the first conflict for which global warming has been directly responsible, but it certainly contributed, in that the nomads have been driven south and have come into conflict with the pasturalists. In many respects, the conflict is about land—who has the land and who is keeping animals there. One should never underestimate the importance of animals. One lesson that the hon. Member for Buckingham and I learned was that, as much as seeing people starve to death is terribly difficult to come to terms with and when we see dead donkeys we think, “Well, thank goodness they are not children”, the Darfurians would say, “But those animals are our future.” If people do not have a donkey to carry firewood back to the settlement, they have no future—they will die.

Next Section Index Home Page