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18 May 2006 : Column 358WH—continued

Let me explain another fact from which we can never escape. As the hon. Lady mentioned, Sudan—that
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huge area that we call a country—has suffered from the problem of balkanisation for a considerable time. Many of the antecedents of the conflict came from the south; in the early days, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army had a lot of influence over the Sudan Liberation Army/Sudan Liberation Movement. Furthermore, the work of Mr. al-Turabi through the Justice and Equality Movement cannot be underestimated, given that it added to the belief of those in the Darfur area that they were getting less than those who had taken up arms in the south, and made them ask why they should not take up arms, as they could become beneficiaries by fighting in that conflict.

The hon. Lady was right to mention east Sudan. I make no apology for asking that this time, please, the world must get ahead of the conflict, given that there is already evidence that it is happening on the ground. We have to prevent it from happening, not just pick up the pieces. It is vital that we look at what is happening in the east of the country and continue to support the comprehensive peace agreement in the south. Given that the eyes of the world have been on Darfur, the danger is that it is easy to say that that is where the aid and effort should go, but the south might begin to slip back into problems.

We have reached a good stage. Six months ago, some of us would have despaired about whether there was ever going to be anything like a peace agreement. There will not really be peace be until we get it on the ground. However, Minni Minnawi’s faction has been willing to come formally into discussions via my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s good agencies and Robert Zoellick, through the Sudan Government. It is good that that has moved forward rather rapidly.

However, as the hon. Lady said, there are still the other two factions—that of Abdel Wahed, and the Ibrahim faction of the Justice and Equality Movement. Both are still outside the process. One hopes that they will see the benefits that the Minni Minnawi faction gets—sooner rather than later—and that that will encourage them to lay down their arms.

One of the challenges that has not been mentioned is who will disarm the Janjaweed. It is easy to cast aspersions. In an intervention on my right hon. Friend, I mentioned the role of Musa Hilal. In his eyes, the Janjaweed was not a tool of the Sudanese Government, although he was occasionally seen in a Government of Sudan army colonel’s uniform. He lectured us at length about his justification—that his people had for years been abused and shut out from the opportunities to share in the riches of the area, let alone the wider country.

In recent times, it has been clear that some of the things going wrong on the ground have been not about political movements, or even about people feeling that they are justified in doing the things they do because of what has happened previously, but about sheer banditry. That is the difficulty with putting a force in on the ground. We need numbers because the operation is not only for peacekeeping, but policing. People have grown used to the fact that they take what they believe to be theirs—even if it is not theirs in any way, they still take it.

The all-party group has built a relationship with the Sudan Organisation Against Torture, in the face of the most vicious attacks by the Government of Sudan, who
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demand that the British Government stop funding it. We have continued to fund it. It brings to our attention some of the worst aspects of depravity, whether they be the attacks on villages or the summary justice that is issued on the back of them, where the so-called “perpetrators” are arrested and all sorts of things happen. One can never cease to be amazed at the irony that we must get used to when dealing with Sudan. In terms of the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue and civil society, some of us found it difficult that the representative who was put before us as the best person to talk on behalf of civil society when we were dealing with the south-south dialogue was Mrs. Garang. She, of course, was the wife of John Garang. Some of us found it difficult to understand that we were dealing with civil society, because her husband was leading the SPLM.

Likewise, the previous time that we were in Darfur, we heard a wonderful lecture by the Minister for human rights—at least, he called himself that—Ali Osman Taha’s brother. He said that the best thing to teach people about human rights was to indulge in Hudood—lopping people’s hands and legs off—because they then understood what human rights were all about. Irony is strong in Sudan, and it is sometimes difficult to bring ourselves back to western values and understand how we approach the problem.

As the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said, there is clearly an issue about the role of international non-governmental organisations. The worst offences against them are the delaying of visas and people making it difficult for them to operate on the ground. I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something about how we will engage with the Government of Sudan in particular, this time, so that we allow those organisations to operate freely and with a degree of effectiveness that has not been possible in the past. We are all aware that we do not know what has been happening in whole areas of Darfur, because the NGOs have not been able to get into them. They have had no protection, and that is as much to do with the Sudanese Government as it is to do with the rebels’ activities.

The UN Security Council visit on 5 to 9 June will presumably begin to examine how the UN can take over from the AU. I pay tribute to the AU. It can be much criticised about the things that have not gone as well as they might have done, but, as my right hon. Friend said, this is its first real test. It has performed as well as could be expected and in many respects better than that, but there is still a shortfall in manpower.

There is also an issue about how the transference of power is to be managed: whether things go through NATO or directly to the UN. It is a bit worrying that, in a sense, as the transition occurs, people take their eyes off the ball. The last thing we want is the AU to start thinking it can withdraw troops because its job is over. In addition, those who have been funding it might think that they might as well start funding the UN or NATO as an interim agency. In reality, we must keep people doing the jobs that they are doing. We cannot allow a further vacuum to develop. That is an important consideration.

The humanitarian situation is everything. I have talked about the human rights abuses. We sometimes grow used to them, but we must never ignore them, and they need to be highlighted. There is an idea about a donor conference; I gather it is being planned for
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September. It would be useful if my right hon. Friend told us what is expected. We clearly need more money. How will that be organised? What is being sought? Are we seeking just money, money and food, or money, food and the means to be able to move to the UN mandate being properly delivered? Who else are we trying to bring on board? It would be wonderful if the Chinese could think outside their self-interested approach to the country and be brought on board as part of the resolution rather than as a large part of the problem because of their specific role, as I said to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.

John Bercow: I am slightly alarmed by what the hon. Gentleman just said, because I understand that Kofi Annan said on Monday that there will be a pledging conference of donors in June, not September, and that it is incredibly important that donors should not wait for that conference, but should make clear commitments and be “very generous” now.

Mr. Drew: The hon. Gentleman is probably much more knowledgeable than I am. It is quite likely—my right hon. Friend will arbitrate between us—that the September conference has been brought forward to June, which can only be a good thing. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that dates slip occasionally. The main thing is that the world is engaged and that matters are properly organised, because we have only one chance to get it right.

On the comprehensive peace agreement, for the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue to stand any chance, we must learn from what has been going on in the south. It is early days there, but all the evidence is that the only chance for long-term peace in Darfur is if we develop not just a political solution, but one in which civil society has a specific mandate and responsibilities. It must play its role in a way that will, over time, bring about a normalisation of events on the ground. Given the history of the area, what is normal is very difficult to understand from our western point of view, but we have to work incredibly hard to build up the things that will prove that we are making a difference to people’s lives in education, health, social services and how people are catered for. That simply has never occurred, and that has been the stimulus for people taking up arms, because they think, “What difference does it make? We might as well fight for what we believe we can achieve,” rather than see a growing dialogue.

I would be interested to know a bit more about how we are learning from the south-to-south dialogue, primitive as it might be, in relation to the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue, and how genuinely civil society can grow, take its part, take responsibility and be given a real role, given that the history of Sudan tells us that the Sudanese Government will start interfering. I expect that the hon. Member for Buckingham will have something to say on that.

I leave things on a negative note, because my speech has been largely positive. We have all learned to our cost that what the Government of Sudan say is not necessarily the whole truth or something that we can take as read. It would be good to hear that the inclusion of Ministers from the SPLM into the Government is beginning to
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make a difference, and that the Government, with their unified command, can be trusted to deliver the things that the world—not just the UK or EU—expects of them. We know why Sudan did not get the presidency of the AU. If the Government of Sudan want to achieve that status in the future, they must be able to deliver not only the words but the actions on the ground. That is very important, and I hope that we can trust them to do that.

4.4 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The people of Darfur have been victims of some of the most egregious human rights abuses inflicted on anyone, anywhere in the world at any time in recent memory. It is important to recognise the significance and enormity of the suffering that has taken place and not simply jump on to the next stage. Aerial bombing, mass shooting, widespread rape, destruction of crops, theft of livestock, poisoned water supplies, and human beings chained together and burned alive have all been part of the cocktail of barbarity that has scarred the conscience of the world.

I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) because some time ago I concluded that genocide versus non-genocide, which is a discussion that could take place about what has transpired in Darfur, is not a semantic debate. It is not simply a matter of the choice of terminology of one individual or another. It is a matter of real significance both because we understand that certain consequences and actions ordinarily are expected to flow from a judgment in international law that genocide has been committed, and because it is important that our moral conscience should be stirred by what has happened.

My impression is that the events that have taken place—the calculated and remorseless evil that has been committed in Darfur—do amount to genocide. In those circumstances, and with the best will in the world and recognising the merit of constructive discourse for the purpose of future progress, I find it incredibly difficult simply to take at face value the commitments that have thus far been made. It is especially difficult when those who have entered into those commitments and to whom we were particularly looking for statements and signatures are people who have themselves conspired to commit that genocide. As the Secretary of State will understand, I refer principally to the Government of Sudan.

There has been a good deal of consensus among right hon. and hon. Members today, and, in a sense, it is healthy. I do not seek to puncture that for the sake of doing so, and I do not dismiss its merit in total, but it is important to issue this caveat: the present period is simultaneously one of great opportunity and one of supreme danger. I say “supreme danger” because in practical terms we must learn from the experience of the past. We are all fond of invoking the importance of learning from past experience, of seeking to develop better practices for the future and of acknowledging the need never again to tolerate genocide and mass slaughter, but what does that mean in practice?

Let us think of what took place in Rwanda in 1994. If we are not careful, there could be a direct parallel between the Arusha peace agreement and the present
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situation. In the end, the Arusha peace agreement was signed and progress towards its implementation was starting to be made, but the extremists were planning the ultimate genocide. In other words, people of thoroughly ill will were planning to use a period in which there was a semblance of good will—and, dare I say it, perhaps accidental complacency—to force through the slaughter that they had in mind. I do not want something similar to happen in Darfur. I mention this—the Secretary of State’s brow is momentarily furrowed—because I am concerned about the scale of the killing that might still be taking place, and it worries me that I cannot get accurate figures.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: My hon. Friend is confronting directly the issue that I skirted around but which I put in several ways to the Secretary of State. What provisions or plans are the international community making in case, as a result of events that have taken place, it is unable to enforce its will upon the Government of Sudan and other warring parties in Sudan? What provisions or planning does the Secretary of State believe the United Nations and others should be making to confront that possibility?

John Bercow: That is a pertinent intervention from my hon. Friend. I have been unhappy for some months about the sequence of events. It seemed intolerable that earlier this year, foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government effectively vetoed an urgently required UN troop deployment. It was put off ostensibly until September, but it might prove to be longer than that.

I want to focus briefly on the key issues. First, in so far as the African Union mission in Sudan is concerned, will the Secretary of State at least say something more about what is envisaged? What additional help will be provided, how much is it expected to cost, and which countries are, so far, committed to providing a contribution and at what level? Is there to be simply a ratcheting-up of numbers of personnel, or a change and a strengthening of mandate in the period between now and the start of October?

It seems in no way alarmist but merely a sober reflection of reality for the Aegis Trust, a magnificent anti-genocide organisation and sponsor of the “Protect Darfur” campaign, to observe that unless significant action on security is taken now, there is a danger of a void that would, in its word, be “disastrous”—the threat then being that Darfur would deteriorate into what the trust describes as irretrievable chaos.

I understand that the Secretary of State is not the sole player; he cannot act alone. However, at a time when we are saying that it is good that there is a peace agreement because it is much better that there should be than there should not be, it is important that we do not neglect our constitutional responsibility to ask exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, who will ensure that it happens and, as a result, what we can expect to be the consequences of improved security.

If we then press the fast-forward button to the intended transfer of responsibility to the United Nations, as far as one can reasonably foresee or guarantee, will that transfer take place on 1 October? If
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it takes place on that date, does that mean that a full deployment will begin that day and be completed shortly afterwards? Or does it mean simply that some other agreement or statement will be the recipient of signatories on 1 October?

I do not wish in any sense to trivialise what is an incredibly important debate, in respect of which I have not the slightest doubt about the sincerity, integrity and commitment of the right hon. Gentleman; but in such situations, I sometimes worry that when we are told that something is going to happen—for example, that there will be a troop deployment and that it will begin in October—it is analogous to the conversation that one might have when ordering a taxi from a hard-pressed firm. One says to the controller, “When will the taxi come?”, and he says, possibly after a moment’s hesitation, “It’ll be 15 minutes, sir.” And one says, “Do you really mean 15 minutes, or do you mean that you would like it to be 15 minutes, but in practice, it is much more likely to be half an hour?” I would rather know. I ask the Secretary of State in all sincerity, will he give us a little more information?

I admire the right hon. Gentleman greatly, and I think that he is an extremely good Secretary of State for International Development. I also happen personally to have a very high regard for the former Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I hope therefore that it will not be taken in the wrong spirit if I say that although I greatly esteem both right hon. Gentlemen, I do not exonerate the Government entirely from responsibility for the sorry saga that has beset the people of Darfur. It is not really good enough simply to blame others. DFID has done a superb job, but I have been much less sanguine about the foreign policy response of the international community, in respect of which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had a part to play.

Today is not the day to explore in detail whether sequencing took place, inadvertently or calculatedly, but we must all examine our consciences very carefully and unsparingly, with a view to trying to ensure that foreign policy responses in the future are much more robust and that they reflect the words contained in international agreements and public protocols. I think, for example, of the United Nations’ responsibility to protect and the UN millennium review summit, which was referred to earlier.

We would like to have some idea, just on the numbers, of what the Secretary of State might consider an appropriate peacekeeping force. I was honest enough to say—and if I had not been, it would probably have been readily discovered in any meaningful exchange—that I have no expertise whatever in military planning, strategy or logistics. However, it worries me greatly that we still do not seem to have much sense of what the scale of the peacekeeping commitment is intended to be.

On the one hand, the Aegis Trust has proffered into the public domain the figure of 25,000 troops, which it judges might be required for the peacekeeping task. On the other hand, General Romeo Dallaire, who is not exactly uninformed about such matters, having had the searing experience of trying to cope in wholly inadequate circumstances in Rwanda, long ago suggested that 44,000 troops would be required. There is also the view of Major General Collins Ihikere, the AMIS force commander,
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who is on the record somewhere as speculating that up to 60,000 troops could be required.

There is a huge difference between the figure of 7,000 talked about for the African Union force and the figures that I have quoted; indeed, there are even huge differences between 25,000, 44,000 and 60,000. Is the truth of the matter that the judgment will not really be made on the basis of the peacekeeping requirement, but will end up being involuntarily made on the basis of the relative parsimony of the individual contributor nations?

If that is the reality, we ought at least to be honest with ourselves about it. If we know that far more troops are needed, but that far fewer will be provided because countries are not prepared to cough up, let us please at least abandon the truly stomach-churning hypocrisy of claiming that the international community is now seriously concerned about bringing an end to the genocide. One might conclude—it would be sad, but probably inevitable to have to do so—that the international community was not that bothered about black Africans dying in Darfur, as opposed to people dying in Yugoslavia, Kosovo or Iraq.

Will the Secretary of State tell us something about the interesting idea of police-keeping and apply his remarks to the real crisis of insecurity and the sense of terror that had been pervasive in the camps for too long? On both my visits, with the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and subsequently with members of the Select Committee, the most striking feature was the spontaneous and unprompted response from people suffering in the camps. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) knows only too well, when they were asked, “What’s your greatest concern? What is the biggest handicap you face? What is the most striking impediment to progress in your lives?”, they all said, “Lack of security. We are not safe. We are terrified.” If then asked the supplementary question, “From what have you fled and what are you frightened of?”, the answer was, almost always, the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed and other militias.

I would be interested to hear more about security in the camps, because there is desperate concern that they will eventually prove to be not temporary places of refuge for a suffering, impoverished and starving population, but the permanent sanctuary of people who simply dare not go anywhere else for fear that they will be killed or raped if they attempt to do so.

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