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18 May 2006 : Column 365WH—continued

My last point for the Secretary of State, which I want to float with colleagues, concerns the significance of the International Criminal Court. I can be explicit and very generous, although no more generous than I think the facts warrant. The British Government have been completely robust and sound on the importance of referrals to the International Criminal Court. My impression is that both the Foreign Office and DFID have been committed from the outset. I believe that it is in no small measure due to the efforts of the Secretary of State and the former Foreign Secretary that the United States Administration came on side. I was quite worried about that because on the one hand the United States Administration had been the first to say that there was genocide in Darfur, but on the other hand we know the real reservations about and even hostility to
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the International Criminal Court that President Bush and his team felt and articulated. The fact that the British Government had a hand in persuading the United States Administration not to veto a referral to the ICC was a very significant development indeed.

As the Secretary of State probably knows, I am by nature and disposition a suspicious soul and I make no apology for that. I can well understand that there might be a point—it could even be now—at which some people would be inclined to say that I should not focus too much on that matter at the moment because it is important to establish security, to tackle the humanitarian crisis and to try to make progress towards referendums and the development of life and so on, and that it would rather cloud the issue if I were to bang on too much about referrals to the ICC. My view is that it is important to establish the position and get some commitments on referrals to the ICC.

What worries me is that in the name of securing peace and preventing a resumption of aggressive hostilities by the Government of Sudan it might be suggested, either expressly or implicitly, that it would be a good idea to go gently on referrals. It is imperative that there should be no impunity for those who are guilty of slaughter. Those individuals, wherever they come from, who are suspected of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity must be dragged, kicking and screaming if necessary, before the International Criminal Court. We have the advantage of precedent and the knowledge that flows from it. Yes, important work has been done in relation to war crimes in Rwanda, but it is frankly a damning indictment of the international community that the whole process from start to finish will have taken approximately 14 years.

I shall not refer in detail to any of those circumstances because we are debating Darfur, but right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of the controversy surrounding Charles Munyaneza who is suspected of responsibility for war crimes and attempted genocide in Rwanda and is currently living in Bedford in this country. We do not want, in years to come, individuals to seek asylum in Britain when they are suspected of bestial war crimes in Darfur and when it is said to be too late to do anything. I say that, as the Secretary of State knows, with no hostility to the legitimate pursuit of asylum. He will understand that on such matters I take a liberal conservative view. I greatly value the reputation of this country as one that gives sanctuary to those fleeing prosecution, but we cannot allow our procedures to be abused by those who are seeking to flee their just desserts and the acceptance of responsibility for what they have done.

I want it to be made clear that the people who are suspected of such crimes will be referred, that we will get regular updates and be told what is taking place and that resources will be invested. There are two reasons for that. First, it is right that those who are guilty of slaughtering other people should pay the price—I mean that in strict juridical terms. I am not arguing for revenge, or calling for the death penalty; I do not believe in state murder. But they should be forced to accept responsibility for what they have done. Secondly, it is vital that they are brought to book for the simple reason of deterrence. If ever we are to reach a situation in which we can genuinely say that it will never happen again, we must ensure that we can show that those who did it before copped it as a result.

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I have spoken with some force and passion on these matters because I have immensely strong feelings about the subject. It has been so far a worthwhile debate. I listened with the greatest interest and respect to what the Secretary of State had to say, but we must focus on the details. We have to be particular and we have a responsibility, in a sense, almost to be pedantic. Better that we be pedantic in focusing on the detail than we be guilty of the rather unedifying spectacle of telling each other how well we have done. I do not think that we have a right to do that when so many have been killed and when so much suffering continues to take place. The truth is that far too many people in Darfur have suffered too much for too long with far too little done about it. Some progress is now being made and I have every confidence that the Secretary of State will exercise his good offices. I hope that he will take the prods that I have offered this afternoon in the positive spirit for the benefit of people in Darfur in which they were intended.

4.27 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The situation in Darfur is possibly the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. If there is one part of the world where everything that could combine to cause the maximum of human suffering and misery did so, Darfur is it. Conflict, with the Arab militias and the Janjaweed, too many guns, a corrupt Government, global warming, religious divides, refugees, famine, human rights abuse, civil war and poverty: the scale of the problem, like the scale of the country, is different from that here in the UK.

The debate so far has been excellent. I particularly commend the speech by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who is always a hard act to follow, but there have been excellent speeches from members of all parties. The Chairman of the Select Committee, whose report was mentioned earlier today, would have been here were the Select Committee not visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The numbers might be estimates, but they are all staggering, with more than 3 million people needing food aid and up to 300,000 estimated by the UN to have died in Darfur during the conflict. Millions have fled their destroyed villages with many heading for camps near the main towns or over the border into Chad. The Janjaweed patrol outside camps: Darfurians are killed and women raped if they venture too far in search of firewood or water. Some 200,000 Darfurians have sought safety in Chad, but many are camped along the border and in danger of attack. There are also those who, although they have not been displaced, have been impoverished by the collapse of the rural economy caused by the continuing violence in the countryside.

Early in 2006, a total of 3.5 million Darfurians, more than half of the region’s population, were in need of humanitarian assistance. Nowhere is Sudan’s humanitarian crisis as acute as in west Darfur, and the United Nations estimates that 716,000 people have been uprooted and have taken refuge in internally displaced persons camps over the past two and a half years.

The images from my last visit are lodged in my mind, and they will be brought back to life this summer when I hope to return. They are images of villages burned
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out, attacked in a co-ordinated way from the sky and the ground, and of Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships sitting side by side with the white helicopters of the AU, mentioned by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell). They left me and others with no doubt about what had been happening and who were involved.

We visited camps where we met women and children and old people but relatively few men: the men were either dead, fighting or missing. We watched people walking for miles with nothing and starting again with the few basics of life—PVC sheets, food, some soap, containers for water, but not much more. We saw women taking their lives in their hands as they risked everything to obtain firewood, while in the distance they could see men waiting to rape them or possibly kill them.

I pay tribute to the non-governmental organisations and the workers, who are doing an excellent job. Many of them are young and some are inexperienced, but they have real commitment. They are from various organisations including Médecins sans Frontières and Oxfam. However, I pay special tribute to Save the Children, which pulled out of Darfur following the execution of two of its staff in a roadside incident. That incident followed another two of its staff being killed by landmines.

Even with the work that is going on in Darfur, the UN estimates that it has no access, or only limited access, to about 650,000 civilians who need assistance. Those people are living close to the edge of a cliff that has a very long drop. Relief workers are struggling to reach hundreds of thousands of civilians in dire need of food, water, shelter and protection from further attacks. Jan Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator said recently that humanitarian access was the worst it had been since the spring of 2004, and:

The work being done by those agencies in villages with no water, no sanitation, no food, little health care and little security makes the task ahead—at least to restore security, which, as the hon. Member for Buckingham said, is the basic requirement; the rest will follow—all the more important.

DFID’s role in the reconstruction and the funding promised by others is important. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for once again briefing Members immediately on returning from his trip. It is not the first time that he has done so. I clearly remember that after visiting the earthquake in Pakistan he flew straight back and reported to the House.

I would like to raise a number of issues following on from that visit and the recent signing of the peace agreement. The UN force must be deployed as a united force, not as a common enemy from outside. As the Secretary of State said, there is no reason for it to be a problem. If the UN force can continue to hold the peace in the south and to bring peace in Darfur region, it will have been a great success.

Even in areas where humanitarian agencies have had safe access to civilians, the Sudanese Government have obstructed relief activities, as we heard from the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). In fact, one could go
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so far as to say that they had conducted a campaign of administrative harassment; the restrictions included delaying visas and travel authorisations, using laws to regulate the activities of NGOs and imposing arbitrary and onerous regulations on humanitarian agencies.

We saw that happen also during the 21-year civil war in south Sudan; the Government regularly blocked humanitarian agencies, using tactics ranging from outright denials to flight bans and an array of other obstacles. Those delays must not be allowed to continue in Darfur. The role of the Sudanese Government was mentioned by the hon. Member for Buckingham, who is not known for mincing his words.

The recent peace treaty almost assumes that the Sudanese Government are an innocent party, hoping to resolve the problem by incorporating the rebels into the army and the police. To a certain extent, the fact that up till now there has been co-operation between the Sudanese Government and those groups is being ignored. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.

We can learn from what is happening elsewhere. Following the conflict in Sierra Leone much training was given to former combatants in carpentry, mechanics and blacksmithing, but, because the economy had not taken off, there was little or no demand for those skills or the products that they produced. Blacksmithing tools are now lying stored in a warehouse. It is important that the wealth of the country is spread, or the divide will remain and the frustration will grow. The unemployed youth who previously went out to fire a gun will be even more frustrated if he is trained and then finds out that no one wants his skills. The country is rich in oil revenues, which must be spread throughout the country, so that the economy can once again come to life. There is a risk that if the economy remains poor, or remains in the hands of a few, conflict will return.

Avoiding a return to violence after it has stopped is a challenge for all involved, and much reconstruction work is required. The basic infrastructure of roads, water supply, health facilities and education is lacking in many parts of the country. The democratic institutions need to be rebuilt and such basics as water supply will make a huge difference.

We must take heed of what is happening in the south after the signing of the peace agreement and the civil war. The war caused the death of about 2 million people. According to humanitarian agencies the death toll was one of the highest in any war since 1945. It ended with the signing of a peace agreement, but in the fight for control of southern Sudan one in five of the southern Sudanese population was killed.

Expectations in the south have, however, been raised, and those who have been fighting are waiting for a peace dividend. If there is no sign of that the ingredients for conflict will be present, and the conflict could resume. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) mentioned compensation. The danger in compensation is that individual political groups will try to outbid each other in offering large amounts. That will raise expectations and, when those are not fulfilled, the frustration may end in violence.

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We look forward, following the signing of the peace agreement, to elections to regional government in Darfur. However, I have a word of warning: we should not expect that the advent of elections will necessarily bring immediate peace. When the Select Committee recently took evidence, a witness answered our question about what factor was most often overrated in post-conflict situations by saying that it was elections: often, there is an expectation that conflict will reduce after everyone has had their vote, when, in reality, there is usually a lull before the elections, when everyone thinks that they will get their way through the ballot box, but conflict resumes when they lose.

I hope that those who have suffered most will have access to compensation to help them rebuild their lives. They are starting from a low level and will not need a huge amount to get them back on the bottom rung of the ladder. However, what is needed in Sudan and Darfur is good leadership and the recognition that those who led the fighting are not always the best people to lead the reconstruction. We look to Sudan and Darfur to produce politicians whom we can trust. That has not been the case so far.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the permanence of the camps. That will be a problem. The World Food Programme has been successful in supplying food to those who are hungry. Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières have been providing water, sanitation and health care facilities. People are now being urged to go back, if peace holds, to their villages, where there are few, if any, of those facilities.

We must also keep in mind the contribution of other parts of the world to the conflict in Sudan. There are, as I said earlier, too many guns in the country. There have been concerns about the rise in imports to Sudan from Libya. Libya has had sanctions lifted and can now import weapons. Old, second-hand weapons are leaving Libya and crossing the border into Sudan. There is also concern about the supply of arms from Russia and the fact that Sudan’s oil is going to China. As was mentioned earlier, it is all part of one, large problem, because the oil from Sudan is fuelling the fastest-growing economy in the world, which has one of the most rapidly growing rates of pollution. That affects global warming, which affects the very nomads and herdsmen who find that they have nowhere to feed their animals and there are conflicts over land rights.

John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman’s warning about the fragility of the situation is salutary, as is his reminder that elections should not be regarded as a panacea. Would he agree that, at least for a period, the emphasis of any financial assistance from the international community should be on humanitarian aid on the one hand and security, security, security on the other, before we get on to things such as education, education, education? I make that point not out of a spirit of meanness, but because we have a fiduciary responsibility to contribute our resources to best effect, and not to leap ahead of ourselves.

John Barrett: One key issue relating to security is planning for what happens next. If I may take the hon. Gentleman back to the planning for the war in Iraq, there was no doubt that, by a certain date, a certain number of troops had to be in place and certain actions
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had to follow. There is a real concern that, even with the best of intentions, dates are not met and security is not delivered on time. If that security is not delivered, nothing else can follow. Large sums of money have been committed by the UK Government and others—it is good to hear that the US announced an additional $225 million in emergency aid this week—but all the money pouring into the country will not solve the problem without security and without good governance.

On the increased involvement of the US, it was mentioned both on the liberal left and on the right that there seemed to be a feeling in the US that the subject is now at the top of the agenda. I pay tribute to a number of people, including celebrities such as George Clooney and Mia Farrow, who have brought the issue on to America’s television screens. In the past, public opinion has often followed where the news crews have been. I am sad to say that there are many regions of Sudan that news crews cannot get to, so there is much more to be concerned about.

When the hon. Member for Buckingham and I were in Sudan with the Select Committee, there had been killings in Port Sudan in the east. The Sudan Organisation Against Torture detailed exactly what happened, and we were left in no doubt that the Sudanese Government had played their part. We got details of the killings of young men, young women, and older women and men; no one was immune. It is good that the issue is at the top of the agenda in the UK, the United States and many countries around the world. We must not allow what has gone on for far too long in Sudan to continue, and I hope that with the recent signing of the peace agreement, we are heading towards the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

4.43 pm

Hilary Benn: With the leave of the House, I would like to respond to this excellent debate. I say that not because there has been a cosy consensus, to address the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) directly, but because, in the past two-and-a-bit hours, we have laid bare the practical and moral choices and challenges that we face in trying to do something about the trauma that the people of Darfur have suffered. I shall take each speech in turn and do my best to respond to the many points raised.

I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) for the interest that he has taken, for his visit, for the pertinent questions that he asked, and for going to the heart of the moral challenge that we face. I shall try to respond to each of his questions. As far as humanitarian access is concerned, one bit of progress—they are small steps—was made earlier this year. I raised this point during my visit a couple of months ago. The Government of Sudan have been operating a fast-track process to clear humanitarian workers’ visas and permits. They proposed to bring that process to an end, but others were able to persuade them to extend it to the end of the current year.

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