Previous Section Index Home Page

18 May 2006 : Column 371WH—continued

That is one example of the constant struggle—I use the word deliberately—that we must engage in to get a lobby as each case comes up. It is a responsibility of the ambassadors and representatives in Khartoum and of
18 May 2006 : Column 372WH
each Minister to play our part. I will continue to do what I have done throughout: if people bring cases to my attention, including hon. Members taking part in this debate and others, I will take them up. Experience has taught me that that is the only way to keep up the pressure.

During the course of my visit, one of the questions concerned AMIS’s difficulty using the el-Fasher airport at night. It had been said that the problem was a lack of lighting. Because of my visit there, I was able to say to the Minister, “Well, that’s very curious. I’ve seen the lighting on the apron and the runway, and as far as I understand it, the problem is you providing someone to open up the control tower, turn on the lights and provide air traffic control after the hours of darkness so that if AMIS wishes to fly in and out, it can do its work.” It was as absurd as trying to apply a curfew to AMIS in Darfur in the interests of security instead of applying it to those causing trouble.

Have the Government of Sudan complied? Self-evidently, none of the parties has complied. That is why one of the individuals against whom sanctions have been applied is someone from the Government of Sudan military. The Select Committee report to which the hon. Gentleman referred asked the Government to get on the case and do something about it. That is why we have been working so hard to get the sanctions committee to do its work—to look at a list of names, to weigh up the evidence and, if the evidence is sufficient to justify sanctions, to get on and apply them. That is how to send a message. It is not by saying to the parties, “Please do what you promised”; it is by demonstrating the consequences.

Have others in Africa helped? As well as paying tribute to President Obasanjo, I pay tribute to President Konare, as he is known, of the African Union and President Sassou-Nguesso, the chair of the African Union. They both came to the final stages of the negotiations in Abuja and lent their weight and moral authority on behalf of the nations of Africa. They put pressure on the parties, who were invited in one by one to sit at the table and be asked, “Are you going to sign? What’s the problem? Why won’t you do it?” I do not think that the one signature, that of Minni Minnawi, would have been achieved if the African Union had not demonstrated its determination to help in that practical way.

On the African stand-by force, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the G8 countries that committed to help with that training are well on target to meet their commitments on training requirements, and that the AU is making progress in setting up the necessary logistics to make the force work. If he is interested in more information about that, I shall be happy to provide it.

The hon. Gentleman raised a point about the UN force, as did the hon. Member for Buckingham and others. We have heard various estimates in this debate, ranging from 12,000 to 40,000. To be honest, I have no more expertise than the hon. Member for Buckingham. That is why the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations exists. It needs urgently to get in there and make its assessment through a UN technical assessment mission so that it can confirm what the right numbers are, what the mandate should be and how the force should be composed. UN Security
18 May 2006 : Column 373WH
Council resolution 1679, which was passed recently, was important because it called for that to be done by 23 May.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is absolutely right to want practical steps. The first practical step to answering all the questions about how the UN force should work and be composed is getting the team in so that it can work. But in all honesty, because of the loss of time, the chances of getting a force up and running by 1 October are very slim. That is the truth, because that team has not been able to get in and start the process of preparing.

One issue that the UN force is going to face is providing water for troops. I spoke to the deputy head of the DPKO in New York a month and a half ago, and I remember that she put her hand on a map of Darfur and said, “There is not a lot of water north of this line.” Such practical considerations will have to be addressed if the force is to be able to do its job. I assure hon. Members that we will press for a sufficient number of troops and a strong mandate at the UN Security Council in exactly the same way as we did in the debates, about a year ago, on the size of the MONUC—Mission of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—force in the DRC. Some people did not want an increase in those forces at all, and some wanted a lot. Britain pressed very hard for an increase.

NATO has already been providing logistical support, including heavy lift, to get the AU troops in and out of Darfur as their terms have rotated. All of us in the international community, including NATO, need to consider what further practical support to the AU mission is required. Another practical thing that Britain has done is to provide vehicles, because AMIS said that, “If we don’t have vehicles, we can’t get out and do our job.” That is why we have taken responsibility for one of the fuel contracts, so that there is enough fuel to put in the vehicles and helicopters for AMIS to do its work. I have to tell hon. Members that about 90 per cent. of helicopter hours currently available to AMIS are spent resupplying its own troops. Its representatives need more capacity to spend a greater proportion of their time going out and about and doing their jobs.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) made an extremely well-informed speech. She is absolutely right to say that this is a tense and fragile moment. I very much welcome what she said about the African Union. She reminded us about the tribal make-up of the conflict when she talked about the Fur. That is important, because it is one of the layers of complexity in Darfur. It is not a reason for not trying to do something, but it is important that we understand what we are dealing with.

I want to address the hon. Lady’s point about compensation directly, because I feel strongly about this. I spent a lot of time in Abuja trying to point out to Abdel Wahed and his people what is in the agreement. I entirely accept her point about the importance of compensation psychologically and politically. It is part of the culture: you kill my family, you take my goods. Compensation is one of the ways in which the people make amends. We may find it hard to understand that
18 May 2006 : Column 374WH
the loss of life can be expunged by the payment of money, but that is part of the culture in Darfur.

As for any help that anyone else can give to try to get the point across, it is all in the Darfur peace agreement, which provides for the setting up of a compensation commission, which would have wide powers on the form and nature of compensation, including that for loss of life and loss of land. You name it, it is there. The draft that the AU tabled said that the Government of Sudan would make a contribution to the compensation fund, but no sum was mentioned. So the second thing that we did in Abuja was to ask the Government of Sudan what they were going to do. They said, “We will make an immediate initial contribution of $30 million.”

There is also provision in the Darfur peace agreement for a reconstruction and redevelopment fund. The Government of Sudan have committed to put into that fund $300 million this year and $200 million next year and the year after, making a total of $700 million. Perhaps I should not say this, but I will: if we want to be creative once we have signed an agreement and are getting on with implementing it, it is perfectly possible to say, “As an aid to reconstruction and redevelopment, people will need to resettle themselves in the places that they have been burnt out of.” There is a big pot of money that could also be used to make payments in recompense for loss of livelihood, animals and household utensils if one cared to look at what has actually been negotiated by the rebel movements and had the confidence to say, “Look, you wanted compensation: look what we brought back.” I say this with force and passion, because I learned something most forcefully during those peace negotiations, which was my first opportunity to participate in such negotiations. I learned that the texts and demands are important, but there comes a moment when we have to decide whether to make the psychological step from being a victim and a demander, a fighter and an outsider, to saying, “I am now going to take that step for peace and be part of trying to implement a solution to the crisis.” I could see Minni Minnawi doing that, and through the medium of this debate—though I do not know whether he will read it—I would plead with Abdel Wahed to do the same.

John Bercow: Send it to him.

Hilary Benn: Well, some people have even closer contact with him than others.

The point is important because, in truth, any movement’s leader must be concerned about what its members will say. That is why I referred to people being able to see what is in the agreement. It is perfectly understandable that leaders want to feel sufficient confidence to turn around and say, “Look what we have been able to achieve.” I really believe in the DPA; it delivers on compensation. The hon. Member for Richmond Park was right to highlight that because it is central to the points that Abdel Wahed has been making.

On the post of senior assistant to the president, in truth we do not yet know who will occupy it. The agreement makes provision for the movements to nominate. If the three movements sign, they have to agree between themselves who to nominate, but at present only one movement has signed. So, yes, that appointment will currently be in the gift of Minni Minnawi, but whether
18 May 2006 : Column 375WH
it will be him or someone else, I do not know. That will be down to him and his movement to determine.

On the tribal leaders, the hon. Lady was right and answered the question by referring to the Darfur dialogue, because its central purpose is to bring into the process those other interest groups in Darfur which are not necessarily represented by the movements, but which need to play a part in addressing the many concerns and issues that surround this complex crisis. That must not be a distant process, and people must get on with implementing it as soon as possible.

Is integration realistic? I was encouraged by the approach taken by the Government of Sudan general who came to the negotiations. When we were trying to craft additional changes to the agreement as a way to make progress, he was discussing those in practical terms and they had obviously thought about it. There is evidence from other conflicts around the world that if we have the right approach it is possible to make the transition happen. MinniMinnawi and his group have been particularly concerned about security, and the changes made to the agreement in trying to respond to them show that that is possible, but much of it is down to trust. The truth is that people want to see each party to the agreement doing what it has promised if that trust is going to be applied in those circumstances.

John Bercow: My point is slightly different from that of the practicality of the integration. I have read that it was proposed to integrate 1,000 people from rebel forces within the police and security structure, and that figure struck me as being very small. Do I have that wrong?

Hilary Benn: In the original agreement, I think that it was in the area of 1,000. That was changed after four days of negotiation. From memory, I think it is 4,000. In addition, I think that 1,500 will go into the police forces. [Interruption.] I apologise, it is 1,000. So, there are 5,000, which is a significant increase on what was in the draft tabled by the AU. There was a lot of debate about exactly how many forces the rebels have, but we made significant progress and it was key to unlocking the agreement from Minni Minnawi’s group.

The hon. Lady is right about the timing on recovery aid and issues of land. Dealing with those is going to be difficult. She was also right about the World Food Programme, which is the most outstanding organisation. I saw that for myself yesterday in Somalia, and what it did to stop 6 million people starving to death in Afghanistan three years ago was extraordinary. On the central emergency response fund, $20 million has so far been put in. The truth is that there have been some delays in getting the common humanitarian fund up and running. It is a pilot. As I have said right from the start in proposing the common humanitarian fund approach, it will not be any good if it does not work speedily to deliver the money.

I remain absolutely convinced of the rightness of an approach that says we look at what we have and at the needs, and we get one person to take an overall view of how we will divvy up the cash that we have to meet those needs. I know that that is a different way of doing things for some UN agencies, which have had their own long-standing relationships with individual donors. To
18 May 2006 : Column 376WH
be honest, not all of them like the change. However, when we have needs and a certain amount of resources available, it is the logical way of handling matters. Nonetheless, we have to move quickly and we must therefore distinguish between, on the one hand, the speed of operation, which is an important issue, and, on the other hand, the amounts that are available.

The excellent contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) revealed the depth of his knowledge. He drew to our attention the competition for land and for water, and the issue of banditry. He also raised the matter of the east, to which the hon. Member for Richmond Park referred. In Sudan, there is a big issue about the balance of power between the centre and the periphery. That is what such matters are all about, in part.

As for the discussions and the conflict with the Abuja Congress, if that is an issue—and it is—can we skip the fighting and go straight to negotiating? In the comprehensive peace agreement, which is why it mattered so much—I will come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham and the role that Britain played—all the elements that we need to make a deal are there, such as on power sharing, wealth sharing and transitional arrangements. I hope that, having learned the bitter lesson from the 25-year civil war and the conflict in Darfur that, as other parts of Sudan legitimately express their desire to share in power and wealth, the people of those parts of the country do not go through the same cycle of violence and suffering.

On the donor conference that I was asked to arbitrate, the truth is that there are two conferences. There will be the AU pledging conference on further support to AMIS scheduled for June. There will also be the donor conference in support of Darfur’s reconstruction and redevelopment, which the Dutch are hosting, and which is scheduled for September.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: So we were both right.

Hilary Benn: Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and the hon. Member for Buckingham were both right. They were just talking about different events.

We agreed in Abuja that the senior assistant to the President will be asked to represent the Darfur peace agreement and the people of Darfur in implementing the agreement, because that is the role given to the transitional authority. The senior assistant will be asked to present an initial plan on what they will do to support reconstruction and development and ask the international community how they can help. The plan will be about food, redevelopment, education and health and all the things that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud rightly pointed out, people want when there is peace.

I say to the hon. Member for Buckingham that I welcome his prods and passion in what was a characteristically powerful and elegant speech. One of the ironies that befalls those who seek to do something to help is that we are also lightning conductors for the intense frustration that every one of us feels about the lack of progress. The hon. Gentleman was right to remind us of the cocktail of barbarity. He was right to
18 May 2006 : Column 377WH
ask us to reach deep into our consciences. I want to come back to that point at the end as it goes to the heart of the debate.

Will people do what they promised? As for the Government of Sudan, we can at least look at the comprehensive peace agreement and have some encouragement. In the end, they did a deal. Yes, it is slow and imperfect, and there are frustrations, but it is happening. That should give us some cause for hope—not na├»ve optimism, but hope. Above all else, we must hang on to hope and combine it with a good dose of hard-nosed realism, which, as ever, the hon. Gentleman contributed to the debate. I also say to him that there is some evidence of a reduction in violence since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. I hope that Jan Pronk will continue to keep up to date on that, and I hope that it endures..

John Bercow: I am extremely appreciative of the Minister giving way yet again. He has been immensely generous. I do not dispute his point about a reduction in violence; I have no basis for doing so. Does he know whether the reduction has been on the part of the Government of Sudan or of the militias, in so far as we are supposed to regard them as divisible?

Hilary Benn: The honest answer is that I do not know, but I will inquire and write to the hon. Gentleman. I can say that, in recent months, an increasing proportion of the insecurity has been down to the rebel movements. If I can give the hon. Gentleman one gentle prod in return, I hope that he uses some of his fire and passion to give the rebel movements a hard time for what they have been doing, because they, too, have been inflicting suffering. In The Guardian yesterday, there was a report of inter-SLMA fighting that had caused great suffering and some loss of life.

On AMIS and funding, the UK has given £32 million so far. When I was there two months ago, I said that we would give another £20 million and we are on our way to honouring that pledge. Others will be able to make progress at the pledging conference to which I referred, but the problem of troop numbers remains. In the past year, the AU has found it impossible to get, in effect, the remaining battalion that is required to get up to the 7,700 mark. On the UN force, I hope that I have covered the points already. Ditto for the police—to whom the hon. Gentleman referred—because they have not yet been able to get the numbers that they want. That links to a point about insecurity in the camps, raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), which I shall come to.

The hon. Member for Buckingham said that he did not want a debate on the FCO, but if he does seek to drive a wedge between DFID and the FCO, I will take my mallet and resolutely knock it out again, because I do not think that that would be fair. This issue was the subject of great debate in the Select Committee. It was alleged that there is too much concentration on the comprehensive peace agreement and not enough on Darfur. I do not believe that to be the case. I shall return to the broader context in a moment. It was right and proper to continue to try to shepherd the comprehensive peace agreement to a conclusion, first
18 May 2006 : Column 378WH
because it brought an end to that conflict and secondly because it provided the framework that has been drawn on for the Darfur peace agreement and it is the framework available to deal with conflict in other parts of Sudan. If we had not secured that, we would, heaven forbid, have been in an even worse situation, so I resolutely argue against the hon. Gentleman’s point.

On the International Criminal Court, the hon. Gentleman was inadvertently too kind to me. I deserve no credit whatever in that regard, but my right hon. Friend the former Foreign Secretary deserves enormous credit, because the skill, passion and dedication to which the hon. Gentleman referred was demonstrated by my right hon. Friend in getting the UN Security Council to the point at which that resolution was passed. That was remarkable and I hope that history will record it. The hon. Gentleman is right: we need to ensure that when such matters are referred to the ICC, some consequence follows. That is why I am glad that it has started work. I hope that it finds evidence and, if it does, that it will indict people and they will be called to account, for the reasons that I set out in my opening remarks.

John Bercow: I raised the issue for the purposes that I described at the time, and it is important to have this on the record. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that no one who is reasonably suspected of atrocious acts should be allowed impunity on the ground that he is assisting in the war against terror?

Hilary Benn: I do agree. I expect the International Criminal Court, an independent body, to do its work. That is why I said carefully that it must look for evidence and, if it finds evidence, make indictments. That is the point of an independent international criminal court; it is why we fought so hard to get that in place.

Mr. Drew: This is not a dialogue with the hon. Member for Buckingham through the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend will be aware, given his recent visit to northern Uganda, that five people from the Lord’s Resistance Army have been indicted. The jury is still out—no pun is intended—on whether that is helping to resolve that dreadful conflict. If the International Criminal Court means anything, somebody has to find the people who have been indicted, or it is a useless process. That is why it is so important for action to follow indictment. Does the Secretary of State agree?


Next Section Index Home Page