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28 Nov 2006 : Column 34WH—continued

and to take military and non-military action to

One would have thought that that would provide more than a sufficient mandate to go in and keep the peace, and allow humanitarian assistance to be given. The problem is that there are six pages of such resolutions, but most of them have never been implemented. It is one thing to secure a resolution, but another if it is not implemented. I am deeply concerned about how the international community will act if the force is not allowed into Darfur.

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable contribution to this debate. On that point, to take further the thesis of the hon. Member for Banbury about the international community not being prepared to intervene on purely humanitarian grounds, if the international community fails to act decisively in the coming weeks, that will play into the hands of those cynics who believe that the international community will not see an issue as a priority unless there is oil or something else involved.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I entirely agree with that. If we are to have any international order and if the UN is to have any real purpose, it is in precisely situations such as Darfur. That is precisely the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury alluded. People who perpetrate such atrocities should be subject to an international arrest warrant, and should expect to be brought before an international court and to receive a very severe sentence indeed. It is only that sort of action and the threat of intervention by the international community that will stop people such as the Janjaweed militia from committing their atrocities.

If we allow the situation to continue in Sudan, where else will that sort of thing spread? Zimbabwe? Burma? One can think of all the worst human rights abuses in world. Allowing the situation to continue will give succour and encouragement to all the tyrants who are carrying out human rights abuses. This debate is therefore extremely important. It is important that the international community act, because if it does not, the problem will be much more difficult. The purpose of this debate, in view of the fact that we have the Secretary of State here, is to ask how on earth we get humanitarian assistance properly into Sudan and to those 4 million people whom Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian officer, has said need help. How are we going to get help to those 4 million people if the NGOs and others fear for their lives?

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11.39 am

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the excellent speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), but I would like in particular to pay a heartfelt tribute to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). Specifically, his sincere and measured yet passionate advocacy is appreciated by hon. Members from all parties, as is his long-standing and painstaking commitment to the subject in both Westminster Hall and the Chamber.

Miss Begg, having subjected you to a lengthy disquisition earlier on a different subject, namely the education of children with speech and language difficulties, I shall confine my remarks to a couple of observations. I ask the Secretary of State in a genuine spirit of interested inquiry whether it is the position of the British Government—or, to his knowledge, of friendly Governments with whom we deal—that, in the final analysis, when all discussion has taken place, the Government of Sudan will have an effective veto on whether a force is deployed, how large it might be and what mandate it should be given. If that is the position, stripped bare of the rhetoric, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Government of Sudan will be aware of it. It seems a peculiarly poor position from which to negotiate, and as bad a position from which to develop policy, if the suspected genocidaire against whom one is considering taking action is aware that in the final analysis it will not be done if they do not agree to it. That is stark, I know, but the Secretary of State is perfectly capable of plain speaking. In all sincerity, as someone who is as concerned about the matter as he is, I ask him to come clean with colleagues about where the Government stand.

Andrew George: In view of what the hon. Gentleman says, will he reflect on the veto that Saddam Hussein did not have on international intervention in Iraq? What conclusions can we draw from the international community’s commitment to act in one case and not in another?

John Bercow: I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I do not subscribe to the view that the Iraq war was about oil, but I believe that Darfur occupies a much less central or forward position in the minds of decision makers than Iraq did. That is morally unjustifiable, it is strategically unwise and, in humanitarian terms, it has already proved an absolute disaster.

It is simply not acceptable for a state to invoke, implicitly or explicitly, the doctrine of state sovereignty and then to hide behind it while practising the most egregious human rights abuses imaginable. Kofi Annan has made it clear that that doctrine is not acceptable. If it were, we would not have an International Criminal Court, we would not have developed a responsibility to protect and we would not be talking about trying to bring genocidaires to book. It is simply not on for the Government of Sudan to dress up in the language of national self-protection a plethora of disreputable excuses for continuing to bomb, kill, rape and maim their own citizens.

If we are agreed that that is the case, the international community must act, not to keep the
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peace but to enforce it. If we are not prepared to do so, Darfur will be only the latest stop, following Srebrenica and Rwanda, in the journey towards a continuation of mass tyranny, mass murder and, I am sorry to say, mass impunity.

11.44 am

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): When the United Nations was established in 1945, one of its key roles was to ensure that genocide and ethnic cleansing would no longer be tolerated in any corner of the world. The atrocities of the second world war led to ready consensus that an international organisation was required with sufficient clout to prevent similar tragedies in future. Sixty years on, many believe that we are already witnessing the first genocide of the 21st century unfolding in Darfur.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on securing the debate and on the hard work he has done in the all-party parliamentary group on Sudan. I know that he sometimes feels that he is bringing the subject back to us again and again, but it is sad to say that things have not progressed. We are all more concerned now than we were six months, a year or two years ago.

The debate comes at a key time for the region. I pay tribute to all the aid workers on the ground who risk their lives daily. Some have paid the ultimate price, and the international community owes them a great debt. As a result of the ongoing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media’s focus has at times drifted away from Darfur. We in the House cannot afford to let events elsewhere, however serious, push the crisis into the margins.

Kofi Annan has called the situation in Darfur the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. If one has seen the situation on the ground—listened to the first-hand experiences of refugees in Kalma and other camps, seen the helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers side by side at the airport with UN-supplied equipment, and witnessed life in the refugee camps—it is difficult to disagree. For many, it is hell on earth.

As the hon. Member for Stroud mentioned, he and I were scheduled to visit Sudan again last month, but sadly, for a number of reasons, the trip was cancelled. If the cancellation was indicative of how serious the situation is on the ground, the figures tell their own story. The latest UN figures estimate that more than 200,000 people have died as a result of the unfolding conflict, with around 2 million internally displaced people. Those are the highest numbers since the conflict started in 2003, representing an increase of 125,000 since the last UN report in July. The situation is absolutely desperate, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss what must be done to help break the cycle of violence that is crippling the region.

The peace agreement signed in May was heralded as a breakthrough, and I put on record my tribute to the Secretary of State and his team for their hard work on that front. However, despite progress, it has failed to deliver peace in the region. Just yesterday, Darfur rebel turned presidential adviser, Minni Minnawi, accused the Sudanese Government of rearming and mobilising the Janjaweed militia, violating the Darfur peace agreement. As the ink is still drying on the latest
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agreement in Addis Ababa for an upgraded peacekeeping force, it is a timely reminder of the Sudanese Government’s disdain for international treaties and their ability to break agreements. I was there with the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) when the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) asked the Sudanese Government about it in his usual forthright way.

The Sudanese Government have expelled diplomats, reneged on promises and comprehensively failed to protect their own people. Khartoum has also failed repeatedly to disband or attempt to disband the Janjaweed militia. Despite daily death and suffering, the Government of Sudan continue to deny any responsibility and even attack the international community, accusing it of orchestrating a media campaign against Khartoum in order to install a new regime.

The Government of Sudan have abused their time at the negotiating table, buying time and disrupting progress. They have been able to do so in no small part because of the international community’s failure to present a fully united front. I am sure that all hon. Members were as disappointed as I was by the decision of Russia, China and others to abstain on UN resolution 1706. I call on our Government to stress strongly to Russia and China through diplomatic channels that they have a key responsibility in the region. Both have strong strategic interests and influence in the region, and there can be no doubt that their failure to stand alongside the rest of the international community is providing Khartoum with room to manoeuvre that they would not otherwise enjoy.

Russia and China’s reluctance to involve themselves in any move that might appear to undermine sovereignty could be seen by some as due to their unwillingness to draw attention to their own domestic conduct in Chechnya, Tibet and other regions. However, the Government of Sudan must not be allowed, for whatever reason, to hide behind scaremongering language about colonialism to block necessary moves by the international community to protect the people of Darfur.

Other hon. Members mentioned the peacekeeping forces. The African Union’s own assessment has concluded that the current African Union mission in Sudan force—the AMIS force—is under-resourced and unable to provide anything like an acceptable level of security. Security Council resolution 1706 demanded a UN force with a tough mandate that allowed for the protection of civilians by force. I am not alone in expressing deep concern that the Addis Ababa agreement makes no mention of “all necessary means”, the traditional euphemism for armed force to protect civilians. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State on that point; I hope that he can reassure me.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State’s insistence that resolution 1706 had not been watered down. I appreciate how difficult it must have been to reach any agreement, but he must understand the concerns of those who fear that we have given too much ground and that the latest agreement is yet another attempt by Khartoum to play for time.

I seek the Secretary of State’s assurances on other aspects of the agreement. Obviously, the size of any
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force will be crucial to its ability to achieve security on the ground. The original UN resolution called for 17,000 troops, but Sudan’s UN ambassador, Abdul Mahmoud Abdelhaleem, has made clear his view that an 11,000 to 12,000-strong force is more than sufficient.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: We have not yet got to the crux of the issue: if the Sudanese Government do not agree to allow that hybrid force into the country, that force could find itself effectively confronting the Sudanese armed forces. That is the difficulty. How will we overcome it?

John Barrett: I agree entirely. A number of hon. Members mentioned that to give the Sudanese Government an effective veto on what progress is made is a recipe for disaster, and the situation in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan will continue to deteriorate.

I am also concerned about the timing of any deployment. Continual accusations from President Omar al-Bashir about plots to recolonise his country do little to inspire confidence that decisions on troop numbers and entry dates will be based on what is best for the security of the people of Darfur. In spite of the Secretary of State’s assurances, the Government in Khartoum might see the latest agreement as another diplomatic victory that will further embolden them.

The fundamental problem with pushing forward with a peacekeeping force in Darfur is that we are in the untenable position of trying to convince the party most responsible for the violence to be a partner in the peace process. The prosecution of genocide in Darfur, the lack of consent for a UN peace operation there and the failure of the political peace process are a result, in part or whole, of decisions made by the Government of Sudan. For three years, Khartoum has successfully manipulated the divisions in the international community that I referred to, blocking effective action in Darfur.

Despite its protestations to the contrary, Sudan has continually obstructed AMIS with curfews and other restrictions. Time and again we have watched Sudan’s leaders listen patiently to, then ignore, the statements of the international community because they are confident that no credible threat on the horizon could force them to pay attention.

I devote my remaining few minutes to the humanitarian situation and the urgent need properly to fund the relief programme. I would welcome any update from the Secretary of State on humanitarian relief, particularly the funding of the World Food Programme and safety in the refugee camps. The situation in those camps is even graver now than when I visited Darfur. Previously, women were in danger of being raped when they left the camps in search of firewood; now, armed militia stop between the huts in the very camps that are supposed to be a refuge from chaos. On the day that the latest agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Human Rights Watch reported the latest wave of Janjaweed attacks on civilian villages in Darfur and Chad. There are now growing fears that those latest incursions into Chad will further destabilise the whole region.

Whether we adopt the language of genocide does not alter the horrors of what is unfolding on the ground.
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Rightly, the lessons of Rwanda will echo loudly in our ears as we try to find a workable and lasting solution to this conflict.

11.54 am

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): There is an African proverb much beloved of the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, who knows a thing or two about living under tyranny—“When a person has a thorn in their foot, it takes the whole body to bend and pull it out.” It is an apt metaphor for this debate. The whole international community will need to engage in resolving the long-standing problem in Darfur.

As has been shown by the fine and eloquent speech made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who secured this debate, and by comments from across the House, there are no easy answers. It is facile to suggest that there would be some easy way of resolving the situation if only politicians and the international community were willing to embrace it.

Some very good people are involved in Sudan; I think particularly of Vice-President Sylva Keer, whom the hon. Gentleman and I met when he was over here. My hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made the point that the fear among leaders in Khartoum of the International Criminal Court—of what might happen to them if the international community can hold them to account—is very real. That is the one thing that frightens the genocidists in Khartoum.

Who would have believed in the early days that Milosevic would be held to account by the international community in the Hague? The international community must hold such a threat in this situation. After all, Britain, through DFID, has done a great deal of work on trying to build up civic society around the world so that people can hold their own leaders to account. The logical conclusion of that process is that those people in Khartoum should fear being held to account by the international community.

I have visited Sudan twice this year—first, with the shadow Foreign Secretary and most recently last week, with the Leader of the Opposition. We visited Khartoum and had discussions with leading Sudanese politicians. Last week, we were able to visit two camps in Darfur, just outside el-Fasher. I want to place on record my gratitude to DFID, the Foreign Office and a number of non-governmental organisations, which, at inconvenience and cost to themselves, organised both visits. They have a large number of visits to organise. That is time-consuming and takes them away from their normal tasks, but it is important that people should see for themselves what is happening in Darfur.

I should report that a week ago the situation in Darfur was far worse than when I was there in March. Undoubtedly, the humanitarian situation is worse; circulating among the humanitarian relief agencies are maps of the areas of Darfur into which their representatives simply cannot go because it is too dangerous. Members of staff have been attacked—in some cases, killed. The military situation is far worse as
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well, for the reasons already set out today. The Secretary of State is right to say that at the heart of the issue must be a resolution of the political situation in Darfur; that political situation is also worse and involves the building up, refashioning or enshrining of the Darfur peace agreement.

There was not an agreement in Addis Ababa recently, but a framework was set up. I pay tribute to the work of the United Nations and the support given by the British Government to set up that framework and meeting and to ensure that we made progress. It is not clear whether any real progress has been made since then; soon I shall put questions to the Secretary of State about that. Last week, the Leader of the Opposition and I found the Sudanese authorities to be as slippery and disingenuous as ever. We had a completely unacceptable meeting with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Lam Akol. The Sudanese Government’s track record of duplicity and obfuscation on Darfur does not lead anyone to believe that the Addis Ababa framework will lead to a satisfactory deal.

As the Secretary of State has said in the past, we need to take a carrot-and-stick approach to the Sudanese Government. If they accept the will of the international community, they will come back into the comity of nations and be able to spend their oil wealth—the irony of all of this is that, because of its oil wealth, Sudan is no longer a poor country—but if they are not willing to accept the Addis framework and to build on it with the international community, it is essential that the United Nations and the European Union provide all necessary assistance to the ICC to investigate and prosecute individuals at all levels for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, and that the international community continues the UN’s work of identifying individuals other than the 51 who have already been identified as responsible for war crimes.

In that connection, perhaps the Secretary of State will explain what work is being done on the practicality of enforcing the no-fly zone that was set up in 2004 but which has never been enforced, and on enforcing travel bans. What discussions has he had on that, on sequestering and freezing the overseas assets of members of the regime, and on the threat of sanctions on Sudanese companies owned by the ruling party and its officials who do business abroad?

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