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5.39 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): As the Foreign Secretary said, today’s debate is a welcome opportunity to address the international response to the crisis in Darfur—a conflict that has brought such disaster to the people of that region and which is now, tragically, in its fourth year. In that time, the killings, forcible displacements and ethnic cleansing of the Darfurians have continued almost unabated. As a result, by our Government’s estimate, more than 4 million people have been displaced in Sudan and are now dependent on aid; for much of the time they are on the edge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

During a visit to Darfur last year, with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), the shadow International Development Secretary, I heard at first hand tales of cruelty and suffering from victims in the refugee camps. Since then, the appalling circumstances and security situation in the region have only deteriorated, with the fragmentation of rebel groups, increased lawlessness around the camps and a heightened climate of danger for refugees and aid workers.

Aid workers and non-governmental organisations from around the world, particularly from Britain, have been engaged in a substantial humanitarian international relief effort. The Foreign Secretary rightly mentioned the latest appeal of the Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of 13 leading aid agencies, which has renewed its appeal for support, saying that malnutrition levels are reaching an emergency situation. The coming rainy season could bring an increase in disease as well as logistical difficulties in delivering aid.

Unfortunately, as the Foreign Secretary recognised in her speech, that resolute and determined humanitarian operation has not been matched by the international community as a whole with a diplomatic strategy that is equally resolute. As the Foreign Secretary has just said, the international community has failed the people of Darfur so far. The Opposition agree. For four years the international community, including our Government, have rightly attempted to influence the Sudanese Government with threats of “isolation” or “negative consequences”, but beyond the commitment to a future UN force there has not yet been a clear united strategy and there has been no decisive action. There have been no deadlines and no penalties.

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Nine months have passed since the Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of a UN force to Sudan that Khartoum continues to reject—we shall see what the Sudanese response is to the latest agreement between the African Union and the UN, to which the Foreign Secretary referred. In some quarters, however, including at the UN, it seems that there are still calls for the Sudanese Government to be given “more time”, despite the fact that 80,000 people were driven from their homes in February alone, despite the fact that the Government of Sudan continue to conduct aerial bombing campaigns in Darfur and violate the UN arms embargo by using planes disguised in UN colours, and even though the conflict is spreading dangerously to Chad and the Central African Republic.

I am sure that we are agreed in the House about our great concern and about the failure so far of the international community. Let us be clear that Darfur cannot afford another round of toothless diplomacy. It does not appear to be possible to trust the Sudanese Government to keep their promises or to take concrete steps to end the killing. The UK Government have recognised that pattern of behaviour in the Government of Sudan, but have so far been unable, with their international partners, to break the cycle. Although the Opposition wholeheartedly support the Government’s efforts in the region, and acknowledge the immense difficulties surrounding the negotiations for a UN force and all the international negotiations, we believe it is certainly time for Britain, along with its international partners, to adopt a more determined approach to resolve the crisis. The Foreign Secretary says that our efforts must be redoubled and that the Government’s efforts will be redoubled. If that is the case, they will have the strong support of the Opposition.

Time and again, President Bashir has promised to co-operate with international efforts to end the conflict, in order to relieve the diplomatic and economic pressures on him, only to go back on his word and openly obstruct those efforts as soon as international pressure has abated. Those tactics have bought his Government time to conduct military offensives against rebels, to wreak carnage on the people of Darfur, to fund and incite rebellions in neighbouring countries and to impede the delivery of UN aid to internally displaced people. So the task of Britain and the international community must be to elicit a new set of responses by presenting the Sudanese Government with an entirely different political and economic reality.

Regrettably, the Sudanese Government have so far been able to rely on divisions in the international community to shield them from serious penalties. Two years ago, the Security Council ruled that anyone impeding the peace process in Darfur or committing atrocities against civilians would be subject to UN sanctions, including an assets freeze and a travel ban; but to date, only four individuals have been designated and none of them is a member of the Government of Sudan.

The approach of our own Government on one or two aspects—I say this in the context of the general support that we have given them—has appeared inconsistent. In July 2006, the Foreign Secretary said that it was UK policy to pursue an arms embargo for the whole of Sudan. In November 2006, she said in a subsequent written answer to me that there were no
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plans to extend the arms embargo, only to come full circle again in March this year by stating that the UK would be pushing for a countrywide arms embargo in Sudan. The Secretary of State for International Development shakes his head, and he might want to clear that up in the wind-up, if he disagrees with that analysis.

In April, the Foreign Secretary said:

Days have now turned into weeks. Of course, we are awaiting the agreement on the deployment of the AU-UN force, but people in refugee camps might be forgiven for finding ministerial words around the world increasingly empty.

In the meantime, hope of progress on an internal political solution has receded. With each week that passes, reaching a political settlement in Darfur seems to become more, not less, difficult, as increasing numbers of people have become displaced and further groups have been drawn into the conflict. According to the US special envoy to Darfur, as many as 15 rebel factions are now operating in Darfur, all of which will need to be coaxed into a peace agreement.

The Sudanese Government appear to believe that the international community lacks the will to make its threats a reality. They will continue to do so, unless the Security Council sends a clear message that there will be specific and escalating costs to their actions. We believe that it is therefore essential that the Security Council make it clear to the Government of Sudan that a clear package of penalties has been prepared and will be implemented if they do not allow a robust peacekeeping force in Darfur. That means swiftly agreeing and implementing, if necessary, a UN resolution that widens the assets freeze and travel ban to include members of the Sudanese leadership, imposes an arms embargo on the whole country, mandates the imposition of a no-fly zone in Darfur and sets a deadline for the Government of Sudan to allow the deployment of the UN forces, in co-operation with the AU. Pressure from the international community should be unrelenting, until the Sudanese Government permanently and verifiably stop all air and ground attacks and allow the deployment of those UN forces.

Mr. Khan: The right hon. Gentleman’s contribution is, as usual, very interesting. If the UN is unable to pass such a resolution, does he envisage a position where the UK Government, either by themselves or with one or two like-minded countries, take unilateral action without UN support?

Mr. Hague: I want to come on in a moment to what I think European Union nations can do, which is relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s point. Of course, as the Foreign Secretary has said, the emphasis must be on maintaining international agreement in the Security Council as far as possible, although it is incumbent on us, particularly in opposition, to call for what we believe the Security Council should be doing. That is, of course, what I am setting out in this debate, but if that does not happen and if the situation in Darfur continues, there are other things that we can do, and if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come to those things in a few minutes’ time.

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Tony Baldry: My right hon. Friend made reference to a no-fly zone. Is there not a danger with the Security Council that, all too often, what has been put before the Security Council are resolutions that it has believed will attract the support of China and Russia? Hence no resolution on a no-fly zone has been proposed, whereas we ought to be proposing those resolutions that we think will work.

One of the most obscene sights that I have seen in my life is that of airfields in Darfur where on one side UN planes are going around to take relief and on the other side helicopter gunships are there to murder people. That is crazy.

Mr. Hague: I share my hon. Friend’s feelings and I, like him, was utterly appalled to see that. I am setting out what we believe it would be right to do. That is not to say that tactical calculations are not sometimes made in the Security Council about what can practically be achieved. However, if Britain, France and the United States can speak with a strong voice that makes clear what we believe would be right, it will be an important element of getting the UN Security Council to do the right things. The aim of such a policy should be to ensure that the Government of Sudan, the Janjaweed militia and non-signatory Darfur rebels return to negotiations.

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have confirmed repeatedly that it is UK policy to seek a new Security Council resolution in New York to impose further targeted sanctions and to extend the arms embargo to the whole country—some statements have referred to the whole country. However, no resolution has yet materialised, despite the hopes that were raised during the UK’s presidency of the Security Council in April. I know that the Foreign Secretary chaired a specific meeting about the situation. When the International Development Secretary winds up the debate, I hope that he will give the House greater detail about the reasons for the failure to agree a new resolution and the terms of any resolution that we might seek. In particular, if pressure is to be put on Khartoum, is there not a pressing need for any resolution to include a deadline for Sudan to accept the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers? I am grateful that the Foreign Secretary seems to be indicating assent to that.

The Foreign Secretary referred to the Government of Sudan’s agreement in principle to the heavy support package phase, which was undoubtedly a welcome development. While, in theory, that means that Sudan will finally allow the UN to send personnel and equipment to facilitate a combined UN and African deployment of 20,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, there is still no guarantee that that Government will agree to the deployment itself. This is the time not to relax the pressure on Sudan, but to increase the pressure on its Ministers.

The Prime Minister said in November 2006 that it was “important” to consider imposing a no-fly zone over Darfur, which is a point that has already come up in the debate. In a written answer to me on 10 May, the Foreign Secretary said:

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When the International Development Secretary makes his winding-up speech, will he tell us the outcome of those considerations and what could be done to implement a no-fly zone?

Until the UN force is deployed, it remains the case that the African Union forces that are tasked with keeping the peace in Darfur are severely under-resourced and that its soldiers face a rising threat from militia and rebel groups operating with relative impunity. Increased support for the AU should thus be an urgent priority of the international community and we hope that the Government will always give serious consideration to its requests. I know that Ministers will agree that of equal importance is the revitalisation of the moribund peace process and that AU-UN mediation teams should prepare for the next round of talks by building an international consensus, working with rebel movements, broadening participation from key Darfur constituencies and modelling the mediation process on the comprehensive peace agreement.

The conflict has shown an alarming tendency to transmit itself through the different tribal groups that span Sudan’s national boundaries, thus bringing the same instabilities into neighbouring countries such as Chad and the Central African Republic. Worryingly, there is an increasingly pessimistic outlook for the horn of Africa region as a whole. Against that terrible background, more effort is clearly required—the Foreign Secretary talked of more effort—to convince our international partners to increase pressure on President Bashir. Like the Foreign Secretary, we welcome signs of China playing a more positive role to bring its influence to bear in the right direction. However, it is fair to point out that a recent report by Amnesty International alleged that China was selling arms to Darfur in direct contravention of the UN arms embargo. We will all need to continue to remind China of the fact that its interests in the region are best protected by united action and bringing a swift end to conflict in the region. The same applies to any other countries that are accused of breaking the embargo.

More disappointing—this relates to the question of what else can be done that was raised by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan)—is the failure of the EU and its member states to join the United States in compiling a more comprehensive set of measures. Financial restrictions against the Sudanese Government have been imposed by the United States since 1990, but Sudan has successfully circumvented them by using its trading relationships with China, India, various Arab states, Japan and the European Union. Britain should work with its European allies to consider the imposition of further sanctions through the EU framework, if those objectives cannot be achieved through the United Nations, such as extending the travel ban and asset freeze to cover all individuals named in the UN commission of inquiry and the panel of experts reports, and targeting certain companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese Government. The 19 concluding Council statements on the Darfur situation that were made on behalf of EU Foreign Ministers were inadequate demonstrations to the Khartoum regime of European resolve to address the crisis.

The Foreign Secretary referred to France. We should welcome the position taken by President Sarkozy in his election campaign. He urged action so that

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He has appointed a long-standing champion of human rights as the Foreign Minister of France. The Foreign Secretary said that she was working closely with the new French Government. Given the new Administration in France, as we look for stronger action by EU nations, surely the time has come for Britain and France to demonstrate real leadership together in Europe on this issue. We look to the Foreign Secretary to do so with her French counterpart.

What needs to be done? We need the implementation of peacekeeping measures to protect the millions of displaced refugees. All parties need to be brought together to establish a lasting and secure peace, without which the Darfuris people will continue to be imprisoned in their own land. We need to prevent tensions from escalating in the area across south Sudan and in Chad and the Central African Republic. A no-fly zone needs to be imposed by way of a UN mandate over the whole of the region.

We should also seek to do more through stronger EU action. Britain should encourage and support the work of Sudan Divestment UK and thereby take a further step in carefully targeting companies that help to support the position of the Sudanese Government, while ensuring that development goals are not harmed. We believe that the time has come for the UK to make a formal policy of encouraging companies with financial ties with the Sudanese Government, or government-related projects, to reconsider those links.

We should not forget that the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb following investigations that concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that they were responsible for murder, rape, torture, the forced displacement of entire villages, and other war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. As the territorial state, the Government of Sudan have a legal duty to arrest those men. However, given their record of co-operation with the international community, it is reasonable to expect that they will not comply. That strengthens the case for sanctions to put pressure on the Government of Sudan. We hope that the UK Government will confirm that any new Security Council resolution that they would seek would include an obligation for Sudan to hand over those people.

We should bear it in mind that a long-term solution to the crisis in Darfur will not be achieved without a comprehensive settlement of all Sudan’s regional tensions. Despite the Government’s efforts in recent years, the international diplomatic response to the many crises in Sudan has too often been not co-ordinated, reactive and ineffective. When a crisis erupts in one part of the country that hits the headlines, politicians in the western world react and then the world’s attention moves on. Yesterday it was the north-south conflict and today it is Darfur. Tomorrow, it might be the simmering eastern region.

We need a co-ordinated diplomatic approach to Sudan through which the west, China and key regional players can work on a long-term strategy towards that country. That must include a clear vision of where we want Sudan to be in 10 years: peaceful, stable, democratic and secure. It must include a clear scale of incentives and disincentives for Khartoum, with rewards for progress and sanctions for unconstructive steps. When the international community has had a clear goal, and has
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acted as one, it has made a real difference. Concerted international pressure was crucial to the signing of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement in 2005, but on Darfur, where the international community has sometimes been divided, and where it has had diverse goals and limited leverage, it has proved much less effective.

We call on the Government to intensify their efforts to promote a long-term, co-ordinated international strategy. Indeed, they should redouble those efforts, as the Foreign Secretary has pledged to do today. The choice is clear: we can continue as we have done, and face a series of continuing crises in the next decade with a haphazard, reactive, international firefighting response, or we can have a serious, well thought-through strategy for putting Sudan on the path to peace and democratisation. That path is obviously the one that we should take.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on speeches by Back Benchers, which operates from now.

6 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): As always, it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I agree with much of what he said about the European Union. What he said about China was extremely important, and I hope to return to that subject later. I also welcome the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks will understand, we on the Back Benches can be much more robust in our comments on the role of the Sudanese Government than the Foreign Secretary can be expected to be, as she is necessarily involved in delicate negotiations in the European Union, China and other places. However, I do not think he will be disappointed with the points I shall make. The British people are not unaware of the indolence, at the very least, of the Sudanese Government in the face of one of the gravest crises in our lifetime—and it is a crisis that was entirely avoidable.

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