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My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development have spent a great deal of time on the important issues that we are considering, and their activities reflect the repugnance of the British people when, day after day, they see on television the killings, the misplaced people, the emaciated children, and people with sheer fear in their eyes. In this age, people do not consider Darfur a far-off region about which we know little; the British people want and expect Parliament to respond to their concerns. We Back Benchers have considerable support for what we say on the subject. The United Nations has said that 200,000 people have died, and that at least 2 million people have been driven from their homes. We hear of people, euphemistically described as “internally displaced persons”, in camps and we can only imagine the squalor in which they have to live. They are without the humanitarian assistance that I know the Department for International Development wants to deliver and that the House would support. However, although we see the deprivation and squalor, the aid agencies, for
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which of course we have enormous regard and respect, are not in a position to speak openly about the evidence that is before their eyes.

I congratulate the aid agencies on what they are seeking to do in a difficult situation, but the fact is that they remain hampered by aerial bombings, by visa restrictions, including restrictions on essential personnel, by the absence of open dialogue, which would enable us to identify the problems and to seek to support the agencies, and by the veil of silence on the subject of their relationship with the Government of Sudan and the support that the agencies are entitled to expect.

It gives me no pleasure to refer the House to a recent survey by Reuters AlertNet, which interviewed 46 international aid agencies. Before I set out the responses, I repeat that I have enormous regard for the non-governmental organisations and aid agencies involved, and none of what I have to say implies any criticism of them. The survey found that 65 per cent. of the agencies could not speak openly about the humanitarian situation, and 78 per cent. could not talk about what was behind the attacks. Some 59 per cent. said that they could not speak about restrictions on the work that they were trying to do, and 70 per cent. could not comment on the incidence of rape. That is clearly a wholly repugnant situation. Today, we want to give the people working on the front line the message that they have the support of the House, that we are committed to humanitarian assistance, and that we will not tolerate the kind of impediments that they are experiencing.

On the strategy of the international community, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks referred, I accept that there has to be a clear humanitarian strategy alongside a diplomatic one. There is considerable support for our call for the matter to be considered urgent. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, spoke clearly about demanding an end to aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Government; there were no reservations in what he had to say. Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in condemning the killings of hundreds of people, pointed out that even schoolchildren had been wounded in attacks. That is something that the international community will rightly refuse to accept.

Two weeks ago, a devastating report was published by Amnesty International, and I shall highlight two important points that it makes. First, it said:

Secondly, the report accused the Government of Sudan of having

For far too long—not for weeks, or even for months, but for years—the Janjaweed militia has been involved in such activities, and that has to be condemned. It is entirely unacceptable. Jodie Williams, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize, described those activities as war crimes, and her representations were so impressive that the UN Human Rights Council set up a group of seven distinguished people, who have met representatives from
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the Sudanese Government and who are to report in Geneva in a few weeks’ time. I assume that it will be a comprehensive report, and I trust that what they have to say will be taken seriously by the international community. If, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said at the start of her speech, there remains a challenge to the international community, the report will underline that fact.

I, too, accept the requirement for the African Union-UN hybrid force. I have heard different figures—today, we heard the figure of 17,000 and later of 20,000—and UN spokespeople have suggested a figure of 23,000. Darfur considers all those figures to be far too high, yet we simply cannot deal with the situation unless there is an AU-UN presence of that size. The problems are too great for the limited numbers that the Sudanese Government are prepared to accept. In congratulating my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on her involvement, may I say that the UN is absolutely right to ask many different countries to support the objectives that it has set—not only African countries such as Kenya and Nigeria, although their involvement would be welcome, but such countries as Iran, Pakistan and China, which have nuclear weapons and are involved in crises elsewhere? If they are involved in efforts to seek a solution to Darfur, that can only be helpful in other regions.

Recently, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, offered a proposal—it obviously carries greater weight because he is a co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières—for a contact group of nations. That is something that the Government might be willing to consider, and I should like to hear their response. Whatever approach we make, however, there is—this point was made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, and, I am sure, it will be made by others—a requirement, if we can do it, for a much stronger UN resolution. One reason that the Sudanese Government have not acted as we would wish is that that strength—and we want it to be there—is not apparent. The visit by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to China is important because, for a number of reasons, China has a great interest in Sudan. If a further attempt is made to achieve a stronger resolution, I do not believe that China would refuse to support it or, on the other hand, would decide to exercise its veto. Over the past 30 years—I accept what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said about the Chinese record on human rights—China has only twice exercised a solo veto. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has visited the country. I would not expect her to tell the House everything that was discussed, but China and the other countries that I have mentioned could exercise considerable influence in reaching peace in a troubled region of Sudan.

I accept that the issues that we are discussing and have discussed in the past—I have tabled questions on them and have participated in debates on them in the House since 2004—are complex, but it is right to denounce any impediments to humanitarian aid, which are simply unacceptable. We should endorse the proposal for a no-fly zone and make sure that it is properly monitored. We should bring to task those accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court. We all know—and I respect very much my right hon. Friends’ position—that negotiations can take months, but people are dying daily, and our constituents want to know what we are
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doing about that. We need the urgent presence of a viable peacekeeping force. Above all, not just for Parliament and the UK, but for others observing what has happened in Darfur and in the neighbouring regions and countries at a stage in the millennium when we wish to support and give strength to the UN, something has taken place that is entirely unacceptable. It would be easy, given the problems—the killings, the maimings, the refugee camps and the rest—to wash our hands of the issue and say that very little can be done. However, most of us in the Chamber, and those of our constituents who support us, believe that the time has come to strengthen our position, give our support to those who can act and say, above all, to those who have influence in these matters, particularly the Sudanese Government, that we have concluded that we need action this day and that enough is enough.

6.15 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): It is a pleasure and privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who has a long and distinguished career and interest in this field. He spoke about many themes, to some of which I will inevitably return. However, I particularly wish to pick up his point about the need to support and recognise the efforts of those who volunteer for the humanitarian front line and take great risks in working alongside those who are suffering in Darfur. We must never lose sight of what they do.

When, in 2001, the Prime Minister famously described Africa as

there were many reasons for his choice his words. Tragically, the observation has lost none of its power or truth in the intervening years. To this day, across the continent, there is much still to shock and shame us, but in Sudan in general and in Darfur in particular, it is not so much a scar as a gaping wound that we have to address. The decision to hold a debate on the subject is therefore welcome, as is the fact that the Foreign and International Development Secretaries are both participating in it.

Many international crises and atrocities demand our attention: Zimbabwe, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Burma. All those and many more have often distracted attention from the horrors of Darfur, so our debate rightly serves to put the unconscionable and unforgivable suffering of the people of that region at the heart of our political agenda. We have already heard that at least 200,000 people have been murdered and, indeed, that the true figure may be much higher. That is the equivalent of the population of a city such as Swansea, Aberdeen or Northampton being wiped out. We have heard, too, that beyond those who have lost their lives, at least another 2 million people have been displaced and—it is a familiar statistic—4 million rely on some form of humanitarian assistance. The word “displaced” is one of those dry technical terms that sanitises the brutality inflicted on people, mostly women and children, who are subjected to appalling mistreatment, including rape and sexual abuse, as if the abysmal conditions of the refugee camps were not enough.

The humanitarian disaster in Darfur ought to be enough on its own to motivate all of us to search tirelessly for a solution, but, more selfishly, the crisis
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goes beyond the region, threatening neighbouring countries and consequently our collective international peace and security. It has already spilled over into Chad, where 200,000 refugees create untold pressures on a fragile state. There is barely a neighbour in the region that is not affected, and hardly a country without some further internal conflict of its own. Indeed, it does not require much imagination to see that there is a real danger of escalation into disastrous regional conflict.

It was not meant to be like this. The signing of the Darfur peace agreement this time last year and the passage of Security Council resolution 1706 were hailed as great successes. Nobody can fault the integrity of the diplomatic efforts or the investment of international political capital which the process involved—not least on the part of the Secretary of State for International Development—but the charities, the NGOs and the official bodies that work in the region all report a worsening situation ever since. Attacks on civilians have increased and the need for aid is multiplying, yet restrictions on humanitarian access have grown and attacks on NGO staff, including abductions, hijackings and beatings, have risen rapidly.

The upshot is the lowest level of humanitarian access since the beginning of the conflict, with the UN recently estimating that almost one in four people cannot access humanitarian assistance. In these circumstances, it is no surprise that the Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together Christian Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children and many others, has launched a major appeal to help people in Darfur. Like the Foreign Secretary, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, I support its efforts and endorse its appeal and campaigns to raise further money for Darfur.

People across the United Kingdom have a crucial role to play, but our Government and the international community have additional significant responsibilities. We must be in no doubt that establishing greater security on the ground and reinvigorating the political process are the key steps towards building a sustainable and lasting solution to the crisis. That is easily said, and it would be difficult enough where there was a political will to do so, but it is all the more complex when the Government of Sudan are set against it. As has been noted, they failed to honour their previous commitments, they obstructed the deployment of the African Union and United Nations hybrid force, and they are clearly hindering attempts to bring the rebel groups together as a precursor to a new political process.

The most important element in tackling the humanitarian crisis is the deployment of that hybrid AU-UN force, and the continued refusal by the Khartoum Government to allow the deployment of the force is utterly disgraceful. Although they recently agreed to support the deployment of the UN heavy support package, that agreement has still to be implemented. That must be our first priority, coupled with the delivery of adequate financial resources in order to reinforce the African Union mission in Sudan. It is an important stepping stone towards the full deployment of the hybrid force.

In parallel, there should be a serious examination of the possibility of establishing an internationally monitored no-fly zone for military aircraft, supported
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by the United Nations. Some means must be found to halt the continued bombings and aerial attacks by Sudanese forces. I recognise that there are serious logistical challenges to giving effect to such a proposal, and there are legitimate concerns from some of the NGOs about the complexities involved and the need to allow continued humanitarian access. However, air power is being used by the Sudanese to carry out their murderous campaigns and there must be serious efforts to bring that to a halt.

It is not just in the military arena that the international community has made little progress. It is also true, as the Foreign Secretary acknowledged, in the diplomatic sphere. The new Secretary-General of the United Nations has not been able to coax the parties to develop any kind of momentum towards peace, so his efforts have to be backed up by actions that the Sudanese authorities can understand. We should welcome President Bush’s determination, in response to high profile campaigns in the United States, to see a new Security Council resolution and his announcement of unilateral US sanctions. Now is the time for the United Kingdom and the European Union to follow the US lead and to pursue a reinforced sanctions package. How else are we to get it through to the regime that we mean business?

Tony Baldry: Is it not notable that as soon as President Bush came forward with that package of enhanced sanctions, it was immediately criticised by both Russia and China? That demonstrates the difficulty facing the international community if we are dependent upon Russia and China in international law to get any resolution through the Security Council.

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I shall return to the matter and consider other ways that may get round the situation in the United Nations if we reach an impasse. He is right to highlight some of the practical and legal problems that confront us.

As the shadow Foreign Secretary and others have highlighted, the extension of sanctions must include further travel bans and asset freezes on individuals in the Government of Sudan and in the rebel groups. It is unacceptable that so far there are so few people on those lists. We should also consider, as set out in early-day motion 12, which the shadow Foreign Secretary instigated,

There is a great deal of business going on there which supports the regime. We should take steps to sort that out.

As others have said, a tightening of the arms embargo is needed. We have heard that Amnesty International last month exposed the extent to which the existing bans are being flouted, and in particular highlighted the roles of China and Russia. Photographs of Russian helicopters and Chinese fighter jets taken earlier this year make the point. The report also suggests that a Russian-built Antonov military plane, in all-white livery—in contravention of Geneva conventions—was “highly likely” to have been used in bombing in Darfur. There have
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been denials by both Governments, but at the very least the report highlights damaging weaknesses in the international arms regime. I am sure the Government will have studied the detailed proposals from Amnesty International. I hope the Secretary of State for International Development will give us his response to them when he replies to the debate.

Beyond our concerns about the arms embargo, we must surely look at measures aimed at international investment in Sudan’s petroleum industry. Of course, restrictions on investment, let alone divestment, raise difficulties. It is an approach only to be considered in extremis, as we have seen in Burma, but surely that is the situation that we have reached in Sudan.

The early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), me and others on a cross-party basis states that

and that

We have seen a small step taken by Rolls-Royce, which is to end its involvement in Sudan. We must now look for further targeted divestment from areas which

In the words of the early-day motion, it is time for the Government to

There will be debate about how such an approach affects ordinary people, and how it plays into the comprehensive peace agreement which ended the north-south war, so great care must be taken, but we must show our intent to examine and pursue this option vigorously. That of itself will send a strong signal to the Government in Sudan.

As I said in response to the intervention, I shall briefly consider the roles of other Governments. Clearly, given the scale of their investment and ambitions, China and Russia’s roles are crucial in Sudan. Our approach to Beijing and Moscow must be crystal clear. Lip service to Security Council resolutions is not enough. Given those two countries’ joint roles in investment and military support, we are entitled to be very concerned about their agendas.

The Foreign Secretary recently described China’s role in Sudan as “positive”. Many of us will require convincing of that. So far, little new evidence has been offered to support a sanguine interpretation of China’s intentions. We must confront the Chinese about their responsibilities and make sure that they act with us, not against us.

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