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At the heart of the conflict is regional discontent with the exploitation of people and resources by the leaders in Khartoum. No solution will be possible without a political deal.

After unduly lengthy negotiations in Abuja—I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his personal commitment to those negotiations—and a somewhat hurried finale, the Darfur peace agreement was born. However, the discussions will have to be reopened as a conference for all participants. Security will have to be guaranteed by the African Union and the UN. It will have to be in Darfur, and all parties will have to attend. I do not say that Dayton is the model that should pertain, but the negotiations must be less comfortable and languid than those that took place in Abuja.

The international point made throughout the debate is that the Chinese attitude towards what is happening in Darfur is the key. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) made the point that China, as it emerges as a superpower, has obligations and responsibilities, which we look to it to carry out. As many have said, it is no good indulging in megaphone
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diplomacy with the Chinese. We must persuade them that it is in their interests to take a serious attitude to what is happening in Darfur. I was very impressed by the effectiveness of the campaign tying in the Beijing Olympics with the situation in Darfur, the powerful adverts that many will have seen in the international and national press linking the two facts, and the reaction of the Chinese Government in the spurt of activity that took place in their negotiations in Darfur. It is true that China often appears to have a commodity-driven foreign policy. China is increasingly involved, however, in United Nations humanitarian work, as I saw recently in the Congo, where Chinese engineers are a key part of the UN force, as they are in south Sudan and other parts of the world where the UN is active. That underlines a point made throughout the debate.

To address the political situation, the absolute requirement, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks in his opening speech, is for concerted international pressure. That is the only way that we will make a serious difference. The United States has now announced further measures to put pressure on the Sudanese. We need the European Union to match and complement those measures. In his wind-up, I hope that the Secretary of State will explain what the Government are doing to try to ensure that the European Union agenda and level of activity matches what is now required. As others have said, the 19 concluding Council statements on Darfur, expressing great concern on behalf of the EU Foreign Ministers, are not sufficient. What else is the Secretary of State seeking for the EU to do?

We should extend the travel ban and asset freeze to cover all those individuals named in the UN commission of inquiry. We should target companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese Government. As many have said, we should certainly support the work of the Sudan divestment taskforce, to which I pay tribute. Investment in companies that directly benefit members of the regime in Khartoum is not appropriate. We need seriously to increase such pressure on Khartoum. That is urgently required.

Thirdly, and finally, as we have considered the humanitarian and political situation on the ground in Darfur and internationally, we need to consider the military situation, which is also of paramount importance. Much discussion tonight has been on the role of the United Nations and the detailed negotiations between the African Union and the United Nations about how to deploy in a possible chapter VIII assignment. There has been far too much discussion, however, about the nature of the hat badge, and not enough about the urgent importance of getting troops on the ground, whether from the AU or UN. Two weeks ago, Sudan said that it would allow in 3,000 UN troops. The President of Sudan has said, however, that he no longer stands by his earlier agreement on that. What is the Secretary of State’s judgment tonight on the position on the ground in Sudan? How quickly will the troops be reinforced?

My second point on the military situation is that we urgently need the no-fly zone, which was set up by the UN in 2005 but has never been implemented, to be enforced as rapidly as possible. The Prime Minister has given many interviews, including on the front page of the Financial Times, no less, endorsing the idea of a no-fly zone. We are advised that the French offered to
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enforce it last year, but were dissuaded by the United States. What is the current state of those negotiations? Of course, we understand that enforcing a no-fly zone is not easy, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) explained, it can be done. It is pointed out that we would require AWACS aircraft. That is true, but if we could find them to patrol the skies above the Athens Olympics, surely we can find them to protect those who live in terror in Darfur.

Thirdly, there is the issue of the additional peacemakers who are required in Chad and the Central African Republic. The Secretary of State will recall that in February the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called for 11,000 peacekeepers to be deployed in those two countries. What is happening on that initiative, and what progress has been made? Fourthly, as many Members have said, the African Union should command our strong support: first, for what it is seeking to do in Darfur; and secondly, because it has a pivotal role to play in resolving the regional problems that will undoubtedly arise and that beg a regional solution. Despite considerable British support, not enough is being done by other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) pointed out that many troops have gone unpaid for months. On 20 April, we heard that large numbers of serving soldiers had not been paid for four months and that 150 language assistants, who, as I have seen on the ground, are essential to the work of the African Union in providing translation, were on strike. Last month, the African Union said that its mission was on the point of collapse and Rwanda and Senegal threatened to withdraw their troops. That is a most unsatisfactory position. Britain has a leading role to play because we have put our money where our mouth is in supporting the African Union. I hope that the Secretary of State can tell us what is being done to ensure that the financial future of the African Union, apart from the other aspects, is being addressed in a far more fundamental and sensible manner.

The former commander of the African Union told me that there was an urgent requirement for another 7,000 troops, which would enable him largely to discharge the duties that he had been given. He is still well short of that. However, in the short term we need to ensure, from our leadership position in Britain, that we give more support for secure funding and for logistical support and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said, we think carefully about how we can enable the African Union itself to do more in such situations.

John Bercow: There is one important point to which reference has not been made. Does my hon. Friend agree that unless there is very soon a sufficient force present to re-establish security, the internally displaced people’s camps will cease to be temporary and inadequate refuges and will become permanent residences for people subsisting there, who will not be able to return to their land, which will have been destroyed, leaving them with no home to which to return?

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes the point in his inimitable way and adds to his earlier eloquent contribution.

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I end with two simple reports, which I keep among the huge numbers that are issued on Darfur every week. The first states:

The second report spoke of people such as Hassania Abubakar, who fled her village of Tina in September. She said:

Hassania has not seen her husband since the attack.

If, as the Prime Minister so eloquently said, Africa is a scar on the conscience of humanity, the debate has shown that Darfur is a gaping wound on the conscience of the world. The world knows precisely what is happening in Darfur and has achieved nothing in trying to bring it to an end.

9 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): We have had an important debate about a terrible conflict that has gone on for far too long, claimed far too many lives and caused far too much suffering. It also tests our ability as a world to protect our fellow human beings from violence, including killing and rape.

I want to begin by acknowledging the quality of the contributions to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke with enormous clarity. More than anything, she has shown by her actions as Foreign Secretary her determination that Britain will continue to play its full part in trying to do something about the conflict. I shall revert to that shortly.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) spoke with great eloquence and force. All the contributions have been excellent—although I have one or two criticisms, which I shall make shortly. They included speeches by: my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—who made an astonishingly powerful contribution—the hon. Members for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), who reminded us graphically of the brutality behind the conflict, the hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who has just spoken.

Let me deal directly with the point about the G8 communiqué. We and the French—and, I am sure, the United States of America—are pressing for the communiqué to include the reference that has been mentioned. I hope that other G8 countries will agree with what we are trying to do.

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I pay tribute to the all-party group on Sudan, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who would very much like to have been here this evening; to the Aegis Trust—I echo what has been said about it—and to everyone who has campaigned on the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside made an important point. She asked why our streets were not fuller of people demonstrating about what has gone on. If people do come out on the streets to demonstrate, in fairness they cannot point the finger at the Governments of the United States of America, or the United Kingdom or of the countries of the African Union. This is where I would gently rebuff the comments of the hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham and for North-West Cambridgeshire, whose contributions were unusual in that they tried to criticise the Government. I shall come directly to what we have sought to do, but the truth is that trying to tackle the problem in Darfur has been this country’s highest priority. The United Kingdom has played a leading role, and I want to pay tribute to the contribution of not only my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary but that of the Prime Minister, because, perhaps President Bush apart, it would be difficult for any hon. Member to name a world leader who has made a greater effort to deal with the conflict than my right hon. Friends and the African Union, which has done an extraordinary job in difficult circumstances. I also pay tribute to Lord Triesman, who is the Africa Minister in the Foreign Office. The UK pressed vigorously for the original sanctions resolution and supported the international commission of inquiry. The UK played the leading role in obtaining the reference to the International Criminal Court. Here, I would say to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that the United States does not support the International Criminal Court, but this Government do and the UK has also supported AMIS, to which I shall return. I seek to remind the House of these things not to seek plaudits, which I do not, but simply to point out that, despite our efforts, no one country has the ability to deal with this conflict or to bring it to an end.

What has been so palpable in this evening’s debate has been the sense of frustration expressed by all Members. It is one of the ironies of these conflicts that sometimes the countries that have tried to do most also act as the lightning conductor for all the frustration that is felt, whereas the countries that have done least get away with it and nobody gives them a hard time. I feel that frustration, too. In truth, I feel ashamed at our inability as a world to have done more. Yet we have tried, while those who are responsible for this conflict feel no shame at all and have tried to do nothing at all.

We have all heard the statistics and know about the 2 million people in Darfur who will once again tonight have to live in camps because they are too afraid to go home. We know about the 4 million who are dependent on aid and the 100,000 displaced since January. The numbers involved should not let any of us forget—whether it be those like myself who have been to Darfur on a number of occasions or other right hon. and hon. Members who have related their experiences tonight—that behind all the statistics are individual human beings and families who have been forced to flee their homes because of this violence and who will not be able to return until they feel that it is safe to do so.

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The United Nations and the non-governmental organisations are now delivering the world’s largest humanitarian effort in response to the world’s largest humanitarian emergency. I can tell the House that I am proud of the fact that Britain is and has been the second largest donor to that humanitarian effort. Since April 2004, we have given about £250 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan as a whole, more than £140 million of which has been specifically targeted at Darfur. I just want to say that I long for this conflict to come to an end for a whole host of reasons, not least because I would much rather spend that money on supporting development in Darfur than effectively paying for the consequences of the failure to bring this conflict to an end. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had to say about the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Darfur and Chad, which I hope people will support.

It does not provide very much comfort, but the fact that conditions for people in the camps now are better than they were two or two and half years ago, despite the problems, is the result of an extraordinary international effort. I know that the whole House will wish to commend the brave work of the humanitarian agencies and their staff in ensuring that this life-saving assistance has got through. As anyone who has met and talked to them will attest, these people have enormous courage in continuing to work in very difficult conditions. Their commitment to humanitarian principles is exemplary. Twelve humanitarian staff were killed in this conflict last year, yet the work continues.

The truth is that all sides in the conflict are guilty of undermining the humanitarian effort. Convoys have been ambushed and looted, vehicles have been hijacked and humanitarian staff have faced unnecessary bureaucratic barriers put there by the Sudanese Government. As we have heard tonight, if those actions are left unchecked, the deadly combination of violence and red tape could force more agencies to suspend or fully withdraw from Darfur, which would be a disaster. The UN and the NGOs must be allowed to do their work free from fear and free from attack.

The British Government, along with others, have pressed the Government of Sudan on that issue since the beginning of the conflict. I recall my first ever conversation on the subject, when I had to ask a Minister why 30 tonnes, if I recollect correctly, of medical supplies were still stuck in a container in Port Sudan some three months after they had arrived in the country. There was a lot of staring at feet. In the end, the supplies were released, but I learned from that experience that it is necessary to be on the case all the time on every issue. As has been powerfully argued tonight, that is because the Government of Sudan respond only to pressure.

We played our part with others in securing the new joint communiqué that was agreed on 28 March. I pay tribute to John Holmes, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for the part that he played in the securing of that communiqué, in which the Government of Sudan once again committed themselves to removing the barriers. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue when she chaired an informal meeting of the Security Council on 16 April. Along with five other foreign and development Ministers, I have written
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twice to the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Lam Akol, calling for full co-operation. A high-level committee has been established and there are some signs of progress, but on the basis of my earlier experience I have to say that that probably means we must step up the pressure to ensure that it is maintained.

As we have heard, the crisis in Darfur is not a crisis in isolation. The fighting, and the movement of people that it has sparked, have also caused a crisis in eastern Chad and the Central African Republic. We have heard about the numbers who have been displaced. The humanitarian agencies in Chad also face real challenges, particularly in trying to ensure that basic needs are met before the rainy season starts later this month. We are providing £6.5 million to support the humanitarian effort in Chad this year, and we are giving OCHA technical assistance to co-ordinate that effort.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned peacekeeping in Chad. A United Nations team is currently visiting the country to try to persuade President Deby to accept proposals for the kind of force that has been mooted, because it is important for us to have a presence there as quickly as possible. Reference has also been made to the Central African Republic, where both internal conflict and the spillover of people fleeing from violence elsewhere have resulted in about 200,000 internally displaced people and 70,000 refugees in the north. The humanitarian situation is precarious, and we have provided new emergency funding, increasing our total commitment this year to £2 million.

The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire asked what made the Government so reluctant to describe what has happened as genocide. We supported the establishment of the international commission of inquiry and the proposal that it should ask the question that he asked me this evening. In January 2005 the commission concluded that the Government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide, but that the Government of Sudan, the Arab militias and rebel movements might be held responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. It concluded that individuals might have had a genocidal intent, and recommended referral to the International Criminal Court. We accepted its report, and we played as big a role as any other country in getting the reference through. As a result, arrest warrants have been issued against two individuals.

I have to say, however, that I agree with what other Members have said this evening. We can use whatever description we choose, and different people describe this situation in different ways, but what has happened is beyond argument. The question is, what do we do about it?

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