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1 Apr 2008 : Column 181WH—continued

Thirdly, to what extent do we understand the agenda of groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Army? More and more actors and players are appearing on the stage, but there is increasing incoherence. To what extent do we know what they want to achieve? That takes me to my fourth question, which is about process. Clearly, two processes need to be pursued. One involves a ceasefire and peacekeeping, which is largely dependent on UNAMID, and requires peacekeepers on the ground and ensuring that there are no aerial attacks on villages and so on. The other process involves moving towards a peaceful solution. There has been some UN mediation, but it
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seems to have broken down, largely because people thought that there was no proper process or that they were being given unrealistic deadlines. There are a couple of mediators whom some factions do not particularly like, and it seems that there is now no process at all.

It would be helpful to hear from the Foreign Office what is being done under UN auspices in respect of a peace process that will help to resolve the issue and lock in all the various players. We all know that, sooner or later, that has to happen. It happened painfully in Somalia, where it took a long time to make any progress. The longer we go without any kind of peace process and without trying to oblige people to take part in it, the more the situation in Darfur and the surrounding area will fracture and become increasingly difficult. I would welcome the Foreign Office’s views on those four points. This is one of those tragic conflicts that are progressively getting worse rather than better.

10.21 am

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on triggering this debate, because while there is much television coverage of what is happening in Tibet just now, it appears, sadly, that many television crews have left Darfur. There is not enough concentration on that conflict, so I congratulate him on raising it today. I shall return to the issue of Chinese involvement—I was glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it—because I believe that the Chinese Government have an important part to play in finding a solution to some of the problems in Darfur.

It has been a while since I was last in Darfur, but the images in my mind and the memories of the men, women and children who are suffering in that God-forsaken land are as clear as ever. I hope that they will stay with me until peace unfolds and the children who have never known peace are allowed to have a childhood of their own. As many Members have said, all the ingredients for disaster are present in Darfur: poverty, hunger, disease, corruption, conflict, too many guns, the impact of global warming on pastoralists and local farmers, outside interference, religious and ethnic disputes and much more.

However, in most countries where a disaster unfolds, the Government normally search for a solution. In this case, the Government are at the heart of the problem. I shall not repeat what has already been said by many Members, but the Sudanese Government must be brought into discussions, whether through a peace agreement or through countries continuing to push for sanctions and a strengthened force on the ground to deliver peace. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, the scale of refugee camps is absolutely stunning. When I visited Nyala, there were 120,000 people there—more people than are in my entire constituency. Villages are still being bombed from the air and abandoned, and people are being intimidated on the ground.

A solution to the problem has been debated on several occasions in this Hall and in the main Chamber, but I wish quickly to run through a few points in the time that I have. First, I ask the Minister for an update on progress towards full implementation of the ill-fated comprehensive peace agreement. No one here today
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will be expecting particularly encouraging news, but it is important to ensure that an agreement remains a priority for the international community. Clearly, the deadline diplomacy that brokered the last agreement has not achieved as much as we would have liked, and it is important that we recognise why that is the case.

Neighbouring countries such as Chad are now part of the problem. It is a regional problem, not just a Darfur problem. We heard earlier about the peacekeeping force that is required, and I remember speaking to African Union peacekeepers who said that they needed extra forces on the ground, extra support and helicopters because, as has been said several times—it is no excuse—Darfur on its own, let alone whole of Sudan, is massive. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), we see hot spots elsewhere in Sudan. The peace in areas such as the south, which has been calmed down in the past, is fragile, and we fear that similar problems will erupt in the east and in other regions of Sudan.

I alluded in my introductory remarks to the number of guns. This Government can play an important part in ensuring that we play no part in contributing to the volume of arms that find their way into Sudan, whether through arms deals or through neighbouring countries. There is real concern about the number of export licences that we grant in this country for small arms that are imported and re-exported. I remember raising a question with several Government Departments about that. We re-exported more than 2 million small arms in one year—in 2005-06. I asked several Government Departments where those small arms went, but nobody could give me an answer. I do not expect that the Minister will be able to give me an answer today, but I suggest that she look into the issue of small arms that are imported to the UK and then re-exported. They are not ending up, we hope, in the UK, so they are probably ending up in conflict zones around the world. If she could look into that and get more information, I would be glad to hear from her.

The humanitarian situation is an absolute disaster. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is the one to which I alluded in my opening remarks; namely, the impact of the conflict on the children of Sudan. So far, 1.8 million children have been affected by the conflict, with 1 million displaced and 800 unaccounted for. Those who have been displaced are now spending their formative years in camps and, understandably, are traumatised by what they have seen. The threat of kidnapping and enforced servitude as child soldiers is never far away, and the dearth of educational opportunities is clearly jeopardising the future prospects of millions. A generation is growing up who will have known only war, and, unless we act now, it may prove a difficult habit to break.

I am sure the Minister will agree that one of the most keenly learned lessons from Sierra Leone is that any successful move towards post-conflict peace-building must have at its core the needs and aspirations of the next generation or risk being hamstrung from the start. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on what we can do to help the children of Darfur and to give them hope for a brighter future. They should be given hope. Although they cannot live on hope alone, we should ensure that they do have hope for the future.

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I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. Nothing has been said by any Member with which I disagree, but we cannot come back in six months, a year, two years or five years and say that we debated this matter in April 2008—tragically, on April fools’ day. We would be fools if we were to come back in years to come but nothing had moved on. We must see progress on this matter.

10.28 am

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) in this important debate. It has been brief but passionate. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this debate and on introducing it in a comprehensive fashion. We have had telling contributions and interventions from Members on both sides of the Chamber. We heard from the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), and we know that many in the House care passionately about the situation. Perhaps the Minister will suggest through the usual channels that the time has come once again for a debate in the main Chamber, where more Members would be able to participate, and where we could discuss a broader range of questions and issues.

Sometimes parliamentary format and the very architecture of this Room bring measured tones and the discipline of debate but strip out the passion and anguish. Today, we managed to rise above and beyond that.

I am conscious that we are five years into this terrible carnage. I have been struck by the references so far to the people who have been killed—the estimates have now doubled from those that we have been used to quoting for some years—and by the numbers of displaced people and those in camps. That should be related to the parts of the world that we represent to show the enormity of the catastrophe that has unfolded year after year in Sudan and particularly in Darfur.

It is important that the Minister has a full opportunity to answer the many questions that have been asked, so I will focus on two or three main points and allow the Conservative Opposition spokesman to speak before she does so.

We must never lose sight of the sheer scale of what is going on or of the efforts of the Sudanese Government to make it worse: it is not simply about their containing the situation or making it better; as others have observed, they are actually colluding or directly involved in making the situation worse. We have all been approached by the non-governmental organisations—the charities and aid agencies—stressing that their key workers are under attack when trying to deliver water and food and trying just to make their own lives secure. The compounds of those who are there to help are being attacked by militias and others.

There is a chronic shortage of essential equipment. The UN has to reach some 400,000 people by air, yet we read that its humanitarian air service has funding only for another month. I hope that the Minister can assure us about the long-term funding of that essential service, without which a huge number of displaced people and refugees will go hungry and be in an even worse condition than at present.

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More broadly, we read in the Financial Times and elsewhere in recent days of the chronic problems facing the World Food Programme, which urgently needs another £250 million for its worldwide programme or else it will be forced to implement rationing. That is inconceivable. I hope that, in response to the undoubted problems with commodity and fuel prices and shipping costs, Britain and other European partners will be taking the lead in responding to the World Food Programme’s concerns.

Colleagues have already mentioned the military situation in Sudan, particularly the lack of numbers and the slow handover from the African Union Mission in Sudan to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Although we have a better mandate now—there is not just a monitoring process, but a duty to protect—the numbers are pathetic. Even if the full force were to get to 26,000 it would be barely credible, but we are dealing with less than half of that. Again, I appreciate that there are frustrating, difficult issues to get round in the world of diplomacy, but I hope that the Minister will demonstrate some sense of urgency in respect of how this matter is being tackled. In particular, she has been asked to respond to the issue of helicopters, which was raised at the Foreign Office questions last month by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and many other hon. Members. I hope that she will be able to report some progress to us today.

The Sudanese wish to obstruct just about everything that we try to do. Surely, in response, we must tighten our grip on them and tighten the sanctions that are there. The United Nations adopted the duty to protect as part of its raison d’ĂȘtre—to use French where the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) avoided doing so earlier—and although we can see the most obvious example of our need to step up and do just that, we are failing. The recent reports from the Secretary-General to the Security Council were as depressing as anything else reported here today. A chapter 7 resolution was finally passed last summer. All necessary means can be used, but, my goodness, we are not defining that in very good terms at present. That is something of a sick joke.

The United Kingdom has an opportunity; it chairs the Security Council in May. I hope that we will see serious diplomatic initiatives to extend the asset freezes that are already in place, but which are limited, extend the travel bans and look hard at the arms embargo. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West made an important point about Britain's role in small arms. Whether that issue is linked to Darfur, surely we should be looking a lot harder at what is going on.

John Bercow: To the list of crimes that fully justify the comprehensive sanctions against the Government of Sudan that the hon. Gentleman rightly seeks, might I add one other item? It is true that the numbers of people in the camps have ballooned in the three years since the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and I visited camps in Darfur. However, is there not another difficulty, which is that, in some cases, the Government of Sudan are organising forced, involuntary returns that are highly dangerous? The United Nations circulated a memo complaining about this last November. It is another example of a breach of human rights law by the Government of Sudan for which it should be indicted.

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Mr. Moore: I agree. Since the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue, we might highlight the complete lack of progress in getting hold of the two individuals who should be before the International Criminal Court but are not—and there are surely others to whom that should be extended.

Hon. Members have properly drawn attention to China's role. We must give China credit for recognising that there are problems in the area: it has appointed an envoy for Africa, who has taken interest in this matter and its support was crucial in getting resolution 1769 passed last year. But, frankly, that is not enough. I hope that the Government will ensure that, in this year of the Olympics, when China is learning that it has to face out to the world and deal with the world not just in respect of Tibet, it learns that its role in Sudan and Darfur matters as well.

I hope that today we can learn something of European efforts to bolster the mediation led by the AU and the UN and about our role in what other hon. Members have rightly mentioned is in danger of being a regional conflict. Darfur might only be the start of something. That is too awful to contemplate. We must ensure that we are doing all that is necessary.

Famously or infamously, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said that Africa was a scar on the conscience of the world and in Darfur we see one of its bleakest realities. It is a horrible situation. The response so far has been feeble. There really is a requirement to act now.

10.37 am

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this debate. He spoke movingly about the situation in Darfur, but the most important thing that he said was that it was time for action rather than words.

All hon. Members have a great interest in this matter; many have been to Darfur and have spoken passionately about it, going back three or four years. There is a great welling up of frustration. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said, there is frustration that the international community has failed to come up with a coherent, sustainable response to a disaster on a vast scale in the immediate area that may be tipping over into a vast regional catastrophe, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, and others have said.

We should put on the record our praise for individuals and organisations, both at home and in the area, who have worked tirelessly. It must be incredibly frustrating to be an official, either in the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office, having to deal with this matter, let alone the individuals who bravely act on the ground. This is one of those disasters where the celebs come in, have a quick concert with some of the more up-market members of the media and move on to the next disaster. It is left to a lot of other people to sort it out.

John Barrett: In fairness, can I point out that some celebrities have had a long-term commitment to the region? I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think otherwise. Mia Farrow, for instance, has taken up this issue for many years.

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Mr. Simpson: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There are also some people in the media with a long-term interest. But we all know that all too often the caravan moves on.

As far as the international community is concerned, whatever the sheer practicalities—I shall not go over them again, but we should not underestimate the difficulties—its efforts have been a monstrous failure. If such a situation had recurred in China, Russia or the EU it would not be tolerated.

As all hon. Members have pointed out, the main responsibility for the overall situation in Darfur lies with the Sudanese Government. I know that, as at least one hon. Member has pointed out, we are incredibly vulnerable in this country in pulling our punches with regard to the situation not only in Darfur, but in Zimbabwe because of a colonial guilt complex. It is easy for many obnoxious regimes to say that a situation is due to the activities of former colonial powers, or to tell us to look at what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The time has come to ignore such comments and not to allow that attitude to get in the way of what I believe is a noble enterprise, not just by this country and our allies, but by many African countries. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) rightly pointed out the magnificent role of, for example, the Nigerian armed forces, and I do not think we should apologise.

The problem is what to do about a Sudanese Government that blocks the deployment of troops from Norway and Sweden, continues to withhold clearance for other contingents, has not yet fully approved the allocation of land and facilities for UN peacekeepers, and has impounded vital equipment, including armoured personnel carriers, for up to two months in customs. That action is not against individual countries; it is in direct defiance of the United Nations, which must do something about it.

I want to focus my comments on the role of the British Government and the Prime Minister. The Minister may think that I am trying to be partisan, but I happen to believe in an old fashioned thing called political leadership. I also happen to believe that such complex problems often take years to resolve. Jonathan Powell has written a book, “Great Hatred, Little Room”, about making peace in Northern Ireland, and, going back to the time of John Major, I have been struck by the fact that it often takes years of very hard work to get some solution, and it takes time to keep that up at a high level of priority.

The Prime Minister, with much fanfare, launched with the French an action plan for Darfur, and last July he said that it was

He put forward an action plan of elements, which I shall go through quickly. The first is to secure a UN resolution mandating the deployment of a UN-African Union force. Yes, we have achieved that. The second is that once the UN resolution is passed we should be prepared together to go to Darfur to ensure that the peace process is moving forward. That has not yet happened. The third is to work for an immediate ceasefire on the ground and a cessation of violence. That has not yet been achieved. The fourth is to be prepared to contribute substantial sums of economic support as soon as a ceasefire makes it possible for us to achieve economic development in the area. That has not been achieved.

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