Sudan

– in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 7th September 2004.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 4:03 pm, 7th September 2004

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the situation in Sudan. Before I do so, however, I should like to say something about Beslan.

This morning, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I signed the book of condolences at the Russian embassy to express our horror at the barbarity that befell the innocent children, women and men of Beslan, our profound sorrow at the grief of all those who lost loved ones, and sympathy for the injured. No cause justifies such bestiality in any circumstances. What happened was simply evil beyond reason or excuse, and we stand with the Government and the people of Russia at this terrible time of suffering.

I return to the issue of Sudan. After the House rose for the summer recess on 30 July, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1556, which demanded that the Government of Sudan disarm the Janjaweed militias and apprehend and bring to justice their leaders and associates. The resolution further called on the Sudanese Government to facilitate international relief; to establish credible security conditions for the protection of the civilian population and humanitarian aid workers; and to resume political talks with dissident groups from Darfur. The Security Council imposed an arms embargo on the militias, including the Janjaweed, and endorsed the deployment of international monitors to Darfur, under the leadership of the African Union. The resolution was backed by the threat of sanctions in the event of the Sudanese Government failing to comply with its provisions. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was mandated to report back within 30 days on that compliance.

I visited Sudan one week before that deadline, on 23 and 24 August, to assess the situation for myself and to urge the Sudanese Government to comply fully with the terms of resolution 1556. In Khartoum, I met the Sudanese President, General al-Bashir, the Foreign Minister, Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, and other Ministers and political figures, along with the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Jan Pronk, and representatives of non-governmental organisations. In the talks, I stressed to the President and to the Foreign Minister the international community's grave concern at the situation in Darfur, and the importance that we attached to compliance with the resolution and with the plan of action that the Sudanese Government had subsequently agreed. While there, I obtained undertakings from the Sudanese Government that visas would be issued to staff from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

On my visit to el-Fasher in northern Darfur, I went to the Abu Shouk refugee camp, where I was given a tragically familiar account of atrocities and of attacks by armed militias that had forced people to flee their homes. The refugees spoke to me of their continuing fear of returning home until, and unless, their security was guaranteed. Abu Shouk is one of the better-run camps in the region, but many thousands more displaced people across Darfur and in neighbouring Chad still receive insufficient assistance, or in some cases none at all.

I also visited the headquarters of the African Union ceasefire monitoring mission in Darfur. AU observers told me that they judged that the ceasefire between the rebels and the Government of Sudan is largely holding, and they also said that there had been no aerial bombardment of civilians by the Sudanese Government since the end of June, but they also judged that there were still repeated attacks on civilians and credible reports of continued atrocities.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, reported last week to the Security Council on the extent of Sudan's compliance with resolution 1556. His report found that the Sudanese Government had taken some steps to comply with the resolution and with the action plan. Security has improved for refugees in some limited areas, additional police have been deployed and disarmament has begun. Talks between the Government and the rebels opened on 23 August in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, facilitated by President Obasanjo of Nigeria. Mr. Annan said that access restrictions for humanitarian relief had been lifted, and that the humanitarian situation was improving, although conditions in many of the camps remained poor. The Sudanese Government had committed themselves to a policy of no forced returns of refugees, and human rights monitoring and investigations by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had begun.

However, Mr. Annan's report also found that

"after 18 months of conflict, and 30 days after the adoption of resolution 1556, the Government of Sudan has not been able to resolve the crisis in Darfur, and has not met some of the core commitments it has made"— most critically, on the question of security.

The House will wish to know that an atrocities documentation team led by the US State Department has recently returned from Chad, where it interviewed 1,200 refugees in camps concerning allegations of atrocities. In the past two days the US Government have shared some of their evidence with us. We are examining that and other evidence carefully. All this is extremely disturbing and further highlights for the international community the urgency of ensuring that all the evidence is systematically examined by an international commission of inquiry, to establish what international crimes have been committed, and by whom.

The Security Council is today discussing its response to the Secretary-General's assessment of the situation, and we hope that a decision on a new Security Council resolution will be made later this week. In the Security Council, the UK is calling for clear benchmarks detailing what steps the Sudanese Government must now take towards meeting their responsibilities and resolving the conflict, but the rebels too must abide by their commitments by ending violations of the April ceasefire.

In making our proposals for a new Security Council resolution, we shall press for an expansion of the African Union monitoring mission—we always work with the AU itself—to help stop the attacks and create a safer environment for civilians. We must get both sides to engage constructively in the political talks in Abuja, which alone offer the prospect of a sustainable solution.

Alongside the international effort to resolve the crisis, we are working hard with the UN, NGOs and our international partners to improve the humanitarian situation for the people of Darfur. Now that access for aid workers has improved, we need to get in as much help as possible and ensure that the UN agencies and NGOs have the capacity to deliver aid to those most in need. Some 500 international NGO staff are now in Darfur alongside 3,800 local workers. That is a significant improvement over recent months, but it is still not enough with the rains continuing to worsen the plight of refugees.

We also seek to consolidate support for the AU and its monitoring mission. The UK provided £2 million at the start of the mission in May, the first assistance from any donor, and the European Commission has provided a further €12 million. We continue to provide logistical support, including helping to fly in 155 Nigerian force protection officers over the past few weeks. The Government have made it clear that we are ready and willing to do more to support both the AU's current mission and an expanded operation, as and when it deploys.

Moreover, we must not let the pressures from the crisis in Darfur distract the Sudanese Government and the Southern Peoples' Liberation Movement from concluding the peace talks in Naivasha aimed at ending the 21-year civil war in the south. A settlement in that conflict would be an important achievement in itself, and it could provide the blueprint for a political settlement in Darfur. Much progress has been made so far in those talks and the parties have concluded a political framework agreement, but the talks must now reach a quick conclusion. Once, and only once, security and a political settlement are established across Sudan as a whole—north, south, east and west—the international community stands ready to ensure that all Sudan benefits from a long-term peace dividend. The EU has some €400 million waiting to be spent on long-term development, and the UK has already pledged £150 million, or €250 million, over the next three years for similar long-term aid.

The situation in Darfur has rightly shocked the world. For our part, we are determined to do everything we can to resolve the humanitarian disaster and help secure a political settlement across the country as a whole. We have had a special representative in Sudan, who works with our ambassador, concentrating on the peace talks for the past two and a half years. We are the largest cash donor of aid, having already provided £65 million—almost €100 million.

The Secretary of State for International Development has visited the country twice, in December last year and in June this year, and today he is in Nigeria, where he has been discussing the situation with President Obasanjo and working hard with the parties in the peace talks to try to get them to agree the next stage in any settlement. Our Departments are working closely together in a special joint Sudan unit, and the Minister with responsibility for Africa will go to Sudan next week. We continue to press our European Union and international partners to do more, as I did last weekend at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers.

Ten years ago, the world turned away from the horrors of Rwanda and Bosnia, and we all know the appalling results. We cannot do everything in Sudan, but we must do everything that we can to ensure that that vast country can at long last enjoy peace and stability, which have evaded it for so many years with such catastrophic consequences.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State for International Affairs, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader, International Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for giving me advance sight of it.

May I, too, start with a word about the outrage and tragedy of the events last Friday in Beslan in North Ossetia? None of us can have been immune to the horror, the intense grief and the justified anger arising from the inhuman and obscene violence and murder that was meted out by vicious terrorists to innocent children and their parents and teachers. We join the people of Beslan and, indeed, of all Russia in their mourning, and renew our own determination to continue to fight the scourge of terrorism wherever it occurs. While those horrifying pictures are fresh in our minds, it is right that we are discussing another area of brutality and evil inhumanity: the unspeakable atrocities and acts of genocide being carried out against the people of Darfur in Sudan.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's recent visit to Sudan. In June, my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow went deeper into Darfur and saw the horrors at first hand. He informs me that those horrors continue today. Of course, I join the Foreign Secretary in welcoming the somewhat meagre improvements in the situation that have occurred in the past month—namely, improved access for aid and the tentative start of peace talks in Abuja. However, I am sure that he agrees that they do not go very far towards dealing with the continuing atrocities on the ground.

Did not the United Nations Security Council resolution 1556, passed at the end of July, require in effect that by the end of August the infamous Janjaweed should be disarmed by the Sudanese Government? That certainly has not occurred. Surely the international priorities are now clear: to provide genuine security for the swelling refugee camps; to facilitate and target the distribution of desperately needed aid; and to police a genuine ceasefire. Should not those be the clear and determined objectives of both the United Nations and ourselves? Yet violence and murder continue unabated. Indeed, have not some 3,000 people been driven from their homes in renewed violence during the past few days? Is it not disingenuous for the Sudanese Government to continue to argue that this situation is not of their making or is beyond their control?

Kofi Annan admitted last week that

"the violations of human rights and the basic laws of war . . . continue in a climate of impunity."

In the face of that, how can the international community wait while further atrocities are committed in Darfur and more people die? If aid workers are to be believed, every day of prevarication will cost another thousand deaths.

Three years ago the Prime Minister talked about a "moral duty to act". The moves that the Foreign Secretary has outlined today simply do not go far enough. He should start by pressing in the United Nations for an African Union peacekeeping force of sufficient size to deliver those objectives. The African Union military seem willing to undertake that task. Our involvement, along with other non-African countries, should be to provide communications and logistical support, and possibly, if necessary, the wherewithal to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur.

We are told, however, that such a peacekeeping force can be put in place only at the highly unlikely invitation of the Sudanese Government. Is that not in practice an unacceptable recipe for inaction? Such is the scale of the atrocities that if the United Nations Security Council is to mean anything in terms of the relief of human suffering it must find a way to intervene directly. I hope that the Council in its discussions today will seek to identify such a way. The British Government should in due course lead by moving the relevant resolution.

The current situation in Darfur is a test not just of the Government of Sudan: it is a test of the credibility of the United Nations and, ultimately, of the moral duty of the British Government. The time for inaction has passed.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's words about the situation in Beslan. He spoke for the House in those remarks.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the international community's priorities should be the disarmament of the Janjaweed, the safety and proper supply of the refugee camps and policing the ceasefire. I agree with those priorities, but add to them the need for comprehensive disarmament of all the paramilitary groups: the Popular Defence Force operates directly under the orders of the Government of Sudan; a large part of the Janjaweed also operates under their orders, and there are rebel groups. It is sad but true that atrocities continue to be committed by rebels, albeit on a lesser scale than those of the Janjaweed under the control of the Government of Sudan.

In addition to those four priorities, success in the political talks is crucial. The terrible conflict in Darfur, which goes back many decades, can be resolved only through a political settlement, along similar lines to that towards which the parties are edging in Naivasha on the north-south axis. The critical point about the Naivasha accords is that the Government of Sudan have already agreed with the rebels that there should be both devolution of power within Sudan and a devolving and sharing of the wealth of the Government of Sudan. I kept making the point to President al-Bashir, Foreign Minister Mustafa and others that those principles are sound and that if they want peace throughout Sudan, they must apply them in Darfur, too.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the climate of impunity, which is a phrase that Kofi Annan used. We want an end to that climate of impunity and we therefore support proper international investigation of all the evidence about what international crimes have been committed—it is certain that such crimes have been committed—and by whom.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned an African Union peacekeeping force. I believe that it is a matter of agreement in all parties that it is crucial, if we are to have any success, to work with the African Union. It has shown a high degree of responsibility. It must be borne in mind that there are disagreements among its members, too, and it has to resolve them. However, we stand ready to provide all the assistance that we can to the African Union and I know that that applies to most other international partners.

On drafting the Security Council resolution, we already have drafts, which we are discussing privately with our Security Council colleagues. We want the strongest possible resolution. I understand everybody's impatience—I share it. It took us longer than I had hoped to get a Security Council resolution at the end of July. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it took too long and he is right. However, we wanted an international consensus and the result of working and negotiating with the Security Council was ultimately getting all three African members—Algeria, Benin and Angola—to support that tough resolution. That is crucial in pressuring the Government of Sudan.

Photo of John Battle John Battle Labour, Leeds West

I welcome my right hon. Friend's genuine efforts to resolve the crisis in Sudan. He began by mentioning Beslan and I note that many financial appeals have been launched in the past few days as a compassionate response and practical contribution to the communities of Beslan. However, in the short term, I ask my right hon. Friend to re-emphasise that humanitarian resources are still desperately needed in Sudan now and that Beslan appeals should not overshadow those needs. Rather, we should all do and give much more to both international appeals.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree with my right hon. Friend. As he said, there are sufficient riches and resources around the world to provide fully adequate material relief to the poor people of Beslan and adequate humanitarian relief in the Sudan.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the proper expressions of sympathy that the Foreign Secretary made to the Russian people at the outset of his statement? Nothing, but nothing, justifies the calculated brutality that we saw at Beslan. On such occasions, language sometimes seems insufficient to express the depth of horror and revulsion that we all feel.

May I commend the Foreign Secretary for his efforts in relation to Sudan and, in particular, for his visit there? Do the British Government accept the estimates that 50,000 people have been killed and that more than 1 million have fled their homes? Do the British Government consider that what has happened in Darfur amounts to genocide? If what has taken place there does not justify the description of genocide, how would the British Government characterise the killing, the rape, the forced displacement and the human rights violations?

Do the British Government accept the verdict of the United Nations special representative that

"no concrete steps have been taken to bring to justice or even identify any of the militia's leaders"?

What is the assessment of the degree of complicity of the Sudanese Government in these terrible events?

While accepting that, for the moment at least, there is no political will to authorise intervention and that neither sanctions nor an arms embargo have as yet sufficient support, what can be done with Rwanda and Bosnia in mind—the Foreign Secretary referred to both—if the Sudanese Government persist in failing to meet their responsibilities?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I commend the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks in respect of Beslan.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me whether the figure of 50,000 killed was accurate. The answer is that I cannot say, but I have seen that estimate. I can say that at least 1,200,000 have fled their homes and are currently in properly registered refugee camps. Many thousands more may be elsewhere; another 200,000 are across the border in Chad.

One of the most extraordinary experiences on my visit to the Sudan was to stand on the top of a hill to look out at the rows and rows of huts in a camp that stretched to the horizon. Some 50,000 people, the size of a medium-sized town in this country, were housed in those huts and I reflected on the fact that the refugees we know about are contained in at least 24 more such camps.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether what has happened amounts to genocide. The answer is that there is evidence that clearly suggests that international crimes against humanity have been committed. Just before making the statement, I discussed the issue with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The acting high commissioner for human rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, reported to the Security Council in the spring of 2004 that there was no doubt that there had been gross and systematic violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law. Mr. Annan said to me that we were all agreed that the parties in Sudan needed to act to ensure that these violations did not continue. The Secretary-General is keeping the question of whether what has happened is genocide under very close review, and so are we. We are examining the evidence that has been made available so far to us in confidence by the US Government. Of course, I will keep the House informed on that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's final point was about sanctions. The international community has not backed away from the possible use of sanctions. Indeed, operative paragraph 6 of resolution 1556 plainly lays down that, unless there is compliance, the Security Council will actively consider whether to bring in the sanctions—they are called "measures"—that are provided for under article 41 of the charter. It is our intention to see that point repeated in the new resolution. What I cannot say is the point at which we can persuade other partners in the Security Council that such action needs to be taken, but I can say for certain that it is only as a result of the strength of feeling and the resolve of the Security Council expressed at the end of July that the Government of Sudan, having resisted some improvements previously, have now started to make changes that are acceptable in themselves but do not go nearly far enough and are unsatisfactory altogether in respect of the security situation outside the camps.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley Labour, Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the frustration and anger felt by so many people and Governments about the ineffectiveness of the Sudanese Government in this situation reflect the much wider problem of failing states? When Kofi Annan's high level panel reports, which I think it is due to do at the end of this year, will my right hon. Friend make that a major debate and matter of attention in this country and other countries around the world, through the international institutions, because the international community's failure to have a coherent policy towards failing states led to us wringing our hands and looking on in horror at Rwanda, intervening ineffectually in Somalia, intervening effectively in Kosovo and now, I fear, having only a marginal impact in Darfur? The international community really has to do better than that, and that high-level panel is vital to the future of foreign policy and defence for this country and for others for years to come.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of this; it was the subject of an excellent pamphlet written by him recently with my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd. I offered some perhaps more modest thoughts about this subject in a speech to Chatham House last Thursday. It is crucial that, once we receive Kofi Annan's report, we really deal with this issue, and we should.

There are some structural organisational issues that we have got to handle for the UN, but the worst thing in the world for the future of the UN is to get drawn into organograms or rebranding the organisation and avoid the central conceptual issue, which is in what circumstances in the world we live in today—where the threats come from terrorists and failing states, and not normally from functioning states—the Security Council takes action and how it ensures the same resolve today to deal with these new threats as the international community had in 1945 when the UN was established.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

The Secretary of State cited Rwanda and Bosnia, but in respect of both the UN set up a war crimes tribunal to bring to justice those most guilty of perpetrating war crimes. Can he clarify what he meant when he referred in his statement to the international commission of inquiry to see what international crimes are being committed and by whom? Will that be conducted under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the UN and is it intended that, if those responsible can be identified, there will be a UN war crimes tribunal in respect of atrocities committed in Sudan?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that such tribunals were set up, and are still operating, in respect of both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Of course, roughly speaking, that was all the international community did: although it was a necessary step to take, it was too late and completely insufficient. I do not want to be there.

Our immediate concerns are security, proper supplies and humanitarian access, and a political solution. We are also concerned, as is Secretary-General Kofi Annan, about the climate of impunity. The only way to take away that climate of impunity is to ensure that there is a proper investigation of alleged crimes and a proper process after that.

The Government of Sudan have established their own national commission. If there were wider international confidence in the effectiveness of that commission, okay, but Jan Pronk has already made clear his concerns about its adequacy. For that reason, we are looking carefully at what wider international commissions or institutions should operate. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the detail he needs, because that has not been decided. It is something that we are discussing with our international partners.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge and Chryston

In thanking my right hon. Friend for the excellent work that he is doing in a very complex situation, may I take him back to the meeting of 23–24 August when he met the President of Sudan? Were the President of Sudan and the Sudanese regime aware of the true anger in the international community, as well as in the House? What regard did he give to resolution 1556? Is there any evidence that, if a strengthened resolution is introduced, as we all hope that it will be, he will give it any regard? Was it made clear to him that, if he does not, the international community's patience is not inexhaustible?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I did everything that I could to stress to the President of Sudan the gravity of the situation and the intense concern of the international community. That is understood. Initially, there was almost a refusal to acknowledge the strength of the terms of 1556, and there were statements by the Government of Sudan that they were unwilling to implement it. After further pressure, however, not least from fellow African countries, they have said that they will implement it, and have signed up to the action plan that they put forward. They offered undertakings about what they will do in the 30-day period, some of which they have done, but by no means all. On those, above all, we must hold the Government of Sudan to account.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (Defence)

Nobody pretends that there is an easy solution to this situation, but is it not the case that the Government of Sudan have form on this? They have form throughout the south during the civil war, in the Nuba mountains and elsewhere, and they have form on getting away with it with impunity. Furthermore, they have achieved their aim in the south to destroy the infrastructure and intelligentsia and their aim in Darfur to empty the region of black African farmers. Will the Foreign Secretary make it his policy with the international community that individuals in the Government of Sudan, from Bashir downwards, should be held responsible for their complicity in war crimes, that they will not have impunity and that they will be brought before the bar of international justice, wherever that may be, and held responsible for the awful crimes that may yet lead to the deaths of as many as 1 million people?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have commented on the need for international investigation of those crimes. I will not anticipate the outcome of those investigations, except to say that it is clear beyond doubt that international crimes against humanity have been committed. The Government of Sudan have been engaged in peace talks in respect of the south and we are tantalisingly close to complete agreement, which can produce peace and stability in the south. The sense that I got when I was in Khartoum was that something was holding the Government back, which is why I have worked hard with all my international interlocutors, including Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to impress on them, as well as the Government, that if we want peace and stability in Darfur, we must make rapid progress on the peace that is available today or tomorrow, in respect of the south, through the Naivasha accords.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

May I commend the Foreign Secretary, and the International Development Secretary, on the tremendous work that they are doing in relation to Sudan, compared with the previous Government's abject dereliction of duty in relation to Rwanda? In relation to the Foreign Secretary's preliminary remarks about the tragic events in Russia, will the Government examine the serious implications that they may have for security in the United Kingdom, and will they consider what my hon. Friend David Winnick described earlier as the common threads between events in Russia, Iraq and, perhaps, the Sudan that threaten us all?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks and he is right to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, and all his staff, here and in the field. Our two Departments have been working together extremely closely to produce a higher level of effort by the British Government than by any comparable Government. We are proud to do that, but we also regard it as our duty.

On worldwide terrorism, it goes without saying that we are already seeking to learn the necessary lessons from the terrible atrocities that took place in Beslan last Friday.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

May I endorse the remarks about giving help in both Beslan and Sudan made by Mr. Battle? In view of the Foreign Secretary's last remarks, can he assure the House that, although the Dutch hold the presidency of the European Union, the insensitive and intemperate remarks of the Dutch Foreign Minister are not endorsed by the British Government?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The Foreign Minister of the Netherlands has already explained the circumstances in which he came to make those remarks. I think that he explained that they were made ex cathedra and did not reflect the discussion that took place among European Foreign Ministers. I have set out our position this afternoon and on the radio yesterday. I believe that we must stand absolutely firmly with the Government and people of Russia, and—as I have said—not allow any excuse for what happened in Beslan.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. For understandable reasons, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the situation in Russia at the beginning of his remarks, but it ought not to be taken up generally, because the statement is essentially about Sudan.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Labour, Lancaster and Wyre

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a balanced and entirely sensible approach to a complicated issue. I urge him to continue setting that issue in the context of a tremendous diplomatic effort by the Government to help all parties to reach a comprehensive peace agreement across Sudan. As one who also visited Sudan recently, may I ask whether he is aware that many thousands throughout the country are now enjoying peace for the first time in 21 years? Does he agree that, in the attempt to deal with the desperate humanitarian situation in Darfur, it is essential that no encouragement whatever be given to the militias, rebel groups and special interests that would seek to undermine the comprehensive peace agreement that is now so close?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and commend his work as chairman of the all-party Sudan group over many years. He is absolutely right: the only future for the people of Sudan—as elsewhere throughout the world—is through politics and the putting aside of violence.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

This should be set in context. It is arguable that more people—men, women and children—are dying in Sudan every few days than died in one day of terror in Russia last week. That is not to belittle the terror of the latter event, but to highlight the enormity of the former. It means that every few days that the United Nations does not enforce sanctions, every few days that the African Union does not take action, every few days that the United Kingdom Government do not—as was suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram—provide support in terms of communications, more men, women and children will die. The United Nations is beginning to acquire a well-earned reputation for procrastination. When will the Foreign Secretary take some action?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have just spelt out the action that we have taken. I understand the hon. Gentleman's impatience: I share it, and his frustration about our inability to do all that we would wish to, because of the atrocities and deaths that are plainly taking place. However, I do not think that much purpose is served by his thrashing around demanding action that we have already taken, or action that we have offered which requires the agreement of other people.

We have done virtually everything in our power. We are the largest cash aid donor, second only to the United States in terms of overall value. We have been hugely involved in facilitating the peace process in Naivasha, which we hope will have good results. We are also working very hard with the African Union. The hon. Gentleman mentioned communications equipment. We have provided the money for the African Union. When I was in el-Fasher two weeks ago, the problem was not our provision of money for communications equipment, but bureaucratic difficulties that we are now trying to sort out but which are quite outwith the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government.

As I have said, I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration. If he has constructive proposals to make, I will of course—as ever—take them on board, from wherever they come. But given what we are doing, it is wrong to suggest that we in the United Kingdom—the people, the Government or Parliament—are in any way evading our responsibilities, because we are not. We are fulfilling them, and we are also trying to get others to fulfil theirs; that is the crucial point. I understand some of the hon. Gentleman's frustrations with the international community, but if people want us to work through the United Nations—as I do—that is what we must do. Sometimes it takes longer than we would wish, but it is the only international organisation available to us with the legitimacy and power to enforce what we want to happen.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to rule out simplistic causes of the conflict in Sudan and he is even more right to avoid considering pre-emptive intervention, which is potentially very dangerous. Indeed, we must be honest: it is simply undeliverable. Does he agree that we should consider issues such as environmental changes in that part of Africa, particularly desertification, which is one reason why the nomads have moved? Of course, that does not excuse the behaviour of the Janjaweed, and we must also consider the question of resources. One strong argument for the action taken by the Sudan Liberation Army is that it is trying to get in on the back of the north-south peace settlement to make sure that it has resources. What we need is a sustainable peace in the whole of Sudan.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There are many reasons for supporting the Kyoto protocols and for the world to get a grip on climate change, which is within our power, but one of the best is the political, social and humanitarian effects of desertification in Darfur and Chad. As I have said, the key to the Naivasha accords is the devolution not only of power but of wealth in resources. That is also the key to a political settlement in Darfur.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

One course of action that has not yet been pursued is the imposition of sanctions, which was discussed at the European Union meeting in the Netherlands over the weekend. EU officials have been asked to draw up a list of possible sanctions and their implications. What is the UK Government's position vis-à-vis such sanctions? Do they support them? If so, but they are being braked by other EU member states, who is slowing this process down?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We actively supported operational paragraph 6 of resolution 1556, which specifies that the Security Council will consider imposing measures—sanctions—under article 41 if there is non-compliance with the terms of the resolution. That remains very strongly our position and no one is blocking the imposition of sanctions. The judgment that has to be made is whether sufficient progress has been made to justify delaying the imposition of sanctions for a further period. As I said in my statement, in our discussions in New York, which are taking place right now, we are seeking the establishment of very clear benchmarks—clearer than those in resolution 1556—and timelines against which the progress or otherwise of the Government of Sudan, and of the rebels, can be measured. The clear warning should be given that if there is a major failure to meet those benchmarks and timelines, in our judgment the Security Council would have to impose sanctions at that stage.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Conservative, Bracknell

Rightly and inevitably, the shadow of Rwanda and Bosnia hangs over us, and the situation in Darfur is unbelievably dire by any standards. However, if at some point military intervention is desirable and advisable, it should come from the African Union. I cannot conceive of circumstances in which it would be right and proper for our troops, who are already heavily overstretched, to be in that particular theatre.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman offers considerable wisdom to the House, and we are indeed working with the African Union. I spoke to one of the AU's leading Foreign Ministers at the weekend, and for most—but not all—members of the AU, there is greater anger at what has happened in Sudan than exists even in this House or in the continents of Europe and the Americas. There is real, profound anger—not only among the non-Arab African states, but among many of the Arab Muslim states as well. They see it as a great test of the African Union itself. We should not put them to the test, but allow them to make their own test for themselves and help them in every way that we can. We are doing so through provision of some monitors and the facilitation that we have already provided to move in, for example, Nigeria's armed forces—and not only a couple of companies, as we have said that we stand ready to provide for many more troops to be moved there. There are already troops from Rwanda and Nigeria in the country. If the African Union asks for our logistical or financial help, by God we are ready to provide it, as are many members of the European Union.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

In view of the daily death toll, the murders, rapes and brutalities, matters are urgent and there is a growing sense of anger throughout the House and outside it. Which are the countries on the Security Council that understand the need for urgent action by the international community, and which are the worst offenders that are holding it all back? I need to be able to tell my constituents why the Government are well intentioned but nothing happens.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It is not adequate, but a good deal has happened as a result of the passage of resolution 1556, as I set out in my statement. I am not here today to name names on a contingent basis: we have not reached the point of discussing the terms of the new resolution in open Council. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, as a result of intensive diplomacy by the United States Government and the UK, we managed to achieve a position on 31 July where 30 member states—all the European countries, American countries and all three relevant African countries—voted in favour of 1556 and two abstained. The abstainers were China and Pakistan, and he should seek their explanations for the way they voted—it is for them, not for me, to explain. However, it was not because they lacked concern about the situation, but for other reasons.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous PPS To Shadow Foreign Secretary, International Affairs, Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Foreign Secretary referred to UN resolution 1556 as being tough when he spoke to the House earlier, but is he satisfied that it has sufficient teeth so that the necessary international action can be taken—for example, in policing a no-fly zone?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am satisfied that it was tougher than the Government of the Sudan anticipated at the end of July, because it certainly came as a shock to them and put greater pressure on them. Resolution 1556, as the hon. Gentleman would see if he read the text, does not of itself lay down what sanctions are to be taken. It simply lays down in operational paragraph 6 that the Security Council is ready to consider measures under article 41. It remains to be seen what measures, including the policing of no-fly zones, would be taken. Any such measures would require further specific authorisation by the Security Council under chapter VII.