Darfur

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 5th April 2005.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We have been very active in the UN Security Council to secure the passage of three Security Council resolutions on Sudan: 1590, on 24 March, provides for troops in support of the comprehensive peace agreement; and 1591, on 29 March, applies sanctions against those who impede the peace process and pose a threat to stability in Darfur. The third resolution, 1593, was passed early last Friday, after weeks of intensive negotiations. It refers those identified as complicit in war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Notwithstanding its opposition in principle to the ICC, the United States abstained on that resolution, as did China, Algeria and Brazil. Eleven nations voted in its favour, led by the United Kingdom, which sponsored the resolution. That resolution was, therefore, historic, because for the first time, the Security Council has made a referral to the ICC, sending out a clear message that there is now no hiding place for those who commit crimes against humanity.

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

I think that the whole House would welcome the passing of Security Council resolution 1593—as the Foreign Secretary says, it is an historic one—but does he agree that the only way that we will stop the killing in Darfur is if the Security Council introduces a chapter VII resolution to give an enhanced mandate to the African Union, increasing its deployment and giving it a peace-enforcing mandate, rather than simply a peace-monitoring mandate?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree with the burden of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The problem that we faced was to gain nine votes in the Security Council. When it came to resolution 1590, gaining a sufficient consensus for that deployment of troops was very difficult. Throughout, we have had to get other member states of the Security Council to recognise the gravity of the situation and some of them to appreciate that their obligations under the UN charter must take precedence over their immediate commercial or political interests with the Government of Sudan.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I warmly welcome the UK position on this, and I also welcome the United States position on this. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what influence he had over the US making that decision?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It is for that Administration to answer that, but all I can say is that there was a lengthy, yet constructive, period of negotiation with Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State. The US, along with several other countries on the Security Council, including China and Russia, is not a state party to the International Criminal Court—that is on an all-party basis. I am very grateful to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the US Government for their constructive approach and for the fact that they allowed the resolution to go through and thus let the International Criminal Court make an effective start, not withstanding that opposition.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The International Development Select Committee, in its recent excellent report, estimated that up to 300,000 deaths might have occurred in Darfur and that the UK Government should have done more initially with the international community to raise the alarm. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the Sudanese Government must be compelled to halt their genocide; that the perpetrators of the appalling crimes must be brought to justice; that a no-fly zone must be enforced over Darfur; that oil and arms sanctions must be imposed and that the African Union, as my hon. Friend Tony Baldry said, must be authorised to undertake peacekeeping instead of monitoring?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I refute entirely the suggestion that the British Government did not act quickly enough. Our aid programme is more than twice the level of that which we inherited from the previous Conservative Government. There is one absolute certainty of many: if there were a Conservative Government, aid would be the first casualty of the public spending cuts that they have in store. We have always argued for the toughest possible action in Sudan, but achieving that depends on gaining agreement inside the Security Council.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary finds it appropriate to go into party political politics because this important issue concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. Conservative Members accept UN resolutions 1591 and 1593 as a small step forward. We welcome the travel ban and the assets freeze, but that is not enough to stop the genocide. After seven Security Council resolutions, 10 reports to the Security Council, 2 million people being displaced and 300,000 deaths, it is scandalous that the African Union force has less ability to protect civilians than the UN mission in southern Sudan. Why did the UK Government and the UN ambassador not insist at least on that minimum condition?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

What that question shows is how detached the hon. Gentleman and the official Opposition are from the way in which the UN operates. We have to gain a consensus, which involves international engagement and even engagement with our European partners to gain the four votes of the EU members of the Security Council. We have been arguing for months for tougher action, but in case the hon. Gentleman has not noticed, one or two members of the Security Council with veto powers have been reluctant to achieve that. We have not got to the point that we would wish to get to, but it is infinitely better than where we might have got to—and certainly better than where we would have got under a Conservative Government.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Although I recognise the lead taken by the Government, does my right hon. Friend accept that the failure of the international community as a whole to act on the terrible crimes and atrocities in Darfur reminds one of what happened 11 years ago in Rwanda? Is he further aware that those of us who have seen the film "Hotel Rwanda" are reminded once again how the international community—of course there was a different Government in Britain then—stood aside while some of the most terrifying crimes were committed, which were, in fact, the worst since 1945?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. Rwanda was the most appalling example of brazen neglect by the international community, including the United Kingdom at the time. We in this Government have adopted a different approach, but the truth is that there are still members of the so-called international community—member states of the Security Council and others—that are turning a blind eye to clear atrocities that have taken place in Darfur. The United Kingdom has not been one of those countries because we have been at the forefront of not only giving aid to the benighted people of Darfur, but calling for effective international action.

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

May I welcome the progress that has been made on Darfur and especially the fact that the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court has been invoked in the way in which the Foreign Secretary described? May I press him a little further on an answer that he has already given? He knows that the African Union committed to provide 3,600 troops and police, but only two thirds of that number have actually been deployed. Two years after the crisis began, with estimates that as many as 300,000 people have been killed, what steps can he take to persuade those in the Security Council who might be otherwise minded of the urgent need to provide a larger force of at least 10,000 with a clear and unequivocal mandate for the protection of civilians, who, not withstanding the welcome progress, remain at grievous risk?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Resolution 1590 provides for an AU mission of up to 10,000 military personnel. There is agreement to that. The problem is finding the necessary troops and, as its leaders accept, the African Union's capacity is an issue. Our aim is to give the African Union active military and other technical support—some of which is elementary logistical support—so that we can get the available troops into the region and deployed effectively.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

What action the Government are taking, in conjunction with others, (a) to bring an end to killings in Darfur and (b) to ensure that essential supplies reach the region.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

What action the Government are taking with the international community to ensure aid supplies reach Darfur.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Insecurity remains the biggest obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Darfur. We continue to insist that the parties stop fighting and abide by their commitments and we have provided significant technical and financial support to the African Union force. The UK is also one of the leading humanitarian donors to the crisis.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

My hon. Friend is aware of the huge development need of all the people of Sudan. However, there is concern about the way in which development aid and debt relief are provided to the current Government, whom many of us do not trust at all. Does he agree that it is imperative that the entire international community, particularly the European Union, agrees a set of clear benchmarks and timetables for the provision of aid to the Government of Sudan and clearly states the consequences if the Government do not comply with the conditions of those grants?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I certainly agree. We have made it clear to the Government of Sudan that there is no prospect of, for example, action on debt relief, which they urgently want, until there is a wholly different approach in Darfur. We provide substantial aid and will continue to do so, but much of it goes through the UN agencies and NGOs that are active on the ground, not through the Government of Sudan.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the aid that the UK Government have given, but he must be aware of the indications of the immense impact of the crisis on the region's population. It is suggested that up to 2 million people have left their homes and fields and, according to the most optimistic analysis, at least that number will remain in that position until 2006 and possibly beyond. In those circumstances, what is the likelihood of the Government providing additional aid, especially for the NGOs, and what is the likelihood of the level of contributions being increased at the forthcoming donor conference?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We stand ready to increase our aid as needed, but the key issue on the ground is security. The African Union force now numbers about 2,500, including 200 police, and as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned, there are plans to increase it to 10,000 if necessary. The signs are that the force is becoming more effective in protecting civilians, and once security on the ground has been established it will become far easier to get aid to the people who need it. Part of the problem now is not a shortage of aid, but an inability to get the aid that is already available to the people who need it.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Ann McKechin referred to the lack of trust in the Sudanese Government. Although one welcomes the improvement of the situation in Darfur, albeit there is still a long way to go, what assessment has been made of the impact of the continuing conflict in Darfur on the peace deal between the south and the north?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the whole international community is extremely anxious to see the comprehensive peace agreement that has been signed between the south and the north succeed. I am glad to say that representatives of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army have now arrived in Khartoum; we think that that will make a difference to the Khartoum Government's approach in Darfur and other parts of the country. We do not want to take our eye off the ball of the north-south peace agreement, because the prize is great. Our view has always been that the settlement reached between the north and the south could form the basis of an eventual settlement in Darfur. It is important to note that the civil war in Sudan between the north and the south was the longest-running civil war in Africa, in which 2 million people died.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

As justice delayed is justice denied, I warmly welcome the referral of the war crime suspects to the International Criminal Court, a step for which many of us have long been arguing. I enthusiastically congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his role in bringing about that important achievement. Given, however, that we are all agreed that the priority must be to stop the killing in Darfur now—killing that continues to take place at anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people a month—would the Minister again accept that there is a distinction between peacekeeping and peace enforcement? What is needed is peace enforcement through a larger African Union force, and a force that is blue-helmeted so that it receives the logistical and financial support that it requires to do its job.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I certainly accept that there is a difference between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. The mandate of the AU force is a matter for the AU, and up to now it has expressed itself satisfied with its mandate, the exercise of which is open to quite wide discretion. It has used force to protect civilians on occasion. In the past couple of months, the UN special representative, Mr. Pronk, has commented increasingly that the AU, as it extends its presence on the ground, is becoming increasingly effective at protecting civilians by a combination of what he describes as "deterrence and mediation". He says that it has "surpassed expectations". The key issue is to get more troops on the ground and there are plans for an eventual deployment of up to 10,000. Indeed, the numbers have increased substantially in the first few months of this year.

As for resolution 1593, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is far too modest to say that he played a crucial role in obtaining that resolution. I have no doubt that but for his intervention it would not have been obtained.