Darfur

– in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 15th June 2005.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Coaker.]

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 7:00 pm, 15th June 2005

I am very pleased to be able to speak on the Adjournment on the absolutely crucial issue of what is still happening in Darfur in Sudan. Because of things called elections, it has been some time since we have had the opportunity to raise the subject. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister and welcome him to his new position. He listened to part of the previous debate, but I am sure that he is now much more at home with the issue of Africa, and Darfur in particular.

My premise is that, sadly, there is little evidence to suggest that things have improved since we last debated this terribly serious situation, which is probably, at the moment, the world's worst humanitarian disaster bar none. I do not have to use my own words—I will read a quote from Kofi Annan from the Addis Ababa pledging conference of 26 May:

"We are running a race against time. The rainy season and the hunger gap are approaching fast making now relief operations more difficult, just as they need to expand even further. If violence and fear prevent the people of Darfur from planting and growing their crops next year then millions will have to be sustained by an epic relief effort which will stretch international capacity to the maximum."

I hope that I come to this debate with some experience. I think that I am about to be anointed as the chair of the all-party group on Sudan. I have a considerable interest in the subject, as does my hon. Friend, in this context, John Bercow. We visited Khartoum and Darfur last year, and he went subsequently with the International Development Committee. We have seen first-hand the depths of the crisis.

I pay tribute to Sultana Begum, who is the administrative officer of the all-party group. She has been instrumental in my bringing this debate forward and helped me to write my speech.

I do not have time to go through the history of this tragedy, which we have considered in various debates. I want to go right to the nub of what is happening and what needs to happen. The fact that so many organisations have written to me shows that it is a live issue. Thankfully, it has not been forgotten by the non-governmental organisations—the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Crisis Group, Unicef, Protect Darfur and Waging Peace, among others. In the past couple of days I have had enormous wodges of paper showing that representations are still going on.

In explaining the point that the crisis has now reached, I make no apology for starting with the humanitarian problems. The rainy season is about to start in Darfur. That will affect mainly the southern parts; sadly, much of the north gets hardly any rain. This huge area has great disparities of climate. Chad, which has similar climatic features, has many refugees and internally displaced persons. The big problem is that there will be yet another season throughout which people are unable to plant, and the agricultural background of many of these people will start to be severely tested. They are unable to reclaim their land even if they could get access to it through any improvement in security.

The World Food Programme announced a shortfall of $167 million, which makes it difficult to feed an estimated 2.5 million people in 2005. Inevitably, there is some process of catch-up, but those figures give an idea of the depth of the crisis. It is believed that at least another million people will need food aid from May to September.

We are two years into the crisis and, although proposals have been made and the world has engaged in various ways, it remains huge and is getting worse. The world has yet to break the back of it. That is the responsibility of us all, not only the United Nations or those who are on the ground. To be fair, this country has taken a strong lead. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development said in a letter that the position in Darfur was worrying and ascribed it to the continuing insecurity. He emphasised the particular worry of the harassment of non-governmental organisations, which adds to the humanitarian crisis.

The first of several questions to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is: what preparations have the British Government put in place to deal with the internally displaced persons crisis, not only in terms of food, but shelter, health and—dare I say it—even some education for the children?

On 9 June, the United Nations mission in Sudan—UNMIS—declared that the town of Muhujariya in south Darfur was a no-go area for UN staff following a conflict between rebel forces and Government troops. Again, that bears out my comments about the problems of the security situation. Such events are a regular occurrence. Although there has been greater stability in some places, sadly, trouble is breaking out in many others and there are insufficient people on the ground to deal with that.

There is no evidence that the Janjaweed has been reined in. I was present when the hon. Member for Buckingham asked whether the Janjaweed was not being reined in because the regime could not control it—if that is the case, we need to put troops on the ground, with the backing of the Government in Sudan—or whether the Sudanese Government were complicit in the actions of the Janjaweed because it is that Government's secret militia, albeit no longer so secret. If the latter is the case, we must deal with the Government of Sudan. We did not get an answer to that question. I gather that there is no answer. However, the position is unacceptable. The Janjaweed must be tackled. We are not only considering what happens in the rural areas, but all the pressures in the camps, with allegations of the rape of the women and attacks on the men.

What is the British Government's assessment of the security position? Do they perceive any improvements on the ground? What are they doing to put in place ways in which to provide greater security? I was pleased to read in the past couple of days that we are sending some RAF personnel to help the African Union as it ratchets up the number of troops from 3,000 to more than 7,000. Sadly, such action appears to be too little, too late but at least it is happening. Our support is needed for the logistics involved in getting people where the trouble is quickly and moving the food around so that we can feed people.

I have already mentioned the specific problem of sexual violence in and around the camps. According to the Sudan Organisation against Torture—SOAT—which comprises an incredibly brave group of people, whom the hon. Member for Buckingham and I had the opportunity to meet in Khartoum, rape and sexual violence are being used as tools to frighten the population. Again, what measures do her Majesty's Government believe are necessary to deal with that specifically? Given the threat to non-governmental organisations, with personnel feeling themselves to be at risk, the most vulnerable people are women and children. If fewer people are out there supporting indigenous groups, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy if outrages still take place. What are the Government doing with the UN, the African Union and others to protect those most vulnerable of people? What representations are Her Majesty's Government making to the Government of Sudan to make it clear that this must be dealt with today? The matter cannot be pushed away, as a tragedy is unfolding, and the security situation must be addressed.

I have already mentioned the African Union. Clearly, it has been argued, across the House, that there were too few troops and that they needed much more logistical support. In the previous debate—I make no apology for mentioning this again—I said that the apparent turf war between NATO and the EU about who is responsible for some of the airlift and new troops is not helpful. We have got to make sure that such squabbles do not get in the way of what needs to happen now. What efforts are we making to try to overcome those squabbles?

I want to examine quickly the role of the African Union. Clearly, Africa is taking responsibility, which is pleasing, but it cannot take responsibility in isolation. It took a long time to get meaningful Security Council resolutions, and more particularly, the back-up to those resolutions to ensure that the issue got the serious attention that it needed.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's sterling and continued work on this subject. Surely one of the problems of the observer and limited protection role of the African Union mandate is that it requires the African Union to work for and depend on the agreement of the Government of Sudan? Does he agree that what is really needed is a chapter VII United Nations peace enforcement mandate, which, with replenished and increased African Union troop numbers, could allow for the disarmament of the Janjaweed, as well as allowing for the erection and maintenance of a no-fly zone?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and it is a tragedy that we have not at least had that debate. It is wrong that that issue has apparently always been just pushed away. It is about time that we had that debate, and if it is not to be pursued, we need to know why not.

It is good that the situation has now been referred to the International Criminal Court. Some of the people whom we met in Khartoum should be a bit more fearful, rather than swanning around Khartoum with no thought that anyone would ever chase them for the outrages for which they have been at least partly responsible. What leverage are the Government putting on the Government of Sudan to make sure that the people who have been responsible, at least in part, for such outrages, will be cited at the Hague? It is good to know that the Americans have at least been helpful in that regard, even if they will not sign up to the ICC.

In the remaining minutes, I want to move slightly away from Darfur to the wider situation in Sudan, although that backwashes in terms of the peace negotiations. Clearly, it would be good to know what the Government think is happening with regard to the two sides in Darfur, but also how that fits within the comprehensive peace agreement. The good news is that the CPA between the north and the south seems to be holding, notwithstanding Darfur. Some would say that the events in Darfur are a consequence of peace in the north and the south. I do not want to get into that debate, but I want to know that we are still actively engaged. It is very pleasing to hear, for example, that Alan Goulty has been reappointed as the special envoy after his period elsewhere, but how can he play an active part both through the CPA and in trying to bring peace to Darfur?

My final points relate to the amount of aid and other assistance that we are providing. It would be good to know what finance we are putting into the relief effort, but also into trying to bring some security to Darfur. Are we looking to increase the number of personnel in an expert role being moved into that theatre of conflict? There is also the question of how the CPA is not being allowed to wither. Are we ensuring that the CPA timetables are being adhered to? Darfur takes people's eye off that and, as my hon. Friend the Minister will know, there are worrying examples of conflict in eastern Sudan, around Port Sudan in the Red Sea state. Again, it would be interesting to know the Government's engagement with that.

I make no apology for yet again bringing the issue of Darfur back to this place. It is right that we, through the Government and through Parliament, play our part in urging an early conclusion to the conflict and, more particularly, those desperately sad scenes, which should be coming to an end. It appears, however, that that is far from the case.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Trade), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry 7:16 pm, 15th June 2005

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Drew on securing this Adjournment debate on Darfur. The high level of interest that he and others continue to show in Darfur, and in Sudan as a whole, is very welcome.

Sudan is at a critical juncture. The opportunities presented by the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement on 9 January are clear: the agreement ends more than 20 years of terrible civil war and paves the way towards a more democratic and inclusive system of governance. We must continue to support the parties in implementing this historic agreement, but, as my hon. Friend explained, we must also remain focused on resolving the conflict in Darfur. With almost 2 million people displaced from their homes, it remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today.

The Government remain gravely concerned about the situation in Darfur and are firmly committed to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. In the last year, there have been a number of high-level ministerial visits to Sudan, including by the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has just completed a further visit to Sudan and is in Addis Ababa, talking to the African Union about its efforts to resolve the crisis.

During the visit, my right hon. Friend travelled to Darfur, the south of Sudan and Khartoum. In Darfur, he had the opportunity to see for himself the situation of those living in the camps, and to hear their stories, when he visited Abu Shouk and Kalma camps. He also spoke to United Nations and non-governmental organisation representatives in Darfur. It is clear that humanitarian agencies in Darfur face considerable constraints on their activities because of the security situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud pointed out, continued harassment by the local government, and attacks by the rebels and Arab militia, are limiting the activities of the aid agencies and restricting access.

Our embassy in Khartoum regularly presses the Government of Sudan on the need to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian workers, and we are also pressing the rebel leaders to stop attacks by their forces on aid convoys. During his visit, my right hon. Friend pressed the First Vice-President on this issue and urged him to prevent intimidation of aid agencies by local authorities. In particular, he raised the case of the two Médecins sans Frontières workers—my hon. Friend also referred to it—who were detained following the MSF report on rape in Darfur. We expect the issue to be resolved shortly.

Access for humanitarian agencies will become increasingly difficult during the rainy season, which has just started. The UN and humanitarian agencies are preparing for this by pre-positioning food and non-food items. They are giving particular priority to areas that will become inaccessible by road. Supply of food remains precarious and the UN is reviewing requirements. It faces major challenges in increasing its response and enhancing its distribution and logistics capability. To meet those challenges, there is a need for timely and significant contributions from the international community. The UK has contributed £75 million to the humanitarian programme for Sudan for this financial year, and we are pressing others to do more. Despite the problems faced by the agencies, they are reaching more and more people, thanks to the phenomenal effort of humanitarian workers on the ground. I am sure that the whole House will want to pay tribute to their work.

My hon. Friend asked about our assessment of the security situation more generally. Insecurity remains unacceptably high, but its causes have changed. The majority of attacks by the rebels and armed militias appear increasingly to be motivated by economic, rather than political, gain. Banditry is on the rise and, against the background of the annual cattle migration from south to north Darfur, tribal tensions are mounting. In recent months, the situation in Darfur has been generally calmer, with a substantial reduction in clashes between the parties, considerably fewer ceasefire violations and a welcome reduction in the number of attacks on civilians. This has been reflected in the UN Secretary-General's monthly reports.

We welcomed the Government of Sudan's withdrawal in February of their Antonov bombers from Darfur and the fact that, since then, there have been no reported attacks by the air force. The Government of Sudan have also withdrawn from the areas that they occupied in December and January and allowed the African Union's monitors to move in. In his April report, the UN Secretary-General concluded that the Government of Sudan

"did not conduct any attacks against rebels or civilians" during that month.

For their part, during this period the rebels also launched fewer attacks against Government forces, although they continued to attack police stations. Recent weeks, however, have seen an increase in activity by the parties involved, particularly the rebels, who are responsible for a number of attacks on aid convoys and for the detention of humanitarian workers. Our assessment is that the increased rebel activity may have been an attempt to strengthen their negotiating position ahead of the resumption of the Abuja talks. Whatever the reason, we have made it clear that it must stop immediately. Attacks on aid convoys are totally unacceptable and seriously damage the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

If there are grounds for genuine optimism, that is to be welcomed, but I put it to the Minister in all sincerity that there is another interpretation of the reduction in violence that he described. Could it not be, as many serious observers believe, that the reality is that most of the population has now been corralled into internally displaced person camps, that there are few villages left to bomb and that the ethnic cleansing of the black African population of Darfur is now largely complete?

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Trade), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a deep interest in these matters and I will answer his question in due course.

It is right to say that the Government of Sudan have a very long way to go in fulfilling their commitments. They need to rein in the Arab militias and provide adequate security to enable people to return to their homes. The continuing climate of lawlessness and banditry in Darfur has meant that, for yet another year, its people have been unable to plant their crops. The traditional coping mechanisms are exhausted and the difficulty faced by humanitarian agencies in getting to the outlying regions has led to more people moving into the camps.

Until the security situation improves, people will not return to their homes. The AU has a crucial role to play. Where it is deployed, the AU monitoring mission has been effective in improving the security situation and in preventing attacks against civilians. It is providing patrols to enable women IDPs to leave the camps to collect firewood without fear of rape or assault. However, the impact of the AU's 3,000 troops is of course limited, and it has faced management and logistical constraints as well as a lack of capacity. That is why we fully support the AU's recent decision to increase the size of its mission to over 7,000 personnel, which will allow the AU to achieve a greater geographical coverage and to provide a more permanent presence for areas where it is already deployed.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Trade), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry

I am afraid not. I want to answer the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud.

The Government announced on 13 June an increase in our contribution to the expansion of the mission to £19 million, from the £6.6 million that we announced at the AU donor conference on 26 May. That brings our total contribution to the African Union mission in Sudan since its inception to almost £32 million. We will use the money to purchase up to 500 additional vehicles and further rapid deployment equipment for the AU.

Other international partners have also announced considerable support for the AU, including an additional $133 million from Canada and $50 million from the United States. Both NATO and the EU have also been asked to provide assistance, and they are discussing how they can help to present a clear and co-ordinated package of support for the AU. As part of NATO's efforts, and subject to requirements and efforts by other donors, we have allocated funding to provide airlift for up to three battalions to Darfur. Through the EU's efforts, we are also keen to support the civilian policing part of the mission. Civilian policing will be vital to long-term peace and stability in Darfur.

My hon. Friend asked about the AU's mandate. The current mandate calls on the AU to contribute to a secure environment for the provision of humanitarian assistance, which includes allowing it to protect civilians under imminent threat of attack. A detailed military assessment mission to Darfur in March looked at the AU's current performance and at the possibility of expanding the mission and extending the mandate still further. This assessment mission concluded that the mandate was sufficient to help promote peace and security in the region, but that more troops were needed to deliver it effectively. However, the AU has said that, within its current mandate, the expanded mission will focus more on the provision of security, and the increased number of troops will allow it to do that.

Of course, a peace support mission by itself will not solve the crisis in Darfur. There can be no military solution, which is why we welcome the resumption of the AU-mediated peace talks in Abuja. We also welcome the news that all the parties are attending the talks at a high level. A UK observer is present, and will provide support and advice, as required, to the parties and to the AU mediation. We are pressing all sides to negotiate in good faith at the talks, and to reach agreement on the declaration of principles on which the AU has been working with the parties over recent months before moving on to discuss issues of power and wealth sharing. Talks are expected to last until the first week of July, although while progress is being made no formal restrictions will be placed on their conclusion.

The Government have worked hard to maintain pressure on all sides to stop the fighting and engage constructively in political dialogue. We have also worked to ensure a co-ordinated international approach to the problems in Sudan, and the EU and the UN have been included in that. The UK strongly supported the latest three Security Council resolutions on Sudan: resolution 1590, on deploying a peace support operation to southern Sudan; resolution 1591, on extending sanctions to the Government of Sudan and imposing targeted sanctions; and resolution 1593, which we sponsored, referring the grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that have taken place in Darfur to the International Criminal Court.

The international community showed the strength of its support for the comprehensive peace agreement, and for Sudan, at the Oslo donor conference in April, where $4.5 billion was pledged. Much of that support will go to the south. But we have made it clear to the Government of Sudan that the full benefits of support will not be realised without peace in Darfur, and that we will not be able to proceed with work on debt relief until that is achieved.

The Prime Minister has put Africa at the top of the UK's agenda for its EU and G8 presidencies. The parties in Darfur and across Sudan are now faced with a clear opportunity to achieve a much-deserved peace for the people of Sudan, and for the region as a whole. There is much to do, including implementing the CPA, creating a secure environment in Darfur for people to return to their homes, and negotiating a peace agreement. The UK Government are committed to helping the Sudanese people to achieve those goals. We will continue to work hard, with the AU—

The motion having been made at Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock.