Darfur

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 15th June 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

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.