Darfur

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 29th June 2005.

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Photo of John MacDougall John MacDougall Labour, Glenrothes

If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains one of grave concern. Just under 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, and 2.7 million need humanitarian assistance. The international effort has grown over the past year, and malnutrition in the camps has fallen below emergency levels, from over 30 per cent. a year ago to between 5 and 10 per cent. now. However, the situation could deteriorate during the forthcoming hungry season, when up to 3.5 million people will require food.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Do the Government recognise that there is now a need for peace enforcement action by the UN Security Council to provide for a substantive increase in the African Union presence in Darfur, and a stronger mandate? Without that, the situation there is so unstable and insecure that hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people will not feel safe and are unlikely to return.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of civilian protection. I was in Darfur two weeks ago, and given what I saw and what people told me, that is the principal priority. She refers to the mandate, and I went to Darfur with an open mind about that. However, everyone to whom I spoke said that the AU was doing an outstanding job in providing civilian protection in those places where it is based. That is why Britain is providing strong support for the expansion of the AU force. Currently, it has 2,700 troops on the ground, but that number will increase to 7,500. When I was there, I announced an increase in our support. Britain will now provide £19 million to enable those forces to deploy and airlift extra vehicles and logistic support. The most important thing is to get more AU troops there. The people in the camps told me that they feel safest when the AU is close by.

Photo of John MacDougall John MacDougall Labour, Glenrothes

I welcome the commitment shown by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to Darfur and to Africa, and the initiatives that they have undertaken. I urge them most strongly to continue their commitment to making poverty history in Africa. My Glenrothes constituent Ian McCaulay visited Darfur recently to make a voluntary contribution to education there, and he has suggested that training teachers in Sudan would be of particular benefit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such assistance could play a large part in rebuilding Africa's educational structures? [Interruption.]

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I very much welcome what my hon. Friend's constituent is doing to contribute to Sudan's development. Before I visited Darfur, I went to Rumbek in southern Sudan, where one child in four dies before the age of five, and three quarters of adults cannot read. The need for development in southern Sudan is therefore enormous. There is peace there now and refugees are beginning to return. That is why we are increasing our development assistance, to provide the basics to support the Government there in getting children into school and providing health care.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

The terrible human suffering continues to intensify in Darfur and the Secretary of State has said already that up to 3.5 million people are likely to face food shortages between August and October. We welcome the Government's increased contribution to the AU mission in Darfur and fully support the expansion of the AU force. We are also encouraged by the decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes suspects. However, the Sudanese Government have responded by setting up a special criminal court that has met with huge international scepticism. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that court will not deter or deflect the international community from bringing to justice the people who perpetrated such appalling atrocities in Darfur?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. He will know that Britain was one of the first and strongest supporters of the ICC, and I pay tribute to the role played by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in getting the UN Security Council to agree to refer the Darfur atrocities to the ICC. By doing that, the world has sent the very clear message that those responsible for the atrocities will not be able to escape. We will press forward with our determination to ensure that they are brought to justice.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Labour, Wakefield

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the UN announced on Monday that it has only £3 million of the £31 million it needs for its protection work in Darfur? Is he further aware that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Darfur and that further protection measures are needed for children who experience extreme sexual and physical violence, as well as the psychological trauma of war? Can he reassure the House that during Britain's presidency of the G8 he will lead donor countries and ensure that Sudan does not become the forgotten conflict of Africa?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that we will indeed do that. There is a real problem of women in particular being attacked when they move outside the camps. It is highly regrettable that the response from the Government of Sudan was to arrest two people from Médecins sans Frontières who had published a report describing the women's experiences, instead of arresting the people responsible for the rape. The two people have now been released as a result of representations that I and others in the international community have made, but that demonstrates how far we have to go to provide effective protection to those who are now sheltering in the camps.