It is a pleasure and privilege to follow Mr. Clarke, who has a long and distinguished career and interest in this field. He spoke about many themes, to some of which I will inevitably return. However, I particularly wish to pick up his point about the need to support and recognise the efforts of those who volunteer for the humanitarian front line and take great risks in working alongside those who are suffering in Darfur. We must never lose sight of what they do.
When, in 2001, the Prime Minister famously described Africa as
"a scar on the conscience of the world", there were many reasons for his choice his words. Tragically, the observation has lost none of its power or truth in the intervening years. To this day, across the continent, there is much still to shock and shame us, but in Sudan in general and in Darfur in particular, it is not so much a scar as a gaping wound that we have to address. The decision to hold a debate on the subject is therefore welcome, as is the fact that the Foreign and International Development Secretaries are both participating in it.
Many international crises and atrocities demand our attention: Zimbabwe, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Burma. All those and many more have often distracted attention from the horrors of Darfur, so our debate rightly serves to put the unconscionable and unforgivable suffering of the people of that region at the heart of our political agenda. We have already heard that at least 200,000 people have been murdered and, indeed, that the true figure may be much higher. That is the equivalent of the population of a city such as Swansea, Aberdeen or Northampton being wiped out. We have heard, too, that beyond those who have lost their lives, at least another 2 million people have been displaced and—it is a familiar statistic—4 million rely on some form of humanitarian assistance. The word "displaced" is one of those dry technical terms that sanitises the brutality inflicted on people, mostly women and children, who are subjected to appalling mistreatment, including rape and sexual abuse, as if the abysmal conditions of the refugee camps were not enough.
The humanitarian disaster in Darfur ought to be enough on its own to motivate all of us to search tirelessly for a solution, but, more selfishly, the crisis goes beyond the region, threatening neighbouring countries and consequently our collective international peace and security. It has already spilled over into Chad, where 200,000 refugees create untold pressures on a fragile state. There is barely a neighbour in the region that is not affected, and hardly a country without some further internal conflict of its own. Indeed, it does not require much imagination to see that there is a real danger of escalation into disastrous regional conflict.
It was not meant to be like this. The signing of the Darfur peace agreement this time last year and the passage of Security Council resolution 1706 were hailed as great successes. Nobody can fault the integrity of the diplomatic efforts or the investment of international political capital which the process involved—not least on the part of the Secretary of State for International Development—but the charities, the NGOs and the official bodies that work in the region all report a worsening situation ever since. Attacks on civilians have increased and the need for aid is multiplying, yet restrictions on humanitarian access have grown and attacks on NGO staff, including abductions, hijackings and beatings, have risen rapidly.
The upshot is the lowest level of humanitarian access since the beginning of the conflict, with the UN recently estimating that almost one in four people cannot access humanitarian assistance. In these circumstances, it is no surprise that the Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together Christian Aid, Oxfam, Save the Children and many others, has launched a major appeal to help people in Darfur. Like the Foreign Secretary, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, I support its efforts and endorse its appeal and campaigns to raise further money for Darfur.
People across the United Kingdom have a crucial role to play, but our Government and the international community have additional significant responsibilities. We must be in no doubt that establishing greater security on the ground and reinvigorating the political process are the key steps towards building a sustainable and lasting solution to the crisis. That is easily said, and it would be difficult enough where there was a political will to do so, but it is all the more complex when the Government of Sudan are set against it. As has been noted, they failed to honour their previous commitments, they obstructed the deployment of the African Union and United Nations hybrid force, and they are clearly hindering attempts to bring the rebel groups together as a precursor to a new political process.
The most important element in tackling the humanitarian crisis is the deployment of that hybrid AU-UN force, and the continued refusal by the Khartoum Government to allow the deployment of the force is utterly disgraceful. Although they recently agreed to support the deployment of the UN heavy support package, that agreement has still to be implemented. That must be our first priority, coupled with the delivery of adequate financial resources in order to reinforce the African Union mission in Sudan. It is an important stepping stone towards the full deployment of the hybrid force.
In parallel, there should be a serious examination of the possibility of establishing an internationally monitored no-fly zone for military aircraft, supported by the United Nations. Some means must be found to halt the continued bombings and aerial attacks by Sudanese forces. I recognise that there are serious logistical challenges to giving effect to such a proposal, and there are legitimate concerns from some of the NGOs about the complexities involved and the need to allow continued humanitarian access. However, air power is being used by the Sudanese to carry out their murderous campaigns and there must be serious efforts to bring that to a halt.
It is not just in the military arena that the international community has made little progress. It is also true, as the Foreign Secretary acknowledged, in the diplomatic sphere. The new Secretary-General of the United Nations has not been able to coax the parties to develop any kind of momentum towards peace, so his efforts have to be backed up by actions that the Sudanese authorities can understand. We should welcome President Bush's determination, in response to high profile campaigns in the United States, to see a new Security Council resolution and his announcement of unilateral US sanctions. Now is the time for the United Kingdom and the European Union to follow the US lead and to pursue a reinforced sanctions package. How else are we to get it through to the regime that we mean business?