Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:36 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 8:36 pm, 30th March 2009

I accept that that appears to be the case in the short term. I still maintain that the ICC decision was right. I appreciate that there can be a balance between doing what is just and what is immediately convenient and expedient. Nevertheless, I would rather not be drawn too far down that track because I would like to say something about the background to the issue.

The House should be reminded—and we should remind those attending to our debate—of what spawned the terrible humanitarian crisis. It is the six-year catalogue of horrific human rights abuses: aerial bombing, mass shooting, widespread rape, the disruption of crops, the theft of livestock, the calculated poisoning of water supplies and the chaining together of human beings and burning them alive. Those are all part and parcel of the story of savagery that has shamed and disfigured the Government of Sudan in the eyes of the world.

There was a response from the international community —on my reckoning, there have been no fewer than 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions, which specifically refer to the need, among other things, to deploy troops and logistical support. My mind turns immediately to UN resolution 1769, which was passed on 31 July 2007, the terms of which—calling for a total deployment of 26,000 joint, hybrid UN-African Union troops—were supposed to be completed by the beginning of 2008. We are now 14 months on. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who informed me by written reply last Thursday that the Government estimate that 18,300 people are currently deployed in the region. We are therefore still way short of the figure that should have been reached a long time ago.

However, as other hon. Members have said, the problem is not only the inadequacy of the size of the force, but the lack of anything like the logistical back-up to effect the limited but important mandate that has been conferred on it. We have not yet been able to get a single helicopter. Despite the formation of friends of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, with several countries rhetorically speaking in support of the importance and urgency of the mission, few have contributed much by way of practical assistance. Although in many ways I admire the contribution of the Department for International Development, and the Foreign Office is doing its best, it is not particularly impressive that we as a country have, as I understand it, to date provided only four—I repeat: four—military personnel to the region. There are big problems, and it seems to me that a step change is needed if we are to achieve something.

Moreover, there has been a flagrant infraction of the status of forces agreement between the Government of Sudan and the United Nations, when recently the deputy commander of the UNAMID mission wanted to go to Darfur to conduct an assessment of the security situation and was prevented from doing so—would you believe it, Madam Deputy Speaker?—by Sudanese security officials on security grounds, despite the fact that part of the raison d'être of that deputy force commander is to make such assessments himself.

I simply make the prosaic but valid point that the longer we wait and the less we do, the greater the burden and the bigger the cost will be when the day of reckoning comes and the challenge of reconstruction confronts the international community. I cannot but feel that we must invest the debate with a degree of urgency, because sometimes, quite understandably, we can all become numbed by the seeming inevitability of it all, to the extent that things do not shock us quite as much now as they did when first the cocktail of barbarity was unleashed, principally—although not exclusively—by the Government of Sudan, in concert with the Janjaweed militias. A more mendacious bunch of mass murderers it would be difficult to find anywhere, but they continue their work to this day. We should use the good offices of the Foreign Office and DFID, acting multilaterally, to try to achieve a step change in the speed with which the necessary deployment of personnel and munitions is delivered.

I want to finish on a point that I know the Under-Secretary of State for International Development could very properly say was a matter not for him but for the Home Office. He might be tempted to do that—I have almost given him his get-out clause—but I implore him to take the point a bit more seriously than that, because we are supposed to believe in the attempt at joined-up government. I am not trying to make a partisan point, as he knows me well enough to recognise, but a humanitarian point.

I am very concerned about asylum policy in respect of people coming to this country from Darfur. In about the middle of 2008, the Government decided not to return failed Darfurian asylum seekers to Sudan, pending a judgment from the courts and the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal that it would be prudent to resume such returns. My understanding is that the Government are looking to the tribunal next month for a ruling, but I exhort them not to undertake such returns.

In 2007, Sadiq Adam Osman was returned to Sudan. In March 2007, he was savagely beaten up—people do not visit upon themselves disgusting weals; that was done to him. The case was covered in The Guardian on 29 March 2007 and, if I remember correctly, in a Channel 4 programme at about the same time. That was a dangerous return. More recently, there was a case of a man called Adam Osman Mohammed from south Darfur, who came in pursuit of asylum in this country, did not get it and returned in August 2008. Subsequently, when initially—and perhaps unwisely—he ventured to move from Khartoum to Darfur, he was followed by Sudanese agents and shot dead in front of his wife and small child.

I put it to the Minister that we have a legal obligation, as well as, I would argue, a moral duty, to adhere to the principle of non-refoulement. That is to say that we should not return people to countries where they are at risk of imprisonment, torture, death or a grisly combination of all three. It is my submission to the Minister that that is what we would be doing if we returned Darfurian asylum seekers to Sudan. It is frankly not acceptable for the Home Office to say, "Well, they can't go back to Darfur, but it's all right if they go to Khartoum." The place is crawling with state agents. Darfurians bear tribal scars that make their allegiance explicitly obvious to the Sudanese Government. It is a highly risky process to send them back and then simply to hope that they will be all right.

The truth of the matter is that, in this conflict, too many people have suffered too much for too long, with too little being done to help them. It is an inescapable fact that the numbers of dead, dying and destitute are rising daily, and we cannot simply look the other way. I feel passionately that the responsibility to protect has to be embraced and that acceptance of the doctrine and its practical implications for conflict resolution must be vigorously pursued by our Government in international forums. Where necessary, we must talk not of peacekeeping but of peace enforcement. It is the enforcement of peace that is now necessary in Darfur.

I have probably rather bored the House over the years by emphasising that we have to decide what we mean by the responsibility to protect. Is it to involve a serious attempt to avert war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, or is it simply to be a rather futile exercise in vacuous moral posturing that has no implications for policy? I want it to be the former, not the latter. The Government cannot do this all on their own, but I appeal to Ministers to catapult the subject of Darfur from the back of their minds to the front, and to seek the improvement in the condition of the long-suffering people of that benighted region that they need and deserve.

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