Sudan: Darfur

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:40 pm on 30th January 2007.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 7:40 pm, 30th January 2007

My Lords, it is more than timely that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is once again drawing the House's attention to what remains, as it has been for several years, the greatest manmade humanitarian crisis facing the international community. Darfur regularly slips on and off our collective radar screen as other crises displace it, or our attention flags. Yet it remains an outstanding cause of shame and reproach to all those who have some capacity and responsibility to remedy the appalling situation in the west of Sudan. Each time the matter comes up in your Lordships' House, the Government's response tends to be along the lines of one of Britain's least good poets: it is no better, it is much the same. That cannot be all we have to say on the subject.

It has been clear for a long time that protecting the people of Darfur from the harassment, displacement, rape and killing can be achieved only with the deployment of a substantial international peacekeeping force with a robust mandate and rules of engagement. For just as long, the Government of Sudan have manoeuvred, so far successfully, to prevent that happening. That is no disrespect to the African Union, which has tried hard to step into the breach, but a shortage of material resources and numbers have hampered its efforts. It is now clear that, on its own, it cannot and should not be expected to do the job.

The idea of a hybrid UN/African Union force now being pursued seems genuinely admirable, so long as it is pursued energetically and is not, again, hamstrung by constraints placed upon it by the Government of Sudan. Perhaps the Minister can bring some encouraging news about the constitution and deployment of such a force. Will he also say whether a hybrid force like that proposed would be fully financed, as Kofi Annan's reform proposals of 2005 suggested, by UN-assessed contributions, without which we cannot possibly hope for the African Union to bear its part of the burden?

A peacekeeping force is not all that is required, however. It is clearly also urgent to address the shortcomings of the peace agreement reached under the Abuja process, which resulted in some rebel movements not accepting that agreement. It is right to ask those movements to suspend their armed struggle and come to the conference table, but one can persuade them to do this only if there is a conference table to which they can come, and a forum in which they can discuss their criticisms of the earlier agreement. I believe that there is currently no such conference table or forum, but perhaps the Minister can enlighten us.

Then there is the problem of Sudan's western neighbours, Chad and the Central African Republic, which risk being destabilised by attacks launched across their borders. Has any consideration been given to preventively deploying some UN peacekeepers on the Chad and Central African side of the Sudanese border to discourage transborder operations in either direction? Such a deployment would not need the consent of the Sudanese Government, because it would not involve their territory.

However, much revolves around the attitude of the Sudanese Government, who have hitherto been obstructive and unhelpful. Nothing will concentrate the minds of that Government more than a clear display of unity by the Security Council. Last summer's abstentions by China and Russia from the resolution authorising the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force, and their continuing resistance to bringing any effective pressure to bear on Khartoum, have encouraged the latter's obduracy. A further attempt must be made to create that essential unity. Instead of concentrating the discussion around economic sanctions, would it not be worth while for the Security Council to state formally and unanimously that it has a responsibility to protect the people of Darfur and intends to exercise it? That would clearly be seen as a warning that, in the absence of Sudanese co-operation, other measures would be considered. It might be worth trying such an approach before resorting to another discussion of economic measures.

It is, in any case, clear that far more is at stake in Darfur than the lot of its people. This is the first clear-cut case of the responsibility of the international community to protect the citizens of a state which is either unwilling or unable to do so itself since that principle was established by the September 2005 UN summit. If the UN fluffs or fudges this test, the value of that breakthrough in international practice will be frittered away. If, on the other hand, the UN is able to give practical effect to that principle while working with the African Union, even late in the day, then many others in different parts of the world may be spared the fate suffered by the people of Darfur.

In conclusion, it would be in order for a word of praise to be offered to the African Union for its decision to decline to allow President al-Bashir of Sudan to assume its presidency for the second year running. That decision, together with the choice of the democratically elected President of Ghana, is surely a sign of maturity and good judgment, justifying our real confidence in and support for the African Union. It also sends a strong message to the Government of Sudan that if they want to achieve international respectability and recognition, they must co-operate with the international community, not defy it. Let us hope that that message is received and acted upon.