Sudan (Peace Agreement)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:49 pm on 21st July 2004.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 2:49 pm, 21st July 2004

I am happy to follow Ms Keeble. She made a measured contribution. I congratulate the chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, Mr. Dawson, on keeping the focus on this issue both inside and outside this Chamber, and on piling the pressure on us as individuals about what we can do and on our Government and the international community. We need to keep the focus on Sudan and Darfur as the humanitarian crisis worsens.

Other Members also made valuable contributions. My hon. Friend Dr. Tonge raised the issue of climate change and desertification, which others have not mentioned. She highlighted the fact that even if the conflict were not taking place, we would have to tackle that substantial issue, for which we bear a degree of responsibility because of the pollution that we are creating.

It was appropriate that Mr. Drew should have reminded us of the SLA's responsibility for ensuring that access is provided to the areas that it controls; parties other than the Sudanese and the Janjaweed are involved as well. I thank the Minister and his colleagues for making the additional funding available for Sudan—that is welcome, timely and appropriate. Members were right to draw attention to the launch of the appeal, which is now under way.

Certain people have characterised the Government's policy on Sudan as one of quiet diplomacy. Does the Minister think that a fair description? Perhaps the quiet diplomacy has been for public consumption, but I hope that behind the scenes there has been some loud and not so tactful diplomacy with the Sudanese Government. Regrettably, whether there has been quiet diplomacy or something much more vocal, the humanitarian crisis seems to be worsening and deepening in Darfur. Many leading commentators are now referring to genocide, although that may be a simplistic way of encapsulating the situation. I understand that the US Congress may be debating this matter at this very moment. It will come to some conclusions, during the next few hours or days, on whether genocide is taking place.

Many parties, including the Liberal Democrats, have called for a tough Security Council resolution that would include sanctions in Sudan if there were no immediate improvement in the situation. I stress that the improvement should be immediate, because if ethnic cleansing is going on—and the satellite photographs suggest that it is—leaving it for a few more days is hardly an option: the ethnic cleansing might then be complete and the Sudanese Government or the Janjaweed might get their way. If the Government are not willing to go public on supporting a much tougher resolution, what further measures are they considering? The Secretary of State for International Development said on 14 July that

"we shall have to return to the Security Council to take further measures"—[Hansard, 14 July 2004; Vol. 423, c. 1394.]

When he sums up, will the Minister set out precisely what further measures the Government have in mind if there is no immediate progress?

It is regrettable that Darfur has not been included in the peace process. When we debated this issue on 9 June, the Minister stated that the Government's position was

"to ensure that the catastrophe in Darfur does not destabilise all the good work that has been done in the past couple of years to achieve a settlement between the north and the south."—[Hansard, Westminster Hall, 9 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 88WH.]

Nobody would want to jeopardise the peace process between the north and the south. However, separating the two—allowing the peace process to progress but the ethnic cleansing to proceed in Darfur—has perhaps been a mistake.

I want to ask the Minister a specific question. Given that the situation in Darfur is worsening and that there is growing evidence of the Sudan Government's involvement in supporting the Janjaweed and in carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing, does he believe that any peace can be achieved in Sudan if all areas of conflict are not included in the negotiations? Has the Minister had time to look at the Human Rights Watch report that came out yesterday? It says that it has in its possession official Sudanese Government and local government documents, dating principally from February and March, that clearly set out the Sudanese Government's policy, or at least the measures that the Sudanese Government intend to be taken on the ground. They relate to including the Janjaweed in some of the security committees and facilitating the return of some displaced persons to their original homeland and blocking the return of others. A strong body of evidence suggests that we cannot take at face value anything that the Sudanese Government say about their intentions, because back in February and March their intentions in relation to the activities of the Janjaweed were made clear in those documents. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

Other Members have commented on the level of monitoring and the number of staff on the ground. There are something like 60 UN monitors and 300 peacekeepers from the African Union. Does the Minister consider that to be sufficient? Does he think that there is a case for a much larger presence and for human rights monitors to be dispatched to the region? If he does not think that that action should be taken immediately—in the next 24 hours or the next seven days—is anything being done to set things in motion should that become a necessity in the next few days or weeks?

The Government have made the welcome announcement of additional aid to the region. Although it is not part of the Minister's brief, I hope he will be able to say what safeguards are in place to ensure that that aid arrives in the right place and is not diverted. Perhaps there should be some conditionality between delivering the aid and delivering on the peace agreement.

Does the Minister think that there is a role for the UK in preparing a contingent of peacekeepers and monitors to be deployed if it is decided that genocide is taking place? It would not necessarily be for immediate deployment, but the planning involved in such measures takes weeks, months or possibly longer. What efforts are being made now? Is dialogue taking place with other European Union or NATO countries, or in any other forum, on that option?

The final issue that I would like to raise is oil. Looking at diagrams of the concessions in the Darfur area, it appears that there is significant potential for oil production. For instance, the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation has a substantial concession in southern Darfur. To what extent does the Minister believe that oil revenue considerations are playing a part in what is happening in Darfur?

The progress that has been made so far on the peace process is welcome. Its applicability so far to the Darfur region, however, is in doubt. I urge the Minister to continue to exert any pressure that he can from our Government in any international forums to make the Sudanese Government, and the other offending parties in this crisis, aware that the international community will not stand by and watch what is happening without taking appropriate action, which could involve military action if there is no resolution.