Sudan (Peace Agreement)

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

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 2:49 pm, 21st July 2004

Certainly, volumes of aid and volumes of money are of the essence. That is part of the first aspect of the humanitarian deficit to which I alluded a moment ago. I said that there were two categories of problem. The first category is inadequacy of resource. The second is a logistical obstacle to the delivery of the aid. We continually hear reports—since I returned from Sudan I have seen others on UN and other websites—of local authorities that continue to demand travel permits despite the international commitment that the Government of Sudan have made to facilitate NGO access and delivery of humanitarian aid.

In addition, there is a genuine anxiety about Khartoum's 90-day registration plan, which makes many NGOs reluctant to increase the size of their asset bases in Darfur for the simple and understandable reason that they have no idea whether those permits will be renewed in due course. If anybody thinks that the humanitarian crisis will be significantly alleviated, let alone resolved, within 90 days, then they are, frankly, in need of medical attention. There is not the slightest prospect of that happening. That is why I am so concerned.

Let us talk about the foreign policy side of the equation. We are blessed—I say that sincerely—by the presence of a Foreign Office Minister. I understand exactly where Dr. Tonge is coming from on the subject. I think that because we are both humanitarians, we would both be inclined, when push comes to shove, to continue with humanitarian aid—even while recognising the downside of simply propping up a regime or slowing the process of death—because the alternative is even worse.

I understand why the hon. Lady has regularly made the point that aid is nothing like enough, and that it is self-delusory to suppose that it is anything like enough simply to chuck aid at a situation that is exacerbated and compounded not by natural disaster but by man-made design. That is what has happened in Darfur, in particular, and across Sudan.

In essence, one must decide whether one believes that quiet diplomacy—I pick up on what was said by Tom Brake—or remorseless pressure is the best means by which to achieve progress in Sudan and, in particular, in Darfur. Of course that simplifies the argument, but the fact that there is complexity in Sudan, including in Darfur—the fact that it is not a straightforward Arab versus black African conflict—does not in any way absolve us of responsibility from trying to reach an overall judgment about the approach that is likely to be most productive.

I put it to the Minister that—I say this on the strength of my visit—pressure, pressure and more pressure on the Government of Sudan seems to be of the essence, both if we are to get commitments from the Government to behave themselves and if those commitments are to be monitored and fulfilled.

I remember meeting Minister Ismail, the Foreign Minister, who is generally regarded as something of a dove in that regime. As is often the case with Foreign Ministers, he is charged with the responsibility of making the Government's case in the international media. Of course, he was engaging and articulate and had responses to our inquiries—he would be an extraordinarily ineffectual Minister otherwise. That said, I found his arguments unpersuasive. He spent several minutes complaining to us about the BBC's representation of his Government's policy. His comments were thoroughly uninteresting, unpersuasive and typical of a Government on the run, making a patchy attempt to defend a not very good record.

The Sudanese Foreign Minister also spent a considerable amount of time telling us that his Government would simply walk away if the pressure became too great. In case that argument is still prominent in the counsels of the Foreign Office, I want to make the argument to the contrary. If the Government of Sudan were to be dissuaded from pursuing the north-south peace agreement simply because they were subjected to heavy pressure over Darfur, they cannot have much of a commitment to the peace process.

The international community cannot allow itself to be bullied into not taking a robust approach to the Government of Sudan on the grounds that, if we do, the modicum of progress that has been made will somehow be discontinued or suspended. We must be prepared to look the Sudanese Government in the eye and say that there is a carrot for their country—the provision of decent development assistance over a period to foster the peace process and to reconstruct the country—but that the international community is entitled to insist on vastly better behaviour.

We need a much more robust United Nations Security Council resolution. As the Minister knows, that is what the United States Administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others favour. The resolution must unequivocally condemn the Government of Sudan for the horrific human rights violations that have taken place in Darfur. It must insist that those human rights violations be independently, publicly and internationally investigated, that a guarantee be given—there was grave doubt in my mind about this when we visited Darfur—that people in the IDP camps will not be obliged to go home until the region is secure and it is safe for them to do so, and that the Government of Sudan will do all that they reasonably can to disarm the Janjaweed and other militias that are killing, threatening, raping and otherwise abusing the human rights of the civilian population.

We have a choice: do we take an approach of quiet but weary resignation or one of up-front and dynamic representation of what we believe to be right? I am an admirer of a humanitarian and activist foreign policy. We are debating Sudan and Darfur, and I will not in any way be deflected from that subject. I know that I will get into trouble with you, Dame Marion, if I do. Suffice it to say that I am one of those who greatly admires the Prime Minister's stance on Iraq. I wish to take this opportunity to say that the Government must be prepared to do all that they can, within the United Nations, to intensify pressure for change. If that means indicating that, without change, a robust sanctions policy that does not operate to the detriment of the population but is deliberately and calculatedly targeted at those who are preventing progress will be applied to the Government of Sudan, so be it. If that means considering deployment of a UN protection force as a last resort, so be it. If that means contemplating a much more forceful approach than has been deployed so far, so be it. We cannot allow a situation in which, over a period of months, hundreds of thousands of people die who would not die if there were a definite peace, an adequacy of human rights monitors, a proper supply of ceasefire monitors and a disarming of the militias.