[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair] — Darfur Crisis

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:04 pm on 18th May 2006.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 4:04 pm, 18th May 2006

That is a pertinent intervention from my hon. Friend. I have been unhappy for some months about the sequence of events. It seemed intolerable that earlier this year, foot-stamping by the Sudanese Government effectively vetoed an urgently required UN troop deployment. It was put off ostensibly until September, but it might prove to be longer than that.

I want to focus briefly on the key issues. First, in so far as the African Union mission in Sudan is concerned, will the Secretary of State at least say something more about what is envisaged? What additional help will be provided, how much is it expected to cost, and which countries are, so far, committed to providing a contribution and at what level? Is there to be simply a ratcheting-up of numbers of personnel, or a change and a strengthening of mandate in the period between now and the start of October?

It seems in no way alarmist but merely a sober reflection of reality for the Aegis Trust, a magnificent anti-genocide organisation and sponsor of the "Protect Darfur" campaign, to observe that unless significant action on security is taken now, there is a danger of a void that would, in its word, be "disastrous"—the threat then being that Darfur would deteriorate into what the trust describes as irretrievable chaos.

I understand that the Secretary of State is not the sole player; he cannot act alone. However, at a time when we are saying that it is good that there is a peace agreement because it is much better that there should be than there should not be, it is important that we do not neglect our constitutional responsibility to ask exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, who will ensure that it happens and, as a result, what we can expect to be the consequences of improved security.

If we then press the fast-forward button to the intended transfer of responsibility to the United Nations, as far as one can reasonably foresee or guarantee, will that transfer take place on 1 October? If it takes place on that date, does that mean that a full deployment will begin that day and be completed shortly afterwards? Or does it mean simply that some other agreement or statement will be the recipient of signatories on 1 October?

I do not wish in any sense to trivialise what is an incredibly important debate, in respect of which I have not the slightest doubt about the sincerity, integrity and commitment of the right hon. Gentleman; but in such situations, I sometimes worry that when we are told that something is going to happen—for example, that there will be a troop deployment and that it will begin in October—it is analogous to the conversation that one might have when ordering a taxi from a hard-pressed firm. One says to the controller, "When will the taxi come?", and he says, possibly after a moment's hesitation, "It'll be 15 minutes, sir." And one says, "Do you really mean 15 minutes, or do you mean that you would like it to be 15 minutes, but in practice, it is much more likely to be half an hour?" I would rather know. I ask the Secretary of State in all sincerity, will he give us a little more information?

I admire the right hon. Gentleman greatly, and I think that he is an extremely good Secretary of State for International Development. I also happen personally to have a very high regard for the former Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House of Commons, Mr. Straw. I hope therefore that it will not be taken in the wrong spirit if I say that although I greatly esteem both right hon. Gentlemen, I do not exonerate the Government entirely from responsibility for the sorry saga that has beset the people of Darfur. It is not really good enough simply to blame others. DFID has done a superb job, but I have been much less sanguine about the foreign policy response of the international community, in respect of which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had a part to play.

Today is not the day to explore in detail whether sequencing took place, inadvertently or calculatedly, but we must all examine our consciences very carefully and unsparingly, with a view to trying to ensure that foreign policy responses in the future are much more robust and that they reflect the words contained in international agreements and public protocols. I think, for example, of the United Nations' responsibility to protect and the UN millennium review summit, which was referred to earlier.

We would like to have some idea, just on the numbers, of what the Secretary of State might consider an appropriate peacekeeping force. I was honest enough to say—and if I had not been, it would probably have been readily discovered in any meaningful exchange—that I have no expertise whatever in military planning, strategy or logistics. However, it worries me greatly that we still do not seem to have much sense of what the scale of the peacekeeping commitment is intended to be.

On the one hand, the Aegis Trust has proffered into the public domain the figure of 25,000 troops, which it judges might be required for the peacekeeping task. On the other hand, General Romeo Dallaire, who is not exactly uninformed about such matters, having had the searing experience of trying to cope in wholly inadequate circumstances in Rwanda, long ago suggested that 44,000 troops would be required. There is also the view of Major General Collins Ihikere, the AMIS force commander, who is on the record somewhere as speculating that up to 60,000 troops could be required.

There is a huge difference between the figure of 7,000 talked about for the African Union force and the figures that I have quoted; indeed, there are even huge differences between 25,000, 44,000 and 60,000. Is the truth of the matter that the judgment will not really be made on the basis of the peacekeeping requirement, but will end up being involuntarily made on the basis of the relative parsimony of the individual contributor nations?

If that is the reality, we ought at least to be honest with ourselves about it. If we know that far more troops are needed, but that far fewer will be provided because countries are not prepared to cough up, let us please at least abandon the truly stomach-churning hypocrisy of claiming that the international community is now seriously concerned about bringing an end to the genocide. One might conclude—it would be sad, but probably inevitable to have to do so—that the international community was not that bothered about black Africans dying in Darfur, as opposed to people dying in Yugoslavia, Kosovo or Iraq.

Will the Secretary of State tell us something about the interesting idea of police-keeping and apply his remarks to the real crisis of insecurity and the sense of terror that had been pervasive in the camps for too long? On both my visits, with Mr. Drew and subsequently with members of the Select Committee, the most striking feature was the spontaneous and unprompted response from people suffering in the camps. As John Barrett knows only too well, when they were asked, "What's your greatest concern? What is the biggest handicap you face? What is the most striking impediment to progress in your lives?", they all said, "Lack of security. We are not safe. We are terrified." If then asked the supplementary question, "From what have you fled and what are you frightened of?", the answer was, almost always, the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed and other militias.

I would be interested to hear more about security in the camps, because there is desperate concern that they will eventually prove to be not temporary places of refuge for a suffering, impoverished and starving population, but the permanent sanctuary of people who simply dare not go anywhere else for fear that they will be killed or raped if they attempt to do so.

My last point for the Secretary of State, which I want to float with colleagues, concerns the significance of the International Criminal Court. I can be explicit and very generous, although no more generous than I think the facts warrant. The British Government have been completely robust and sound on the importance of referrals to the International Criminal Court. My impression is that both the Foreign Office and DFID have been committed from the outset. I believe that it is in no small measure due to the efforts of the Secretary of State and the former Foreign Secretary that the United States Administration came on side. I was quite worried about that because on the one hand the United States Administration had been the first to say that there was genocide in Darfur, but on the other hand we know the real reservations about and even hostility to the International Criminal Court that President Bush and his team felt and articulated. The fact that the British Government had a hand in persuading the United States Administration not to veto a referral to the ICC was a very significant development indeed.

As the Secretary of State probably knows, I am by nature and disposition a suspicious soul and I make no apology for that. I can well understand that there might be a point—it could even be now—at which some people would be inclined to say that I should not focus too much on that matter at the moment because it is important to establish security, to tackle the humanitarian crisis and to try to make progress towards referendums and the development of life and so on, and that it would rather cloud the issue if I were to bang on too much about referrals to the ICC. My view is that it is important to establish the position and get some commitments on referrals to the ICC.

What worries me is that in the name of securing peace and preventing a resumption of aggressive hostilities by the Government of Sudan it might be suggested, either expressly or implicitly, that it would be a good idea to go gently on referrals. It is imperative that there should be no impunity for those who are guilty of slaughter. Those individuals, wherever they come from, who are suspected of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity must be dragged, kicking and screaming if necessary, before the International Criminal Court. We have the advantage of precedent and the knowledge that flows from it. Yes, important work has been done in relation to war crimes in Rwanda, but it is frankly a damning indictment of the international community that the whole process from start to finish will have taken approximately 14 years.

I shall not refer in detail to any of those circumstances because we are debating Darfur, but right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of the controversy surrounding Charles Munyaneza who is suspected of responsibility for war crimes and attempted genocide in Rwanda and is currently living in Bedford in this country. We do not want, in years to come, individuals to seek asylum in Britain when they are suspected of bestial war crimes in Darfur and when it is said to be too late to do anything. I say that, as the Secretary of State knows, with no hostility to the legitimate pursuit of asylum. He will understand that on such matters I take a liberal conservative view. I greatly value the reputation of this country as one that gives sanctuary to those fleeing prosecution, but we cannot allow our procedures to be abused by those who are seeking to flee their just desserts and the acceptance of responsibility for what they have done.

I want it to be made clear that the people who are suspected of such crimes will be referred, that we will get regular updates and be told what is taking place and that resources will be invested. There are two reasons for that. First, it is right that those who are guilty of slaughtering other people should pay the price—I mean that in strict juridical terms. I am not arguing for revenge, or calling for the death penalty; I do not believe in state murder. But they should be forced to accept responsibility for what they have done. Secondly, it is vital that they are brought to book for the simple reason of deterrence. If ever we are to reach a situation in which we can genuinely say that it will never happen again, we must ensure that we can show that those who did it before copped it as a result.

I have spoken with some force and passion on these matters because I have immensely strong feelings about the subject. It has been so far a worthwhile debate. I listened with the greatest interest and respect to what the Secretary of State had to say, but we must focus on the details. We have to be particular and we have a responsibility, in a sense, almost to be pedantic. Better that we be pedantic in focusing on the detail than we be guilty of the rather unedifying spectacle of telling each other how well we have done. I do not think that we have a right to do that when so many have been killed and when so much suffering continues to take place. The truth is that far too many people in Darfur have suffered too much for too long with far too little done about it. Some progress is now being made and I have every confidence that the Secretary of State will exercise his good offices. I hope that he will take the prods that I have offered this afternoon in the positive spirit for the benefit of people in Darfur in which they were intended.