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Darfur

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 28th November 2006.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 11:00 am, 28th November 2006

I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring the issue of Darfur back to Westminster Hall, even though, in many respects, I am doing so for all the wrong reasons, because a great tragedy is still happening before our eyes. I am delighted that the Secretary of State for International Development has chosen, yet again, to respond to the debate. No one could have done more to try to bring some hope to the people of both Darfur and wider Sudan.

I am also pleased by the presence of the Opposition spokesman, Mr. Mitchell, as he can talk about his own recent visit, and my good friend John Bercow, who, like me, feels passionately about this situation. He has just talked about his other great passion—special educational needs.

I owe a debt to the all-party group on Sudan, which I have the good fortune to chair. I would like to pay due tribute to its co-ordinator, Senait Petros, who keeps us on the straight and narrow and gives us countless up-to-date pieces of information so that we are hopefully well versed, and to the many non-governmental organisations that support the group. I have just received a good piece of information from Jamie Balfour of Oxfam, but I could mention many others.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on his work on Darfur. He has mentioned that he has visited it. Does he understand the frustration of aid workers in the three camps out of the 173 displacement camps in Darfur that are located near el-Fasher? Those camps are well managed and their problems are well understood, and the aid workers there believe that the energies of the constant stream of international and national politicians who visit them would be better devoted to other parts of Darfur, where the problems are less well understood. At the moment, I am sure that such visits feel like displacement tourism to them.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

It is important that the message gets out. I do not particularly want to get into the argument about whether we know enough about what is going on. It is obvious what is happening on the ground, and I shall say more about that.

The all-party group on Sudan was supposed to visit that country. My good friend John Barrett was to come with us, but sadly we did not get a visa on time and there were difficulties on the ground. We were not going to Darfur because we felt it would be more appropriate to spend our time in Khartoum. We hope to make that visit in February, but things are still changing on the ground.

I do not intend to talk for very long today, because it is more important that we hear from the Secretary of State and from the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, about what we should be doing. It is not my intention to take the extreme positions that some want us to adopt. For example, we could call what is happening genocide and everything would be all right because we would know that we could condemn and take action according to the panoply of UN and other resolutions. The other extreme would be to say, "It is all so complex and it has all got so hopeless that there is nothing we can do." We must look at sensible intervention, but we must do so using international law. Dare I say that we should condemn when appropriate and take some action to back up that condemnation?

We were cheered to hear what came out of Addis Ababa and what came out of Abuja some time ago. I hope that the mistakes that were made following Abuja are not repeated. It is obvious that we were dealing with only a minority of the rebel groups. We need to encompass all those who have been fighting on the ground, to explain fully what the Addis Ababa agreement has implied and to ensure that people have time to understand that. It seemed that there was an attempt to force the Abuja agreement on to the different groups, and that was counter-productive.

I shall not dwell on the history, which is one of great sadness. We know that about 200,000 people have died in the conflict and that 2.5 million people have been displaced. We hope that on the back of the Addis Ababa talks we can get some greater security, which is greatly needed. At the moment, the situation is deteriorating not only in Darfur but in Chad. Anyone who has read the wires on the conflict will know that many more people are threatened. Apparently, 90,000 Chadians have been displaced. It would be useful to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about what we are doing in Darfur and what we intend to do to deal with the growing problem in Chad.

Let us consider the security situation and the proposal of a hybrid solution, which many of us felt was the only way forward. We have seen the complete and adamant opposition of the President of Sudan, who was apparently willing to lay down his life to oppose the UN coming in formally. A hybrid seemed to be a reasonable way forward.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

Has my hon. Friend seen the report in The Daily Telegraph today in which President al-Bashir is quoted as saying that "not even 9,000" people have been killed? That figure would appear to be a small one. The report stated that he said that there was

"'no famine, no epidemics, no rearming' of the...Janjaweed" and that all the talk of violence

"was 'false information' and figures created by non-governmental organisations and Western governments to topple him."

Does my hon. Friend agree that President al-Bashir is either lying through his teeth or is in complete denial, and that it is important that it is made clear to him that he will eventually be held to account by the international community for what has gone on in Darfur?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Without casting aspersions, I hear entirely what my hon. Friend says and I know how much interest he takes in this issue. One must be generous and believe that somebody at the top is living in denial, but it is difficult to believe that someone does not know what is happening on the ground, given that the entire world's eyes, periodically at least, are looking at Darfur. Notwithstanding what my hon. Friend David Taylor said earlier, one of the advantages is that people are able to go there to see things with their own eyes. It is important that all sides begin to recognise that we must obtain a ceasefire that will hold, given that there is currently no ceasefire.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

It is perfectly understandable that President al-Bashir might think that a western imperialist invasion is imminent or intended. May I put it to Mr. Drew that although one should try to be generous in spirit, one must acknowledge the doctrine that a person must be assumed to intend the natural consequences of his actions? I have no responsibility for negotiation in these matters, but I believe that al-Bashir is a liar, a thug and a manipulator, and I make no apology for saying out loud what seems blindingly obvious from the evidence.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I think that our condemnation of the President of Sudan is getting stronger and stronger. That is easily done. I want to take us forward and to see how we might be able to make a solution stick. It would be sensible to point out that we might be talking only about a short-term solution in the immediate future, but such a solution might form the basis of a longer-term one.

I go back to the security situation and the hybrid solution. We have heard what has just been said about the questioning, at least, from the Government of Sudan. We know that they are a coalition; there is a coalition even within the National Islamic Front. They are a coalition involving Salva Kiir Mayardit, whom some of us were able to see several weeks ago when he came here to give his views. He was clearly in favour of a greater role for the UN.

Given all that, I must question the Secretary of State on some points. Where are we in relation to Security Council resolution 1706? With the best will in the world, the Addis Ababa agreement is a row-back from that, so is that resolution one that is just in spirit or is it to be delivered on the ground?

We all agree that it is necessary to up the number of troops—we never reached the magic number of 7,700, to our great shame—but where will they come from and, more particularly, how will they be funded? Sadly, many countries made promises on funding—for all sorts of reasons, personnel would never come from those countries—but they have not delivered on those promises.

What role is there for the Chinese in Addis? During the debate on the Royal Address, I said that the Chinese, after their grand conference, were now key players in Africa, but they have an added responsibility. It is important to know, first, what role they have in ensuring that the forces are invited in; secondly, that they have a clear mandate to operate; and thirdly, that we achieve a genuine ceasefire as well as a longer-lasting peace.

The African Union mandate ends in December 2006, so the pressure is on. We have fudged it once already. We must ensure that what happens before the end of 2006 has forward momentum and, if the hybrid solution is the way forward, that we know how we will go on from the end of the year. There is added piquancy because of the problems in Chad, with the possibility of an upsurge in violence and attacks on the Government there. Again, the French may have a role. That may not have been seen as clearly as one would have hoped, but perhaps the French Government could do something.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I congratulate Mr. Drew on everything he has achieved and I want to be associated with the comments of John Bercow.

Does the hon. Member for Stroud agree that in recent years the international response has been characterised by relative timidity when compared with the international response to the situation in Iraq, particularly the forthright way in which both America and the UK approached the matter and the resources that have been deployed to deal with the situation? Does he also agree that, as we come to the end of the AU mandate, it is important that henceforth we are considerably more forthright in our dealings with the situation in Sudan and Darfur?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I agree that we must be forthright, but we must also understand the complexities on the ground. The problem is that we sometimes pretend that the complexities can be diluted, but that is not possible. Without going over the history—we all know that there are many antecedents—the Sudan Government have the largest share of the blame, which they can escape, but other forces that we have met here and have talked to on the ground have no clear agenda. They need an agenda, starting with a ceasefire, because they have achieved many of the things that they apparently wanted to achieve.

On the ceasefire and the political settlement that will hopefully follow, the key question is: following Addis, where is the Darfur peace agreement on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State worked with great effort, and what is its status? What are the UK Government in particular doing to put pressure on the different forces when we do not know who is fighting whom because of the tribal and ethnic divisions and the fact that new organisations—for example, the National Redemption Front—have arisen out of the anarchy on the ground? Where are we with the long-held desire for a no-fly zone? The hon. Member for Buckingham raised that at least a year, if not longer, ago. Yet apparently the Sudanese Government are acting with impunity, which is not acceptable. A no-fly zone should be in force.

Where are we with the rebel groups, whoever they may be? Can the UK Government talk directly to those groups on the ground, in other parts of Sudan or even in London—everyone, at some time, comes through London. Last but not least, where are we with the Darfur-to-Darfur dialogue? People on the ground—civil society—must work on that if there is to be a long-term settlement.

What else can we do? There must be a proper sanction on countries that continue to bring small arms and other ammunition into this terrible zone of conflict. The UN appointed a panel to see who was breaking the so-called sanctions and still arming the Arab militias. It would be interesting to know what action the UK Government are taking through the UN to put pressure on them. I asked a parliamentary question about a British firm, but I shall not discuss that here because the information is perhaps more complicated than I at first thought. However, Britain must ensure that its house is in order and I hope that my right hon. Friend will talk to the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure that arms exports are controlled and do not reach Sudan at second hand, which is often what happens.

The issue is not just what we can do directly about what is happening in Sudan. Some of us are worried about what is happening in the surrounding countries—Ethiopia, the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia and so on. The last thing the region needs is a conflict in some other part of the horn of Africa, so we need arms control over the whole region. That may be difficult to achieve, but unless we are ambitious, Darfur will lose out.

My final point is a specific one that anyone who has been to the camps or has an interest in the area knows only too well. The worst aspect has been the gender issue: the sexual violence against women and girls, which has been a weapon of war in Darfur. Rape has been used with no thought for the lives of those affected, and that must be borne down on. The situation is probably the worst we have ever seen because sexual violence is a deliberate attempt to drive people from their homes. I believe—my right hon. Friend may care to comment—that not only are women attacked as they leave the camps to pick up firewood but they are increasingly attacked in the camps. What security is on offer and who is in charge of that security? I condemn the Sudan Government for being unwilling, sadly, to recognise sexual violence for what it is—a crime against humanity.

I said that I would not talk about genocide, but I will talk about crimes against humanity. Rape and worse are used against women, and that must stop. We must put in place the security to ensure that it stops. Again, I ask my right hon. Friend to comment particularly on what we can do to deal with gender violations when women are bearing the brunt of the attacks. The situation is dreadful, and we must move forward. I hope that this debate will give us the opportunity to do so, and I make no apology for bringing it back to this Chamber.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 11:19 am, 28th November 2006

Probably everyone in the Chamber can bear witness to what has happened in the camps in Darfur, and to the attitude of the Khartoum Government. I well remember a sitting of the International Development Committee with the Sudanese Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, in which after a while, his insouciance and his uncaring attitude to what was going on prompted my hon. Friend John Bercow to ask, "What is it like to be an international political leper?" The Minister did not bat an eyelid; he just went on with what he thought was his charm offensive. We have seen the horror of the camps and the attitude of the Government of Sudan, but it would be pointless to dwell on those aspects today.

Mr. Drew made an excellent speech, none of which needs repeating, but I want to respond to one point that he made. What is the point of a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone bringing Charles Taylor to justice, demonstrating that even for Heads of State there is no immunity under international law—I am convinced that Gaddafi was brought back into line by the threat of being brought before the International Criminal Court in Freetown—if people in Sudan seem to be able to act with impunity? There has been much talk of the ICC indicting people, but so far very little seems to have happened.

I want to broaden the debate to encompass international policy on intervention, because it is important that we do not lose track of where we have already been. Way back in 1998, Kofi Annan, in a lecture at Ditchley on intervention, said:

"Our job is to intervene: to prevent conflict where we can, to put a stop to it when it has broken out, or—when neither of those things is possible—at least to contain it and prevent it from spreading".

But the international community still seems confused about how it intervenes for humanitarian purposes, particularly when it requires a military element.

Darfur has demonstrated one reality of humanitarian intervention. In practice, there are probably only three countries—ourselves, the United States of America and France—with the military capability to mount offensive humanitarian, peacekeeping military operations, which involve recovering and re-establishing security. We did so in Sierra Leone, and the French helped to do so in Ivory Coast.

The problem with Sudan was that the United States and the United Kingdom were heavily committed in Iraq and elsewhere, and they certainly did not want to become involved militarily in another Muslim state—whether in north Africa or in the middle east. In an interesting book, "The New Killing Fields: Massacre and the Politics of Intervention", Michael Ignatieff says:

"As long as the chief motive for intervention is conscience alone, we can only expect sporadic action from a few responsible actors. Once it is realised that we are looking at a crisis in the international order, a tear in the ozone layer of global governance, states that would otherwise remain uninvolved might understand that their long term interest in stability and order compel them to commit resources to the problem. Putting national interest criteria into the debate also helps with the problem of triage. There are many failed and failing states. The ones that will actually receive sustained international attention will be those that directly threaten the national interest and national security of powerful states."

Mr. Mullin, in a "Panorama" interview when he was a Minister, said that

"the odds are that if any Western force did intervene"— in Sudan—

"it would become bogged down and that some new cause for all the Jihadists in the world would emerge and we would find ourselves very quickly being shot at by all sides".

The Government and others clearly decided to support the African Union. Indeed, the Secretary of State made much of that when he appeared before the International Development Committee during the previous Parliament. He said:

"I think we do have to recognise that this is a very significant moment in the history of the AU. They sense it and we should sense it. Why? Because this is Africa saying 'We have responsibility for dealing with conflict on our own continent and we intend to take the lead'".

It is unfair to say that the African Union has failed, but it is fair to say that it has not succeeded. One reason is that it simply does not have the resources.

Brigadier-General Pal Martins, the director of Safer Africa, said:

"The AU's Peace and Security Directorate is responsible for 53 member states in the continent. It has less than ten people, professionals who are technicians in the area of peace and security, and these people are supposed to prevent conflict, manage conflict and resolve conflicts in the whole of Africa."

It just cannot be done. The African Union cannot do it with such poor resources.

The international community has confused theories about when we should intervene. The Prime Minister, in 1999, gave a speech in the United States entitled, "Doctrine of the International Community", on how we decide when and whether to intervene in other countries.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

It was an excellent speech.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

It was an excellent speech. It took place at the Economic Club in Chicago. But nowhere in that speech did the Prime Minister mention the entire international community conducting humanitarian intervention. He asked:

"have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo."

The Canadian Government set up the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which came up with the concept of the responsibility to protect. The UN took up that concept in September 2003, with Kofi Annan's high-level panel on threats, challenges and change, which produced a report in December 2004. The headlines about the report were dramatic:

"UN to back pre-emptive strikes in first major overhaul."

In reality, the report was rather more sober. The panel endorsed what it called, following the Canadian example, an

"emerging norm of responsibility to protect civilians from large scale violence".

The Secretary of State, when commenting on the panel's report to the humanitarian policy group of the Overseas Development Institute, said:

"I attach very high priority to improving the international humanitarian effort to save lives and alleviate suffering...I think the Panel is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to seize the chance for reform and the international community needs to respond boldly. I strongly support the recommendations of the High Level Panel on the 'responsibility to protect'."

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that intervention must be not just humanitarian intervention, the purpose and effect of which is to slow down the death rate by reducing the incidence of disease? Given that the Secretary of State said on 18 May in this Chamber that he fully and reasonably expected a UN force to be deployed by now, but it has not been, does not my hon. Friend agree that the time has come for the international community to decide whether the responsibility to protect is to be a serious attempt to avert genocide or a futile exercise in vacuous moral posturing?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

I entirely agree. The Government must provide a lead and we must ensure that if we undertake military intervention for humanitarian purposes, it is effective. The African Union has not been effective. It had only Land Rovers; it did not have any lift capacity. But we saw effective military intervention for humanitarian purposes in Sierra Leone. We have done it; we know that we can deliver it. However, the international community must define more clearly when it will intervene for humanitarian purposes, and intervention must be effective; otherwise, what is the point of international order?

Darfur also demonstrates that we need more peacekeepers, as the high-level panel said—if we are going to have peacekeeping, we need peacekeepers. The high-level panel bluntly stated:

"In the absence of a commensurate increase in available personnel, United Nations peacekeeping risks repeating some of its worst failures of the 1990s."

This debate rightly focuses on Darfur, and it is clear to everyone that humanitarian intervention is required there. We tried with the African Union, but that intervention failed—it is unfair to accuse the African Union itself of failing, but it has not delivered—and we are now back to the United Nations, which has yet to intervene. What has happened to the emerging norm underlying all that? It does not yet seem to have emerged very far. Unless we are all clear that the international community will intervene speedily in cases of humanitarian disaster, regimes such as the Government of Sudan will continue to believe that they can treat their people with impunity for a long time to come.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:31 am, 28th November 2006

Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye, Miss Begg. I had not originally intended to speak, but I should like to ask the Secretary of State one or two questions that have not yet been fully covered. I congratulate my neighbour, Mr. Drew, on securing this debate, because it addresses an international scandal. The conflict broke out in 2003, and since then more than 450,000 people have been killed, more than 2 million people have displaced and every sort of humanitarian disaster and atrocity has taken place. However, the international community has largely not taken the action that it ought to have taken. I also want to return to some of the things that my hon. Friend Tony Baldry said.

I should like to take us back to a week ago last Thursday, to the agreement in Addis Ababa, and ask the Secretary of State whether he can tell us a little about China's role. The Chinese have a crucial role to play in the disaster, because they are one of the chief funders of the Sudanese Government, through their oil purchases, and China is also one of the members of the P5. We have heard reports that China played a role in that process, so it would be useful to have a first-hand report and hear what role it played.

What was agreed at Addis Ababa was the UN-AU hybrid force. The AU mandate runs out at the end of this year, so it would be useful to know from the Secretary of State what will happen if the hybrid force has not managed to get agreement from the Sudanese Government to go in before the end of the year. What arrangements will be made in the intervening period, between when the AU mandate runs out and when the hybrid force commences operations?

It would be interesting to know how the hybrid force is to be made up. The hon. Member for Stroud asked some questions about that. Who will supply it with military assets? It would be logical for this country to supply some, but we are already well overstretched elsewhere, so exactly who will supply the hybrid force with the necessary assets, equipment, soldiers and so on? Most importantly, who will command it? If it is to have any chance of success, it will presumably have to be commanded by an African commander, and preferably one of Muslim origin. It would be interesting to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about that.

Speaking to the Brookings Institution on 20 November, the US spokesman, Andrew Natsios, said that the Bush Administration would resort to "plan B", which is

"a different approach to this"— that is, to UN Security Council resolution 1706—and is "open-ended." That might address part of my question of what will happen when the AU mandate runs out at the end of the year. Perhaps the US Administration have something different in mind, but perhaps the Secretary of State could fill us in on that. Andrew Natsios was responding to a Sudanese official at that meeting who said that Sudan had

"every single right to be suspicious about these things because of broken promises of the U.S. government and the international community over there."

In other words, the Sudanese Government are preparing still to be obdurate about the use of the hybrid force. One can think of any number of excuses that they might deploy to prevent that force from acting. If it does not act, what further action can the international community take?

Mention has been made of the call that my hon. Friend John Bercow has made for a no-fly zone, which is one of the simpler things that we could implement. No-fly zones were implemented pretty successfully in Iraq between the first and second Iraq wars. We hear reports of the Sudanese Government or rebels—I know not which—bombing cities in Chad and causing destabilisation there, which is a serious aspect of the crisis. There is now a significant build-up of refugees crossing the borders between Sudan and Chad, and between Sudan and the Central African Republic, which I have asked the Secretary of State about. If there were further destabilisation in those other countries and across Africa, the conflict would be much more serious than it already is, so perhaps he could say something about that.

Mention has been made of what the international hybrid force is supposed to achieve and how it will operate if the Sudanese Government refuse to admit it. It is all very well saying that the UN has a duty to keep the peace, but how will it do that? I got my research assistant this morning to print off about six pages of chapter VII resolutions since 1950, which are the highest UN resolutions. Chapter VII allows the Security Council to

"determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and to take military and non-military action to

"restore international peace and security."

One would have thought that that would provide more than a sufficient mandate to go in and keep the peace, and allow humanitarian assistance to be given. The problem is that there are six pages of such resolutions, but most of them have never been implemented. It is one thing to secure a resolution, but another if it is not implemented. I am deeply concerned about how the international community will act if the force is not allowed into Darfur.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable contribution to this debate. On that point, to take further the thesis of the hon. Member for Banbury about the international community not being prepared to intervene on purely humanitarian grounds, if the international community fails to act decisively in the coming weeks, that will play into the hands of those cynics who believe that the international community will not see an issue as a priority unless there is oil or something else involved.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I entirely agree with that. If we are to have any international order and if the UN is to have any real purpose, it is in precisely situations such as Darfur. That is precisely the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury alluded. People who perpetrate such atrocities should be subject to an international arrest warrant, and should expect to be brought before an international court and to receive a very severe sentence indeed. It is only that sort of action and the threat of intervention by the international community that will stop people such as the Janjaweed militia from committing their atrocities.

If we allow the situation to continue in Sudan, where else will that sort of thing spread? Zimbabwe? Burma? One can think of all the worst human rights abuses in world. Allowing the situation to continue will give succour and encouragement to all the tyrants who are carrying out human rights abuses. This debate is therefore extremely important. It is important that the international community act, because if it does not, the problem will be much more difficult. The purpose of this debate, in view of the fact that we have the Secretary of State here, is to ask how on earth we get humanitarian assistance properly into Sudan and to those 4 million people whom Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian officer, has said need help. How are we going to get help to those 4 million people if the NGOs and others fear for their lives?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 11:39 am, 28th November 2006

It is always a pleasure to follow the excellent speeches of my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, but I would like in particular to pay a heartfelt tribute to Mr. Drew. Specifically, his sincere and measured yet passionate advocacy is appreciated by hon. Members from all parties, as is his long-standing and painstaking commitment to the subject in both Westminster Hall and the Chamber.

Miss Begg, having subjected you to a lengthy disquisition earlier on a different subject, namely the education of children with speech and language difficulties, I shall confine my remarks to a couple of observations. I ask the Secretary of State in a genuine spirit of interested inquiry whether it is the position of the British Government—or, to his knowledge, of friendly Governments with whom we deal—that, in the final analysis, when all discussion has taken place, the Government of Sudan will have an effective veto on whether a force is deployed, how large it might be and what mandate it should be given. If that is the position, stripped bare of the rhetoric, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Government of Sudan will be aware of it. It seems a peculiarly poor position from which to negotiate, and as bad a position from which to develop policy, if the suspected genocidaire against whom one is considering taking action is aware that in the final analysis it will not be done if they do not agree to it. That is stark, I know, but the Secretary of State is perfectly capable of plain speaking. In all sincerity, as someone who is as concerned about the matter as he is, I ask him to come clean with colleagues about where the Government stand.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

In view of what the hon. Gentleman says, will he reflect on the veto that Saddam Hussein did not have on international intervention in Iraq? What conclusions can we draw from the international community's commitment to act in one case and not in another?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I do not subscribe to the view that the Iraq war was about oil, but I believe that Darfur occupies a much less central or forward position in the minds of decision makers than Iraq did. That is morally unjustifiable, it is strategically unwise and, in humanitarian terms, it has already proved an absolute disaster.

It is simply not acceptable for a state to invoke, implicitly or explicitly, the doctrine of state sovereignty and then to hide behind it while practising the most egregious human rights abuses imaginable. Kofi Annan has made it clear that that doctrine is not acceptable. If it were, we would not have an International Criminal Court, we would not have developed a responsibility to protect and we would not be talking about trying to bring genocidaires to book. It is simply not on for the Government of Sudan to dress up in the language of national self-protection a plethora of disreputable excuses for continuing to bomb, kill, rape and maim their own citizens.

If we are agreed that that is the case, the international community must act, not to keep the peace but to enforce it. If we are not prepared to do so, Darfur will be only the latest stop, following Srebrenica and Rwanda, in the journey towards a continuation of mass tyranny, mass murder and, I am sorry to say, mass impunity.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland 11:44 am, 28th November 2006

When the United Nations was established in 1945, one of its key roles was to ensure that genocide and ethnic cleansing would no longer be tolerated in any corner of the world. The atrocities of the second world war led to ready consensus that an international organisation was required with sufficient clout to prevent similar tragedies in future. Sixty years on, many believe that we are already witnessing the first genocide of the 21st century unfolding in Darfur.

I congratulate Mr. Drew on securing the debate and on the hard work he has done in the all-party parliamentary group on Sudan. I know that he sometimes feels that he is bringing the subject back to us again and again, but it is sad to say that things have not progressed. We are all more concerned now than we were six months, a year or two years ago.

The debate comes at a key time for the region. I pay tribute to all the aid workers on the ground who risk their lives daily. Some have paid the ultimate price, and the international community owes them a great debt. As a result of the ongoing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media's focus has at times drifted away from Darfur. We in the House cannot afford to let events elsewhere, however serious, push the crisis into the margins.

Kofi Annan has called the situation in Darfur the world's greatest humanitarian disaster. If one has seen the situation on the ground—listened to the first-hand experiences of refugees in Kalma and other camps, seen the helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers side by side at the airport with UN-supplied equipment, and witnessed life in the refugee camps—it is difficult to disagree. For many, it is hell on earth.

As the hon. Member for Stroud mentioned, he and I were scheduled to visit Sudan again last month, but sadly, for a number of reasons, the trip was cancelled. If the cancellation was indicative of how serious the situation is on the ground, the figures tell their own story. The latest UN figures estimate that more than 200,000 people have died as a result of the unfolding conflict, with around 2 million internally displaced people. Those are the highest numbers since the conflict started in 2003, representing an increase of 125,000 since the last UN report in July. The situation is absolutely desperate, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss what must be done to help break the cycle of violence that is crippling the region.

The peace agreement signed in May was heralded as a breakthrough, and I put on record my tribute to the Secretary of State and his team for their hard work on that front. However, despite progress, it has failed to deliver peace in the region. Just yesterday, Darfur rebel turned presidential adviser, Minni Minnawi, accused the Sudanese Government of rearming and mobilising the Janjaweed militia, violating the Darfur peace agreement. As the ink is still drying on the latest agreement in Addis Ababa for an upgraded peacekeeping force, it is a timely reminder of the Sudanese Government's disdain for international treaties and their ability to break agreements. I was there with Tony Baldry when John Bercow asked the Sudanese Government about it in his usual forthright way.

The Sudanese Government have expelled diplomats, reneged on promises and comprehensively failed to protect their own people. Khartoum has also failed repeatedly to disband or attempt to disband the Janjaweed militia. Despite daily death and suffering, the Government of Sudan continue to deny any responsibility and even attack the international community, accusing it of orchestrating a media campaign against Khartoum in order to install a new regime.

The Government of Sudan have abused their time at the negotiating table, buying time and disrupting progress. They have been able to do so in no small part because of the international community's failure to present a fully united front. I am sure that all hon. Members were as disappointed as I was by the decision of Russia, China and others to abstain on UN resolution 1706. I call on our Government to stress strongly to Russia and China through diplomatic channels that they have a key responsibility in the region. Both have strong strategic interests and influence in the region, and there can be no doubt that their failure to stand alongside the rest of the international community is providing Khartoum with room to manoeuvre that they would not otherwise enjoy.

Russia and China's reluctance to involve themselves in any move that might appear to undermine sovereignty could be seen by some as due to their unwillingness to draw attention to their own domestic conduct in Chechnya, Tibet and other regions. However, the Government of Sudan must not be allowed, for whatever reason, to hide behind scaremongering language about colonialism to block necessary moves by the international community to protect the people of Darfur.

Other hon. Members mentioned the peacekeeping forces. The African Union's own assessment has concluded that the current African Union mission in Sudan force—the AMIS force—is under-resourced and unable to provide anything like an acceptable level of security. Security Council resolution 1706 demanded a UN force with a tough mandate that allowed for the protection of civilians by force. I am not alone in expressing deep concern that the Addis Ababa agreement makes no mention of "all necessary means", the traditional euphemism for armed force to protect civilians. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State on that point; I hope that he can reassure me.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State's insistence that resolution 1706 had not been watered down. I appreciate how difficult it must have been to reach any agreement, but he must understand the concerns of those who fear that we have given too much ground and that the latest agreement is yet another attempt by Khartoum to play for time.

I seek the Secretary of State's assurances on other aspects of the agreement. Obviously, the size of any force will be crucial to its ability to achieve security on the ground. The original UN resolution called for 17,000 troops, but Sudan's UN ambassador, Abdul Mahmoud Abdelhaleem, has made clear his view that an 11,000 to 12,000-strong force is more than sufficient.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

We have not yet got to the crux of the issue: if the Sudanese Government do not agree to allow that hybrid force into the country, that force could find itself effectively confronting the Sudanese armed forces. That is the difficulty. How will we overcome it?

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland

I agree entirely. A number of hon. Members mentioned that to give the Sudanese Government an effective veto on what progress is made is a recipe for disaster, and the situation in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan will continue to deteriorate.

I am also concerned about the timing of any deployment. Continual accusations from President Omar al-Bashir about plots to recolonise his country do little to inspire confidence that decisions on troop numbers and entry dates will be based on what is best for the security of the people of Darfur. In spite of the Secretary of State's assurances, the Government in Khartoum might see the latest agreement as another diplomatic victory that will further embolden them.

The fundamental problem with pushing forward with a peacekeeping force in Darfur is that we are in the untenable position of trying to convince the party most responsible for the violence to be a partner in the peace process. The prosecution of genocide in Darfur, the lack of consent for a UN peace operation there and the failure of the political peace process are a result, in part or whole, of decisions made by the Government of Sudan. For three years, Khartoum has successfully manipulated the divisions in the international community that I referred to, blocking effective action in Darfur.

Despite its protestations to the contrary, Sudan has continually obstructed AMIS with curfews and other restrictions. Time and again we have watched Sudan's leaders listen patiently to, then ignore, the statements of the international community because they are confident that no credible threat on the horizon could force them to pay attention.

I devote my remaining few minutes to the humanitarian situation and the urgent need properly to fund the relief programme. I would welcome any update from the Secretary of State on humanitarian relief, particularly the funding of the World Food Programme and safety in the refugee camps. The situation in those camps is even graver now than when I visited Darfur. Previously, women were in danger of being raped when they left the camps in search of firewood; now, armed militia stop between the huts in the very camps that are supposed to be a refuge from chaos. On the day that the latest agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Human Rights Watch reported the latest wave of Janjaweed attacks on civilian villages in Darfur and Chad. There are now growing fears that those latest incursions into Chad will further destabilise the whole region.

Whether we adopt the language of genocide does not alter the horrors of what is unfolding on the ground. Rightly, the lessons of Rwanda will echo loudly in our ears as we try to find a workable and lasting solution to this conflict.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 11:54 am, 28th November 2006

There is an African proverb much beloved of the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, who knows a thing or two about living under tyranny—"When a person has a thorn in their foot, it takes the whole body to bend and pull it out." It is an apt metaphor for this debate. The whole international community will need to engage in resolving the long-standing problem in Darfur.

As has been shown by the fine and eloquent speech made by Mr. Drew, who secured this debate, and by comments from across the House, there are no easy answers. It is facile to suggest that there would be some easy way of resolving the situation if only politicians and the international community were willing to embrace it.

Some very good people are involved in Sudan; I think particularly of Vice-President Sylva Keer, whom the hon. Gentleman and I met when he was over here. My hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made the point that the fear among leaders in Khartoum of the International Criminal Court—of what might happen to them if the international community can hold them to account—is very real. That is the one thing that frightens the genocidists in Khartoum.

Who would have believed in the early days that Milosevic would be held to account by the international community in the Hague? The international community must hold such a threat in this situation. After all, Britain, through DFID, has done a great deal of work on trying to build up civic society around the world so that people can hold their own leaders to account. The logical conclusion of that process is that those people in Khartoum should fear being held to account by the international community.

I have visited Sudan twice this year—first, with the shadow Foreign Secretary and most recently last week, with the Leader of the Opposition. We visited Khartoum and had discussions with leading Sudanese politicians. Last week, we were able to visit two camps in Darfur, just outside el-Fasher. I want to place on record my gratitude to DFID, the Foreign Office and a number of non-governmental organisations, which, at inconvenience and cost to themselves, organised both visits. They have a large number of visits to organise. That is time-consuming and takes them away from their normal tasks, but it is important that people should see for themselves what is happening in Darfur.

I should report that a week ago the situation in Darfur was far worse than when I was there in March. Undoubtedly, the humanitarian situation is worse; circulating among the humanitarian relief agencies are maps of the areas of Darfur into which their representatives simply cannot go because it is too dangerous. Members of staff have been attacked—in some cases, killed. The military situation is far worse as well, for the reasons already set out today. The Secretary of State is right to say that at the heart of the issue must be a resolution of the political situation in Darfur; that political situation is also worse and involves the building up, refashioning or enshrining of the Darfur peace agreement.

There was not an agreement in Addis Ababa recently, but a framework was set up. I pay tribute to the work of the United Nations and the support given by the British Government to set up that framework and meeting and to ensure that we made progress. It is not clear whether any real progress has been made since then; soon I shall put questions to the Secretary of State about that. Last week, the Leader of the Opposition and I found the Sudanese authorities to be as slippery and disingenuous as ever. We had a completely unacceptable meeting with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Lam Akol. The Sudanese Government's track record of duplicity and obfuscation on Darfur does not lead anyone to believe that the Addis Ababa framework will lead to a satisfactory deal.

As the Secretary of State has said in the past, we need to take a carrot-and-stick approach to the Sudanese Government. If they accept the will of the international community, they will come back into the comity of nations and be able to spend their oil wealth—the irony of all of this is that, because of its oil wealth, Sudan is no longer a poor country—but if they are not willing to accept the Addis framework and to build on it with the international community, it is essential that the United Nations and the European Union provide all necessary assistance to the ICC to investigate and prosecute individuals at all levels for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, and that the international community continues the UN's work of identifying individuals other than the 51 who have already been identified as responsible for war crimes.

In that connection, perhaps the Secretary of State will explain what work is being done on the practicality of enforcing the no-fly zone that was set up in 2004 but which has never been enforced, and on enforcing travel bans. What discussions has he had on that, on sequestering and freezing the overseas assets of members of the regime, and on the threat of sanctions on Sudanese companies owned by the ruling party and its officials who do business abroad?

I want to ask the Government whether in hindsight they think that it was right to allow Salah Abdallah Ghosh a visa to visit the United Kingdom for urgent medical treatment twice this year. He is the head of Sudanese intelligence, and his name appears on the list of 51 individuals accused of war crimes in Darfur. He was denied an entry visa to the United States and is said to be on the list of the international commission of inquiry and on the list compiled by the panel of experts of people who are obstructing the peace process and who require targeted sanctions. Whichever Government Minister agreed to let him have a visa is, at best, guilty of a serious error of judgment. It is inconceivable that the Secretary of State would have done that. Will he give an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will not again entertain the head of Sudanese intelligence in the UK in the current circumstances? Allowing him a visa to visit Britain is an insult to the hundreds of thousands who have died in Darfur and to their families, and it sends an impression to Khartoum that we are not serious in what we say. I can do no better than quote the words of James Smith of the Aegis Trust, who stated:

"I have seen people lying wounded as a result of Ghosh's genocidal policies. I am staggered that the British government, with full knowledge of his role, arranged for him to have medical treatment in British hospitals. Perhaps he is offering tit-bits of information on our war on terror but our policy should be to stop terror wherever it happens. Around 300,000 people have been deliberately killed as a result of his policies and two million displaced in ruthless attacks."

I agree with those words.

We can all try to sum up in rhetoric and in the strongest possible terms our condemnation of what is happening in Darfur, but in my remaining time I shall ask the Secretary of State some specific questions, as I know that the House will want to hear in detail from him. First, on the military situation, can he update us on what Sudan has said about the Addis framework? What is the timetable for reinforcing the existing African Union force? What progress was made at the peace and security meeting, which I believe started on 24 November?

What do the Government believe should happen to the AU mandate, which will expire on 30 December? We need to know that everyone is clear that the mandate will be extended. What progress is being made towards securing a chapter 8 assignment for a hybrid force? A chapter 8 assignment means that the UN will pay for a force even if it does not control it in its entirety. I believe that this is the first time that such an assignment has been contemplated. Given the circumstances, I am sure that it would be the best way forward.

Whatever force is agreed, will helicopters be made available as soon as possible to transport troops, as the AU commander has repeatedly requested? What is the Secretary of State's judgment on the number of troops that are required? The UN has suggested that there should be 17,000 troops and 3,000 police, but the AU commander made it clear that a much smaller force would enable him to dominate the ground. What is the Secretary of State's judgment on that? Which countries have offered troops, and, as of today, have enough of them been offered for the hybrid force?

Can the Secretary of State give the House the latest information on soldiers' pay? We have heard that there have been many months in which AU soldiers have not been paid. It is not a good idea not to pay soldiers who are engaged on active service. Will he say what the UK is doing to help with basics such as the command and control structures of the AU and what steps the Crown agents who are assisting with the payment problems have so far taken?

Will the Secretary of State tell us what steps Sudan is taking towards the disarmament of the Janjaweed, which has been repeatedly suggested and promised? As far as I am aware, nothing at all has happened in that respect.

Secondly, on the political situation, will the Secretary of State say a bit more about the role of the Arab League and the Chinese in the Addis framework and beyond? A senior UN official told me that the Chinese had been far more helpful than was anticipated at Addis, but not yet helpful enough. What is the Secretary of State's judgment on that? What steps does he think should be taken now to re-energise the Darfur peace agreement? What steps are being taken in respect of revising the wealth and power-sharing provision, and does he believe that they are adequate?

What is being done to help establish the transitional Darfur regional authority? As far as I am aware, all parties have agreed to it, and it is an area where some thinking could be done and some action could be taken on the ground. What does the Secretary of State believe can be done to re-engage in the political process the many groups in Darfur such as the rebel groups, which have splintered and fractured as a result of their response to the DPA? What can Britain do, alone or with others, to help the political process along?

What is being done to stop the escalating crisis engulfing Chad and even the Central African Republic? My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold referred to that. What discussions has the Secretary of State or his Government colleagues had with his French opposite number about the use of French bases in Chad for humanitarian relief and, indeed, for potential military assistance to the AU-UN hybrid force?

Thirdly, on the humanitarian relief situation, I have four questions for the Secretary of State. What is his information on the parts of Darfur that are as of now closed to humanitarian relief? Will he confirm that there is no shortage of money or food available from the international community and that the difficulties are in getting resources into those areas? What protection is the AU giving for the movement of food and essential supplies? What steps are being taken to emphasise to Khartoum the critical necessity for humanitarian organisations to be allowed free and unfettered access to civilians in need throughout Darfur?

I end where I started, with the Archbishop of York's proverb. After Rwanda, the international community said, "Never again." We have heard today of between 300,000 and 400,000 deaths in Darfur. We have heard about the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians, the looting of villages, the spreading of the conflict across international borders and the 2 million who are living in camps. My hon. Friend John Bercow set out in his usual forceful way the key question: does the Government of Sudan have, in effect, a veto? Last year, the international community embraced with much back-slapping and self-congratulation the responsibility to protect. We will see over the coming weeks whether that is any more than the self-serving mumbo jumbo so accurately described by my hon. Friend.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development 12:10 pm, 28th November 2006

I begin by expressing my gratitude to my hon. Friend Mr. Drew for giving us all the opportunity to debate the terrible situation in Darfur once again. Trying to achieve a resolution is something that I care passionately about. I have probably spent more time on this issue than any other in my three and a bit years as Secretary of State; Sudan is certainly the country that I have visited more than any other and it is a high priority for the Government. The number of hon. Members who have attended the debate and who have spoken shows that the passion is shared across the House.

I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition and Mr. Mitchell were able to visit Sudan last week. There is always a balance to be struck. My hon. Friend David Taylor made a point about the camps, but it is not camp tourism, because if one does not see it for oneself or hear from people directly, one does not quite understand what is going on. I know that the UN in particular has been concerned about the impact that foreign visitors have on the camps because of the trouble that sometimes ensues after we have gone. In one tragic case, when Jan Egeland was in Darfur in the summer, someone who was with him interpreting was subsequently murdered.

I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for the role that he plays as chair of the all-party group on Sudan and to take this opportunity to tell the House that Christopher Prentice has been appointed as the new United Kingdom special representative to Sudan. He is the former ambassador to Amman, and prior to that he dealt with Sudan as head of the near east and north Africa department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He will contribute, alongside a lot of other people, to our attempts to make progress.

I do not need to repeat what has been said by many people about the appalling situation. I am increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation. In Jan Egeland's recent briefing to the UN Security Council, he said that the total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance and food aid could be as high as 4 million. John Barrett asked directly about the World Food Programme. This year it has appealed for $909 million for the wonderful work that it does. That appeal is currently 89 per cent. funded, so we are doing okay.

The number of people who are inaccessible is rising. The last figure that I saw was 323,000. There is no doubt that when, as the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield did, we look at the maps and see the red bits that, as I recollect, show the areas that cannot be accessed, we see how the recent upsurge in fighting since May has made it more difficult for the UN and non-governmental organisation operations to get to people.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Secretary of State cited Jan Egeland's estimate of 4 million people, but I believe that Jan Egeland also said that access was only likely to be available to 3 million and that there would be a further 1 million to whom access would not be available at all. Anywhere else in the world, to have 1 million people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance without being able to get it to them would be totally unacceptable. What further measures can the British Government and the Secretary of State take to ensure that those people get some assistance?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I shall come directly on to the two things that I think we need to do, first in the form of a more effective peacekeeping operation and secondly as a political settlement. Those two things combined will overcome the crisis.

Like others, I want to pay tribute to the courage, bravery and selfless commitment of all the people—the UN staff, those who work for NGOs and the many Sudanese who support them in that effort—because this is the largest and most complex humanitarian operation in the world, and although it is not much comfort, the situation in the camps and for the people would be much worse without their work. The most recent mortality survey shows that for those who are in the camps, circumstances are better than was the case two years ago.

My hon. Friend made an important point about the endemic rape and sexual violence. The crisis has had an impact on the whole community, but particularly on women. One reason why we need more troops on the ground is so that that force is able more effectively to provide protection to people in the camps, including the women who go out in search of firewood to keep body and soul together.

The truth is that, since the summer, violence has increased; banditry remains an endemic problem; there have been inter-ethnic clashes, which have been particularly acute in west Darfur; and there has been fighting in north Darfur, and the Chadian rebels, who the Government of Chad accuse the Government of Sudan of backing, have clashed with the local population. Violence has been most intense in the north, and since August the Government of Sudan have been waging an on/off offensive there against the National Redemption Front, which is, as hon. Members will be aware, an alliance of rebel groups who oppose the Darfur peace agreement. I shall come back to that. It has received military backing from Chad, but the NRF bears a responsibility, alongside others, for the violence. It is important if we are condemning violence—and we should—that we tell the truth about all those who are responsible.

Particularly worrying since the end of last month has been the renewed co-operation between the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed—the Arab militias. There are reports that they are being used to mount attacks against civilians and that there is aerial bombing in support of them. One of the consequences of the fighting, of course, is that it makes it more difficult to get humanitarian relief to those who need it. It is unacceptable that the rebels and the Government of Sudan have been involved in escalating the violence. It was particularly outrageous that they did so at the very moment when we were meeting in Addis Ababa the week before last to try to find a way forward.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The right hon. Gentleman pre-empts my point that Sudanese Government forces were in action at the same time as the international community, including him, were sitting down in Addis Ababa. I completely agree with his point that anyone who is guilty of violence in Darfur should be condemned, but we should be clear about where the main responsibility lies—it lies absolutely with the Government of Sudan and their proxies in the militias. He will have seen the authoritative study carried out by a respected organisation in Denmark that lays 97 per cent. of the blame for the deaths in Darfur with the Government and 3 per cent. with the other rebels.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I share the hon. Gentleman's view. The Government and I have said throughout that the primary responsibility for what has gone on rests with the Government of Sudan. Indeed, the primary responsibility for protecting the people of Sudan rests—or should rest—with the Government of Sudan, because it is their job to ensure that their civilians are looked after; it is not their job to have played a part in those civilians being attacked. The truth is that we are never likely to know the total death toll, although many estimates have been made. There is no doubt that when the International Commission of Inquiry, which we worked hard to set up along with others in the UN, went, studied, came back and reported, it talked, rightly, about crimes against humanity and war crimes.

A number of hon. Members mentioned Chad. There were reports yesterday of columns marching on N'djamena, but I understand that those columns have halted overnight, for whatever reason. They are principally, we think, made up of forces from the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development—the UFDD. There is a UN team there now, trying to assess the situation. I have discussed it with the UN Secretary-General, and it is his intention to report back to the Security Council on what we can do, in addition to dealing with the problems in Darfur, to see whether some kind of UN presence along the borders with Chad and the Central African Republic would help to deal with the impact of violence across the border. The United Kingdom Government are providing £4 million in humanitarian aid to Chad this year.

I will come at the end of my speech to the point that Tony Baldry raised about the broader implications of all this. The African Union intervened, with our support—we were the first country in the world to provide financial backing—in 2004. I pay tribute to the work that it has done in exceptionally difficult circumstances, but Alpha Konare, the president of the African Union Commission in Addis, was blunt and direct in the negotiations. He said, "Look, the truth is that we cannot quite manage the operation that we have; there is no way that we could manage." He was being honest about the difficulty and challenge for an institution that has only recently taken on the mantle of trying to contribute in practical ways to peace and security in Africa. I welcome that. We should support the African Union in its endeavours because it helps to address the question of capacity, which is, in part, behind the point that the hon. Gentleman made. However, the problem is that it cannot handle that role, which is why it came to the view some time ago that there needed to be a transfer to a UN mission.

As the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield will have heard, the truth is what General Aprezi, the new force commander, set out when he said to me, "Look at the map, look at the size. This is the number of troops we've got and we haven't got enough to do the job in hand." Everybody knows that that is the case. It is an issue of capacity, and that is why we supported UN resolution 1706 so strongly.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives

I accept that the situation is as complex and probably more complex than the Secretary of State has painted. Bearing in mind the chapter VII resolutions, on which Mr. Clifton-Brown provided information, and given the complexity of the lack of resources that the Secretary of State has identified, does he believe, in terms of interpretation of the resolutions and sanctions that currently apply, that it can be said that there is a sufficient mandate for the international community to intervene? Clearly, there are issues of resources to be resolved as well, but is there not already sufficient mandate irrespective of Sudan's perceived veto?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I will come directly to that question if the hon. Gentleman bears with me. John Bercow also put that point most sharply and bluntly in his characteristic fashion. It is a very, very important issue.

The fact is that resolution 1706 was passed because we needed to find an answer to the problem that the AU could not cope any more. That is what it was about. We tried hard to persuade the Government of Sudan to accept resolution 1706 in the form that it took. I spoke to President Bashir in October, as did many others. In the end, he said that he was not prepared to accept the resolution. In those circumstances, my view—I make no apology for it—was that it was most important to get a strong and effective peacekeeping force that can protect civilians. Therefore, we tried to find another way of achieving the same objective. That is what the meeting in Addis was about. There is no disgrace in that. The Addis meeting was important because we achieved a preliminary agreement on a different approach: a three-phase approach.

Phase one has been agreed and involves the UN providing additional support to the African Union mission. To be absolutely practical, that will include: 105 staff officers; 33 police advisers; 25 civilian staff to build some of that capacity; 36 global positioning systems; 360 night-vision goggles; 36 armoured personnel carriers; medical supplies; and expertise in procurement logistics, communications, IT, air ops, supply, planning, finance, budget and human resources. That is what phase one is about.

Phase two is what is known as the "UN-heavy package". The precise details have still to be worked out, but it should involve about 1,000 UN personnel providing enabling capacity, camp construction, communications, and transport, including aircraft.

Phase three is the AU/UN hybrid force with a strong mandate. As agreed in paragraph 29, entitled "conclusions", of the Addis communiqué, it should have as its mandate the restoration of security and the protection of civilians, as well as ensuring full humanitarian access. Questions have been asked about how that force would be made up and everyone has agreed it should have an African force commander.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The critical point is whether the Sudanese Government have accepted that. The Sudanese officials said that they would go away and consult. As far as I am aware—it is clear from the rest of the debate that everyone else is in the same position—the Sudanese Government have not specifically said that they will accept a AU/UN hybrid force. Does the Secretary of State have any further information on that?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am about to come to that very point. I was trying to help hon. Members by outlining the nature of the agreement.

There will be an African force commander and the force will come from Africa in the first instance, but it was recognised in the meeting that if all the forces could not come from Africa, they would have to come from elsewhere. On the numbers, everyone in the room except the Government of Sudan accepted the assessment that the AU and the UN had jointly made, which the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council back in July, of there being a need for 17,000-plus troops and 3,000 police. What the Government of Sudan said at the meeting was that they recognise the need for more troops. They were not persuaded by the figure of 17,000, and went away to think about that and two other points. The first was the appointment of the force commander, because the Secretary-General has suggested that the force commander should be jointly appointed by the AU and the UN. The second was whether there should be a special representative to whom the force commander would report politically, also appointed by the AU and the UN. Those are the issues that President Lam Akol said he would go away and talk to the President of Sudan about. As we meet this morning, we are waiting for the response of the Government of Sudan. The AU Peace and Security Council meeting was delayed from last Friday, 24 November, and is due to take place tomorrow in Abuja. We are currently waiting to hear what the Government have to say.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

The Government of Sudan cannot be granted an unlimited right to ponderous contemplation of whether they will allow the international community to protect people from slaughter. Although we do not know the precise level of fatalities, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what we do know is that cumulatively the numbers of dead, dying and destitute are rising every day and that Bashir is substantially responsible?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I accept that the number of people who have been killed continues to rise because when I went to the Abu Shouk camp I met a group of people who had come from a place called Korma. Those people formed part of the 20,000 who had arrived in the Abu Shouk and the As-Salaam camp, which is the larger neighbouring camp, because of the renewed fighting.

Finally, it was agreed that if we could reach agreement on the package, the Secretary-General would go back to the UN to ask it to pay for it. That would be an innovation that has never happened before. To my mind, however, it is a practical proposal that tries to deal with the endemic problem of a lack of sufficient finance for the African Union mission.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the need to keep up the pressure and for the Government of Sudan not to have too long. There is no doubt in my mind that when they meet tomorrow—I understand President Bashir may attend the meeting himself—all of those present will say, "Come on, what are you going to do about this?"

Mr. Clifton-Brown, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and others asked about China. The Chinese representative played a constructive role in the meeting at Addis. He urged the Government of Sudan to accept what was being proposed by us, and I welcome that enormously. What was striking about the end of the meeting at 11 o'clock at night is that, as I sat down and looked around the room, frankly everybody was ranged on one side and the Government of Sudan's representative was saying that he would have to go away and think about the three points despite having agreed the rest. I hope hon. Members have seen the conclusions that were laid out in the document that we negotiated.

My answer to the very direct question of whether the Government of Sudan should have a veto is no, they should not, but do we, in practice, need their consent to make progress? Yes, we do, unless anybody in the Chamber is advocating that the international community should invade Sudan. I put that very starkly. That is the issue; let us tell the truth. That is why we are—it is not a parliamentary expression—busting a gut to try to make progress.

I want to refer to the political process. I asked someone in the camp what he thought of the Darfur peace agreement. He said, "Well, the violence is continuing and not everyone has signed up." That was a very acute observation. He did not talk about the details; he was judging it on its ability to have delivered. I do not accept the gentle, chiding of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud that it was wrong to have tried in the way that we did in Abuja. We came very close to getting the other bit of the Sudan Liberation Movement on board and I remain of the view that the DPA provides the framework for an agreement. What the British Government and others have been doing since then is going around Darfur talking to all the rebel leaders. The other thing that we got out of Addis was an agreement that the AU and the UN will take responsibility for convening a meeting between the Government, Minni Minnawi and other rebel groups, because that is the only way in which we will make progress in the circumstances. To come back the point that the hon. Member for Buckingham made, the case for not rushing ahead to fill all the transitional posts is that space needs to be left for those whom I hope will sign to come on board.

We are struggling to find the will and to fashion the means to deal effectively with such crises. There will be many lessons to learn from what has gone on in Darfur.

M

I find this lack of action while literally genocide occurs in Africa truly depressing - both in reflection on the UN, and on the international community.

The UN was founded after WW2 (and the grim evidence of the holocaust) with the echos of phrase "never again" ringing in our ears; yet in recent times it has presided of a number of truly terrible genocides..

Rwanda - which occurred right in front of UN troops, who were never given the UN support or leadership to prevent it (and let us be in no doubt that even a small lightly-armed force could have stopped this conflict!)

The Bosnian massacre (which also occurred under UN 'protection').

And now Darfur - where 300,000 have already died...

(and thats let-alone the Congo, Solamia or others)

I honestly am of the view that if the UN is incapable of acting to prevent such terrible large-scale massacre and obvious genocide...then what possibly mandate of respect can they possibly command on any other matters..?

Submitted by Mark Smith