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Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2006

I remain gravely concerned about Darfur and in particular about continued insecurity that threatens the massive humanitarian effort that is needed. The Darfur peace agreement should provide the basis for a long-term solution to the crisis, and there appears to have been a reduction in the number of clashes between the Government of Sudan and the rebels since it was signed. However, attacks by the Arab militias continue and their disarmament, as required by the DPA, is a matter of urgency. We continue to press the Government to live up to their commitments.

The Secretary of State is right to be deeply concerned about the situation in Darfur, particularly as it appears to be spreading into Chad. How does his work fit comfortably with the previous Foreign Secretary’s comment that we have a responsibility to protect people from both massacres and human rights abuses, because that clearly is not happening at the moment in those two tragic countries?

I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point entirely. The first thing that we are doing is providing humanitarian assistance, because that is a practical way in which we can help people to stay alive. Britain and the international community have played an honourable part in that respect, but as he will know, the only solution is a political solution that brings an end to the fighting. That is why the priorities now are, first, to enable the people of Darfur to understand what is in the Darfur peace agreement—the African Union is taking the lead on that, with some support from us—and, secondly, to encourage Minni Minnawi, who leads the one movement that has signed the agreement, to implement that commitment and fulfil the responsibilities that he has taken on. Thirdly, we shall continue to put pressure on the Government of Sudan to prepare their plan for the disarmament of the Janjaweed. Finally, and in my view most important of all, we shall support the United Nations and the African Union, which are at one in wanting the UN mission to take over from AMIS—the African Union mission in Sudan—as quickly as possible. That is why the arrival last week of the joint AU/UN planning mission was so significant. However, we shall still have some work to do to persuade the Government of Sudan to accept that mission, which I believe is desperately needed.

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the Government believe that the role of the UN mission in Darfur would be to monitor peace, or to enforce peace?

The hon. Gentleman’s question goes to the heart of the discussions with the Government of Sudan, because they are expressing considerable concern about the prospect of that mission having a chapter 7 mandate. Part of the purpose of the planning mission is to provide an answer to that question, so that the Security Council can take a decision. Based on my experience and the visits that I have paid to Darfur on a number of occasions, I think that the UN mission will have to help both to oversee the ceasefire and to ensure that civilians are protected if people do not honour the obligations that they have entered into. Ultimately, the aim must be to protect people from continuing to be attacked.

There is a responsibility both on the Government of Sudan to disarm the militia and on the movements to stop fighting, and I regret very much that two of the movements—the faction led by Abdul Wahid and the Justice and Equality Movement—have not yet signed the agreement. I can see no possible justification for having failed to sign the agreement because, in truth, it gives the movements everything that they were looking for.

What more does my right hon. Friend think can be done by the UN, and what progress can be made in taking the matter to the International Criminal Court?

As my hon. Friend knows, last year the UN Security Council agreed to refer the terrible crimes that have been committed in Darfur to the ICC. I pay tribute to the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for the role that he played with others in persuading the Security Council to do that, because it sends a strong message from the international community. That links to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), because it shows that we are serious about calling to account the people who have committed those crimes. At the same time, we continue to support the UN in preparing for the mission so that people can be protected and the agreement enforced, because that is the only way in which people will be able to go home.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the good work that the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund is doing in Darfur. Today, we are privileged to have the chairman of SCIAF, His Eminence Cardinal Keith O’Brien, with us in Westminster. Is it not appropriate to recognise in the forthcoming White Paper the role of faith groups, not only in delivering aid but in raising awareness in schools and communities throughout our country?

I echo everything that my right hon. Friend has said. I had the opportunity to meet Cardinal O’Brien yesterday to discuss his impressions of his recent visit to Darfur. In the not-too-distant future, DFID will publish a policy statement on working with faith communities. When people in poor countries are asked which institutions they respect, rely on and have greatest confidence in, they say faith organisations—their churches and the institutions of their religions—which are often present in the most difficult circumstances when the instruments of government either do not exist or have fallen apart because of conflict.

What plans do the Government have to ensure greater international co-operation in efforts to ensure that those who are guilty of the serious criminal activities in Darfur are brought to justice, which will help to achieve greater stability in the province and the surrounding region?

First, we support the referring of events in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, and its investigations continue. Secondly, we strongly supported the establishment of the sanctions committee which, however, did not receive the wholehearted support of every member of the Security Council so, regrettably, it took some time. Sanctions have been imposed on four individuals who were named and investigated. We continue to press for action—I know that the African Union will do the same—if individuals obstruct the implementation of the peace agreement. It is one thing to say that one is not prepared to sign, but it is another to obstruct the implementation of an agreement that others are prepared to sign. We should therefore not be reluctant to take strong action against individuals who impede the only hope that the people of Darfur have of a better life.

We acknowledge the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to the issue, but does he accept that the Sudanese Government, who sponsored mass murder in Darfur, are now engaged in ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Chad? Given Britain’s pivotal position in the United Nations, what steps or new energy will he use to ensure that a UN force with a clear, unambiguous mandate is deployed without further delay?

I accept the fact that the conflict over the border with Chad makes an already difficult and complex conflict even more challenging. The rebel movement in Chad is trying to depose President Déby who, in turn, has accused the Sudanese Government of supporting those efforts. In fairness to the British Government, the UK was one of the first countries to recognise that a UN force was needed, not least because the African Union mission which did a sterling job in difficult circumstances, as the hon. Gentleman knows because he has had a chance to see for himself, simply does not have the number of troops, the capacity or the funding that it needs. That is why we strongly advocated the deployment of a UN force, and why we pressed hard for a planning mission in Khartoum. We are resolute in pressing the Sudanese Government to allow that force to come in, because in my view and, I am sure, in the hon. Gentleman’s, it is desperately needed.

The Secretary of State rightly praised the African Union, and he knows that its chairman wrote to the Secretary-General of NATO, pleading for specific assistance. What steps has Britain urged its NATO allies to take to meet the African Union request for help with, for example, airlifts, training and logistical support, ahead of the long-awaited UN deployment?

NATO, in fact, has met the AU, and it made several offers of assistance, including the co-ordination of airlifts, which has been agreed; staff capacity-building, which has been agreed; support for the joint forward mission headquarters, including a joint operations centre, which is new assistance; and the provision of troop pre-deployment certification training—that, too, is new assistance. The AU asked NATO to support it in a “lessons learned” exercise, because as well as trying to get it right now, it wants to build capacity to mount such missions in future. I therefore hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman that NATO is on the case, as the AU has accepted its offer of assistance.

The Secretary of State will be aware that only a few weeks ago the UN said that it had to halve food rations to people who depended on food aid in Darfur. Can he give us an assessment of the situation to show that the food aid funding crisis has been turned around? Given the potential for similar conflicts to develop in Chad and eastern Sudan, what measures has the Department for International Development taken to make sure that food and humanitarian aid flow much faster in any similar crisis?

On the first point made by the hon. Lady, the World Programme had to halve rations in May because of the funding shortfall. Last week, I met Jim Morris, the head of the World Food Programme, who told me that from the beginning of June the ration has increased to 84 per cent., because additional food has arrived from the USA and because the Sudanese Government has been able to make a contribution. Unfortunately, the cut in the ration coincided with the agreement in Abuja, so some people may have drawn the wrong conclusions. Overall, the UN work plan in Sudan for 2006 is about 40 per cent. funded. The UK, as the hon. Lady will know, is one of the countries that will give slightly more this year, but that is not the case for all the other donors. But the hon. Lady will also be aware that some money has come to Darfur from the new humanitarian fund, which I very much welcome.

We continue to support all the agencies to the fullest extent possible to help them bring help to people where it is needed. As the security situation changes, the humanitarian organisations can access an area one day, but the next day it may be more difficult. That is why peace and disarmament are needed, to enable them to get help to everyone who requires it.