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Sudan: Darfur

Volume 690: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action is being taken by the United Nations Security Council, in light of the Government of Sudan’s decision to prevent the deployment of a new peacekeeping force in Darfur, to ensure the creation of effective peacekeeping arrangements in the region.

My Lords, the refusal of President Bashir of Sudan to agree to a UN enhancement of African Union peacekeepers in Darfur is part of a wider pattern of non-co-operation with the international community. The United Kingdom is pushing for tougher measures in the Security Council against Sudan, including a countrywide arms embargo and sanctions against individuals responsible for atrocities in Darfur. The United Nations Secretary-General has also, with our support, spoken to President Bashir to make clear his concern.

My Lords, when the British ambassador to the United Nations last week rebuked Sudan for its failure to allow the hybrid UN/AU force into Darfur, he said that there had to be a firm response to the continued provocation. I wonder what specific sanctions the Minister had in mind from the list that he has just given to the House. Do the Government now favour disinvestment, the freezing of assets, travel bans, the extension of an arms embargo and a no-fly zone over Darfur? Four years after the killing began in Darfur, with 400,000 dead, some 2 million people displaced and 90 per cent of the villages razed to the ground, surely now is the time for decisive international action to end this tidal wave of killing.

My Lords, in some respects the position is slightly worse than even the noble Lord has put it. There is no agreement on the hybrid force. There is no agreement on the second phase—the heavy UN support force—which I regard as an even more urgent problem. The intention is to secure an arms embargo across the whole of Sudan so that not just the Government of Sudan but the rebel groups are deprived of their weapons as fast as they can be. The United States, ourselves and other allies are now discussing lists of those—I am afraid that I cannot share the names today—to be subject to a wide variety of sanctions. I can also confirm that we have not ruled out the possible option of a no-fly zone.

My Lords, is it not a matter of shame that the international community has passed by on the other side while genocide is occurring in Darfur? Is it not disgraceful that the United Nations Human Rights Council—and probably the United Nations Security Council, because of China’s position—is likely to ignore the damning conclusions of its own high-level mission to Darfur? Is it not equally disgraceful that, since its inception last June, the UN Human Rights Council has passed only eight resolutions, all against Israel, none against Zimbabwe and none on Darfur?

My Lords, a couple of very important operational resolutions have been carried by the UN Security Council. Resolution 1706 was the most recent and gives the basis for many of the steps that are now being taken. For the reasons that I gave in my Answer, there is the prospect of another Security Council resolution, and I am hopeful that we will get wide international support for it. Although China has not always performed in a way that we would wish, I draw to the attention of the House the fact that, when President Hu visited Sudan, he made it clear that China, too, is coming to the end of its patience.

My Lords, what discussions do Her Majesty’s Government plan to have in the light of the UN report that what little humanitarian access there is to Darfur is shrinking rapidly as relief workers are attacked and intimidated?

My Lords, this is a serious problem. The humanitarian efforts of NGOs have probably never been under such acute pressure as they are now. This is an issue that we have been raising persistently, along with those organisations. One of the other setbacks of recent days has been the unwillingness of the Government of Sudan to take any of the steps that they had agreed to take to get more humanitarian access and food relief to Darfur and, incidentally, to Chad, where many of the refugees have gone. This issue is in front of the United Nations. We are clear that the situation has to be reversed, and the United Nations has the basis in current resolutions to do that without further discussion.

My Lords, has the Minister seen that some participants have withdrawn from the international donor consortium meeting now taking place in consequence of Khartoum’s refusal to allow humanitarian access to Darfur to be placed on the agenda? What was the decision of Britain and the European Union concerning participation in that meeting? Does he now consider that the situation in Darfur is an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe at least equivalent to what obtained in Kosovo and that therefore the international community is entitled under international law to intervene, with force if necessary, against the wishes of the Sudanese Government?

My Lords, Resolution 1706 and the Addis agreement make it plain that the international community has undertakings—not least from the Government of Sudan and some of the rebel groups—that there needs to be a firm peacekeeping operation in which the United Nations plays a key role. A fundamental part of that role is the protection of people. There is no question in my mind but that such power now exists. There is a desire to try to make sure that that happens without increasing the amount of bloodshed, and we are urging that that is precisely what happens.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that given the frustrations that have occurred in trying to get any action out of the United Nations—like other Members of the House, I deplore that lack of action—it is high time for the European Union to set an example and take certain unilateral actions? For example, it is perfectly at liberty to introduce wider sanctions on investment than the ones that the UN is now considering. We often forget that Sudan is one of the African, Caribbean and Pacific associates of the European Union, but is it not time that that relationship was put in question?

My Lords, that is certainly within the power of the EU and the United States. It is clear to me that, if there is not decisive action on the part of the UN, that is exactly what will happen: bilateral sanctions will be introduced. I noted the point about disinvestment, which has always been one of the serious options. It would be desirable if that could be done without disrupting the north-south peace process and making it impossible for the people of the south of Sudan to live a decent economic life after some generations of war and attack.