Skip to main content

Sudan: Darfur

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of progress towards a peace settlement in Darfur?

My Lords, due to fragmentation among rebel movements and intensified fighting between the Government of Sudan and rebel groups, there has been no recent progress in the political process. At a meeting convened in Geneva on 18 March by the UN and AU envoys, the UK set out proposals for a cessation of hostilities and actions to revitalise the political process, including the urgent appointment of a single chief mediator and deeper engagement with civil society.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In January our Prime Minister met the Chinese Premier. Subsequently, in February, our Foreign Minister made a statement in China. It is said that China can perhaps do more to achieve peace. What is the Minister’s assessment of Chinese involvement? Can we influence the situation in any way?

My Lords, China continues to be constructive on the immediate issues ahead of us in Darfur. The Chinese envoy for Africa and Darfur, having visited London, went on to Sudan and put constructive pressure on the Government to accelerate the deployment of UNAMID and to prioritise political negotiation. Obviously, at a broader level, we are all concerned that not enough has been done to insist to the Government of Sudan that they must make and keep the peace in Darfur.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is now seven months since the United Nations Security Council’s resolution authorising the deployment of the hybrid force; that the UNAMID force is still 15,500 personnel short; and that there are reliable reports detailing the recent bombing of the civilian population of Darfur by the Sudanese Air Force? With 2 million people displaced and some 300,000 dead already, when will the international community show the urgency and commitment to ensure that some kind of peaceful settlement prevails?

My Lords, the noble Lord is completely correct: the facts are bleak. Against them I would say that the pace of UNAMID deployment is slowly and painfully picking up, and there is pressure on the Government of Sudan to stop the current attacks. But that is the continued chronic problem with Darfur: not enough and always a little too late.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s recent recruitment by the Government of five consultants to enhance the capacity of the Darfur dialogue in Khartoum. Although the immediate prospects are bleak, as my noble friend has said, how does he envisage this Darfur dialogue developing as part of a longer-term peace strategy?

My Lords, the Darfur dialogue, as my noble friend refers to it, is an effort to draw Darfuri civil society into the peace-making process. While the rebel leaders often seem more attached to the baubles of office and to grand schemes, the civil society leaders are refreshing for their focus on the basics of security for the people of Darfur, the opportunity to resume their living as farmers and the right to go home. The more we can bring those dimensions into the negotiation, the better prospect there is of peace in the longer term.

My Lords, we all share the Minister’s pessimism about what is happening. The situation seems to be getting darker and darker. I noted a particularly grim figure of 70 children dying a day amidst all the hundreds of thousands referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Is there anything specific we can do to speed up UNAMID getting its forces into operation? It seems to be a very slow business indeed. Also, following on from what my noble friend Lord Sheikh said, is there more we can do to encourage the Chinese and, indeed, the Japanese, who showed a strong interest in this area, to use their considerable resources and influence to help us meet this hideous and worsening tragedy?

My Lords, we are clearly not doing enough; the noble Lord is correct about that. However, our diplomacy is extremely active. We are continuously convening or participating in meetings in New York and Geneva to try and get the required troops and helicopters deployed more quickly. The United Nations Secretary-General met with President al-Bashir twice over the past several weeks to press for an acceleration of the UNAMID deployment. Every diplomatic stone is being turned to try and accelerate this frustratingly slow process.

My Lords, since the JEM—the principal rebel movement—has said that it does not object to the UN-AU process as such but to the cumbersome structure of the joint representatives, and that it would like Kofi Annan to be the single mediator, can I take encouragement from what the Minister has said about the process in Geneva, which may lead to the appointment of a single mediator? Is that now acceptable to the Sudanese Government?

My Lords, the idea of a single mediator to co-ordinate in one person the activities of the UN and AU is, I think, accepted. Names have been bandied about—regrettably not including Kofi Annan who, I think, has his hands full at the moment. The fact that the noble Lord cites JEM—a group largely responsible for the flare-up in fighting in Darfur because of its backing from Chad—shows the complexities of this. Nobody means quite what they say in Darfur.