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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Darfur

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Recently a debate was held in Westminster Hall on Darfur to which Meg responded as the relevant Foreign Office Minister. Her wind-up remarks are below; the whole debate is available at:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080401/halltext/80401h0001.htm

 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing this important debate, and on the way in which he introduced it. I have received the Aegis Trust’s briefing, and I give a commitment that if I am unable to respond to any issues and questions in the time available, I will respond in writing to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of my letter in the Library so that all hon. Members may see it.

 

The turnout for this relatively short debate demonstrates the real concern in all parties about the dreadful situation, and I know that many other hon. Members share those concerns.

 

James Duddridge: I thank the Minister for her courtesy in responding to the Aegis Trust’s briefing. I am not sure whether she has received the briefing from the All-Party Group on Sudan, which also makes a series of recommendations. If she has, perhaps she would consider extending her courtesy to replying to the issues raised in that document?

 

Meg Munn: Indeed, I shall.

 

Before going into the details, may I assure all hon. Members that this matter is a priority for the Government? There is a great deal of activity, but I may not be able to report all of it this morning. My noble Friend, Lord Malloch-Brown, who is the Minister for Africa, gives great priority to the issue in everything that he does.


I shall set out the context to which some hon. Members have referred, and perhaps they will forgive me if I do not refer specifically to them. It is important that I answer questions as fully as I can.

 

For more than 20 years, north and south Sudan have fought a vicious civil war with an estimated 2 million people having been killed, and many having been injured with untold numbers of women being raped. Many hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and villages to flee to wherever they thought they would be safe. The international community has tried to build the necessary confidence to make peace.

 

In 2005, a fragile peace was put in place with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Although the peace has held, lack of political will and trust on both sides has caused the agreement to falter. We are pressing everyone to continue implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We support the census, which is due later this month, and which should lead to national elections in 2009. Those elections could change the future of Sudan, but if the Comprehensive Peace Agreements fails, there will be little hope for peace.

 

The UN has described the Darfur conflict as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, and we have seen the shocking pictures on our televisions. Thousands of people have been killed, raped or wounded; more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and more than 4 million are dependent on international aid for food and basic needs. As we feared, the conflict has spilled over into Chad. There are 290,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad, and 180,000 Chadians have been forced to flee their homes. The recent fighting in west Darfur and the failed February coup in Chad graphically showed how the stability of the entire region is at risk.

 

Since the conflict first began, the UK has worked to end the tragedy. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Sudan. Since April 2004, we have given 158 million to Darfur for humanitarian aid, and we have supported the implementation of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the UN to allow full humanitarian access for non-governmental organisations in Darfur.

 

In addition, we have supported the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur by providing 73 million for airlift and equipment. When it became clear that that force was not enough, we secured a UN resolution mandating a new AU-UN peacekeeping force. UNAMID took authority on 31 December 2007. We have just given 4 million to support the training and the equipping of African-troop-contributing countries and we are providing military, planning, expertise and staff officers. We have committed 5 million to the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund. That allows for recovery and reconciliation when local security permits and when local leaders are committed to a political dialogue.

 

We in the UK cannot resolve the issue, but we can help the international work and seek to build consensus. We have encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan. The Prime Minister raised the matter during his visit to China in January. Recently, China has made more critical comments. We want China to use its considerable influence in Khartoum to play a constructive role and to do more on the comprehensive peace agreement. In February, Ministers from the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agreed with the Chinese special envoy for Africa key objectives in Sudan to accelerate UNAMID deployment, re-energise the political process for Darfur and support the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Foreign Secretary reinforced those messages during his visit to China at the end of February. We have also repeatedly made it clear to China that given its reliance on Sudanese oil it is in its interest for Sudan to be peaceful.

 

Europe is also more focused on Sudan and Chad. The European peacekeeping force has started to deploy to Chad. We are working with the French Government; the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy agreed last week to step up efforts. We have worked in the Security Council to build consensus and to take tough action if the rebels and the Government of Sudan do not meet their commitments. As hon. Members well know, that has not been enough. Some hon. Members raised the issue of a no-fly zone, but we have real concerns that that would restrict UN and NGO operations and that there would be a real risk of their aircraft being hit and humanitarian aid not getting through. There are clear logistical problems and too few air assets to monitor air activity over Darfur.

 

John Bercow: I have heard what the Minister has just said. Nobody has ever suggested that the establishment of a no-fly zone would be absolutely simple, but the balance of argument previously was always in favour, and the Government themselves seemed to be in favour. I get the distinct sense that that position has now changed.

 

Meg Munn: We are concerned for the reasons that I have set out. The feasibility work that has been carried out indicates those particular problems. As regards the current situation, I am assured that significant problems exist, and that is what the Prime Minister himself said when he was asked about the matter recently.

 

We will continue to support the people of Darfur by helping the humanitarian agencies do their work. We will continue to help build an effective peacekeeping force. Although the first troops are now in place, I share hon. Members’ frustration with the slow progress. Clearly, the recent fighting has created further problems in relation to that. The force currently comprises 10,500 people, including 7,500 military, 1,800 police and 1,300 civilians. Full deployment will be 19,500 military, 6,500 police and 5,500 civilians. We never expected troops to be fully deployed by the 31 December 2007 when authority was transferred to UNAMID, but we recognise the need for the Government of Sudan to do more to facilitate the deployment.

 

We welcome the signing of status of forces agreement early in February. That should resolve issues over visas, customs and freedom of movement. We expect to see the Government of Sudan fully co-operating with the AU-UN. Recent progress has taken place on the ground. It may not sound a great deal, but it is incredibly important to the people in the camps. There has been an increase in firewood patrols to enable people to get firewood to cook and an increase in policing. In February, following the fighting in west Darfur, UNAMID escorted NGOs which were providing aid.

 

Mr. Drew: Will the Minister tell us how many of those troops and police will be women? One of the saddest aspects of the events in Darfur is the particular way in which violence against women has been used as a weapon of war.


Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman raises a very powerful point. May I discuss that information later, when I respond to the issues that I do not get to today?

 

Egyptian and Bangladeshi troops should have deployed in March. The Ethiopian and Egyptian infantry battalions will deploy in April and May, followed by Thai and Nepalese. There will be ongoing deployment of infantry battalions throughout 2008. Full deployment is unlikely before the end of 2008. We will continue to press the AU and UN to appoint a single chief mediator for the political process. I cannot stress too highly how important it is to have the process in place because it is the key to peace in the region. The mediator must be someone who is able to help unify the differing rebel factions into an effective negotiating group.

 

We will continue to work for a cessation of hostilities with monitoring mechanisms that allow the international community to take action when and if it is breached. The UN arms embargo needs to encompass all of Sudan to match the EU’s embargo. I can reassure hon. Members that we regard the UN arms embargo as important and we will push for it.

 

The issue of the wider region was raised. The war between north and south Sudan and the rebel uprising in Darfur were caused by marginalisation. The Government in Khartoum failed to meet their people’s needs. That was exacerbated by climate change and regional interference. One hon. Member asked what the Darfur rebels wanted. They want a fair share of the oil wealth and power sharing for Darfur. Others want regime change in Khartoum and there are also some general concerns about the rebels.

 

As regards the Dakar agreement, which the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) raised, we are supporting the international contact group that has been set up to monitor the agreement and we are calling on both Governments to adhere to the agreement. The international community must make it clearer to the Government of Sudan and the rebels that they have a choice; they can co-operate with the AU and the UN, end the violence, bring those who have committed atrocities to justice and allow humanitarian workers to operate freely and securely or they must face the consequences. We are ready to impose tougher sanctions and we will press the Security Council to join us to take action against them. There will be no impunity for war crimes through the international criminal court.

 

Last June, during a debate on the situation in Darfur, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) asked a simple question that we must still ask today.

 

“When are we going to live up to the fine and inspiring words of the UN declaration of human rights?

 

Let me remind the House of what it says.

 

‘Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people’.”

 

The people of Darfur have suffered too long and the international community must live up to those words.


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