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5 June 2007

Darfur

House of Commons

John Barrett (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat)
There have been some excellent speeches on both sides of the House today. As I have sat in my place, my blood has boiled in fury at the lack of action from the international community and everyone involved, but most at the Sudanese Government. We look to them to be part of the solution, but without a doubt they are at the heart of the problem.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned the issue of asylum seekers from Darfur. One only has to hear the evidence of the Sudan Organisation Against Torture to realise what is happening, in Darfur and in other parts of Sudan. Students who are protesting have been attacked and killed. People have had their eyes gouged out—I saw photographic evidence of that when I was there some years ago. I have no doubt that the Sudanese Government's actions, then and now, are at the heart of the reason for the suffering and misery of the people in Darfur.

People wonder what the Sudanese Government's plan can be. Part of that plan must be the continued destabilisation of Darfur so that they can remain in power in Khartoum, unchallenged by an organised opposition. I hope that the elections in Sudan in 2009 will provide an opportunity for regime change in Khartoum.

John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is therefore imperative that our policy should be logically consistent from one Government Department to another? He rightly referred to the issue of asylum seekers, but does he agree that if we simply chuck back to Khartoum and other parts of Sudan people who have good reason to fear that they will be tortured, we give the impression to the Sudanese Government either that we do not think that those people will be tortured—which shows us to be gullible—or that they might be and we do not care very much? That is not good enough.

John Barrett (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat)
I agree. We have to be clear. I can understand the need for diplomacy from the Foreign Secretary, but she said that China, Egypt and Libya were key to any solution. However, we only have to look at the actions of those countries in the past to see that Libya flooded the region with weapons and used Darfur as a military base; Egypt attacked Sudanese protestors on the streets of Cairo, killing people; and China, as I will make clear later, is at the heart of funding the Sudanese regime, its military and the oppression of the people of Darfur. Front Benchers have to speak the language of diplomacy, but if one is dealing with thugs—and that is what many of these people are—one has to be forceful and let them know what one thinks.

We have heard much about the suffering in Darfur and how much more the people living there can be asked to take before there is some effective action from the international community. Excellent work is being done on the ground by NGOs and aid organisations, but their workers' lives have been put at risk. Save the Children withdrew from operations in Sudan because two of its workers were executed at a roadblock. The World Food Programme, Oxfam, UNICEF and Médecins sans Frontières do an excellent job.

We have heard the figures of an estimated 400,000 dead and 4 million depending on aid. The earthquake in Pakistan killed some 73,000 people and the world rallied to help quickly. We must move more quickly than we have been doing in Sudan.
Every ingredient for misery is present in the area—civil war, too many guns, corrupt government, lack of basic water and sanitation, ethnic tensions, famine, refugees in camps, armed militia and problems resulting from climate change. They are combined with oil wealth and an international community that often stands by as the tragedy continues to unfold. What part is the international community playing? China is playing a key role in funding the Sudanese Government, getting 10 per cent. of its oil from Sudan—500,000 barrels a day, which is predicted to jump to 3 million barrels in two or three years' time.

One might have thought that a peaceful Sudan would be to China's advantage, because it could develop its ties with the area, but China has a track record of working with Sudanese soldiers, who cleared areas for the oil industry to work in southern Sudan. The oil revenues are used to supply the army and the militia, the Janjaweed. At least the talk of a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics has made China more aware of its actions in that land. One hundred members of the United States House of Representatives have protested to the Chinese Government, warning of the risks to the Olympics if they do not think again on Sudan. Every action should be taken to highlight China's involvement in the tragedy that is unfolding.

Along with China, Russia has been involved in supplying MiG-29s and attack helicopters. Antonov bombers, Kalashnikovs and gunships are not made in the Sudan. Both countries have effectively sabotaged UN Security Council proposals for harsh sanctions against Sudan. We do not need to wonder why.

British companies, too, such as Rolls-Royce, Weir Pumps and others have continued to support the oil industry in Sudan. It is no good, even indirectly, helping to fund the regime and then being outraged at what it is doing. Britain's role in supporting the United States of America in Iraq has also changed the view of many who might have supported more and quicker effective action in Sudan. Looking at the disaster that is unfolding in Iraq, who would want to risk repeating that again, anywhere?

Even the guns in the hands of the militia could have come through the UK. We imported 200,000 assault rifles and machine guns from the Balkans in 2005. They are not here, so they were probably re-exported. Despite repeated attempts to find out where they went, I have been unable to get answers from any Department or Minister. If any have ended up in Darfur, those responsible will have blood on their hands. People around the world are looking to their leaders to act. They have seen the suffering on television and some have witnessed it first hand. It cannot be allowed to continue.

Life in the refugee camps is misery for many, and life in the villages came to an abrupt end for many when they were attacked from the air and on the ground at the same time. I have no doubt that the Sudanese Government are responsible for the suffering of many of their own people. While we debate whether it is genocide or not, people have had their houses attacked from the air and their family members killed and have been attacked by armed militia on the ground. They are then moved to a refugee camp and described as displaced persons. It does not sound too bad. Whether it is technically genocide or not, it is murder by the Government of the people of Sudan.

The people of Sudan and Darfur must be asking, "Why have we been forgotten?" Today we are saying here in this place, "We have not forgotten. Action is required to bring this genocide to an end." If genocide is the calculated and organised killing of an ethnic group, this is genocide.

Men, women and children are all suffering in a way that we could not have imagined possible. When I visited the refugee camps in Darfur and saw Médecins sans Frontières fighting to save women and children, I was struck by the savagery of it all. There were few men, as the camps were mostly full of women, children and older people. When we asked about the men, we were told that they were missing, fighting or dead. It sounded as though they might be the lucky ones when we discovered what life held for the survivors, especially the women.

It was said earlier that rape is a weapon of war. In Darfur, that is the case without a doubt. In a recent advert, Amnesty International showed an image of a knife and two hand grenades as a phallic symbol to indicate the terror of this act. The strategy is simple—rape as many women as possible, as brutally as possible, as publicly as possible and as often as possible. That is how the state-backed Janjaweed militia in Darfur is terrorising the population. Young girls have not only been raped but had their breasts cut off to make them suffer more, if that were possible.

Two years ago, reports by Médecins sans Frontières noted that the organisation had treated 500 rape victims over four and a half months. The total is undoubtedly in the thousands. Rape is a weapon of war. Children who witness it are traumatised; men flee from their partners out of shame; and women not only suffer at the time but are in pain for the rest of their lives and sometimes are left pregnant from the enemy, with all that that entails. The UN has confirmed the concept of rape as a war crime. Those responsible should never be free to feel that they will not be hunted down and brought to justice.

Sadly, the use of rape as a weapon follows an established pattern from previous conflicts in the Congo, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, to name just a few countries. Even in Iraq such crimes persist. We know of the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl by American soldiers and the killing of her and her family. The details of the four murders and rape are too horrific to repeat here today.

The question that people are asking is why there is no effective peacekeeping force in the region with a mandate to protect the people. The African Union is there but, as I have seen for myself, Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships are at the airport side by side with the white peacekeepers' helicopters. There was no doubt then and there is no doubt now that the only people with the fire power are the Government of Sudan. A no-fly zone would help, but perhaps it is too little too late. Travel bans and sanctions should be in place, but so much more is needed. The one thing that we must accept is that the Sudanese Government are part of the problem and are stopping the solution being delivered. Reports of villages being attacked by armed men on the ground at the same time as they are being attacked from the air mean there is no doubt that the Government and the Janjaweed are working hand in hand.

One glimmer of hope is the 2009 national election. It has been said that elections are sometimes one of the most over-rated factors when it comes to delivering peace. During the election period, the violence reduces while everyone thinks they might win. After the result, the relative quiet comes to an end.

If the hope of a change in Government rests on the elections, action must be taken now, as elections are not won or lost on the day. The census and voters' register must be accurate and the election must be free and fair. Otherwise, all that will happen is that the Government in Khartoum will have the democratic stamp of authority, and that will result in an already desperate situation becoming even worse. One has only to look at Zimbabwe to see that.

If this debate has done nothing else, it has kept the plight of the people of Darfur on the agenda, but we cannot leave it at that. Much more must be done, and done quickly. The people in Darfur and worldwide are crying out for a strong peacekeeping force with a mandate to protect civilians and aids workers and an African Union force with logistical support. Sanctions, travel bans, asset freezes on key Government officials and an arms embargo are required. As someone said, an arms embargo is a no-brainer.
There ought to be no let-up in the drive to bring those responsible for crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. We must challenge China, Russia and the Arab world and their media to recognise the problem. In much of the Arab world, there is little recognition that there is a problem in Sudan and Darfur. It is good to see a lot of people in the House, in the country and throughout the world speaking forcefully. I should like to pay a compliment to Mia Farrow, who attacked Steven Spielberg for being the Leni Riefenstahl of the Chinese Government by acting as an artistic director for the Olympic games.

Diplomacy is fine, but tough talking is also essential because without it the people of Darfur will give up hope. They cannot live on hope alone, but without it they will give up. We in this country and worldwide have to give them hope.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.