June 30, 2005

Africa (Poverty)

John Bercow speaks of his grave concern at the lack of action by the International Community on Darfur and calls for a concerted intervention at a multilateral level.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), who as ever spoke with sincerity, experience and knowledge. Moreover, I endorse wholeheartedly the tribute that he and others have paid to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who delivered a moving and memorable maiden speech of which he should be justly proud.

Let us be clear that aid, trade and debt relief are necessary but not sufficient conditions of African development. The Secretary of State knows the high esteem in which I hold him. It was a privilege to shadow him, and I can tell him that the Bierton combined school, to whose Make Poverty History assembly I had the privilege of speaking on Monday, made it clear that it wanted its support for the agenda to be taken forward at Gleneagles.

There is a fundamental weakness in the trinity of aid, trade and debt relief unless there are additions to it—that is, that that invaluable package does not stop genocide. Genocide is the source of poverty, and stopping genocide requires the establishment or re-establishment of security. In the time available I shall focus my remarks specifically and narrowly on Darfur, western Sudan, which I had the privilege and also the harrowing experience of visiting twice in the past 12 months. In reflecting upon the tragedy and the savagery there, let us remind ourselves of the legal position.

Deprivation of access to food and medicine is a crime against humanity under article 2(b) of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group in whole or in part is a form of genocide under article 2(c) of the United Nations genocide convention. My contention is that the cocktail of barbarity that has been unleashed and continues to be visited upon the people of Darfur is almost certainly an act of genocide. There has been and continues to be prolonged suffering in the region.

Look at the facts. Consult the World Food Programme. The position is clear. Over 3 million people are dependent on food aid. Already, no fewer than 3,200 villages have been deliberately burned. It is estimated that some 2 million people have been internally displaced, and we should not forget that no fewer than 200,000 people have fled in terror from the Government and from the Arab militias over the border into Chad. That is the continuing reality of the situation in Darfur, although the issue is not nearly as prominent in the news media as it was only a few months ago.

It saddens and horrifies me when I hear it said that there is “a semblance of calm” or “relative normality”, or that “the situation has stabilised”. I do not doubt the Secretary of State’s sincere and determined intention to do what he can to tackle the situation, but there is no real calm at all. Look at what has happened. Much of the bombing has already taken place, and if the Antonovs are raining down bombs rather less frequently than they were, it is because much of the job has been done, so the necessity for continued and remorseless aggression from the air no longer exists. The bulk of the ethnic cleansing has already taken place.

Above all, as we pontificate on the future of Africa, we should listen to the verdict of the UN’s under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egelund, who is the head honcho in the field. On 21 June, which is only nine days ago, he said:

“we have regressed. More and more women are being attacked, younger and yet younger children are victims of these atrocities . . . It is a vicious racial issue.”

Although I applaud the contributions from the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), it is necessary to puncture the complacency of the debate to highlight the difference between our aspirations for the future and our conduct of the present.

In truth, the international community is not doing the maximum that could be done. The Secretary of State is responsible for humanitarian assistance, and he is brilliant at it. He is the best Secretary of State for International Development since the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who, in her different way, exemplified the values that must be progressed if we are to secure advances in Africa. The Secretary of State is brilliant at his job, but we need joined-up government here and within the multilateral institutions of the European Union and, in particular, of the UN. The fact is—I know that this is sad and brutal, and it is no doubt undiplomatic to say it—that the international community does not care enough about the continued and deliberate slaughter of tens of thousands of black Africans in Darfur, for if it did, it would not sit on its hands.

So far, we have seen a half-hearted intervention to which there are three significant downsides. First, the straightforward moral reality is that the international community has abdicated and continues to shirk its responsibility to the suffering citizens of Darfur. Secondly, there are the financial implications. Whoever else we seek to deceive, let us not deceive ourselves—the longer we wait and the less we do, the greater the burden and the bigger the cost when the day of reckoning comes. We do not have to consult the crystal ball, because we can look in the book of the historical experience and tragedy of Rwanda, where the eventual cost of reconstruction was $4.5 billion because the international community pitifully and pathetically neglected the situation. I greatly admired the Prime Minister for saying to the 2001 Labour party conference that if ever there were a comparable situation again, Britain and the international community would have a moral duty to act. There is and we have.

Thirdly, many tributes have been paid to the African Union. There are some 3,320 personnel in Darfur, of whom, on the latest reckoning, about 2,055 are troops on the ground. Even if the force increases to 7,700 soldiers, as the Secretary of State has said today and articulated at yesterday’s International Development questions, the likelihood is that their remit will simply be to protect people in the camps for internally displaced persons. What that means is that each soldier will be responsible for the protection of no fewer than 305 people.

This is a slow-burn, grisly, despicable and, from the vantage point of the international community, shameful genocide that we are allowing to be perpetrated on our watch. What we need to do instead is to seek ceaselessly until we obtain a chapter VII United Nations peace enforcement mandate. It is no good talking about peacekeeping. There is no peace settlement—there is a temporary and fragile ceasefire honoured more often in the breach than in the observance. We probably need a force of 25,000 people to go to Darfur to protect civilians and to offer a better prospect of peace and security, which is the indispensable precondition of the recovery of the people and the beginning of the fight against poverty in western Sudan.

The people of Darfur have suffered too much for too long with too little done about it. I am ashamed of that, and I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members are ashamed of it. I appeal to the Secretary of State to use his good offices to pressurise the Foreign Office, to work together, and to use the moral force that still exists, admittedly in diminished form, with the Prime Minister, to argue for a robust, concerted and effective approach at multilateral level. That is what is needed; nothing less will do.

4.56 pm

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