Conservative Home

« How to fight a referendum: Hire lawyers | Main | Frances Done: This government isn't honouring the military covenant »

Andrew Mitchell MP: Day for Darfur

Mitchell_kids Andrew Mitchell MP is Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and visited Internally Displaced People camps in Darfur twice last year.

Later this week, thousands of campaigners in over 30 countries will gather in their countries' capitals – including London – to call on their governments to take action on the Darfur conflict, often described as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and so far responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.  They will press for an immediate ceasefire, allowing real peace talks to take place.  They will also demand that the UK government takes a central role in supporting the UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in the region, providing the much-needed equipment – helicopters, military trucks – that the force will need to operate effectively in the inaccessible terrain in west Sudan.

At the same time, the second anniversary of a landmark shift in international relations will pass.  This time two years ago, decision makers at the UN adopted the 'Responsibility to Protect' principle – acknowledging the UN's role in taking action when states were unwilling or unable to safeguard the security of their own citizens.  A radical break with historical ideas about state sovereignty, this judgement recognised that a state's power could only be respected when the state, in its turn, respected the basic rights of its citizens.

It is these basic rights that the government of Sudan has so comprehensively failed to safeguard, manipulating long-standing regional rivalries and ethnic enmity to create government-sponsored militia that drove millions of Darfuris off the land they had occupied for centuries.  Already some of the poorest people in the world, Darfuris have been extraordinarily resourceful in coping with decades of neglect at the hands of the Sudanese government – not least in the 1980s, when they experienced a mass food crisis on a scale comparable to the Ethiopians who catalysed Band Aid.

But when rebel movements started to emerge in Darfur, the Sudanese government unleashed an attack of extraordinary ferocity on the region through its Janjawid proxy militias.  Villages were burnt to the ground; men and boys were slaughtered in their thousands and the mothers, wives and daughters they left behind were repeatedly and brutally raped.  Darfuris were forced to flee their homes in their hundreds of thousands, heading to IDP camps on the border with Chad, where disease is rife, healthcare very limited and the possibilities for building a new life virtually non-existent.

The crisis in Darfur gave the UN and its member states their first real chance to show that the 'responsibility to protect' amounts to more than inspiring words.  But the international community has been slow to act, capitulating with the capricious demands of the Sudanese government and allowing the slow-turning cogs of bureaucracy to create obstacles which have cost thousands of lives.

Campaigners were given cause for optimism earlier in the summer, when the Chinese government finally shifted from its indefensible stance in support of the Sudanese government to allow the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that would mean UN peacekeepers could be in place by the end of 2007.  But with this new source of hope comes an additional risk: it is now critical that we guard against the complacency that fails to distinguish between words and deeds.

Until peacekeepers are on the ground, safeguarding Dafuris citizens while the peace process gets underway, there must be no scaling back of political pressure on Sudan.  In fact, the situation on the ground is continuing to deteriorate, with aid workers subjected to violence and intimidation and the humanitarian crisis continuing to threaten lives on a massive scale.  The war has become one of attrition, with disease and despair doing the militias' work for them.

As the crisis approaches its fifth year and the responsibility to protect agreement enters its third, there must be a renewed commitment to resolving the crisis in Darfur.  The United Nations has rarely been reviewed with greater scepticism; even its supporters admit that it is a lumbering bureaucracy whose internal workings give it little chance of having a timely impact during a crisis.

But the fundamental principles which underpin the UN: a respect for democracy and human rights, are as critical today as they were when it was founded.  The UN must seize the chance it has to demonstrate its relevance in a changing international landscape.  The crisis in west Sudan is just such an opportunity.  The UN must be decisive in seeing through its resolution with actions.  Its member states – especially those with military resources at their disposal – must be at the forefront of making sure they are able to do so.  For thousands of Darfuris it is already too late, but for their compatriots left struggling to rebuild their lives in the region, the UN has a crucial chance to prove its worth.  The UK must play its part in marking sure it can.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.