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Daniel Kawczynski MP: Brown’s boycott of EU-Africa conference is nonsensical

Daniel_kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, argues that Brown made a mistake in not attending the EU summit with Mugabe.

A golden opportunity has been squandered! The EU-Africa conference underway in Libson is a medium by which bi-lateral relations of fundamental importance to our two continents can be fostered. At the talks are all of the leaders of the African and European nations. On the agenda are topics such as International Aid, Human Rights, Illegal Immigration, Trade, Matters of Security and The Promotion of Democracy.

Ridiculously the leader of one of the most important countries in Europe is boycotting the talks due to Mugabe’s attendance.  The government on the one hand has refused our repeated calls to have Mugabe's knighthood withdrawn but on the other hand Gordon Brown will not attend this crucial conference due to Mugabe's attendance. That simply does not make sense. I loathe Mugabe as much as everyone else in the Commons and in our country. I have spoken out against him in the Commons on numerous occasions. This conference however is so important that we simply should be attending it, in order to lobby on vital issues that our affecting our country in relation to Africa. One of my biggest concerns is the problem of illegal immigration of hundreds of thousands of people, coming across the sea from Mauritania to the Canary Islands in order to then move to Britain and other EU countries. Many of these people have died in the process and it is a huge humanitarian crisis which will only get worse. We need to work on resolving this problem together with all the other hugely important issues relating to human rights, democracy and trade. A major way to help Africa is to get a system of fair trade with them and we need to use this conference to agree a way to lower tariffs between our two continents and do everything possible to encourage business to invest in Africa.

Why is Zimbabwe’s leader being used as an excuse for Brown’s non participation when there are other examples of human right atrocities, arguably worse, happening elsewhere in Africa?

Close to my heart is the situation in Darfur, Sudan. Having just returned from a fact finding mission to the refugee camps in Darfur I have seen for myself the thousands and thousands of displaced people who have fled the appalling brutality and the misery of conflict in their communities to seek sanctuary in these camps. What hope is there for these people? Even in the camps they are still not safe and reports of abuse are common place.

Part of the trip was spent meeting the President of Sudan, members of their Parliament and the Regional Governor of the Province of Darfur. Each time when we raised our concerns they were met with the same response which was that the situation is improving, everything possible is being done and that we have nothing to worry about! When questioned on the limited number of foreign peace keeping troops in Sudan the answer was that they were being capped to protect Sudan’s sovereignty and they upheld their decision to refuse access to a Norwegian Army medical contingent based on an administrative error!

We were actually admonished during our discussions with the Parliament in respect to our attitudes and told that we should be more like their Chinese friends who came and did business with them without interfering in their domestic issues.  Yes the discussions were difficult and yes I did feel uncomfortable meeting the likes of President Omar Al-Bashir but we have a duty to meet with these people and lobby them over and over again on key human rights issues. Having visited the camps in Darfur I now intend to meet with the Sudanese Ambassador on a regular basis to keep putting to him all the points that where raised with us by the peace keeping troops and NGOs. Vital practical steps that need to be taken to help these people but which red tape and government indifference has led to the situation being ignored. Vital issues like making sure that vital aid is not held up at Customs in Port Sudan for months on end. That peace keeping troops should not have a 6.00pm curfew for operations every day! We need to ensure that they are paid on time and get vital equipment on time. (Payments for the peacekeeping operations have only been paid up until August! )It is vital that the peacekeeping troops are allowed 16 attack helicopters to properly police the area as at the moment they have only transport helicopters.

I do not condone the situation in Zimbabwe, and have myself spoken out against Mugabe but find it hard to understand why he is being exclusively highlighted in this way by Gordon Brown when human right atrocities are now sadly common place across Africa.

Much talk has been given to the fact that Mugabe has destroyed the once strong Zimbabwean economy. That is undeniably true but it should not be a factor in the decision for the PM to boycott this important meeting. The only factor in this issue can be an assessment of how leaders have treated their own people. This brings me to the nub of my argument. I strongly believe that the human  rights abuses in Sudan are comparable and in fact arguably worse in Sudan than they are in Zimbabwe. So you have to ask yourself why is Brown singling out Mugabe and not his counterpart in Sudan??

I fervently support Mr Barroso’s (President of the EU commission)  comments that you have to negotiate with the leaders of these nations in order to put pressure on them for reform.

One of the greatest achievements of European powers during my life time was the Helsinki Agreement in 1975. The leaders of the West sat down with the Communist dictators of the East and agreed on various human rights issues which were set out in the declaration. Of course people like Ceausescu had no intention of carrying these out but there were others attending the conference in Eastern Europe who started to reform following this historic meeting. This was so important because for the first time people behind the Iron Curtain could see for themselves, (information from the West did get through on media like the BBC world service) that the leaders of the West were pressing for action and committed to getting their citizens fairer treatment.

I presume therefore that if Gordon Brown had been PM in 1975 he would have refused to attend this conference as he would obviously not have wanted to shake hands with people like Brezhnev, Kadar and Gierek who were all responsible for human rights abuses. Consequently half of Europe could still be in communist hands!

Even Mr Bush is prepared to communicate with despots like the North Korean dictator as he has entered into dialogue with Kim Il Jung of North Korea to lobbying him over the nuclear problem. Mr Blair showed great courage and vision when he initiated discussions with Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. Libya's previous conduct included involvement with the Lockerbie atrocity, the murder of PC Fletcher and funding for the IRA. Yet despite all of this Mr Blair knew that the only way to bring Libya into the real world was to engage with her Leaders. It is a shame that Mr Brown does not have the courage and vision of his predecessor.

Gordon Brown is so wrong in his actions and this cheap stunt will do nothing to help the people of Africa.


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