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William Hague MP: Darfur cannot afford another year of dithering from Brown and the UN

William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary, sets out the next steps that urgently need to be taken by the international community on Darfur.

On Tuesday, US Film Director Steve Spielberg resigned from his position as an adviser to the Beijing Olympics, helping re-focus the world’s attention on Darfur.

And re-focus we must. With problems in Kenya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, our planet has all too many urgent concerns. But we cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on in Darfur.

The scale of the crisis that has unfolded, and continues to unfold, in that part of the world is staggering. Over four million people are dependent on food aid. Over 200,000 have been killed. And in the past 10 months alone, more than 250,000 more Darfuris have fled their homes.

Ethnic cleansing, killings and rapes. We’ve been here before: in the Balkans and in Rwanda. We said never again – but it is happening all over again. The international community must now come together and bring an end to this killing.

In particular, Gordon Brown needs to treat this issue with the urgency it requires. This is a time for the British Prime Minister to show bold and decisive leadership. When he came to office, Gordon Brown pledged that Darfur would be at the top of his foreign policy priorities. And we were promised action and a determined effort with President Sarkozy to bring about the deployment of a robust international peacekeeping force and broker peace on the ground.

Seven months have elapsed. During that time, other problems have crowded in on the Prime Minister and he seems to have forgotten about Darfur. And his promised action to put a halt to this horror has not been delivered. Just 9,000 of the projected 26,000 peacekeeping troops are in Darfur. The Sudanese government continues to refuse the approval of deployment of non-African soldiers. And there is a chronic shortage of the transport helicopters the force needs. What’s more, according to the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, many of the rebel groups fighting the Sudanese government still refuse to participate in peace talks and a dangerous link between Sudan and rebel forces in Chad has now been established.

But it’s not just Gordon Brown that seems to have forgotten about Darfur. This week, at his speech in Oxford, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband spoke at length about humanitarian intervention. How many times did he mention Darfur? Not once.

Now is not the time for forgetting. It’s the time for swift, decisive and resolute action. Of course, the British Government cannot do it all alone. China must also dramatically step up its efforts to stop this slaughter – that, after all, is why Steven Spielberg made his protest. We are not advocating a boycott of the Olympics, or using sport as a political weapon.  But China, more than any other major power could make a change.

Of this can there be no doubt. China is the major economic, military and political partner of the government of Sudan. It is also a major world power with the seat at United Nations Security Council. It has the wherewithal, the duty and the self-interest to contribute to ending the crisis in Darfur.

And there are, to be fair, some signs that China is starting to understand that the bigger its stake in the world, the bigger its interest in preserving global peace and stability. Over the last decade China has been quietly adjusting its diplomacy. Fifteen years ago, Beijing was wary of multilateral arrangements and using diplomatic muscle. Since then, it has joined the World Trade Organization, contributed troops to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations and become more helpful on issues regarding non-proliferation. As we have seen with North Korea, Chinese pressure has been critical in making Pyongyang knuckle down to negotiations over its nuclear weapons.

But let’s not kid ourselves. When it comes to Darfur neither the Chinese Government nor so many others have done enough to halt the killing. China may need Sudanese oil – but Sudan needs China’s trade and investment. So China has huge leverage over Khartoum, and it should be using it, as both David Cameron and I have urged in our talks with Chinese leaders. 

What we need now is a clear plan of action, comprising the following five elements:

First, as we have advocated for over a year, it is essential to establish a no-fly zone to protect the citizens of Darfur from attack by Sudanese aircraft. This would be difficult and would be challenging, but it is crucial to saving lives.

Second, the UN and EU must start to impose further sanctions if the UN-AU force is not deployed in full. These sanctions should include asset freezes and travel bans on key figures in the Sudanese Government and on rebel leaders who impede the deployment of the force.

Third, the UN Security Council should expand the existing arms embargo to cover the whole of Sudan.

Fourth, Britain should launch a major drive to secure additional helicopters for the UN African Mission in Darfur, using the diplomatic leverage at our disposal.

And fifth, Britain should give every support to the International Criminal Court in identifying, indicting and prosecuting those Sudanese officials and others implicated in the horrors unfolding in Darfur, so they face to justice for their crimes.

The people of Darfur cannot afford another year of diplomatic hot air and dithering from the international community. They are paying for it with their lives. David Miliband has lauded ‘the great progressive project for spreading democracy around the world’. The people of Darfur want to be able to live to see that day.


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