Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

8:00 pm

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I am convinced that a UN force for Darfur is needed now and not in two or three month's time. We should immediately strengthen the African Union force while the UN force is being assembled and we should prioritise the delivery of aid to those at risk. Estimates of the casualties from the Darfur conflict which has been raging since early 2003 vary widely.Many non-governmental organisations estimatethat the number of deaths may have alreadyreached 400,000, a figure provided by theCoalition for International Justice. The websitewww.savedarfur.org also estimates that more than 400,000 people have died in Darfur, with up to 2.5 million having been displaced. The crisis does not end there as many more people are at risk of starvation as a result of the ongoing humanitarian disaster in that region. In fact, more than 3 million people are completely reliant on humanitarian aid for survival.

The conflict in Darfur is a blight on our globe and a shame on the civilised world. Death, destruction and mayhem have been visited on the civilian population in the most appalling manner. Ireland and all its partners in the international community who believe in peace and justice must use every possible method to bring about peace in Darfur. On 31 August last, the UN Security Council approved resolution 1706 which called for a new UN peace keeping force for the region. Since then, however, a UN force has not been deployed and the only progress seen in recent weeks has been the extension of the African Union mission in Sudan until the end of this year. While the extension of the mission is a welcome step, this force is not sufficient in the light of what the UN has called for and mandated as part of resolution 1706. That force is the minimum response required in terms of the protection of civilians in Darfur. Much more is needed and a full UN force should be deployed.

The government of Sudan has strongly objected to resolution 1706 and said that it would deem UN forces in the region as foreign invaders. However, the Sudanese government has backed the militia involved in the appalling genocide in Darfur and has been complicit in a campaign of ethnic cleansing for many years.

The international community must continue to press for the deployment of a full UN peace keeping mission for the region. We must press for this with absolute conviction and without wavering on the fundamental need for such a force. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, as represented by the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, should take this opportunity to put on the record the diplomatic efforts made by the Irish Government to impress on the Sudanese Government the fact that Ireland supports the deployment of a full UN force in Darfur. Ireland must be to the fore in calling for this force to be dispatched to the region and must use every possible method, including diplomatic, aid and trade channels at European and international level, to ensure that such a force is realised.

Time is not on our side. Each day the conflict continues without international action the casualty list grows even longer. In recent weeks the situation in Darfur has worsened considerably. Incidents of murder, rape and torture are increasing and the situation faced by many in the region, especially the displaced, is increasingly perilous.

The conflict in Darfur must be brought to an end and I wish to see the immediate deployment of the already authorised UN peace keeping force. In addition, the under staffed African Union force already in Darfur must be strengthened until the UN force is deployed. Given the numbers living in grave danger of starvation, the international community must increase humanitarian aid and prioritise the delivery of essential supplies needed by the people.

This is an horrendous situation and a blot on the good name of civilisation. People in this part of the world must rise to the challenge that Darfur poses. The people of the region must not be abandoned just because they are on the African continent.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I speak on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who is on official business in New York, where he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. He also met the Sudanese Foreign Minister and the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan. In both meetings the Darfur issue was top of the agenda.

The Government has consistently made clear that it is gravely concerned about the continuing humanitarian and political crisis in Darfur and is using all avenues to urge concerted international action to resolve them. We have been very active bilaterally, at EU level and in the UN context. In July the Minister was the first EU Foreign Minister to visit Darfur since the signature of the May peace agreement and he had the chance to visit the largest displaced persons' camp at Abu Shouk.

As the Minister stated when he addressed the General Assembly yesterday, the suffering of the people of Darfur shames the world. We cannot indefinitely stand by and watch with horror from the sidelines. The Sudanese government has a clear responsibility and if it fails to act the international community will have to consider possible further measures.

In his address, the Minister emphasised the three essential needs of the people of Darfur. First, humanitarian aid must be delivered safely and without restrictions. Since 2004, Ireland has provided more than €11 million in emergency aid to Darfur, including food and shelter assistance to displaced populations across the region. In response to the recent deterioration in the humanitarian situation, a further €1 million in humanitarian assistance for Sudan was recently approved. Ireland has also continuously insisted that all parties in Darfur must allow unhindered humanitarian access.

Second, there must be an international peace keeping force with a robust mandate. As decided by the UN Security Council on 31 August 2006, it should be a well-equipped and substantial UN force. The establishment of such a force was originally called for by the African Union and is fully supported by that body. It is regrettable and unacceptable that the Sudanese government continues to oppose the deployment of this UN force. Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern appealed strongly and urgently to the Sudanese government to agree to its deployment. With our EU partners, Ireland is encouraging influential African countries and other states, such as China, to convey similar strong messages to the authorities in Khartoum.

Until transition to a UN mission takes place, AMIS, the cease fire observation mission in Darfur established by the African Union, should be strengthened as far as possible. The Government welcomes the decision taken on 20 September 2006 by the African Union to extend the mandate of AMIS until 31 December 2006. The size of the force is also to be increased to 8,500 troops and the UN will provide 180 logistical and technical support personnel. The EU has given extensive political, technical and financial support to AMIS, including more than €413 million since 2004. Ireland has provided €3 million, including €1.5 million pledged in July, to ensure that AMIS has the necessary resources to fulfil its mandate through to the end of this year. Four personnel from the Permanent Defence Forces have also served with AMIS.

However, while the creation of a so-called "AMIS-plus" is welcome so far as it goes, it does not provide a solution. Energetic international efforts must continue to pursue the deployment of a full UN force.

Third, long-term security can only be guaranteed by the full implementation of the Darfur peace agreement. Ireland urges those parties which have not yet signed it to do so as soon as possible and commit to its full implementation. More also needs to be done to widen the political basis of support for the agreement within Darfur itself. Early inauguration of the Darfur-Darfur dialogue, provided for in the agreement, would be invaluable in this regard.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, at his meeting with the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mr. Lam Akol, yesterday in New York, emphasised the three issues to which I referred. In response, Mr. Akol accepted there were genuine concerns regarding the humanitarian circumstances in Darfur. He said they are exacerbated by groups who are not on ceasefire continuing to fight the Sudanese Government. He welcomed the extension of AMIS to the end of 2006 and also stated the Sudanese authorities will hold discussions with the United Nations and the African Union on its concerns regarding Security Council Resolution 1706, which provides for the sending of a UN force to Darfur. This indication of Sudan's willingness to continue dialogue with the international community is welcome, but it must lead to concrete early decisions and follow-up. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, stressed that if the Sudanese Government has any genuine concerns regarding the role and remit of the UN force, he is sure they can be resolved.

Ultimately the conflict in Darfur requires a political solution. This is the compelling message at this crucial juncture in Sudan's history. Ireland will continue to use every opportunity, both bilaterally and in collaboration with its EU partners, to get the Government of Sudan to accept a UN force in Darfur.