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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.

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