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Last week I visited El Fasher with my Ambassadorial colleagues from the European Union. It was my second visit to Darfur since I arrived in Sudan nearly three months ago: I visited Nyala a few weeks ago in the same period staff from this embassy visited all of the 5 state capitals.
Why the focus on Darfur?
It’s partly because Darfur still looms very large in images of Sudan in the UK. There has been much improvement since the terrible events of 2003-5. But it is still a region of great poverty, displacement of peoples and of conflict. It needs and deserves the attention of governments, both that of Sudan and those of the international community to help heal the wounds, rebuild communities, put in place effective governance and release Darfur’s significant economic potential.
So what are we doing?
First of all, we are providing direct assistance to those who need it most: providing millions of people in the camps and elsewhere with the basic necessities of survival: nutrition, water, health care.
But we also want to support the creation of an environment in which people feel secure enough to choose where they live or work, whether this means returning to their villages or staying in urban areas. This is what the deputy Walis in Nyala and El Fasher told me they wanted too. I visited several villages near Nyala, for example, where we are ensuring a reliable and accessible supply of clean water for both people and livestock. We are also looking at ways of facilitating the development of the private sector to give people ways of earning their own livelihoods. I had some interesting conversations with the Government and representatives of the business community in Nyala. We are now taking forward, with them, some ideas.
Clearly there can be no return to normality in Darfur without ensuring basic security for those who live there. We are contributing to this in several ways. Most obviously, we support the biggest UN-AU mission in the world, UNAMID both politically and financially. I visited the UNAMID HQs in both Nyala and El Fasher and they provided the security for my visits. They work in a difficult environment (one of the patrols was ambushed and a soldier killed on the day I was in El Fasher) trying to ensure the protection of ordinary people in Darfur.
We also work at grass roots level. The purpose of the water projects I mentioned is not just to supply water to villagers, although that is clearly very important. It’s also to help local communities to re-learn how to manage resources in an equitable way ensuring the benefits go to all and that tensions between the different requirements of, for example, nomadic and settled communities are managed away.
In the end though none of this will achieve lasting impact without an overarching political settlement. The current blueprint for that is the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur signed by the Government and representatives of the Liberation and Justice Movement in July 2011. We are members of the Implementation Follow-Up Committee (IFC) to the DDPD, whose role is to support and oversee implementation of the Agreement.
We welcome the news that the Government of Sudan and a faction of the Justice and Equality Movement have signed a new declaration affirming their commitment to the peace process and an immediate cessation of hostilities. I urge the other rebel movements to support the Agreement and resist impeding its implementation. I also hope that the agreements signed in Addis between Sudan and South Sudan will have an impact on peace and stability in Darfur.
Of course it is for the signatories to implement the agreement. And implementation is behind schedule meaning the people of Darfur have yet to see tangible improvements to their lives. This is partly because of a lack of finances. But many changes can be made by the signatories without significant financial commitments, whether it is in the field of Justice and Reconciliation or Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We will continue to support the DDPD, and want the Doha Donor Conference to be a success but we as the UK can’t deliver these big changes needed for a lasting peace.
Since my arrival I have been told by many – whether Government officials, UN workers, other embassies or International NGOs- that the International Community has forgotten about Darfur. I hope I have demonstrated that this is categorically not the case as far as the UK is concerned.