Straw urged to stop 'genocide' in Sudan

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Britain and America came under pressure yesterday to issue Sudan with an ultimatum, backed by military force, to stop the killing and ethnic cleansing in the country which has forced a million people from their homes.

Britain and America came under pressure yesterday to issue Sudan with an ultimatum, backed by military force, to stop the killing and ethnic cleansing in the country which has forced a million people from their homes.

Opposition MPs called on Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, to press for international military intervention in Sudan to prevent a genocide like that which devastated Rwanda.

In the United States, Congress raised the political pressure further by unanimously adopting a resolution branding the atrocities in Sudan as "genocide".

Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives united to urge President George Bush to seek a UN resolution authorising a multinational force to protect displaced people and humanitarian workers.

The Security Council is discussing a US-sponsored draft resolution threatening sanctions against Khartoum if it fails to arrest militia leaders accused of human rights abuses, but it contains no mention of a multinational force.

A million people are facing starvation and disease after being driven from their homes by militias. Rebels in the western Darfur region, including the Janjaweed militias, have been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, insisted yesterday that the 120 international ceasefire monitors and their 300-strong protection force would have "a real effect" in war-torn Darfur.

But John Bercow, the shadow International Development Secretary, called on Britain to press for an ultimatum threatening military action by the UN within days or weeks if the Sudanese government does not act to stop the killing.

Mr Bercow called for an international peacekeeping force to secure the safety of the refugees in Darfur and disarm the rebels if the Khartoum government does not act.

He said: "Hilary Benn is doing a good job with humanitarian aid but the Government's foreign policy in this area is extremely timid. There is too much talk and very little action."

Britain is backing the draft resolution which was circulated on Thursday among the 15 council members.

The draft is under chapter seven of the UN Charter, which provides for military enforcement. But Tony Blair and Mr Straw have said that military action is not yet an option.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, wrote to Mr Straw urging him to back a European peacekeeping force for the region. He said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that pressure on the Sudanese government alone will not be sufficient to stem the impending disaster in Darfur. An EU military force operating under a UN mandate looks like the only answer if we are to prevent a disaster on the scale of Rwanda a decade ago.

"With US and British forces stretched to breaking point, countries such as France and Germany have the opportunity to make a contribution."

But Sir Menzies argued that Britain must also contribute to any such force. "This has become a matter of critical urgency," he said. "The Sudanese government must accept external military forces in Darfur expressly for the protection of aid relief and refugees."

Mr Benn, interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, said he had raised the Darfur problem with the government when he was in Sudan last December and insisted the Britain was leading the international drive to put pressure on the Sudanese government, which is seeking more time to comply with its commitments.

The accusation of genocide - which has not been echoed by British and US government members - has important legal ramifications.

According to the 1951 Genocide Convention, any state which is party to the convention is bound to act to prevent or stop genocide once it has been determined that murders are being committed with the intent to wipe out a national, religious or ethnic group "in whole or in part".

In the case of Darfur, Human Rights Watch, which has documented the atrocities, has not determined that genocide has taken place, said the organisation's legal affairs expert, Richard Dicker. He said Human Rights Watch was still seeking evidence of atrocities on the ground.

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, who has called the situation in Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis, is anxious to avoid another genocide such as that which happened in 1994 in Rwanda, when the UN Security Council failed to act.

The former US president Bill Clinton apologised in 1998 during a visit to Rwanda for the international community's failure to act. He said: "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide."

Mr Dicker noted yesterday: "At the time of the killings in Rwanda, the Clinton administration deliberately prohibited the use of the term genocide because of the obligation to prevent and punish if it had been determined to have been happening in Rwanda."