Tony Blair: If Darfur is not to be another Rwanda, we must act, and now, to avert catastrophe

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The Independent Online

The human catastrophe which engulfed Rwanda 12 years ago was a shameful episode in world history. If good can emerge from such evil, it was the determination of the international community to ensure there must be no repeat of its failure to prevent such slaughter of our fellow human beings. At Britain's prompting, this responsibility to protect was formally adopted last year at the United Nations Millennium Summit.

But words, however well intended, are not enough. The crisis in Darfur is deteriorating rapidly. The violence is escalating, with devastating results. Nearly two million people have fled their homes, three million are dependent upon aid. The refugee camps provide no safe haven from attacks, with rape and kidnappings commonplace.

All this is despite the efforts of African Union peacekeepers who have struggled bravely against overwhelming odds to provide security. Humanitarian agencies, working in appalling and dangerous conditions, have found themselves unable to cope. There seems little sign that the violence has reached its peak, as we had hoped with the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in May, with many warning signs that it will get much worse.

This bleak picture of human misery on a vast scale explains why UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week warned that the world was on the brink of another calamity. He asked pointedly: "Can the international community, having not done enough for the people of Rwanda in their time of need, just watch as this tragedy unfolds?"

Britain is determined that this time the world will face up to its responsibility. We have been heavily involved from the start in trying to find a way towards a solution of this crisis. We have strongly supported peace negotiations. We took the lead in delivering UN Resolutions to impose sanctions and authorise a UN force for Darfur. We were the first country to announce its financial support for the African Union mission. We have contributed nearly £200m in humanitarian assistance to the region in the past two years.

But I accept, given the human crisis in Darfur, that we have to do more, and urgently. Over the past few days, my discussions with President Bush and Premier Wen of China show these views are shared.

The framework for improved security, which will allow a huge uplift in the provision of humanitarian aid, is already in place. UN Security Council Resolution 1706 sets out international backing for the creation and deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to replace the African Union mission. In May, the Sudanese government and one of the main rebel movements signed a peace agreement, brokered by the African Union but with the heavy involvement of Hilary Benn and David Triesman. It did not, of course, meet all the demands of both parties but it did show the way forward.

The international community must now urgently use all the levers it has to force other warring groups to sign up, but also to ensure that all parties keep to its terms so that the violence stops. We must also insist the UN peacekeeping mission gets into the region as quickly as possible.

This won't be easy. The government of Sudan has said it will not accept UN troops. Even worse, it is insisting the existing AU mission leaves, claiming that its own military forces will end the conflict. This is unacceptable. It is in defiance of the peace agreement it signed and can only increase the bloodshed, fear and tension in the region. The conduct of the government of Sudan threatens to make an appalling situation even worse.

Now is the time for concerted international action to bring a change of mind and actions from the government of Sudan. We will make clear, at the highest level, the help Sudan can expect if they live up to their obligations and what will happen if they don't. It must agree to the UN mission and allow the African Union forces to remain. We must press, too, all the warring factions to accept and implement the peace agreement as well as ensure that the humanitarian needs of the people of Darfur are met.

We must show, above all, that we mean what we say when we promise to put the values of justice, tolerance and freedom into action across the world. We owe that to the people of Darfur and to the memory of those who died in Rwanda.

Today is Darfur Action Day, when demonstrators across the world call on governments to resolve the crisis