|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. I should like to put a question to the noble Lord who is much more familiar with this matter than I am. The noble Baroness referred to the terrible killings that had occurred recently in the Sudan. Does the noble Lord accept that figure?
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his question. I said earlier that I was not a specialist in this field. I shall speak only to those matters of which I am aware. I cannot confirm the figures, but later I shall refer to statements made by various countries.
Khartoum now has improved relations with neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea. As many noble Lords will be aware, Sudan is still, technically, subject to the limited diplomatic sanctions imposed in 1996 following the attempted assassination of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, by Egyptian terrorists while visiting Ethiopia in 1995. Both Egypt and Ethiopia have called for the lifting of those sanctions. The Egyptian Government state that they have seen,
We should remember that the sanctions were originally imposed at the behest of Egypt, Ethiopia and the OAU. They now wish to see them removed because of positive developments in Sudan. We should also take note that Sudan has had considerable support from the international community in relation to sanctions. South Africa and Algeria, in the capacities as chairmen of the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement and the 22-member Arab Group of states, have also publicly called on the Security Council to withdraw the sanctions. It would appear, therefore, that Sudan has attempted to address international concerns about issues such as support for terrorism.
As the Minister may be aware, the Sudanese Government have repeatedly invited the United States to send their own anti-terrorist teams to Sudan to investigate any information they may have about Sudan's alleged involvement in terrorism. The
As the Minister will also be aware, in July 2000 the Organisation of African Unity nominated Sudan, over Uganda and Mauritius, to succeed Namibia to represent the African continent as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council. Sudan was ultimately unsuccessful due in large part to American pressure and lobbying.
Apart from international developments, we should also listen carefully to the Sudanese themselves. It is clear that there has been a significant realignment in Sudanese politics. The last elected Prime Minister of Sudan, the Umma Party leader Sadiq al Mahdi, has returned to Sudan after four years in exile. Last year he stated:
During my visit to Sudan this year I spent some time in discussions with Umma Party leaders and sensed that things had changed within the country. If the Umma Party and other opposition leaders believe there have been positive changes in Sudanese politics we, too, must give Khartoum the benefit of the doubt.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for providing another opportunity to debate the affairs of this very tortured country. It came as no surprise to me this morning to receive in my mail a bundle of literature from the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is aware, that has become a familiar body over the years. If one sums up that literature, it calls into question the integrity and credibility of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, which is a very counter-productive step. We have had the pleasure and honour of knowing the noble Baroness for a number of years. The council should bear in mind that the interests of the noble Baroness in furthering the well-being of communities are not confined to the Sudan. She travels to many parts of the world where people are in trouble and her efforts are greatly appreciated. We do not get literature from those other countries seeking to damage her integrity. The European Sudanese Public Affairs Council really is out on a limb on this matter and should consider its position. What it does is totally counterproductive. We know the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the good work that she does.
I should like to say a few words about the problems of the Christian community in southern Sudan. The noble Baroness covered very well the general position in the country. During the debate on the Queen's Speech on 12th December the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said:
If the Sudanese council does not like what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, says, let us turn to Christian Aid. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford is chairman of the Board of Christian Aid. I should like to refer to what I found on Christian Aid's website. It stated that Christian Aid's co-ordinator for Northern Ireland, Deborah Doherty, travelled to southern Sudan to report on the work of local partners in the midst of an ongoing war. She talked of arriving in Yei just 24 hours after government of Sudan forces had bombed the town's market place, killing 20 and injuring 54. She went on to refer to a deliberate campaign of bombing against civilians conducted by the Government of Sudan since the beginning of the year. She gave the figures--133 such bombings in November alone.
That is an additional source to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Perhaps we shall be hearing from the Sudanese council calling that into question. To me, this is evidence of brutality against the civilian population and we should take it very seriously. It is the kind of situation to which the dreadful term "collateral damage" has now been attached. What it really means is that ordinary civilians are being killed in large numbers.
During his speech in the debate on the Queen's Speech the right reverend Prelate went on to talk about Israel. Several noble Lords spoke about Israel and devoted substantial parts of their speeches to it, yet it is a country the size of Wales. There is an almost obsessional interest in Israel. The Sudan is actually 10 times the size of the United Kingdom, yet we cannot generate even a minuscule amount of interest in it compared with the obsessional interest in Israel. I am concerned about generating more interest in the Sudan because it offers an example of the persecution of Christians.
I am going to weary the House yet again with the quotation which I gave in a speech on the Sudan on 8th December 1998. I drew attention to a report which had been commissioned by the United States State Department and was published in the spring of 1997
We should be much more aware of that. We should do what we can and the Christian Churches should unite not only on the question of giving economic aid to people in other parts of the world but to highlight the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters wherever it is happening in the world. If we did that, we could not only exert very much more pressure internationally but we could revive the Churches, which complain of falling attendances, and generate a real sense of purpose. We could then help people not only economically but help them to escape this persecution which is far more widespread than is generally realised.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for this further opportunity to debate Sudan and for again bringing to the House her first-hand accounts from the field. I can share some of her frustrations. I, too, was in Sudan recently on behalf of Christian Aid and Save the Children. I saw for myself some of the terrible effects of civil war in the south--the bombed-out schools and homes, roads blocked by mines, and armoured cars blown up. In the north I met some of the displaced families where 2 million southerners, mostly refugees from the war, live in poor conditions.
I do not intend to swap atrocities tonight or to heap all the blame at the door of the Sudanese army and air force. As the noble Baroness mentioned, there are many factions on both sides of this war, and the SPLA and its allies are not the shining knights that the United States and others portray. Nevertheless, no one who visits the south can be unaware of the government bombs which fall day after day from Antonov aircraft on small towns like Rumbek and Yirol, which I recently visited, killing civilians, destroying livelihoods and spreading fear among the population. In November alone, I can confirm that the Church agencies reported 133 such bombings. In an attack on Yei market on 20th November at least 18 were killed and 53 wounded, 11 of them critically. Fortunately, the staff of a demining team, Operation Save Innocent Lives, were present and able to transport people to hospital. In the same week, a relief worker who had just completed training with Christian Aid in emergency work was killed by a bomb at Ikotos, in eastern Equatoria.
Whatever message the Government send to Sudan through the Chief Whip today, they will, I hope, urge the government of Sudan to stop their vicious bombing campaign, observe the ceasefires and allow humanitarian work to proceed.
This is the policy which our Government are attempting to pursue quietly, while condemning the war and human rights violations. If we meekly follow the line of the US--whatever that may now be--we can hardly expect to have any influence in Khartoum. Unlike the noble Baroness, I should like to see more, not less, contact with Sudan, not only on grounds of our historic links and potential economic ties, but because I believe that we can help the people of Sudan, north and south, through our diplomacy and eventually our aid programmes, slow as they are in coming.
The conflict in Sudan is not a simple jihad of Muslim north against Christian south. Sudan has a much more sophisticated culture than that. Like Egypt, it has a history of religious tolerance which has been distorted by fanatical minorities and by extreme forms of fundamentalism which is in itself a purifying force. The influence of Dr el Turabi, while important, is currently on the wane--that is a positive sign--while the Umma Party of Sadiq el Mahdi is in the ascendant. The NIF government are unelected and autocratic but they are not monolithic. The army, the civil administration, the wali of Khartoum and the various religious parties all speak with different voices. The opposition forces are equally divided. No internal solutions are in sight, yet the political scene is changing and the government of Sudan do seem to want to rejoin the world and are seeking diplomatic allies.
In my view, the IGAD process has dragged on for long enough. Only the more active involvement of the powers already represented, including Libya, Egypt, the EU and the new US administration can together arrive at a satisfactory settlement. These powers, including ourselves, need to show the people of Sudan that they are ready to help. As at Addis Ababa in 1972, the Churches and civil society can play a part following their successful initiatives on the ground over the past two years, which already have the potential of a lasting peace.
In my opinion, this peace must be built on the unity of Sudan, not on two states, but one which recognises ethnic minorities and human rights--and on its economic strength, which is necessarily based on the new oil supplies in Upper Nile, the scene of so much of the fighting today. This oil belongs to the whole country, but if much more time elapses, it will continue to flow into the coffers which fuel the war instead of revitalising the areas which so badly need it.
This is a country which once had a tremendous agricultural potential, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will know. The Gezira scheme, which started in the 1920s, has about half the country's 2 million hectares under irrigation and still claims to be the world's
Unfortunately, the UN is also in some disarray. Two years ago, the combination of drought and war tested to the limit Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), which is supposed to bring food and medicines to victims. OLS has delivered a great deal of aid, but it has not reached everyone in need; for example in the Nuba mountains. It is at the mercy of both the government of Sudan and the SPLA, neither of which respect ceasefires which they themselves have painstakingly agreed. The NGOs are divided in their allegiance to Operation Lifeline Sudan. The UN is low in morale and attempting to redeploy, with the United Nations Development Programme itself drastically cutting its traditional development projects.
Despite the cruelty of the bombings and the war, there are many other reasons for hope. I have already mentioned the peace process. The conflict continues, but other opportunities for development are already presenting themselves. Some NGOs, including Christian Aid, Save the Children, Oxfam and CARE, have remained in both the north and the south throughout the war and are reliable channels of development aid as well as emergency relief. Our embassy is well aware of this and is very active, but it is time that the whole Government recognised the long-term value of much of these agencies' humanitarian work and interpreted their requests more generously.
Having spent a week in Bahr el Ghazal, I know how desperate are the needs. Health centres and schools need to be resupplied, if not completely rebuilt. The rehabilitation of health, education and water supply projects do not always imply putting up buildings which can be targeted from the air. Basic communications must be improved; it took me several hours to travel 100 miles along a causeway across flood plains close to the Nile. Markets need to be revived as trade is almost at a standstill. Goods are being carried long distances on bicycles, which provide the only transport when no other vehicles are available.
There are now many professional Sudanese development agencies ready to carry out these tasks, given the resources. I shall mention only one which I met, the Bahr el Ghazal Youth Development Association (BYDA), which has an impressive record of civic education, self-help and community development, encouraging even people in desperate need to support themselves.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, there are only three words with which I can suitably begin my few remarks: "Non sum dignus"--I am not worthy to take part in a discussion of the kind we have had today. We have heard four speakers, all of whom have first-hand knowledge of the Sudan and who have recently visited that country. We have just listened to a moving address from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who undoubtedly is one of the finest representatives of the younger generation in this House today.
I have to confess to a bias. I believe that the rules on the declaration of one's interests have been tightened up of late, even where no financial connection is concerned. Given that, I shall have to declare my interest in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We do not know each other on a personal basis, but I shall express my admiration for her. I am glad, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is to say a few words in the gap. He leads an inspired prayer group which I attend regularly. At almost every meeting we pray for the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as she goes about her dangerous work. She travels all over the world working on behalf of Christianity and humanity. I start, therefore, with a bias in favour of anything she says. I know that the noble Baroness has some enemies. I recently saw a document attacking her. However, due to partial sightedness, I am lucky in that I cannot read all that much. That document went very quickly into the wastepaper basket. So far as I am concerned, the enemies of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, might as well go and jump in the lake.
I understand that we shall not vote on this matter, but I wonder whether we take seriously enough the whole issue? Surely, we must be horrified by the terrible stories we have heard today. Whether things are slightly better or slightly worse, the whole situation is pretty awful. I believe I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, say that some 2 million people have been killed in the Sudan. Are we not bothered by that? Do we not feel that we should do something about it? However, I know that this little island cannot control the whole world and put everything right.
More recently, I have become a close friend of Lady Aitken, the mother of Jonathan Aitken. Her father, who became Lord Rugby, whom I came to know later by playing golf with him in Abu Dhabi where he was what we would now call the ambassador, was at one time Governor-General of the Sudan. As a girl, Lady Aitken, often went out there to stay. She said--I heard it from many sources--that there was a very close relationship between the British and the Sudanese, that the British liked the Sudanese and the Sudanese respected the British. There has been a connection between Britain and the Sudan--this is my only point and I shall sit down when I have made it--and I suggest that, although we cannot control the whole world and put it to rights, we have a special responsibility to act to improve matters in the Sudan. It is a responsibility that we are not shouldering at present. I hope that we shall do better in the future.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I speak with great diffidence, but at least my interests have been declared by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I am moved to speak because today we started by considering the persecution and slaughter of Christians in Indonesia at the hands of a Muslim jihad and we are concluding by considering the slaughter, among others, of Christians in the Sudan under a Muslim government imposing Sharia law. To both, my noble friend Lady Cox has directed the attention of this House. She is a combination of a roving Christian ambassador and a reconnaissance force for the Churches, who has performed an enormously valuable service to us and continues to do so.
As to the specific issue we are debating, it is beyond question that the atrocities she has described have taken and are taking place. Nothing the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has said and nothing the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has received through the post has actually gainsaid the fact that she, personally, has brought people out of slavery. We could be talking about the Middle Ages; this is a lesser of the many evils that are being perpetrated.
How do we as a country with a Christian tradition, and with many practising Christians in government and opposition, try to stop this happening? The first thing I would suggest, in the few words that convention permits me, is that the moment the word
The second question is how can we exert ourselves to bring the killing to an end. Here we have a contradiction of views between people of equal experience and commitment as to whether it should be through constructive engagement or outright and arms' length condemnation. There can be no dispute that there must be outright condemnation; the question is whether that should be at arms' length. There should be clear alternatives offered to the Government of the Sudan between some kind of amity brought about by a cessation of this obscene violence and the availability of aid, counsel and support.
We as a country have a duty in the world to support what is right and to oppose what is wrong. Whenever in the past we have failed to do this we have finished up in the most appalling mess; a great many people have been killed, and in the end a lot of them have been British. This is happening on a different continent and the threat, the danger, of temporisation may therefore seem less because it is further away. But the world is a great deal smaller now than it was in 1939 and a great deal smaller still than it was in 1914. I do not think that we can abandon moral imperatives without inviting physical disaster. I urge the Government to be round in their condemnation of what is being done, whatever may be the commercial risk. In the end, the risk of not doing that is much greater.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I had not intended to speak in the debate. I would not have done so had I not received this morning--like other noble Lords--an extraordinary package from the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council consisting of a letter from a Mr David Hoile, of whose interests one is not aware, and no less than two pamphlets and a booklet. The booklet runs to 120 pages and does not carry a price tag. One can only assume that it is for distribution purposes and not for open market consumption.
I intervene merely to underline what other noble Lords have said about my noble friend Lady Cox, with whom I have had the privilege to be associated for nearly 20 years-- first in her capacity as a nurse when she had something to say to the last but one Conservative government about the plight of nurses in this country. She was courageous enough to take on my noble friend Lady Thatcher at the height of her power and, as a Conservative Peeress, marched down Whitehall arm in arm with trade unionists in protest against what was then happening in the nursing profession. We see today how right she was.
We might have done better in this country if we had heeded what my noble friend also had to say about what was going on in our education system. We did not, and the Labour Government are doing their best today to sort out the problems created at that time which could perhaps have been solved slightly earlier.
My noble friend's interests then took her overseas to many areas of the world where she has become a voice for the voiceless. I was privileged 10 years ago to go with her to Nagorno Karabakh, a troubled part of the world where she has done much for the Armenian community.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the greatest tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is that every time she raises the subject of Sudan, we all receive this flood of bumph from the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council and the egregious Mr Hoile, who is sometimes referred to as "oily Hoile". Unlike some other noble Lords, I always read his pamphlets with great care, except when they arrive immediately before a debate and I do not have time to do anything more than open them. I can assure Mr Hoile that I shall read his remarks, but not until after the debate. He must send them a little earlier if he wants me to entertain them before I speak.
I have been in correspondence with Mr Hoile on a number of occasions. I have asked him if he would tell me how the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council is financed, and I have yet to receive any response. I should like to know. It is a matter of legitimate interest to everyone who is in receipt of these documents.
Once again, we are greatly in the debt of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for drawing our attention to the formidable problems of Sudan, which has suffered, as she said, from the effects of a civil war of unparalleled ferocity. She pointed out that it has resulted in the deaths of 2 million people and the displacement of another 5 million people.
Like many other countries in Africa, Sudan was carved out by the British imperialists, with no regard to the affinities of its people, bringing together under one sovereignty the Arab and Muslim inhabitants of the north and the African Christian and animist peoples of the south. Not only were those differences the causes of the conflict but, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, there are many other subdivisions which equally have led to strife among the people. But that is the main division and the reason for this civil war.
It has proved impossible to find a solution through the efforts of IGAD, the forum in which the states of the region come together, mainly because the NIF regime prefers to impose its will on the south by military force rather than to negotiate on the basis of self-determination for the south. However, IGAD has at least produced a Declaration of Principles which
The south has made its own mistakes. Colonel Garang's policy of "New Sudan", which entailed an alliance with northern opposition forces, is in tatters, as the leader of the NDA, Mohamed Osman El Mirghani, prepares to defect and Sadiq el-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party--as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pointed out--made a triumphant return to Khartoum last month, leaving the southerners effectively on their own. The so-called NDA forces, which seem to have been entirely southern SPLA troops, suffered a crushing defeat outsided Hamish Koreib in eastern Sudan at the beginning of November, showing the folly of Garang in trying to widen the conflict into a revolution against the NIF regime throughout the country.
The return of el-Mahdi could be a catalyst for change. He has been characterised in the past as having intrinsically limited support because he is the leader of the Ansar sect, and that is represented by the Umma Party, but it was estimated that as many as 2 million people turned out to meet him when he arrived back in Khartoum on the 23rd November. He immediately struck a conciliatory note when he said to a crowd of several hundred thousand at Friday prayers the day after his return that in a country as diverse as Sudan in terms of culture and religion, there was not going to be an Islamic state. He was even more daring when he pointed out that the laws of Islam as handed down by the Prophet had changed very little, while the world had changed enormously. He said that Muslim scholars and jurisprudence had to adapt and change the laws. El-Mahdi also insists that the agreement he has made with the NIF regime contains the right of self-determination for the south, which is lacking in the Libyan-Egyptian proposals endorsed by the NDA.
While the break between General el-Beshir and Dr Hasan el-Turabi signalled the abandonment of the hard line ideology previously adopted by the regime, and thus prepared the ground for a return to pluralism, it is not yet clear how the Umma Party and the DUP can play any immediate role in determining the policy of the state. The regime was determined to proceed with the presidential and parliamentary elections that are now being held over a 10-day period ending on 23rd December. But in 112 of the 360 constituencies there were no candidates other than those of the government; in the remainder, the main opposition parties urged a boycott and very few people have gone to the polls, at least in Khartoum. The new parliament will thus lack any democratic legitimacy, while in the presidential election el-Beshir's opponents are a former incumbent who was deposed in the coup of 1985 and three unknowns. The real opposition will continue to be extra-parliamentary, and that cannot be a recipe for greater stability in Sudan over the next five years.
Susan Rice met women freed from slavery, and demanded an end to what she called a heinous practice. The UN estimates that 15,000 southerners have been abducted in raids by tribesmen from the north, encouraged by their government, over the past 10 years and taken to the north as slaves.
Although el-Beshir speaks about religious tolerance and co-existence, Christians are not allowed to build churches; apostasy from Islam is punishable by death; and family law is heavily biased against non-Muslims. Students, political activists and human rights defenders are targeted. They are frequently detained without trial, and a number have been murdered by agents of the state.
All these and other issues have been covered by the Special Rapporteur in his report to the General Assembly published in September this year. He confirms allegations that have been made about particular human rights violations associated with oil developments in Upper Nile. Ethnic cleansing has replaced the local Dinka and Nuer people with northern Baggara tribesmen and the oil-producing area is being violently Arabised. I agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that oil is a dangerous catalyst for human rights violations. Although a humanitarian crisis is developing, OLS has been prohibited from bringing in aid, and 40,000 displaced people in Bentiu are mostly in an alarming nutritional state. The Special Rapporteur says that further influxes may be catastrophic.
On top of all the man-made disasters, Sudan is beginning to suffer drought in the south and west of the country, in Darfur and Kordofan. The WFP country office says that food stock levels are at a dangerously low level, cereal prices are rising and livestock prices are plummeting; and wells, dams and other water resources are drying up. About 700,000 people are said to be affected.
What can Britain do? We have provided financial and political support for a permanent negotiating secretariat in Nairobi and we are in regular contact with all the parties, pressing the case for talks and explaining the benefits that peace would bring to the civilian population. I think that we should go further and tell Khartoum that we deplore the resumption of bombing, and that we hope that they will refrain from new offensive operations in the dry season. We should also tell John Garang that he is off-side in opening hostilities anywhere outside the south. We should try to understand what Sadiq el-Mahdi's agenda is, and how this can be pursued outside the framework of parliamentary politics; and we should urge General el-Beshir to hold talks with el-Mahdi, and with the DUP,
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for giving us the opportunity to discuss this vitally important subject. As always, my noble friend speaks with great authority and first-hand knowledge on these sensitive subjects, in a country where so much still needs to be done. Sadly, it is in complex areas such as these that the West has so many shortcomings. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, rightly said, we do not show nearly enough interest in the Sudan.
It is timely, too, that we should be having this debate so close to Christmas and that we should take time to think of people who are so less fortunate than we are in this country. I hope that some help may come out of this debate for an area that has been blighted for so long--especially as we are lucky enough to have the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip to answer it.
I read through the BBC World Service briefing on the history of Sudan since its independence in 1956; it is a sorry tale. It is a country with a litany of disasters and catastrophes as it lurches towards yet another coup or civil war. It has one of the world's worst human rights records. Even as recently as September this year, the Governor of Khartoum issued a decree barring women from working in public places. The imposition of Sharia law will certainly restrict individual freedoms still further. All this is taking place in the largest country in Africa--a beautiful place, dominated by the Blue and White Nile so well described in Alan Moorehead's eponymous books.
In the short time that is available I shall concentrate briefly on three areas, all of which are inter-related: the oil revenues, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton in his superb speech; the human rights situation; and the latest political position.
The big change in Sudan is the discovery of oil: the first oil exports in 1999 gave a growth rate of nearly 40 per cent in one year. This means that its revenue has grown from 530 million to 1,327 million dollars. Unfortunately, little of this enormous revenue has been spent on education, healthcare, or on measures to alleviate the terrible poverty. Reports even tell us that more and more is being spent on weapons. Until democracy is properly rooted, the advent of the oil revenues will do nothing for the population as a whole. Her Majesty's Government have constantly been questioned in both Houses as to what pressure we have put on the Sudanese Government. I ask the Minister that same question again tonight. Further, can the noble Lord tell us what is our latest aid policy in the light of all their new-found wealth?
I turn to my second point. I am embarrassed and, like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I feel unworthy because we have so little time to address the really serious problems that stem from the violation of
Thirdly, I turn to the political situation. No resolution has yet been found to the dilemma of whether government should be using religious, strict Islamic law or secular law. That is one of their main problems. Even though the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, was unsure in her response to my question on October 19th, can the Minister say whether we still consider Sudan a terrorist state? With the United States, China, France and Russia, we support Her Majesty's Government on having blocked Sudan becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Freedom House, a human rights group, recently denounced the Sudanese Government as "genocidal".
As we have heard, the current situation in Sudan is horrific. It is even more horrific as the election that is now being held is unlikely to change anything. The European Union declined to send official observers, which means that we did not send any. There is also state censorship of the media, adding to our lack of confidence in the proceedings. Can the Minister say how the Government will know that these were fair elections? Further, what are the plans of Her Majesty's Government in respect of Sudan after the election?
Such advances as have been made in terms of democracy have been put on hold, while the sporadic fighting between the north, mainly Muslim, and the south, mainly Christian, has continued with only 11 years of peace since 1956. Can the Minister say to what extent the Government are prepared, especially in the light of the publication of the recent White Paper, to use their influence in the promotion of good governance in line with their ethical foreign policy? I look forward to hearing the response of the Government Chief Whip to that and all the other questions that have been raised tonight.
Lord Carter: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for her continuing interest in the fortunes of the Sudanese people. We have had an excellent debate. I shall, with some trepidation, do my best to reply in the time that is available to me. However, if I am not able to reply to all the points raised, I shall, as always, ensure that the noble Lords receive a reply in writing.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as a "reconnaissance force". I think that all governments would prefer to call her a "rapid reaction force"--that is, if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, does not mind my using that phrase!
The Government believe that peace is the only long-term answer to the suffering of the Sudanese people. We have given the search for peace in the Sudan a new priority. Indeed, to pick up the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, compassion and morality must be at the forefront of our endeavours. We have engaged with all sides to the conflict. The Sudanese Government and the opposition parties are well aware of our views. Recent events in Khartoum and elsewhere in the region, as hinted at in the debate, suggest that it is time for a concerted push for peace. The international community should do all that it can to help.
It may be useful if I outline a brief history of the most recent international efforts to promote peace in Sudan. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) launched an initiative in September 1993 to mediate an end to the civil war in southern Sudan. IGAD groups include Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Eritrea, along with Djibouti and Somalia.
In May 1994, IGAD adopted a declaration of principles for settlement of the conflict. At the time, the Government of Sudan rejected the declaration. The previous British government, along with the governments of the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and the United States formed the Friends of IGAD to support IGAD's efforts. The Friends of IGAD offered both diplomatic and material support to the peace process. But, as I am sure noble Lords will know, the IGAD process ground to a halt in May 1995. However, under concerted military and diplomatic pressure, the Government of Sudan agreed in 1997 to renewed IGAD talks on the basis of the declaration of principles. That is, indeed, a step forward.
International efforts to support the IGAD process have intensified in the past two years. The IGAD Partners Forum--or IPF, as the Friends of IGAD is now known--has provided political and financial support to the IGAD secretariat. The British Government continue to be an active member of the IPF and hosted a meeting in London in October of a number of key member countries. The co-chairs of the IPF, Norway and Italy, expect to call an IPF meeting in Rome early in the new year. Therefore, efforts are continuing.
We see IGAD as the best chance to bring about a negotiated peace settlement and support the IGAD declaration of principles as the basis for settlement of the civil war. One reason for our support of IGAD is that the two main parties to the conflict--the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A--have told us that they regard it as the only serious forum for negotiation. There are other initiatives aimed at promoting peace in Sudan. We welcome that interest, particularly in the region. The latter was also hinted at
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, rightly condemns human rights abuses in Sudan. The Government share her concerns. Again, the European Union sponsored resolutions at this year's UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly set these out. Human rights also form part of the EU-Sudan dialogue, which is about to enter its second year. There has been some progress: for example, the work of the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children; agreement with the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on having a representative in Khartoum; a greater number of visits by monitors; and a UN needs assessment mission being allowed into the Nuba mountains.
However, there are still many more issues to be addressed. Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, we find the aerial bombings in southern Sudan completely unacceptable. Our ambassador in Khartoum has made our views absolutely clear to the Government of Sudan. He did so most recently last Tuesday. But the problem of aerial bombings emphasises yet again the need for peace. We can argue with the Sudanese Government about the political acceptability of these bombings and, indeed, their military effectiveness. But by achieving a ceasefire in the first instance we would remove the government's argument of self-defence. A peace settlement would not only stop the killing of Sudanese people from all groups; it would also pave the way for the country's full re-integration into the international community.
We have heard much today, and rightly so, about the suffering of the Sudanese people. The British Government share the concerns of all who worry about their humanitarian plight. The United Kingdom is one of the largest bilateral donors of humanitarian assistance to Sudan. We have committed over #200 million since 1991. But, of course, the humanitarian situation is not helped by the civil war. We shall continue to work with the United Nations, international NGOs and others to deliver the humanitarian assistance which is required but we cannot consider development assistance programmes until the fighting has stopped.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned reports of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Government of Sudan. We take all reports of the use of these weapons seriously. As the noble Baroness knows, tests of particular samples at CBD Porton Down and at US and Finnish laboratories showed no evidence to substantiate allegations that chemical weapons were used in specific incidents in Sudan. Sudan acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention last year. The appropriate mechanism is therefore now in place to deal with future investigations. We continue to encourage the Government of Sudan to co-operate in the fight against international terrorism. I shall return to that.
Despite the hopeful remarks of my noble friend Lord Ahmed, the British Government fully support the EU arms embargo against Sudan and expect it to remain as long as the civil war continues. All export licence applications are rigorously assessed to determine the risk of the proposed export being misused in contravention of our national export licensing criteria and those in the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, including the risk of diversion or re-export to undesirable end users. We have pressed for oil revenues to be used for development projects and for transparency in the oil account. In return, the Government of Sudan have made some public assurances to this effect. We shall look to them to honour those assurances and shall remain firmly focused on this issue. The FCO and the DTI have no ongoing campaign promoting investment in the Sudanese oil industry, nor do we have any policy to halt all commercial interests.
The abduction of women and children is a serious and distressing issue to which we pay particular attention. As I have mentioned, the European Union sponsored UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions last year and this. These called on the Government of Sudan to investigate reports of abduction, bring to trial persons suspected of involvement and accept international participation in the investigation into the cause of abduction. Following from this, the Government of Sudan established the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children last year which is working with UNICEF and Save the Children. So far, we understand that the committee has facilitated the return of over 300 abductees. There is still much work to be done. We shall be looking for more action as a result of this initiative. Through the EU we have been part funding the committee and our ambassador has been active in visiting the areas affected and attending workshops in order to show our concern and to urge much greater effort.
We regularly denounce slavery to give a lead to our European partners. As I have just said, the ambassador regularly attends workshops of the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children and Her Majesty's Government support the work of UNICEF and Save the Children in the return of abductees.
As noble Lords will be aware, we now have a fully operational embassy in Khartoum. The British Government use that important channel to ensure that the Government of Sudan are made fully aware of our concerns in a timely way.
I shall respond to some of the questions that were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about no fly zones and safe havens. I shall reply to the noble Baroness in writing and place a copy of the reply in the Library as the matter requires a little more research than we have time for this evening. It is important that the critical dialogue which we pursue with our EU partners brings home to the Government of Sudan the weight of international opinion. This has led to results such as the creation of the committee I mentioned on
I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned evidence of Sudanese support for terrorism. The UN imposed sanctions and adopted Security Council Resolution 1054 in April 1996 which called on the Government of Sudan to ensure the extradition of three suspects in the attempted assassination of President Mubarak and to desist from engaging in terrorist activities. The UN sanctions have not yet been suspended or lifted. We continue to encourage the Government of Sudan to co-operate in the fight against international terrorism. I understand that the Security Council may consider the issue again in April.
My noble friend Lord Ahmed asked about Chinese soldiers and Scud missiles. We have no evidence to support charges that there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers or, indeed, any number of Scud missiles in Sudan. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about the elections in Sudan. We, as members of the European Union, were party to the decision not to send election monitors. Appropriate conditions were not in place for the proper monitoring of the elections. It is, of course, unfortunate that the opposition decided not to take part in the elections. We shall continue to urge the Sudanese Government to talk to the opposition parties where possible.
The noble Baroness's Question is wide-ranging. I have tried to give as full a reply as possible. But in essence our approach to Sudan is dictated by a belief that the only way to end the terrible human suffering in Sudan is through a negotiated settlement to the war. Peace negotiations are therefore our overriding priority and recent events have given us more reason to press ahead. The UK has been at the heart of international efforts to help reinvigorate the regional peace initiative, IGAD, and seek other ways of putting real impetus into the talks.
Our return to Khartoum has ensured that we are once again in an excellent position to influence all the parties to the conflict. Her Majesty's Government remain convinced that constructive and critical engagement with all concerned is the most productive policy.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, why has he not mentioned the United States, given that we are now in a promising situation with a new administration taking seriously the problems of the Middle East? Is there any particular reason why the noble Lord did not mention the United States?
Lord Carter: My Lords, the fact that it is a new administration makes me a little cautious in terms of giving a quick reply to the noble Lord. I shall write to him and place a copy of the reply in the Library.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|