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House of Lords

Thursday, 22nd May 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by Lord Bishop of Hereford): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.


Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to recent developments in Sudan, in the light of reports of continuing military attacks on civilians by the government forces in violation of the peace agreement.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the 4th February addendum to the memorandum of understanding in cessation of hostilities allowed for the establishment of a verification monitoring team. The team will verify reports of fighting on the ground. A British senior liaison officer has been appointed to lead that team. He arrived in Nairobi on 7th May. We have contributed other personnel and 500,000 dollars to the operation. We and other donors will continue to monitor the agreement very closely to encourage both parties to implement it in full.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that partially encouraging reply. Is she aware that the Government of Sudan have, according to reliable reports, continued to violate ceasefire agreements, launching military offensives against innocent civilians, particularly in the oil areas of eastern and western upper Nile, and building up huge supplies of military equipment in Wau, Kassala and Juba, indicating that they intend further military offensives? Can the noble Baroness explain why Her Majesty's Government continue to do business with a regime that, in some respects, has a worse track record than Saddam's Iraq, with 2 million dead and over 5 million displaced, and continues to kill civilians while talking peace?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, nobody will know more than the noble Baroness about the appalling position on the ground, but I am bound to say to her that part of what we are doing is trying to ensure that the reports that come through are verified.

The noble Baroness will know that a peace process is in train at the moment. There is a real prospect of peace, and we hope that the agreement, which was reached under the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development process—your Lordships have discussed it in the past—under the chairmanship of General Sumbeiywo, will render some results. It is due to do so by the end of June this year, although the timetable may slip a bit.

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In the Government's view, there are grounds for hope. Of course, there are the continuing reports, which is why we felt that it was so important to ensure that the verification monitoring team got under way. I know that there were some initial difficulties over the modalities under which they were to operate, but we now hope that it will go ahead successfully.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, with regard to the reports that have come through, can my noble friend say whether, when the UN Commission on Human Rights terminated the mandate of the rapporteur, account was taken of the practice of inflicting 100 lashes on women—including 14 year-old girls—for committing adultery, without any action against the men responsible? Does my noble friend consider that there is a prospect that the commission may reconsider its decision?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we continue to be enormously concerned about human rights in Sudan and about the way in which such rights are abused with little regard to the background of the people involved. The promotion of human rights remains one of our central priorities.

We are aware of the terrible sentences of lashing imposed on young girls for alleged adultery. We make heavy representations on such issues. As my noble and learned friend will know, the Sudanese Government signed up to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We shall continue to lobby them to ratify the convention that they signed.

The situation is kept under constant review. We are lobbying the commission on human rights again, as we did before the vote was taken on the suspension. It was enormously disappointing that that vote went the way that it did, but we continue to consult our colleagues in the EU on the next step.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the situation in Darfur, in western Sudan, has deteriorated particularly in the past two weeks? Has she seen Amnesty International's call that the Machakos protocol should be extended to cover Darfur, and that the situation should be monitored by the international human rights teams that both sides signed up to? Does she agree that Machakos still represents the best way forward in resolving the conflict?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of Amnesty's call for an international commission of inquiry into what is happening in Darfur. The situation there remains complex, with unresolved inter-Arab disputes and Arab-African ethnic clashes. We share those concerns. Our embassy in Khartoum and the UK special representative for the Sudan are discussing the matter with the Government of Sudan and others concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, may be pleased to note that the EU heads of mission will raise Darfur in their meeting with Dr Mutrif, which is

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taking place today in the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We have recognised the urgency of the situation and are taking the issue up today.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, in view of the barbaric behaviour of the Government of the Sudan and the urgent need to bring united pressure to bear on that government, can the Minister explain the extraordinary judgment of the United States that the Government of the Sudan was not unreasonably interfering with humanitarian efforts, which appeared to divide those who were trying to bring pressure to bear on the Sudan? Can she assure us that Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States are getting together to try to act in concert against that very unpleasant regime?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course we try to ensure that the view of Her Majesty's Government is properly discussed. The United States has a key role in making significant progress in Sudan. It may take a different view of how that will be done, but it has a significant role none the less. The United States' aim, as we understand it, is to complement the arrangements that already exist, and its support for the peace process is firm. Under the Sudan Peace Act, the US President determined on 21st April that the Government of Sudan and the SPLM were negotiating in good faith and said that those negotiations should continue.

We are directing our attention at the same issues as the United States. We try to make as much common cause as we can.

Lord Elton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the assassination in February of a prominent Masselite Member of the Sudanese Parliament, Sharif Ishag Ibrahim, and of a prominent religious leader in Darfur, Sheikh Salih Dakoro? Both were assassinated in what appeared to be another calculated breach of the undertakings to which the noble Baroness referred. What is the reaction of Her Majesty's Government to that? Does the noble Baroness agree that attacks on individuals such as were mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, as well as those that I mentioned, and the co-ordinated military assaults referred to by my noble friend Lady Cox amount to an absolute defiance of international opinion and a total breach of undertakings given to international organisations? Can the Government do something more effective to curb that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are aware of the kind of incidents that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, described. Her Majesty's Government are doing what we can to support verification on the ground of what is happening, as I explained to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

The noble Lord asked what more we could do. It is important to recognise what Her Majesty's Government are doing today. Her Majesty's Government are taking part in an EU meeting with the

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Sudanese Government today to discuss a range of issues. I spoke about Darfur a moment ago, but there are also human rights issues.

We are also contributing to the verification monitoring force. The difficulties over that have been ironed out as of 20th May. I very much hope that we will be getting a real presence on the ground, headed by a British officer—Mr Rob Symonds—who will do what he can to ensure that there is an international presence lending its weight to ensure that such abuses do not continue.

Gulf War Veterans

11.10 a.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest, not a financial one, as Honorary Parliamentary Adviser over many years to the Royal British Legion and a co-opted member of the United States Congressional Committee of Inquiry into Gulf War Illnesses.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what recent representations they have had from the Royal British Legion in relation to the problems and needs of veterans of the first Gulf War and the dependants of veterans with undiagnosed illnesses who have died subsequent to the conflict.

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