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Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, on a point of order, may I ask your Lordships to extend to me a special privilege permitting me, as I have recovered my note, to complete my speech, which I can do in one minute if your Lordships will allow me to do so? I know this is out of order, but I ask you to grant me this special privilege.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I, too, rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and to express great admiration for her courage. I have not been to either Sudan or Burma. I was due to go to Sudan this time last year as the leader of a human rights reporting mission for the International Commission of Jurists, a highly respected international body of lawyers and judges. The International Commission of Jurists had been trying for some years to get permission from the Sudanese Government to send a mission, and we eventually obtained that permission. Less than a week before we were due to go out, and after two members of the mission had already arrived in Cairo to interview Sudanese exiles, that permission was withdrawn. Therefore I cannot speak from personal knowledge.
I have, however, among other things, seen recently the comments on Sudan of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. That is a body established under the international covenant on civil and political rights, to which Sudan is a party. Member states are required to submit periodic reports to the Human Rights Committee and the committee publishes its comments on those reports. On 7th November the committee published its comments on the report of Sudan. Those comments are devastating.
Among the principal subjects of concern that it listed were, first, the imposition of the death penalty for offences such as apostasy, illicit sex, embezzlement, robbery, and a third conviction for a homosexual act. Apostasy--perhaps one could describe it as a right to change one's religion--is of course not only not a crime but a recognised human right.
A second subject of concern is the recognition of flogging, amputation and stoning as penalties for criminal offences. Recently 37 women were flogged for demonstrating outside the house of the United Nations
Sixthly, there are many reports from the United Nations and NGO sources of extra-judicial executions, torture, slavery, disappearances and abductions. We have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, speak of those matters. Seventhly, the vague and legally undefined concept of national security is used as a basis for arrest and detention without any specific charge. Eighthly, there is a power to detain persons for excessively long periods before trial.
Ninthly, there is the arbitrary refusal of the freedom to leave Sudan, and in particular an arbitrary requirement for a woman to show that she has the consent of a male relative before she does so. Tenthly, there are inadequate prison conditions and the existence of "ghost house" detention centres; that is, secret prisons where neither the existence of the prisons nor the identity of the inmates is revealed. Eleventhly, there is a system of media licensing which jeopardises freedom of expression. Twelfthly, there is the absence of a right to use local languages for official purposes. Thirteenthly, religious minorities are adversely affected by a range of discretionary administrative acts, such as the destruction of schools on allegedly town planning grounds. Fourteenthly, the judges are not independent, not selected on the basis of legal qualifications, and are subject to pressure from the Government. Very few judges at any level are either women or non-Moslems. Fifteenthly, there are the strict dress requirements for women in public places, with inhuman punishments being imposed for breach of those regulations. Sixteenthly, there are documentated cases of official action which interferes with the rights of non-Moslem religious denominations to practise their religions.
I shall not go into detail on Burma. It has been covered by other noble Lords. But the situation there is at least equally bad on human rights. As we have heard, there is extensive forced labour, the suppression of political opposition, the repression of ethnic minorities and the control of the Government by armed forces.
Sudan and Burma may not be the very worst countries of the world in terms of violations of human rights. They rank perhaps marginally above Iraq, Afghanistan and countries such as Somalia where law and order have completely broken down, but that is the best that can be said for them. If Her Majesty's Government mean what they say about a commitment to foreign policy based on human rights, they must do nothing to maintain support for the existing regimes in either country. They must indeed do all they can by all means short of military force to support the democratic elements which exist in
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, when we debated the issue on 1st December, I welcomed the interest of the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Bradford, who made his maiden speech. However, during the course of his remarks, he said that the situation in the Sudan is most certainly not a war between Christians and Moslems as there are people of each faith fighting on both sides. He said that it was a longstanding and complex conflict. It may well be longstanding and complex, but I believe that if our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries are in need of our help it is our duty to speak out. In all my reading and gathering of material about the Sudan, I have yet to come across any examples of Moslems or other religious faiths being forced by Christians to convert. I think that we gain a rather one-sided view of matters at times.
I wish to take a few examples from the report-- I referred to it previously--of the US State Department on religious freedom, with particular reference to Christianity. In introducing the issue, John Shattuck, the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor said:
The report goes on to say that the United States believes in religious freedom for all faiths. It then gives much detail about conditions in different parts of the world. I shall not say too much about the conditions in the Sudan. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, whose work we all admire and support so far as we can, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, with his detailed exposition of the United Nations Human Rights issue.
The United States is taking action against the Sudan in terms of sanctions and also reduced diplomatic presence. We look forward to the Minister's reply to see whether the Government can strengthen those measures.
The report goes on to state that both the Moslem and the Christian minorities are regarded with suspicion by the authorities, and goes into detail as to how the situation deteriorated significantly last year and how the United States is imposing very much stiffer conditions on Burma than previously in order to try to show the level of its disapproval at the neglect of basic rights. That applies in the diplomatic field particularly, as well as the economic field.
The last time that I addressed the House on this subject I mentioned the visit of Colonel John Garang to President Mubarak of Egypt and said that that was a promising development. Only yesterday the visit took place of the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright to East Africa, and she met the Sudanese leader, Colonel John Garang, in Uganda on Wednesday. I believe the meeting took place in Kampala. That was a major show of approval by the Secretary for the Sudanese opposition. She urged Colonel Garang to bury the differences which exist between the liberation SPLA and other groups and to form credible governments. The report of the meeting goes on to state:
Madeleine Albright had said earlier that she had met the Ugandan President Museveni and they had agreed how their two countries, the United States and Uganda, were very deeply concerned about the situation in the Sudan. Finally, she said that members of the National Democratic Alliance must not only oppose the Khartoum regime but also try to lay the groundwork for a new Sudan in which people of all faiths and cultures can focus on rebuilding their country.
That is a feeling which all of us share. We all have to try in our small ways to press forward to achieve much greater religious tolerance and understanding throughout the world wherever it is necessary. If we can achieve a groundswell of feeling like that, then a number of these apparently intransigent situations could well start to lessen and be relieved.
Lord McNair: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us yet another opportunity to debate the situation in the Sudan, which will be the subject of my remarks. I should certainly consider visiting some of the areas that she suggested, and look forward to hearing about that.
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