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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Viscount anticipated me. There will be phased implementation of the Bill. We expect the authority to be set up within 12 to 18 months of the passing of the legislation. The points made by the noble Viscount were very relevant. As I said earlier, we expect early regulation of manned guards and wheelclampers because we see those as being a priority. We shall discuss carefully with the industry the implementation of the provisions. We are sensitive to the points made. We want to get this right. We believe that this is good legislation; it is legislation on the side of the angels. Because of the widespread consensus about its need and importance, we shall be careful in introducing it over a period of time. No doubt we can come back to that point in Committee and focus attention on it.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss Sudan and I thank all noble Lords who will be speaking this evening. I received a message from my noble friend Lady Park to say that, sadly, she has had to withdraw because of a clash in commitments. I am happy to say, however, that my noble friend Lord Elton is willing to say a few words in the gap.
I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for replying for the Government. Without his willingness to accept that task, which is somewhat remote from his normal responsibilities, this debate would have been deferred. But the need is urgent. With over 2 million dead and 5 million displaced in recent years, Sudan's toll of suffering exceeds that of Rwanda, Somalia and former Yugoslavia put together.
I emphasise that my concerns do not reflect a prejudiced, one-sided commitment. In our advocacy, we try to take into account all points of view and to be critical of those who violate human rights, whoever they may be.
The Islamist National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, currently referred to as "the government of Sudan", took power by military coup, throwing out the coalition government. It represents no more than about 7 per cent of the people of Sudan and is hated by the vast majority. But, to hear all points of view, I visited Khartoum and the NIF leadership. I met their eminence grise, Dr El-Turabi; I heard President El-Bashir address the crowds for the celebrations of the fourth anniversary of the coup; I met many political leaders and visited many areas under NIF control. It was patently clear that the NIF is committed to a jihad. When I sent my report to our hosts as a courtesy, they endorsed it.
The word "jihad" has many meanings. But I have since been to Sudan more than 25 times and in this case I can say that "jihad" means "struggle" in its most violent and brutal form. The victims include Africans, Arabs and the Beja people, Christians, Muslims and traditional believers. The weapons of the jihad include unlawful arrests, torture and extra-judicial killing of
This war is not a Muslim/Christian conflict. Many people who oppose the NIF are Muslims, such as the SPLM/A commanders, who are friends of mine, in the Nuba Mountains and in Southern Blue Nile. In Yabus, soon after NIF forces had been thrown out, I asked some Imams what they thought about the defeat of the NIF army in their region. They said that they were glad, as the NIF represents ideology, not "true" Islam, and that they could now pray as they ought to pray. They said that if the NIF returned, they would fight it again.
One noble Lord has said that he will disagree with my analysis. Perhaps I may urge him not to underestimate the gravity of the situation we have witnessed in many parts of Sudan--unless he has visited those parts and can speak from first-hand experience. If I had been only to Khartoum and to government-controlled areas, or to areas in the south where the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan is allowed to operate, I would have no idea of the enormity of the suffering inflicted by the NIF on its own people. I might also believe the widely circulated misinformation as I could not put it in context.
It is not only the NIF which violates human rights. Opposition forces, such as the SPLA, have been guilty, too, and we have criticised them. But Professor Eric Reeves, referring to the recently published Human Rights Watch report, highlights a massive asymmetry. While the SPLA is criticised for some diversion of civilian food aid and under-age military recruitment, for which the NIF is also criticised, he claims:
Time does not permit many details, so I offer only one typical scenario: a massive military offensive against civilian communities in which low-flying helicopter gunships gun down people as they try to hide; then high-flying Antonovs drop 500 kilogram bombs; then ground troops come in combined forces, up to 2,000 strong, with government soldiers, Popular Defence Force mujahadeen and murahaleen tribesmen armed by the government. They kill men; beat old people, leaving them to die; and abduct women and children into slavery. They burn homes, churches, mosques, animist shrines, schools and crops. They steal and slaughter cattle. I could show your Lordships film footage of the times when we have gone "footing" for mile upon mile through the NIF's carnage and destruction.
The NIF does not like us going to "no go" areas for we see what it does not want the world to see. It has told us that it will shoot us out of the sky if it can; and it expends a vast amount of time and money discrediting us, as do its friends such as David Hoile, and the European Sudanese Public Affairs Council, who publish perhaps flatteringly frequent publications misrepresenting me, with selective quotations and distortions of my position.
I turn to reality. Events in the past 18 months are a cause for growing concern. In the early winter of 1999, Bashir launched an effort to neutralise Turabi and contain his international terrorism empire. In the following months, Bashir expressed a desire to normalise relations with the Arab world and the West. To that end, he gave commitments to undertake serious internal reforms and to cease hostilities in the south so that western companies would come to develop the oil resources. However, the high-level Sudanese emissaries who delivered the message were misinformed by their president. While discussions were in progress, there was an escalation of fighting, including intentional bombing of civilian targets such as schools and hospitals, as well as granting the Chinese military widespread concessions and access to the oil fields.
The NIF also invited Egyptian and Libyan expeditionary forces to assist in the escalation of the military drive in the south, beyond the capabilities of its own forces. In recent months, there has been the gradual rehabilitation of Turabi and the resumption of terrorism sponsorship operations; and the NIF-related policy of slave redemption has proved farcical. So one must sadly conclude that Bashir's initiative was a ploy or that he could not deliver because he is not in control. Either way, normalisation of relations with Sudan should not be considered with the current regime by anyone concerned with human rights.
I highlighted two issues in my contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech. The first was the possible use of chemical weapons by the NIF and reasons why tests of a limited number of samples, which did not find toxic substances, in no way proved that the NIF had not used unconventional weapons. The second was concerns over the Government's sale to Sudan of dual-use supplies which could be used for civilian or military purposes, including chemicals which are known precursors for chemical weapons.
Today, I add to the catalogue of concerns, first the ethnic cleansing of the African peoples who live in the oil-rich areas. Secondly, I refer to the continuing deliberate bombing of civilian targets, such as schools and hospitals, as recently as 24th November over Panlit village in Bahr-El Ghazal. Thirdly, I refer to, for example, the continuation of slavery, encouraged by the NIF. I pay tribute to the US Under Secretary of State, Dr Susan Rice, who recently visited Southern Sudan and met women and children who had been rescued from slavery.
In August, I and CSW colleagues were in a nearby area and we engaged in the sad, macabre business of buying the freedom of 353 women and children. Those who have not been there criticise us for freeing slaves. They say that we are encouraging the slave trade. But that is not so. Slavery would persist as it is one of the weapons of the jihad and is used by the NIF for the forced Arabisation of Africans and the forced Islamisation of those who are not Muslims.
Of course, buying freedom is not the solution. The solution must be to stop the slavery. But while slavery exists, I defy anyone to hear the women and children tell of their experiences as slaves; to hear them say, "If you were not here, we would not be here--we would still be slaves", and then to say to them, "I am sorry, you are going to have to remain in slavery".
President Clinton has condemned the NIF for its brutal policies, including slavery. He hopes that European nations will do the same. But currently, in stark contrast to the robust stance taken by the USA, the British Government have been entertaining the NIF Foreign Minister with red-carpet treatment; encouraging trade with Sudan; enhancing the NIF's legitimacy; promoting its economy; and enabling it to use its resources more effectively to kill its own people.
Sudan has also been condemned for sponsoring terrorism. It hosts Islamist terrorist training camps and exports terrorists to other countries. Muslim friends gave me a video of Sudan's jihad training schools. It was distributed to raise money for the jihad in Sudan and elsewhere. It gave an address in Leicester. Other people followed up the contacts and documented terrorist training centres here in England, where Islamist leaders such as Abu Hamsa and Sheikh Bakri Mohammed teach recruits not to obey the laws of this land; and terrorist techniques, such as blowing up aircraft coming into Heathrow airport. Sudan's involvement with international terrorism is well known and has been condemned by the UN Security Council.
I conclude with three questions. Will the Government consider recommending "no fly zones" and "safe havens" to protect civilians from air and ground attacks? Will the Government give a lead to European partners by denouncing the barbaric practice of slavery and by giving no respite to the NIF until there is unequivocal proof that the slave raids are stopped and that every man, woman and child who has been abducted into slavery is freed and reunited with their families? In the land of William Wilberforce, the Government should do no less.
Finally, I ask a question I asked last week: will the Government reconsider their policy of so-called "critical dialogue", which is long on dialogue and short on effective criticism? Will they consider a stance more consistent with the United Nations Security Council and the United States? Might they even consider helping to bring to account, as guilty of crimes against humanity, those responsible for the genocide, the ethnic cleansing and the slavery which are well and widely documented in Sudan today?
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for once again affording the House an opportunity to comment on some recent developments within Sudan. We have discussed that country on a number of occasions, and rightly so. Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is a nation and people with whom the United Kingdom has enjoyed a close historical and social relationship.
I declare an interest. Before I came to this House I led a delegation of British local government councillors to observe the presidential and parliamentary elections in Sudan in 1996. Earlier this year I was there again, spending some time visiting the oilfields of south central Sudan as a guest of the International Council for People's Friendship. While my involvement has not been as lengthy or intensive as that of many noble Lords, I have followed Sudanese issues as closely as possible for several years.
We continually hear what can only be described as preposterous claims about Sudan. Earlier this year we read in the Sunday Telegraph that 700,000 Chinese soldiers were either in Sudan or on their way to the Sudanese oilfields. This was so ridiculous a claim that even the Clinton Administration were forced to distance themselves from it. Perhaps the Minister can update us on whether Her Majesty's Government have any evidence of the presence of these hundreds of thousands of Chinese.
We have also previously heard equally discredited accounts of several hundred Iraqi Scud missiles arriving in Sudan by some means. August of this year was the second anniversary of the disastrous American cruise missile attack on the Al Shifa medicines factory in Khartoum, which resulted from similarly unfounded claims. This House has spent considerable time discussing allegations about the use of chemical weapons in southern Sudan, despite the fact that dozens of samples provided by several independent, even pro-opposition, sources have been extensively tested by reputable laboratories in North America and Europe, including Porton Down in the UK, and have shown no evidence of such use.
We should exercise considerable caution in listening to what is said. It is perhaps time to discount the dead hand of propaganda and misinformation with regard to the Sudanese conflict which only serves to prolong the conflict and confuse observers. What is clear is that there has been a remarkable shift in attitude towards Sudan within the international community over the past year or so. This House must accept that, as a result of changes within the country and regionally, Sudan has moved from a position of relative isolation towards international acceptance. In 1999, for example, the European Union commented on signs of improvement in the Sudanese situation. In January of this year the EU acknowledged and welcomed the normalisation of regional relations.
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