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Volume 450: debated on Friday 20 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will take steps to overcome the delays experienced by those trying to obtain visas for a visit to Sudan; and if she will make a statement. (93123)

We regularly raise the issue of visas with the Government of Sudan, including where appropriate making representations on individual cases. The Government of Sudan has agreed to fast-track visa applications and travel permits for all agencies and personnel involved in humanitarian efforts in Darfur, There are sometimes problems in the implementation of this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development raised this with the Government of Sudan when he visited Khartoum on 16 October.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions she has had with the Government of Sudan about (a) religious freedom and (b) anti-Semitism in Sudan. (93626)

We are deeply concerned about religious freedom, and other human rights issues, in Sudan. We welcomed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of January last year, signed by the Government of Sudan, which clearly states that everyone in Sudan shall have the right to freedom of religion. The CPA provides for a Special Commission to ensure the protection of the rights of non-Muslims. We are pressing the Government of Sudan to establish this Commission, as well as to implement all other provisions of the CPA. While there is no substantial Jewish community in Sudan, we have urged the Sudanese leadership to end inflammatory rhetoric.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the comments by the President of Sudan that (a) Jewish organisations are responsible for mobilising international criticism of Sudan about the conflict in Darfur and (b) plans for a UN force are part of a plan to recolonise Sudan. (93627)

We reject any suggestion that international efforts in Darfur are motivated by anything other than a desire to end the suffering of the local population and we further reject any allegation that any religious community has mobilised unjustified criticism. With 1.9 million people still in camps, over 3.5 million in need of international aid and attacks, killings and rape a daily occurrence, the situation in Darfur is appalling. The international community has a moral obligation to act in the interests of the people of Darfur and will do so. We are pressing all sides to stop the fighting and implement the peace agreement.

The Government of Sudan should also agree to a UN force in Darfur. It is not true that this would violate Sudan’s sovereignty. The African Union itself has consistently called for a UN mission in Darfur. The international community has made clear its full respect for Sudan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. A UN force would be in Darfur to help implement the peace agreement and restore peace and security so that people can begin to rebuild their lives.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the extent of the use of child soldiers in the conflict in Darfur. (93629)

In September 2006, a UN panel of experts reported the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to the conflict in Darfur. Recruitment of child soldiers is a breach of international humanitarian law and explicitly prohibited by article 24 of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). We have regularly made clear to the Government of Sudan that we expect them to uphold the commitments they have made under, in particular, the convention on the rights of the child and its optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. We have also told the Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement that the recruitment and use of child soldiers is wholly unacceptable and in contravention of its obligations under the Abuja Security protocol of 8 November 2004, which commits both movements and the Government to stop recruiting children as combatants.