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Sudan

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2007

I am trying to work out whether “Minister for Europe” includes Sudan; obviously it does. Perhaps a geography lesson or a new atlas would help me a great deal. If hon. Members are content to start, I call Mr. Drew.

Thank you, Mr. Wilshire. I am sure that by the end of the debate, the Minister for Europe will undertake as part of his responsibilities a visit to Sudan, which I am sure will want in due course to join the EU. I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk about our visit, and to see the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer). She was part of the triumvirate of MPs who visited Sudan during the recess with our friend in that respect, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster).

We were accompanied by Michael O’Neill, the new special representative to Sudan—we were grateful that he could come along—as well as Chris Milner, the co-ordinator, and Peter Tesch, who for the purposes of the visit was historian, although he is many things besides. During our time in Sudan, we were accompanied by our ambassador Rosalind Marsden, whom I had met previously in Kabul. It was an important visit, and it came at an important juncture. We were warned that we went at our own risk, and just before leaving we were kindly informed that an al-Qaeda cell was looking to blow up an embassy in Khartoum. We therefore did not take up the invitation to stay at the British embassy. Nevertheless, we carried on. I have to say that security was impressive; never before have I enjoyed so much security, but I shall say no more about it.

I thank our supporting organisations—Christian Aid, CARE, Tearfund, Oxfam, World Vision UK and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I thank particularly Jessica Irvine of the Sudan unit, who briefed us before we left and gave us some good sensible information about what we should be doing.

The purpose of the visit was to check on progress on the comprehensive peace agreement, but we could not go to Sudan without revisiting Darfur. It was my second visit to Darfur and my third to Sudan; I shall say more about it later.

The CPA is an important document. It brought to an end 20 years-plus of conflict, which had taken 2 million lives. Anyone or anything that imperilled the CPA would not be taken lightly by the all-party group on Sudan, which I chair. The document is also the model for what one hopes is future peace in Darfur—and, indeed, in the east. I shall say more later about the east; we did not have time during our week’s visit to go to there, and I hope that we can remedy that omission.

The CPA lays down clearly the progress that needs to be made. It covers the census and the elections—and eventually the referendum, which will decide whether the south stays part of a united Sudan or goes its own way. The programme has to be met by 2011. That is important in the context of Africa, but it is important also in the context of the wider world, such is Sudan’s position. I pay due credit to the Government for making it absolutely clear that they are in it for the long run, as there is no quick fix and no easy solution. If there were, we would have sorted out the problem many years ago. My determination, with others, is to keep going. If we can sort out the problems of Sudan, the rest of the world will follow in due course, such is its importance.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I congratulate him on securing this debate, and on leading an incredibly important delegation. He may remember that when in Sudan we met some of my constituents and that their father, Mr. Mubarak El-Mahdi, had been arrested with 13 others for being engaged in a coup—supposedly, one assumes, because there were no public charges. That was cited by the Sudan Liberation Army as a reason for walking out of the national unity Government, as it demonstrated a lack of commitment to the constitution of Sudan. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that case needs the attention of the Government at the highest level?

Yes, it does. The Minister will have heard that comment, and I know that the hon. Lady is making representations. Indeed, she had the opportunity to make direct representations while we were in Khartoum. I know that the Government will continue to listen to those representations and, I hope, will act upon them.

Since our visit, the CPA has come under even more pressure. Sadly, details reached us last week of the fact that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement has withdrawn from the Government of national unity. At the very least, that is putting the CPA under a great deal of strain. It would be good to get the Minister’s view, on behalf of the Government, on how to get the SPLM back into the Government, even though we all know that that entity is sometimes more an institution of names than one with real power and authority. However, we have to stay with the CPA, because there is no plan B.

The United Kingdom has a long history of involvement in Sudan. That is why we have an obligation to stay with it. We are currently involved with some of the work of the Assessment and Evaluation Commission, playing a part with Kenya and Ethiopia. Again, I pay credit to the Government for the way in which they are trying to overcome the present impasse.

I offer five clear challenges. They are challenges not only for the Government, however, as they require the wider international community to play a part. Three of those challenges are crucial to progress with the CPA—and, in due course, to Darfur—and they need to be listened to and acted upon.

I start with Abyei, a part of Sudan where there is a great deal of tension. The Abyei boundary commission has made recommendations on how to demarcate the north and south, but the region is a key part of the country. The National Congress party believes that the commission overstepped the mark in giving its ruling. As well as the national conflict, a number of local conflicts between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya, are adding to the problems in that part of the world. The danger is that it could be a touchstone for revisiting the conflict. Even if it stays local, it will be necessary to deal with it. Because the subject came up time after time, the delegation felt it important to report the situation in Abyei and to explain the need for mediation and eventually compromise.

The second key point is wealth sharing. The main problem is a lack of transparency on oil revenues. The Government of southern Sudan allege, quite openly and with a degree of forthrightness, that they do not know how much oil is coming out of the ground. It is therefore difficult to know how much 50 per cent. of that wealth would be. That needs to be sorted out. Even the special representative from the National Congress party in the north said when we met—he was very frank—that being able to have confidence in the National Petroleum Commission knowing the figures for oil production was still some way off. Of course, it has an international context because the Chinese may not be that keen to know exactly how much oil is being produced and where the revenue is going. That situation needs to be clarified; again, it is a crucial point of tension within the comprehensive peace agreement.

Thirdly, there is the question of security. The forces of north Sudan have yet to withdraw from the south. We heard a lot about the fact that the deadline of 9 July was not met. That was another source of tension. The Government of the south, through the SPLA, failed to meet its obligation to withdraw from Kasala in time. For those warring factions that fail to keep to their side of the agreement, history repeats itself. On the plus side, however, we saw some evidence of integration between the two armies to form a united army of Sudan.

To put all that in context, the key thing is how to get to elections next year in the absence of agreement on security by the Government in the north—whether the Government of national unity or indeed the National Congress party, which is the dominant northern party and the dominant party in the Government of national unity—let alone agreement by the Government of southern Sudan. Without such agreement there can be no elections, so clarity is vital.

There are two other points in my list of five, which relate purely to the south, although there is of course a wider context. First, we were disappointed to see how little development there was in the south. That was despite the efforts and investment in Juba, so it was worrying. We heard that 60 per cent. of SPLM revenue is being spent on military expenditure, and the SPLM was almost bragging about it. That shows the extent to which other elements of expenditure are being squeezed out, so we need to get investment into education, health, and water and sanitation, and away from excessive military expenditure. That comes back to the security situation.

The last point is that of tension within the south itself, and the need for a south-south dialogue. During our visit, I really came to understand for the first time that there are four different groups of people living in the south. There are those who live largely under the occupation of the Government from the north, and those who live under the SPLA and SPLN. However, there are also, of course, initially displaced peoples, many of whom have fled to the north of the country and now wish to come back from Khartoum and Omdurman. In addition, there are the refugees who left the country and are now trying to return. Each of those groups feels that it is the most vulnerable, most maltreated, and most denied of its rights. When all four groups feel disadvantaged, there is scope for, dare I say it, an explosive mixture.

There needs to be a revisiting of the CPA at the national level, therefore. That is not so as to change the CPA, but to give it the emphasis and support that it needs. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, sadly there is political repression both in the north and the south. I shall not give examples, but we all know the situation in the north, and there is evidence that the south has not achieved democracy.

We met Sadiq al-Mahdi again, the representative of the Umma party who is better known as a descendant of the Mahdi, who made quite clear to us his belief that it is only a matter of time before conflict breaks out. I know that he has gone on record with such warnings on many previous occasions, but he is probably near the truth, as we have seen in the Kajbar dam incidents, in which there was very severe repression of those opposed to what was going on.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there sometimes seems to be a lack of awareness of the tightness of the time frame for the resolution on the CPA? Without that, there cannot be a census. Taking the census will not be a quick process, particularly when half the year is rainy season, but without it there cannot be elections nor any referendum on secession, so the time frame is very tight.

I agree, and the hon. Lady’s comments stand in their own right. I am sure that the Minister will wish to respond.

On Darfur, I had previously visited the south but on this occasion we went to the west. We were genuinely shocked by the instability on the ground. Quite clearly, there are many warring factions. I shall not say how many different groups there are, but there are now so many that when UNAMID—the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur—comes into formal operation, the task facing it will be far from a walk in the park. There is a view that when AMIS—the African Union Mission in Sudan—leaves, and UNAMID comes in its place, things will suddenly stabilise, but from all the evidence we saw that will not be as easy as some people pretend.

Haskanita, the most recent outrage in which 10 African Union troops were killed, was a dreadful episode that represents the reality of what is happening, which is caused by fragmentation and the amount of weaponry available. I applaud the work of the AU, as well as that of the UK in preparing for the UN. I dare say that it will involve a number of military personnel as well as the work that we are doing on the civil side. We need to work on the convergence phase of the road map and on making it clear that we need peace from the new talks. It is not just a question of whether Abdul Wahid will or will not go; there is a need to involve all the parties. I am not prepared to personalise things and to portray him as crucial. Clearly, he is popular in the camps, but it is not clear whether that is because of his not previously signing the peace deal or because he is a great and wonderful leader. I do not know. What is important is to get the peace talks under way and to get the UNAMID force in place as soon as possible.

We must also make sure that it is not just the military people who claim to speak on behalf of the Darfuri people in the dialogue that will occur, because there is a lot of resentment from other people who believe that their voices should be heard too. The fact that those other people have not picked up a gun does not make them any less important. There are many different factions that are not part of the military which should be listened to as well. That subject is a difficult one, and I hope that the Minister will have some good things to say about what we are doing to bring groups together.

Our tour was a whirlwind one, because Sudan is a huge country. In passing, I invite the Minister to review the early-day motion that I tabled yesterday and that was signed by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, which was addressed to the situation in the east. The peace agreement for the east was obtained a year ago, but at best it is shaky.

I conclude by welcoming both the opportunity to draw attention to Sudanese issues and the Government’s long-term commitment. The events in Sudan are not easy matters to deal with, but we must indeed draw attention to them and state our position that peace is the prerogative of all of us to pursue. I was disappointed by the news that, if anything, the CPA is once again under a cloud, which has an impact on Darfur as it does on the east. I hope that the Minister will have some good news, but we must be realistic. Sudan is not an issue that we can fix quickly.

I am delighted to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on securing the debate. The way in which he argued his case testified once more to the fact that Sudan is a country about which he, like all hon. Members, cares passionately. It was evidence too of his devotion, along with that of others, as he has given an enormous amount of personal time and political energy to maintaining the profile of Sudan and to continuing to keep pressure on the international community where appropriate and necessary. He is regarded in the House as one of those who is most active on Sudanese issues.

I am delighted also to see the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who participated in the delegation. In his comments, my hon. Friend spoke quite realistically of the security situation at the time of the delegation, and I am sure he will appreciate it if I put on record our respect and thanks to the team at the British embassy for the work that they do in a phenomenally important and occasionally very dangerous part of the world. I particularly thank our ambassador, Rosalind Marsden, and her team. We all appreciate the work that they do.

You were right to conclude, very perceptively, Mr. Wilshire, that Sudan is not in the European Union. If the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) had been in the United Kingdom rather than on ministerial duties abroad, she would have responded to the debate. Nevertheless, I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud is right to say that the situation in Sudan, especially with the conflict in Darfur, is increasingly complex. That argument ran throughout his speech. The SPLM’s announcement on 11 October that it would suspend its participation in the Government of National Unity adds further complications to that situation.

The foundation for peace and stability throughout Sudan is, as my hon. Friend eloquently argued, the comprehensive peace agreement. The UK, as an integral part of the international community, remains absolutely committed to its implementation. As my hon. Friend knows, the CPA ended more than 20 years of civil war between the north and the south and is an important vehicle in bringing lasting peace to all parts of Sudan. Its full implementation remains important both for north-south relations and for resolving the conflict in Darfur.

My hon. Friend fairly assessed that the most important element of the agreement is the 2009 national elections. The international community must help to create an environment that will ensure that those elections are a success. The hon. Member for Richmond Park raised a fair point about the census. My information is that the rainy season ended two weeks ago, that the census has been delayed from November to January or February, and that while that time scale is still tight, it is achievable. I hope that reassures the hon. Lady, and I am sure that it is something that she will continue to raise with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

There has been progress on the CPA, and a majority of troops have redeployed to their respective areas. Most of the CPA-mandated institutions have been set up. However, the political leaders in the north and the south must summon the political will and demonstrate strong leadership to resolve the most sensitive issues, especially now, when the political impasse has the potential to derail a peace that is allowing recovery and development in the south.

My hon. Friend may find it helpful if I outline what the UK Government are actively doing and what we are looking for. We want the north and south to dedicate the necessary resources to complete the national census in advance of the 2009 elections; for both sides to work to find a tenable solution to the border disputes in Abyei and other areas along the north-south border; and for both to continue to build a secure environment throughout the country, including full redeployment of troops to their respective areas. The Government of Sudan must allow sufficient political space for democratic activity.

On the specific point of the UK’s engagement on the CPA, we are focused on bringing the issues back on track and restoring faith in the agreement. The UK provided more than £60 million of development assistance last year in support of CPA implementation. We have also put £47 million into the multi-donor trust fund over three years, which will be split evenly between north and south Sudan. The UK also continues to press for more progress on CPA implementation through its membership of the CPA implementation oversight body, the Assessment and Evaluation Commission. We are working with partners to reinvigorate the commission and to keep the CPA on the international agenda.

The CPA is the bedrock of stability for the whole of Sudan: it is indivisible from the peace process in Darfur, which is one of the Prime Minister’s top foreign policy priorities for the Government. The situation in Darfur is appalling, as the international community has recorded. The UN has described the situation in Darfur as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. Many thousands have been killed, raped or wounded. More than 2 million people are displaced. More than 4 million people—two thirds of the population—are dependent on international aid for their basic needs. Those statistics convey only a little of the immense human misery that is being visited upon the people of Darfur.

The Prime Minister and President Sarkozy announced a joint initiative for Darfur on 20 July. It focused on four areas: rapid deployment of an effective peacekeeping force; movement towards political negotiations; preparing for economic recovery to show the people of Darfur that there are dividends of peace; and regional stability. We have already committed more than £73 million of bilateral funds to the African Union peacekeeping force. We have contributed more than £250 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan since 2004, and we supported the implementation of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the UN to allow full humanitarian access for non-governmental organisations operating in Darfur. We have also been a leading voice in building an international consensus on Darfur, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud was fair enough to say.

We sponsored the UN resolution in March 2005 that referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court. The ICC has now issued two arrest warrants in connection with alleged atrocities in Darfur. We continue to call on the Government of Sudan to co-operate fully with the ICC. We have encouraged China to play a more positive role in Sudan, and that is important. We have built up European support for tough measures and persuaded EU partners to give further funding for the African Union peacekeepers.

We sponsored UN Security Council resolution 1769, which mandated the first hybrid peacekeeping force in the world for Darfur, which will bring vital security. We are working with donors to prepare the ground for recovery. In September, the UN Secretary-General announced the start date for peace talks, which are to be held in Libya at the end of the month. In September, the UN and EU agreed to send a peacekeeping force to Chad. However, there are still a number of problems, as my hon. Friend mentioned. In recent weeks, fighting in Darfur has increased, leading to the murderous attack on peacekeepers in Haskanita—an attack that was rightly condemned around the world. The increase in fighting has affected vital humanitarian operations. Attacks on humanitarian workers, who do an incredible job in terrible circumstances, continue. As a consequence, the people of Darfur continue to suffer. That cannot continue.

We are calling on all sides to commit to an immediate cessation of hostilities, to engage fully in the political talks being led by the African Union and United Nations, to allow the humanitarian workers to do their jobs and to facilitate the rapid deployment of the peacekeeping force. We have an obligation to alleviate the suffering in Darfur, but we cannot do that without full implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement. Only then can we work towards the lasting peace of the whole of Sudan. With the help of our international partners, we will work with the people of Sudan to show them that there can and will be peace.

I want to put on the record the Government’s determination on the fundamental importance and unique nature of this international crisis. I will, of course, bring to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the specific comments that our hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised this afternoon.