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Sudan: Darfur

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to recent developments in Sudan, with particular reference to Darfur.

My Lords, we are extremely concerned about the situation in Darfur. We are making it clear to the Sudanese Government and the armed rebel groups that they must stop fighting immediately. The Government must also accept a UN force for Darfur and the bolstering of the African Union force until the UN can arrive and they must restart the political process with the non-signatories to the Darfur peace agreement. We are urging international partners to take the same line.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the continuing, horrifying escalation of death and destruction, with 300,000 to 400,000 people now dead and 90 per cent of villages in Darfur destroyed by the National Islamic Front regime’s genocidal policy, does he agree that the time has now come for the consideration of serious measures, such as targeted sanctions or the refusal of visas to the regime’s representatives, instead of, as at the present moment, giving invitations to the chairman of the Khartoum Stock Exchange, who is in London at the invitation of the Foreign Office? How long are this Government going to continue to do business with a regime that kills while it talks?

My Lords, there are already United Nations decisions on sanctions and there is no doubt, as matters stand, that there will be a need for further consideration of further sanctions against a wider group of people. The other critical issue has been to establish a viable African Union force to keep the peace, as far as that is possible, across Darfur. On20 September, that process looked impossible, but it had been achieved, at least in outline, by the end of that week. That force has to be capable of doing the job of protecting the people of Darfur until the United Nations can take over the responsibility, as it must.

My Lords, the Minister spoke about making the situation clear to both sides, but is it not obvious, and did not the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, make it even clearer, that this is not a level killing field with two sides locked in deadly combat and that the Government in Khartoum do not care anything for their citizens, are bent upon encouraging the most appalling atrocities and are continuing to do so in defiance of world opinion? Is it not indeed time that very much firmer sanctions were mobilised against the Khartoum Government and more were pressed for in the United Nations? What will happen when the African Union mission ends, which is any day now in September and October, when the UN mission will come, at the earliest, in January? How will the killing going on in the mean time be stopped unless we have a really firm grip on the Khartoum Government of the kind that is so far lacking?

My Lords, for the sake of clarity, the agreement that was reached with the African Union in New York, to which I was a party, means that its mandate has been extended until the end of December with a significant improvement in United Nations assistance. I can say from overnight discussions that there has been agreement with, at least, President al-Bashir about what the United Nations’ additional assistance should be. That is a small step forward.

I do not dissent at all from the view that there are the most serious crimes and breaches of the agreements that the Government of Sudan voluntarily entered into, but it is also true that rebel groups are killing widely. This is a war between a number of parties, and our task must be to get them all to sign the peace agreement, from which many absented themselves.

My Lords, do the Government agree with the analysis of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001 that the primary responsibility for protecting human rights lies with the Government concerned, that if the Government fail to discharge that responsibility it passes to the Security Council and that if the Security Council fails adequately to act, the question arises of whether the greater harm lies in the damage to international order of bypassing the Security Council or in the slaughter of human beings while the international community looks on? If the third of those situations arises, does my noble friend agree with Mr Kofi Annan that not even the principle of national sovereignty can protect crimes against humanity?

My Lords, in the meeting that preceded the United Nations General Assembly last year, the world community agreed that a responsibility to protect should be part of the operating code of the United Nations. That means that the first responsibility is with the Government concerned and then it passes, irrespective of sovereignty, to the international community. In Security Council Resolution 1706, drafted by the United Kingdom, that is explicitly written into the terms of the decision by the Security Council, taken without a vote against and with three abstentions. In the final analysis, the Security Council—and the United Nations—will be tested by whether it takes that responsibility seriously with the full implications that it bears.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will have seen President Obasanjo’s reference to impending genocide and his offer of additional Nigerian troops for the African Union force. In view of the implacable refusal by Khartoum to allow the United Nations to take over the operation, will the international community do better to concentrate on AMIS Plus, with the possibility that the UN might lend military units to AMIS, and more robust rules of engagement so that it can adequately protect the civilian population?

My Lords, our position is that the United Nations needs to take over this operation, but the fact is that there would be an interregnum—and there would have been one from the end of December through to 1 January if AMIS had not been prepared to step in with additional assistance, as I said a few moments ago—from the United Nations. Bolstering that force should be done in a way that is compatible with a transition to UN. I believe that the international community has an obligation to put all pressure on the Government of Sudan to agree to a UN force, and all pressure on the other rebel groups to sign the peace treaty, which they could have signed several months ago and spared many thousands of lives.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there appears to be a concerted campaign by the Khartoum Government to muzzle the freedom of the press in northern Sudan? Does he agree that this is a violation of the terms of the interim constitution and that it also seriously undermines any attempt at democratic transformation?

My Lords, I completely agree. It is one of a catalogue of areas in which the Government in Khartoum disregard any form of international pressure. They are in breach of the peace agreement they signed just a couple of months ago in every military action that they have embarked on in these past few months.