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Sudan and Chad

Volume 691: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the current humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and Chad.

My Lords, the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and eastern Chad continues to deteriorate. In Darfur, 107,000 people have been displaced since January, the total number displaced now rising to 1.2 million, and 4 million are dependent on aid. Insecurity, lack of access and a tax on humanitarian agencies continues to hamper severely the delivery of aid. In Chad, violence and cross-border attacks have left hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable and dependent on aid.

My Lords, as the hourglass recorded at the weekend, on the fourth anniversary of the war in Darfur with reports of the Sudanese military continuing to bomb Darfur, some 4 million people are now dependent on aid, some 2 million people have been displaced, and some 400,000 people have been killed during the conflict. Can the Minister tell the House when the heavy-duty package which he referred to when we last discussed this issue will be put in place? Will he contrast the welcome decision of Rolls-Royce to proceed immediately with divestment in Darfur because of the humanitarian catastrophe there with the craven and ineffectual response of the international community to impose a no-fly zone or to impose any form of sanctions against a regime responsible for these deaths?

My Lords, it is certainly true that in the past week and a half there have been a couple of incidents of bombing about which we have made the appropriate representations to the Government of Sudan. The problem will plainly not improve until not just the heavy support package but the whole of the hybrid African Union and United Nations force can be deployed. Discussions are proceeding on that but, I agree, far too slowly. It is a matter for businesses to decide whether they will impose sanctions; I hope that whatever sanctions they impose do not impact on the people of southern Sudan who are not guilty of any of the crimes that have been described by the noble Lord. However, each time one of those decisions is taken, it seems to reflect a very sound ethical principle.

My Lords, are the Government supporting the idea of a no-fly zone over Darfur because they think that that would be practical?

My Lords, I am sure that it would be technically very difficult, but it is one of the possibilities that remains in play.

My Lords, will my noble friend point out to the celebrated actors and musicians who were yesterday calling for intervention in Darfur as well as to the famous writers who recently upbraided the leaders of the European Union that the terrible events of Darfur in the past four years have not been a simple morality tale of evil against innocence or of genocide but have been features of a civil war, born in complex political and economic circumstances, in which atrocious things have been done on all sides? Does he agree that the object of international engagement should not be to enable one side to prevail over another but should be to promote political accommodation and power-sharing within Sudan?

My Lords, I wholly agree with my noble friend. Atrocities have been committed by all parties fighting in Darfur; they are all violating ceasefire agreements and attacking civilians. None will escape with impunity from the consequences that the international community insists upon. Until there is a comprehensive discussion on a peace as well as a security solution, the prospects for ending the conflict are very poor.

My Lords, will the noble Lord elaborate on the deployment of the heavy support package? Since it has finally been agreed by the Government of Sudan, five months after it was mandated by the Security Council, what obstacles remain to getting the troops on the ground and getting the attack helicopters, which have been accepted as part of the package, deployed in Darfur? Will the noble Lord explain what difficulties have been raised by Chad and the CAR to deployment of the peacekeeping mission which would enable them to restore order and return hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in those countries to their homes?

My Lords, the problems with deploying the heavy force which is still being discussed are essentially logistical, although President al-Bashir has agreed to it on several occasions without carrying through his agreement. However, the logistic problems lie in making sure that there are adequate camps, clean water, munitions, and so on. That should be dealt with relatively quickly. The Government of Chad object to having other troops on its soil, much in the same way that the Government of Sudan object, but it is plain to me that, unless a humanitarian effort is mounted by the United Nations, the problems in Chad will not be resolved any more than the problems in Darfur.

My Lords, what discussions have HMG had with the Government of China? Is it not a fact that the Chinese supply much the largest proportion of arms to the Government of Sudan and are the major customers for its oil, taking 90 per cent? Are these not underlying factors which influence the situation? Would it not be useful, given our limited influence on this horrific situation, to press upon the Chinese leaders their responsibility in trying to ease the tension and reduce the atrocities?

My Lords, there have been frequent discussions with the Chinese Government. We have tried to explain in some detail that if insecurity in Darfur continues, as it will, it is likely to derail the north-south peace process for the whole of Sudan. In those circumstances, whatever the investment that the Chinese have made in oil in Sudan, it will not be worth anything. There is a point at which they need to recognise that the bottom line is as disadvantageous for them as it will be for anybody else.

My Lords, the Minister agrees that a comprehensive settlement is necessary if this situation is to be brought to a close. What is being done to resuscitate the Abuja peace process? Are the outside forces, including Her Majesty's Government, putting as much pressure on the various rebel groups as they are on the Government of Sudan to come back into a political process that could provide the framework for a ceasefire?

My Lords, we have a special representative who is working on that project as the key focus. The United Nations and the African Union, through Ambassador Eliason and Doctor Salim Salim, are also working explicitly on that process. As the noble Lord says, the peace process will be the final resolution of this. It may very well need some security support, but there will have to be a peace negotiation and an agreement.