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Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 15 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of seven United Nations-African Union peacekeepers in Sudan on 8 July, and to identify the role of President al-Bashir and others in the violence.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 9 July called the attack,

“a horrific and cowardly act of violence”,

and has reiterated the United Nations Security Council’s call for those responsible to be brought to justice. We are today working to agree a UN Security Council statement condemning the attack. The UN and the African Union have begun a preliminary fact-finding investigation to be followed by an official investigation, which we support.

My Lords, if this is not genocide, what is? That is the question I asked in your Lordships' House four years ago after visiting Darfur and taking evidence there. Then, 50,000 people were dead; the figure is now some 300,000. Should we not commend the bravery of yesterday’s decision by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, mandated by the Security Council, to ask the court to consider against Omar al-Bashir: three counts of genocide for killing members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups; five counts of crimes against humanity for murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape; and two counts of war crimes for attacks on the civilian populations of Darfur? Should we not also consider carefully Mr Moreno-Ocampo’s words:

“The genocide is ongoing ... Seventy year-old women, six year-old girls are raped ... I do not have the luxury to look away”.

Is this not a timely warning to tyrannical leaders from Zimbabwe to Burma that prosecutions must follow where evidence leads; that truth may be difficult, but that makes it no less true; that in the long term, there can be no peace without justice; and that the international community will not tolerate a culture of impunity?

My Lords, I commend the noble Lord for his passion on this matter. The House will agree with him that terrible things have occurred and are occurring. As he said, the ICC prosecutor yesterday announced his application to the ICC judges for an arrest warrant against the President. The prosecutor is completely independent and the court has its own procedures. We therefore believe it would be inappropriate and premature to speculate or to comment on the outcome of the deliberations of the court, but we have a long-standing position of support for the work and purposes of the ICC, and that remains the case. We also have a long-standing position of calling on the Government of Sudan to co-operate with the ICC over the two existing indictments. That remains the case, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary reiterated the points I have just made to the Sudanese President himself during his visit to Khartoum last Wednesday.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that al-Bashir has a period of about three months’ grace while the ICC considers whether to prefer an indictment on these charges, and that if in the meanwhile he facilitates the work of UNAMID, causes the Janjaweed to be stopped in its tracks and facilitates the arrest and prosecution of war criminals, the court would have the power to suspend the indictment for a while?

My Lords, it is clear that now that the prosecutor has asked for a warrant the court will take some time to make up its mind about whether it is a proper request. That is an important time for the President of Sudan and for the United Nations.

My Lords, does the Minister have an estimate of whether UN personnel, who have been temporarily withdrawn from al-Fashir and other places in the Darfur region, are in any increased danger as a result of the dialogue going on? It may be too early to speculate on the outcome of the panel of judges of the ICC and what they decide, but is it correct to say that the Security Council would have power to delay any implementation of a decision for one year? Has that aspect also been considered?

My Lords, as to the noble Lord’s last question, he is quite right: there is a power under Article 16 of the Rome statute for the Security Council to defer an investigation. I do not know for what length of time—I thought that it was a shorter period than 12 months; obviously I can find out—but it has that power.

Commentators everywhere are discussing the consequences of the prosecutor's action yesterday, particularly for United Nations and African Union soldiers and peacekeepers and for those many NGOs that are there in a humanitarian capacity, in the next few weeks. It would be foolish of me to comment further on that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in addition to the alleged genocide and war crimes for which President al-Bashir may be indicted by the ICC, during the previous war against the south, in which 2 million died and 4 million were displaced, many crimes against humanity—war crimes—were committed by President al-Bashir’s army? I have witnessed them personally from walking through killing fields of slaughtered women and children many times during 25 visits to the war zones. Does the Minister agree that such a prosecution might make it possible to bring President al-Bashir to account for those atrocities as well? Does he agree that that is at least a point of consideration?

My Lords, again, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, whom I know has visited those terror fields herself, but I must repeat what I said before. This is now a matter for the ICC and for its judges. The arrest warrant has been issued and it is now for the three judges to make up their minds what they should do with it. It would be inappropriate for any Government to say anything about the independent court, which must reach its own decision.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the many people working for NGOs in Khartoum and all over Sudan. Can we be reassured that the British Government, with their partners in the international community, are making plans if necessary to help to remove those people from Sudan, given the rather threatening remarks that the Sudanese Government have made about violence towards foreign personnel if the indictment is confirmed?

My Lords, the first duty of those responsible for NGO employees is to ensure that their safety is, as best as can be, guaranteed, but the British Government are very aware of the delicate situation that now arises in Sudan. The noble Lord can be sure that we are taking all the necessary steps.

My Lords, will the Minister encourage the Government to meet some of the Sudanese bishops who are at present in this country for the Lambeth Conference?

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that it is very important that it be made clear that this International Criminal Court administers justice in an even-handed way? The extension of responsibility to Sudan by the Security Council some years ago applies to the insurgents, just as it applies to the Government. If the insurgents commit crimes against humanity or grave breaches of international humanitarian law, they too will be pursued by the court, as was the case in the former Yugoslavia, where some members of all three groups were eventually brought before the court. It is rather important that that be so. It should not be thought that the court is a mechanism for pursuing just the Government.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. He will know that an international commission of inquiry concluded in January three years ago that the Government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide, but highlighted grave concerns about crimes committed by all sides in Darfur. The United Kingdom was one of the countries that took the matter to the Security Council. The consequence of that is where we are today. Our priority is to ensure that violations of international humanitarian law cease and the perpetrators are held to account.

My Lords, last week we welcomed the announcement that there will be no more forcible removals of failed Darfuri asylum seekers to the Sudan. Will the Government now assure us that this will not be recommenced during the Recess and that no asylum seekers will be returned to an already desperate situation?

My Lords, as I understood it, we were talking last week about Zimbabwe. The noble Lord asked me about Sudan. I cannot give the guarantee that he seeks for the Recess, but I will write to him with an answer.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the—to some of us—surprising power of delay by the Security Council. Is that power subject to veto, or is it procured by majority?

My Lords, as I understand it, a proposal is put forward and can be vetoed by one of the five permanent members.