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Sudan: War Crimes

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Amnesty International, We had no time to bury him: War crimes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the suffering caused by the conflict in Blue Nile state. Accounts presented in Amnesty’s report underline our serious concern about the impact on civilians of the military tactics used. Our priority is a cessation of hostilities and full access to the area for life-saving humanitarian assistance. We continue to press both the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North—the SPLM-N—to enter into talks to achieve this.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in addition to this shocking report, new satellite imagery compiled by Amnesty International shows the sheer extent of the purging of the Nuba people from these areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as the scorched-earth policies being pursued by the Sudanese military—unabated, uncondemned and unobstructed by the West? Can the Minister tell us when this situation was last raised in the United Nations Security Council and whether we support the extension of the current arms embargo on Darfur to the rest of Sudan? Rather than locking out refugees from camps such as Yida, why are we still not collecting first-hand accounts from witnesses that detail the genocide and war crimes against humanity which are carried out on a day-by-day basis?

My Lords, the noble Lord asked about six questions, and I am not sure that I can answer all of them. The UN is extremely heavily engaged both in Sudan and in South Sudan, with three UN missions and a number of other UN operations. We and other Governments make entirely clear to the Government of Sudan our horror at what is taking place. However, as the noble Lord knows, access to the areas of conflict is extremely difficult for diplomats at present.

My Lords, more than 18 months ago, Matthew LeRiche found that civilians in the Blue Nile State were living in constant fear because of indiscriminate terror campaigns aimed at rendering the population unable to provide even the basics of daily life. Those perpetuating these crimes with impunity had the backing of President al-Bashir and six other ICC indictees. Does my noble friend agree that unless the ICC arrest warrants are implemented, there is little or no deterrence for the present crimes? Will the Government therefore press this case with the international community with absolute vigour to see a result?

The question of what is the international community for these purposes is very delicate. Arresting an active head of state in his own capital is not the easiest thing to do without going to war. We are deeply concerned about the current situation, but I should stress that the fighting which broke out in South Kordofan and Blue Nile two years ago was in fact sparked by the SPLM-N and it is the Government of Sudan who have responded in a particularly brutal and indiscriminate fashion.

My Lords, in an appalling repetition of history, the Government of Sudan have spent the last two years deploying the same brutality that they used in Darfur to crush the rebellions that have been mentioned in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Does the Minister agree that the lessons of Darfur have not been learnt and that the United Nations Security Council is again failing to respond to the suffering of the Sudanese people, who are being bombarded by their own Governments?

My Lords, we have to be careful not to assume that the United Nations can do too much. The UN has been actively engaged in this extremely complex series of wars. Let us be quite clear: there are not just two sides on this, as the noble Baroness herself well knows. There is conflict within South Sudan; there is conflict within Sudan itself; there is conflict between groups which are claimed to be supported from across the border. It is now 10 years since the Darfur conflict started. Things are a little better than they were. I speak with some direct experience, having a close friend who has worked both in Darfur and in Abyei in the past three years. Sadly, there are limits to what the international community can achieve, but I assure the noble Baroness that the British Government and others are working extremely hard and providing as much humanitarian assistance as they can in this dreadful situation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I visited South Kordofan and Blue Nile states earlier this year and witnessed at first hand the constant aerial bombardment of civilians, which deliberately targeted schools and clinics, forcing civilians to hide in caves with deadly snakes and in banks carved out from rivers, and preventing them harvesting crops, with many dying of starvation? Does the noble Lord agree that this aerial bombardment of civilians is being undertaken only by the Government of Khartoum and that, therefore, there is no moral equivalence between the policies of Sudan and South Sudan? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to call the Government of Khartoum to account for this aerial bombardment, which has been carried out so far with complete impunity?

My Lords, we are not the only external actor influencing Sudan. We have to work with the Chinese, who are major actors in terms of external influence on Sudan, the Arab League countries and others. As the noble Baroness will know, there is a tripartite body consisting of the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League which is attempting to mediate on what is happening in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. I do not in any sense underestimate the horrors of what is happening there.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for sending me some material on what she witnessed in her recent visit. It is the most appalling—I emphasise—series of interconnected conflicts from Darfur all the way across to Jonglei and Blue Nile. Part of the problem is that Governments in both South Sudan and Sudan are weak and do not control the whole of their territories.

My Lords, the Minister made the point that President al-Bashir would be hard to capture in his own capital. That is of course entirely true, but he must be one of the most widely travelled Presidents of almost any country in Africa. He is at meetings and conferences throughout Africa, throughout the Middle East and occasionally completely out of the hemisphere. What influence are we trying to bring to bear on those other countries that he routinely visits and which do not necessarily have an adverse view of bringing a war criminal to justice?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be well aware from his own experience as a Minister how complex these issues are. It is not just a question of Sudan and the ICC. There are delicate questions of Kenya and the ICC at the moment as well. Her Majesty’s Government do of course make representations to other Governments whose territories ICC-designated people visit. Unfortunately, Britain does not command as much influence as we might like in a number of countries in the third world.

My Lords, I have had the opportunity of visiting South Sudan and Sudan in the past year or so. Does the Minister agree that, according to the comprehensive peace agreement, the Government of Sudan were required to withdraw all their military forces from South Sudan, which they have done, and that the SPLA was required to withdraw its military people and armed forces from north Sudan but has so far failed to comply?

My Lords, the border drawn between Sudan and South Sudan has not been entirely settled. Questions remain about who belongs where, because a number of tribes are pastoral and move across the border. Many issues are not entirely clear or settled. That is very much a problem that we face after the prolonged civil war from which the two countries emerged.