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Volume 748: debated on Monday 28 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to recent developments in the Republic of Sudan.

My Lords, the Sudanese Government’s violent crackdown on recent popular protests was disproportionate and unacceptable. We have called for an independent investigation into the use of force by the security forces. These events have demonstrated once again the need for an opening-up of democratic space in Sudan for real political debate. The Government must engage in a process of reform that addresses the needs of all groups and parts of the country, including those regions currently in conflict.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that the suffering inflicted on their people by the Government in Khartoum is escalating, with continuing aerial bombardment of civilians in the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile? Half a million people have been displaced and are dying; I myself have witnessed that. In Khartoum, over 200 legitimate protestors have been killed. Not only that—some of their relatives were forced to sign forged death certificates saying that their deaths were from “natural causes” rather than from live ammunition. The scale of suffering in Sudan is second only to that in Syria. Would the Minister agree that the time is long overdue for really robust measures to be taken to stop the impunity with which Khartoum is continuing to slaughter, terrorise and cause suffering to its own people?

I thank the noble Baroness for keeping this House up-to-date with what is normally the most up-to-date information on Sudan and South Sudan—usually because she has just visited once again. Of course there is immeasurable suffering taking place in Sudan; 3 million people have been displaced or affected by various internal conflicts. It is felt that the way to deal with these matters is through the United Nations Security Council, which regularly addresses this issue: it discussed this matter only last Thursday. We feel that the best responses are, first, through UN peacekeeping; secondly, through humanitarian assistance; and thirdly, through concerted international efforts led by the African Union, all aspects of which are supported by the British Government.

My Lords, what response is likely to be given to the increased violence taking place in Darfur and the planned reduction simultaneously in the number of UNAMID personnel? Will urgent attention be given to the need for a more viable and inclusive process to replace the much discredited Doha process? Can we expect Darfur civil society and local stakeholders to be directly involved?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. Of course, 10 years after the start of the conflict, the situation in Darfur remains serious. We have been pressing the Government of Sudan to honour their commitments. I understand the concerns that the noble Baroness has about the Doha peace agreement, but that is the framework within which we are working at the moment, supporting the efforts of the African Union and the UN joint chief mediator to engage the armed movements and encourage them to end violence and not to obstruct the peace process. We continue to give support, predominantly through humanitarian aid, of which a large chunk goes into Darfur.

My Lords, as I am sure my noble friend knows, the Security Council last Thursday expressed grave concern about the highly volatile situation in Abyei. What information does she have about the proposed referendum to determine the constitutional status of that territory being held among its permanent inhabitants towards the end of this month? What does she know about the increased military activity by the Sudan armed forces, particularly around the capital, Kadugli? Does she think these two events are connected?

We are of course concerned about unilateral actions by either side in Abyei, but we believe that the Ngok community is organising a popular consultation of the community. However, this has not been endorsed by the Government of South Sudan. We understand the frustration that has led to this, but we encourage all parties at this stage to refrain from unilateral action. We are aware of the reports to which my noble friend refers of the build-up of Sudanese forces in South Kordofan. Whether or not that is linked to Abyei or the ongoing conflict in South Kordofan, we are not sure at this stage, and we urge restraint from the Sudanese armed forces. The noble Lord will of course be aware that, during the dry season, there is generally a build-up of armed personnel in the area, but we are keeping a close eye on the situation.

My Lords, I understand the call on the Sudanese Government to open up greater democratic space, but that is rather like inviting any violent dictator to think about his behaviour and mend his ways—it is unlikely to create the outcome sought. Is not the truth of this, whether we are talking about Abyei or anything else happening in Sudan, that Omar al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes? This Government—indeed, it was the noble Baroness on 17 July speaking about strengthening the International Criminal Court—made the point that impunity was not acceptable. What steps will be taken to bring this man to justice? He travels freely throughout Africa and much of the world. He is not immune.

We regularly remind states party to the Rome statute of their responsibilities under that statute. Only three months ago, we brought this fact to the attention of Nigeria, where President Bashir was travelling.