Skip to main content

Sudan: Bombardment of Civilians

Volume 760: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in Sudan, with particular reference to the continuing aerial bombardment of civilians in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

My Lords, recent developments in Sudan’s conflict zones are deeply concerning. Continued attacks on civilian populations, including in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, are entirely unacceptable. We continue to support the mediation work of President Mbeki’s AU panel and to emphasise to all sides that the only resolution to these conflicts is through political dialogue, not military means.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that I recently visited Blue Nile state and witnessed first hand the devastating effects of the Government of Sudan’s escalating aerial bombardment, which deliberately targets schools, hospitals, markets and people trying to grow crops? People cannot grow food and many hundreds have died of starvation. The bombers now come equipped with search-lights so that they can kill by night as well as by day. Over half a million people have fled their homes and are hiding in snake-infested caves, in river banks and under trees. What are Her Majesty’s Government actually doing to call the Government of Sudan to account and end the impunity with which they are perpetrating this de facto genocide?

I am aware of the noble Baroness’s visit and I thank her for the report that she issued after it. I commend her for her commitment to this incredibly dangerous region.

We pressed the Government of Sudan and their armed forces to cease attacks on civilians and to comply with international humanitarian law. We have consistently raised the two areas in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council and, through our embassy work, we seek to highlight the importance of the rule of law and promote a culture of accountability throughout Sudan. We are working very hard to try to get that across.

My Lords, what has been the Security Council’s response to the Human Rights Watch reports of horrific incidents of mass rape in Darfur and the continuing insecurity and impunity in that region? When will al-Bashir and his Janjaweed be called to account? We are now watching a terrible new phase of genocide in Darfur—and, I am afraid, in silence.

The noble Baroness highlights some very grave problems in Sudan, and she will I am sure also know that the UN independent expert on human rights in Sudan is looking at the human rights situation there. We are very concerned that that is taken forward. In terms of sexual violence, she will know that it appears to be an area where rape is being used as a deliberate weapon of war. We are pressing the Sudanese Government to try to take forward protection of civilians, but she will be acutely aware of how challenging that is proving to be.

My Lords, during two visits to South Sudan last year, both in Juba and in the fighting area, it was evident that there was widespread belief and evidence that the Government of Sudan were not only interfering in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur with these terrible acts, but seek further to destabilise the already terrible situation in South Sudan. What steps do this Government believe should be taken and what steps are they taking with the international community to stop this cross-border interference?

The cross-border area is again a very difficult area to be working in. Our sense of things in terms of South Sudan is that we have huge challenges there in trying to get the parties to some kind of agreement. The Government of Sudan themselves are playing a non-obstructive role generally speaking. However, given all the instability on the border that the most reverend Primate talks about, it is exceptionally difficult.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise and do the Government recognise that the genocidal Government of Field Marshal al-Bashir and his generals, many of whom have also been invited before the ICC, have adopted a deliberate plan to eradicate the SPLM/A by a programme of destruction of food crops, bombing of hospitals and other atrocities which have already led to the fleeing of 250,000 people from South Kordofan and Blue Nile to take refuge in Sudan and Ethiopia? When will the Government remind the United Nations of the duty to protect?

We have consistently stressed the need for the United Nations to be engaged in the two areas. Obviously, there are challenges when the United Nations is not allowed into the areas that it should be. When I was in Sudan about a month ago, we were pressing on the Government there that, if the United Nations wants to get in and feels that it is safe to, it should be able to. We pressed for the Security Council statement on 11 December, which called on all parties to refrain from acts of violence against civilians. The newly appointed independent expert is working on human rights abuses and we are urging him to take that further forward.

My Lords, does the Minister recall our exchange on 17 May 2012, when I asked her whether she concurred with the view of Dr Mukesh Kapila, formerly our high representative in Sudan, that the second genocide of the 21st century was unfolding in South Kordofan, Darfur being the first? In her reply she said that,

“it is clear that there have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians and war crimes”.—[Official Report, 17/5/12; col. 526.]

In the nearly three years that have elapsed since then, during which an estimated 2,500 bombs have been dropped on civilian targets, why has the international community totally failed to prevent this horrific carnage, failed systematically to collect the evidence, failed to establish an international committee of inquiry, and failed to hold anyone to account for these atrocities?

I do remember that exchange and I remember the discussions we had after that question as well—as no doubt the noble Lord does—and the sensitivity of what we did in trying to make sure that we were able to get humanitarian organisations in, which we are seeking to do. We are extremely concerned to make sure that that access is there. It is indeed a very challenging situation and we would hold both sides to account. Certainly, in terms of what the Government of Sudan have been doing, we have enormous concerns and address this through the human rights activities that I was talking about.