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Sudan: Human Rights

Volume 767: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current human rights situation in Sudan.

My Lords, the human rights situation in Sudan remains of serious concern, particularly regarding reports of violations of international humanitarian law and the use of sexual violence in conflict. We consistently raise our concerns with the Government of Sudan and armed opposition groups and, where relevant, in the UN Security Council. In addition, we supported a renewed mandate for the UN independent expert on human rights at the Human Rights Council this September.

I thank the Minister for that response. In 2004, Gayle Smith, the respected US analyst on Sudan, wrote in the Washington Post, in terms, that the efforts of the US Administration to end Sudan’s conflict would have been wasted if they allowed the Sudanese Government to continue to commit crimes against humanity. They would have demonstrated to Khartoum that it could act with impunity against its own people. Eleven years later, Gayle Smith has been appointed head of the US International Development Agency. In the mean time, 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur and 300,000 killed. Some 500,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and will die without emergency action. Will the Government remind Gayle Smith of her prophetic words and urge the US agency to join the UK in taking the strongest lead in the Security Council, and in the UN as a whole, to bring to an end Khartoum’s record of human rights abuse and denial of humanitarian aid access?

My Lords, we take a very strong position with the Government of Sudan on all those matters, and we work closely within the troika with our colleagues, the United States and Norway. Sudan has suffered now for decades in a situation where its Government appear to ignore the needs of their own population. We work within the United Nations, and of course the Human Rights Council is part of that body. In particular, we support the work of the UN panel of experts to document breaches of the sanctions regime, breaches of international humanitarian law and offences against individuals, which can be followed up because of course no one should be able to claim immunity or impunity for those crimes.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has strongly condemned the United Nations Security Council for its failure to bring high-profile indicted people, such as the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, to trial for mass rape and other war crimes in Darfur? Will the Minister confirm that as a member of the Security Council the UK is pressing for justice and the arrest of those who continue to commit atrocities in Darfur?

Indeed, my Lords, we press very hard to ensure that those who commit atrocities in Darfur are not able to achieve impunity in that matter. That is important, not only there but around the world. With regard to Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor to whom the noble Baroness referred, of course I do not interfere in her work but I watch her very closely. Much earlier this year I met her and discussed the matters to which the noble Baroness referred. So I assure the noble Baroness that we not only watch; we also press.

My Lords, are we collecting systematic evidence to ensure that material goes before the International Criminal Court to bring to justice those who have been charged with genocide in Sudan? Reverting to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, what humanitarian access is now available both in Darfur and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where humanitarian agencies have been prohibited from reaching the desperate people in those places?

My Lords, I am aware that the UN independent expert has not yet returned to Sudan since his reappointment in October 2014, so we have not been able to test out whether he is able to gain access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan. We will watch to see what happens there. Humanitarian access across the border into the two areas is still judged to be so dangerous that very few organisations are able to commit to carrying out work. It is therefore difficult for Governments to fund them because it is difficult to judge what needs they are meeting and to be able to hold them to account. This is a matter on which we continue to press.

With regard to collecting information, we work with NGOs that are very brave human rights defenders, and we provide assistance where we may, using tools such as the international protocol on the collection of information that may later be used for prosecutions.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the regime in Khartoum continues to carry out aerial bombardment of the peoples in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan’s Nuba mountains? They are living in terrible conditions, hiding in snake-infested caves and riverbanks, they cannot harvest their crops and, as noble Lords have already indicated, their humanitarian needs are enormous. The noble Baroness says that it is difficult to find agencies to take the cross-border aid but our own experience is that we work with organisations that are highly respectable. Will the Government continue to consider ways of providing that cross-border aid for the 750,000 people who are dying from lack of food and medical care?

The noble Baroness has seen at first hand the appalling violence against people in the two areas. I well remember her description of people trying to seek refuge in a dried-up riverbed infested with snakes, and I am aware that the violence now extends to bombing at night as well as by day. I assure the noble Baroness that we will keep our policy under constant review as regards providing assistance to those who wish to go across the border and that we will lobby both sides to allow humanitarian access to all parts of the two areas from within Sudan.

My Lords, the Chinese have been very active both in Sudan and in South Sudan in this area, and have taken quite a forward involvement in the policy problems of the area. Have the Government had any liaison with the Chinese authorities, because they seem to have enormous resources which they can apply, particularly in this kind of area, and might be of assistance in solving the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, rightly raised?

My Lords, of course we had the Chinese state visit very recently, during the course of which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed the matter of human rights widely with the Chinese President. So we keep the matter under review. In the first instance we want to ensure that any aid provided is provided within international humanitarian law as well as international law itself.

My Lords, what further progress has been made in restricting the small arms trade, given that every community in Sudan is awash with small arms? Obviously, this is an extremely difficult problem, but international efforts were being made. What further progress can the Minister report?

The noble Baroness points to a serious problem, not only in that area but elsewhere. We have made clear to the Government that it is important that they improve their own attitude towards the security of all minorities, part and parcel of which is indeed the restriction of the amount of arms that are available. But I am under no illusions about the difficulty of trying to pursue that.