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Volume 778: debated on Monday 23 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent developments in Sudan.

My Lords, we remain concerned by the situation in Sudan, particularly the humanitarian situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. We welcome positive steps, such as extension of the unilateral ceasefire by the Sudanese Government and conclusion of the first phase of the national dialogue, coupled with assurances that this process remains open to the participation of opposition groups. We welcome our frank engagement on human rights, on which we need to see more progress.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her sympathetic reply. Is she aware that I have just recently returned from the Nuba mountains? I saw there first-hand evidence of the Sudanese Government’s continuing destruction of homes and schools in military offensives and aerial bombardment of civilians who have been forced to live in caves with deadly snakes. I met a girl who had been bitten by a cobra and a father whose five children had been burnt alive when a shell hit the cave in which they were sheltering. They have no healthcare, acute shortages of food and there has recently been a measles epidemic in which at least 20 children are known to have died. Will Her Majesty’s Government urgently reconsider the obligation to provide cross-border aid to save the lives of these innocent civilians, as the people of the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile cannot accept aid from the Khartoum Government, who are killing them?

My Lords, humanitarian assistance is indeed a high priority for the UK and the international community, as is finding a lasting peace settlement. As part of the peace process, the US reached an agreement with the Sudanese Government on humanitarian access to the Two Areas. We believe this offered a real opportunity to provide support to the people of the Two Areas and to allow the current ceasefire to be made permanent. We were therefore disappointed that at a meeting of the troika envoys in Paris last week, the secretary-general of the SPLM-North—the opposition forces—rejected the offer. We remain in direct contact with organisations on the ground in the Nuba mountains, including with the SPLM-North itself. It is not suggesting to us that there has been a resumption in fighting. However, I am very grateful for the information provided by the noble Baroness in her report, which I have read. I reassure her that we will continue to monitor the situation closely and raise breaches of the ceasefire, when they occur, with the Government of Sudan.

My Lords, the United States has agreed to lift sanctions which previously applied in Sudan. Will we now consider trading with Sudan and strengthening our educational and trade links with that country?

My Lords, we will continue to provide support to UK companies to understand the opportunities and challenges of operating in Sudan. However, we have been clear with the Government of Sudan that the current conflicts, human rights abuses and business environment remain obstacles to a sizeable increase in interest from British companies. We continue to urge them to make progress on these issues. The UK will continue to support the UN targeted sanctions for Darfur, as well as the EU arms embargo that remains in place across Sudan.

My Lords, in South Sudan tens of thousands of people have been killed, there are 2.2 million displaced people, 4.6 million need food aid, and the economy has been absolutely destroyed. Despite this awful misery, South Sudan has been largely forgotten by the rest of the world. Does the Minister share the view that another Rwanda is looming, and accept the UN Secretary-General’s warning of a potential genocide in South Sudan? What will our Government do to ensure that the term “never again” has real meaning this time?

My Lords, I perfectly understand the valuable reasons why the noble Baroness asks that question today—but perhaps she was unable to see that the Question on the Order Paper changed, and therefore South Sudan is no longer part of today’s Question. However, I reassure her that it will be on the Order Paper to be asked next week, and I will certainly address it at that stage. She is right to raise those questions. Indeed, some from South Sudan have fled to Sudan itself, and we are trying to assist with aid there.

My Lords, the United States sanctions placed on Sudan because of the humanitarian and genocidal crimes in Darfur, the Nuba mountains and South Kordofan and Blue Nile states have apparently been lifted by executive order from the past United States President, in response to supposed positive actions. I think that the Minister acknowledges that the abuses have continued pretty well unabated, with humanitarian access still blocked, the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the refusal to rein in sexual violence throughout Darfur, and attacks by militia forces in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Apart from providing potential business investment opportunities, what positive relief has the Sudan dialogue and Khartoum process given to the oppressed and abused minorities in that region?

My Lords, there were several important points there. May I in response point out that when the US promised to lift economic sanctions it was on the basis of a raft of conditions, which will be assessed by July? The first condition is a ceasefire across the country. The noble Lord raised Darfur and the Two Areas, on which I thought I had already responded. The opposition forces there say that there has not been a breach. We are aware, however, of reports of clashes in Nertiti, Darfur. The problem is that we have not been able to verify those with people on the ground, because of the difficulty of access—but I assure the noble Lord that we shall continue trying to do so.

My Lords, has my noble friend noticed that the Chinese have about 8,000 troops in the peacekeeping force in Sudan—in southern Sudan? Might this not be an opportunity to review our own peacekeeping contribution, and indeed the mandate under which those people have to work, and also, in the longer term, to strengthen our security links directly with the Chinese Government?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to raise the question of the importance of being able to discuss with China the whole issue of security round the world—and indeed its contribution to the peacekeeping forces. I would again point out that the peacekeeping forces are in South Sudan and this Question is about Sudan—but I can reassure my noble friend that we are looking carefully at how the UK’s contribution to peacekeeping in South Sudan is being developed accordingly, including providing a stage 6 hospital there.

My Lords, would it not have been better if on 13 January, when Minister Tobias Ellwood welcomed the lifting of sanctions against the Republic of Sudan by the United States, he had said what the noble Baroness has said to the House this afternoon and made the following abundantly clear? When a regime is led by people who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity, and has been responsible, as we heard from my noble friend, for indiscriminate bombing of hospitals, schools and homes, the unlawful killing of civilians, the abduction and rape of women, the looting and destruction of entire villages, the alleged use of chemical weapons in Darfur, details of which I have sent to the noble Baroness, and the forced displacement of an estimated quarter of a million people—what the White House itself once described as a “stain on our soul”—surely it cannot be a case of business as usual.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord; indeed, it is not a case of business as usual because what is unusual now is that the Government of Sudan have agreed to a series of markers of progress they must make to maintain the removal of some of the sanctions that the US has imposed. The US has clearly set out how those sanctions will be lifted. As ever, the noble Lord raises a vital point about the International Criminal Court, international justice and the fact that al-Bashir himself is subject to an order under the ICC. I discussed those matters with members of the ICC when I attended the states parties meeting at the end of last year in The Hague, including with the South African Justice Minister, and I will continue to do so.

My Lords, i recognise that improvements between the Anglican Church of Sudan and the Sudanese Government have occurred but it remains the case that, after over a year, there are two Sudanese pastors, one Czech aid worker and a Sudanese civil rights activist still in al-Huda prison in Omdurman under the death penalty. Human rights activists say that there is no case at all. What contact have Ministers with the Government of Sudan regarding these prisoners and the treatment of Christians more generally?

The right reverend Prelate is right to raise these disturbing cases. We were pleased to hear about the release of the Reverend Kwa Shamal but remain very concerned about the fate of the three men who remain in detention charged with a number of crimes, including espionage and waging war against the Government. Together with our international partners, officials from our embassy in Khartoum regularly attend hearings. The next hearing is expected to be held on 29 January. It has been delayed. In addition, the UK embassy officials are in close contact with the lawyers representing the defendants. We will continue to monitor the case closely.

My Lords, I return to the question of impunity. Despite the best efforts of many Governments, including our own, we know that there has been extraordinary violence and breaches of human rights. What are the Government doing to ensure that we monitor and report human rights abuses and violations? How can we bring the people responsible to justice?

My Lords, we monitor human rights abuses through a wide range of sources, particularly with the NGOs which provide humanitarian aid across the region, and through the contacts that our own and other embassies have. This is a case where the international community must, and does, co-operate. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, pointed out, in some areas it is exceedingly difficult to get accurate information.