My Lords, improving human rights remains a key objective in our engagement with Sudan. Although, regrettably, there has been little overall improvement in the human rights situation, we continue to raise concerns at senior levels, including by the Foreign Secretary in a recent meeting with Foreign Minister Ghandour in December. We welcome recent improvements in access to populations in need, but the humanitarian situation in Sudan remains of concern, with nearly 5 million people requiring assistance.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but is she aware that military offensives by the Government of Sudan in Blue Nile and South Kordofan have forced 300,000 people from their homes? During a visit to Blue Nile last month, we met 9,000 civilians who had not been visited by any other NGO and who are at risk of starvation. They are very disturbed by reports that the Government of Sudan are using the ceasefire to buy more weapons, including fighter aircraft and missiles, with a build-up of armed forces in the area that they fear will be used for renewed military offensives. Will Her Majesty’s Government raise again the need for food aid for civilians not from Khartoum, as the people do not trust aid from a Government who have been trying to kill them for years, and obtain information regarding the reported disturbing build-up of military forces?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We all acknowledge her distinguished record on these issues, in particular in Sudan. She raises perplexing issues, on which I have no specific information other than to say that she will be aware that the UK is providing humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected populations in the two areas through the Sudan Humanitarian Fund—we gave £16 million to that fund in 2017. In addition, we give general bilateral aid to Sudan. The issues that she raises are deeply concerning and I undertake to make inquiries. If I receive any further information, I shall happily write to her.
My Lords, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights confirmed in Westminster yesterday that lifting US sanctions, in his view, had not seen a corresponding lifting of barriers to aid reaching vulnerable people, particularly in the Blue Nile and Nuba mountain regions. Will the Government consult the UN about pausing the promotion of trade links until Sudan is seen to honour its aid access commitments? Will they seek to persuade other countries to do the same?
The noble Lord raises an important point, which strikes at the heart of this issue. It is about balance and whether it is better to engage to some extent and try to help to regenerate what is basically a non-functioning economy. Certainly, the United Kingdom supported the lifting of United States sanctions, which we thought an important step towards a more inclusive form of economic development in Sudan and a normalisation of Sudan’s international relations. There is a need to assist with building economic infrastructure, which will offer genuine help to those most affected and vulnerable, but we are under no illusions about the challenges that confront that country.
My Lords, since 2011 there have been reports that the Government in Sudan have arrested Christian leaders, demolished churches and prevented church properties from being registered. My Anglican colleagues from the Sudan advised me that church schools are able to open only four days a week, because the Government require that schools are closed on Fridays and Saturdays—of course, Sunday is a holy day for Christians. How much more can the Government ensure that the rights of religious minorities are respected in Sudan?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for raising a very important issue. It is concerning and, across the piece, we make it clear to Sudan that we expect compliance with international human rights requirements and tolerance in recognition of the legitimate right of people in Sudan to exercise their peaceful and lawful operations. I am interested in the point that the right reverend Prelate raises and I shall certainly take it back to the department.
My Lords, I want to pick up a point that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on how we get humanitarian aid in. No one disputes the fact that the Government have been committed to getting aid in, but it is surely important that we focus on local NGOs, particularly women’s groups, to ensure that the aid that we get in is trusted and effective. Finally, we cannot continue to allow the actors in Sudan to act with impunity. We must ensure that they are held to account.
On the last point, I totally agree with the noble Lord. We make at diplomatic level repeated representations about the need for proper recognition of the rights of the citizens of Sudan, not least those who find themselves the subject of arrest or who are detained. On the broader front of how we get aid particularly to those inaccessible areas, which is extremely challenging, not least due to the complex circumstances surrounding those areas of Sudanese geography, there has been evidence, as noted by the United Nations and others in 2017, of some improvements in access to populations in need, as a result of revised directives by the Government of Sudan. We continue to urge the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North to agree to the US proposal on humanitarian assistance so that aid can reach affected populations.
My Lords, in the 15 years since a visit to Darfur, some 2 million of those to whom the Minister referred have been displaced, there have been more than 200,000 deaths and the President of Sudan, Field Marshal al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity. What extra action, following the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, have we taken to ensure that he is brought to justice? Why, in the Security Council, did we support a reduction of 44% of the troop presence in Darfur, when the situation there has continued to deteriorate?
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his knowledge of the country and the issues confronting it. It is the case that the security situation has evolved in much of Darfur, which is why we supported the United Nations Security Council’s decision in June to reconfigure the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, but we recognise that the security situation remains fragile. Our priority is to ensure that the changes made to the mission are done sensibly, with appropriate review points, so that we can ensure that a smaller, more flexible African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur is still able to fulfil the core components of its mandate.