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Sudan: Government Changes

Volume 793: debated on Thursday 11 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of recent changes in the government of Sudan on the deployment of the United Nations-African Union hybrid operation in Darfur, on the prospects of President Omar al-Bashir securing a third term in office, and on the government of the United States of America revising its foreign policy towards Sudan.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare an interest as an officer of the All-Party Group for Sudan.

My Lords, the Government of Sudan must fulfil their obligation to provide peace and stability for all Darfuris by co-operating with UNAMID to ensure that the transition is a success. We continue to urge the Sudanese Government to undertake political reforms, to strengthen democracy and to ensure free, fair and inclusive elections. Sudan continues to work with the United States to seek removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list, and the UK is supportive of this engagement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and note the press release received from our ambassador in Sudan this morning. However, in Darfur members of the All-Party Group for Sudan were told that the hasty withdrawal of UN troops had fuelled insecurity and instability, leaving the work of aid organisations nigh-on impossible. Meanwhile, of course, President Bashir is still presiding over genocide in Darfur, brutal conflict with South Sudan and repression of civil society. He now seeks to amend the constitution so that he can stand for re-election in 2020. Will the Government act with the international community to prevent Darfur being abandoned yet again and follow the example of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where international intervention forced President Joseph Kabila to listen to his people and stand down?

My Lords, let me make clear in relation to the United Nations, and particularly UNAMID, that the UK Government continue to support a gradual, conditions-based withdrawal of that mission in Darfur. Our priority is to ensure that changes to the mission are made sensibly, with appropriate review points, and to make sure that a smaller, more flexible UNAMID is still able to fulfil the core components of its mandate. On President Bashir and the recent announcement that he seeks to be a candidate for the 2020 election, we urge the Government to engage meaningfully in the African Union-led peace process and undertake reforms that strengthen Sudan’s democracy. This will ensure free, fair and inclusive elections.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that earlier this year I visited Blue Nile state in Sudan with my small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—where we met 9,000 recently displaced people who were desperate. They had no food, they were at risk of starvation, and HART was the only NGO to reach them. We were able to raise emergency funding which saved many lives, but there are reports of a very high mortality rate, especially for children. Will the Minister therefore explain how the UK Government are working with the international community to fulfil its responsibilities to protect and provide for these very vulnerable, and indeed dying people?

I thank the noble Baroness, who raises a very important point. She will be aware that the UK Government, through our Department for International Development, have been providing very significant help. Indeed, the UK remains one of the largest humanitarian donors to Sudan and we are the largest contributor to the Sudan Humanitarian Fund. We contribute approximately £15 million a year to that fund and we are trying to provide help with clean water and sanitation, particularly helping children, women and girls through food and nutrition interventions. We are also doing everything we can with emergency food assistance and support, because there are South Sudanese refugees and newly displaced people arriving in Sudan.

My Lords, I turn the Minister’s attention to the UK’s support for the ICC. As we know, Bashir faces an arrest warrant for war crimes, yet he has in recent times been able to travel throughout Africa and the rest of the world with no attempt to arrest him. The most recent case, of course, is Jordan. The ICC prosecutor intends to raise this with the Security Council and with the ICC. What is the Government’s response to this referral? Will we back the need to support the ICC, so that people like Bashir cannot continue to act with impunity?

The noble Lord makes an important point. As he will be aware, the UK Government totally support the ICC, believing it to be an essential and effective body. He will also be aware that, as I understand it, Sudan itself is not a signatory to the Rome statute and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the ICC. How other countries decide to respond to visits by the President to their jurisdictions is a matter for them. Certainly, as far as the British Government are concerned, British government officials and Ministers avoid all non-essential contact with individuals indicted by the International Criminal Court, but we have no power to extradite people from other jurisdictions such as Sudan. How other countries react if the President visits these countries has to be a matter for them.

My Lords, last month I was in Sudan with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan. Women’s groups there told us they faced arrest for things such as their choice of clothing—for example, today in Sudan I would be liable for arrest because I am wearing trousers. Divorce is illegal; however, forced marriage and marital rape remain legal and commonplace. Will our Government use the upcoming round of the UK-Sudan strategic dialogue to press for repeal of the public order law in Sudan, which enshrines these abuses in legislation?

The noble Baroness refers to the strategic dialogue structure, which has proved to be both an important and effective means of exchange of views. She will be aware there have been two recent ministerial visits to Sudan, one in August by my honourable friend Harriett Baldwin, the Minister for Africa, and in September by my noble friend Lord Ahmad. These were all matters, regarding the general context of human rights, which were being and continue to be raised through the strategic dialogue. Let me make clear: Sudan remains a human rights priority country for the FCO, and improving human rights is a key objective in our engagement with Sudan. Indeed, during his recent visit to Sudan, my noble friend Lord Ahmad raised the importance of progress in this area with senior members of the Government.

My Lords, it is very important that human rights is part of the dialogue with Sudan, but can the Minister confirm that repression of the opposition is a legitimate concern, and that Her Majesty’s Government are raising it?

Yes. On the agenda of discussions held by the UK Government with Sudan has been the matter of political reforms, economic reforms and, of course, human rights reforms. The noble Earl is absolutely correct that we want to be sure there is a properly functioning democratic system in Sudan which leads to fair and legitimately contested elections. We have certainly made clear that we expect reforms in all these areas.