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Arrest of Sudanese Prime Minister

Volume 815: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 25 October.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to answer this Urgent Question. The UK most strongly condemns today’s arrest of civilian members of Sudan’s transitional Government by the military. We are also deeply concerned about reports of shooting at protesters, which must stop.

Over the past two years, Sudan has been on the delicate pathway from oppressive, autocratic rule towards freedom and democracy. The UK has been a consistent and firm advocate for the democratic transition since the 2019 revolution. The acts of the military today represent an unacceptable betrayal of the Sudanese people and their journey to democracy.

I was in Khartoum just last week, when I stressed the need for all parties to support the civilian-led Government’s work to deliver the democratic transition, the process agreed by all sides in the constitutional declaration of August 2019. The military leadership in Khartoum cannot claim to be committed to a democratic future while simultaneously acting unilaterally to dissolve the transitional institutions and to arrest leading civilian politicians.

The Sudanese military agreed to the power-sharing agreement, as outlined in the constitutional declaration. Having arrested the Prime Minister and others today, the military have undermined the trust placed in them by the people of Sudan to deliver democracy.

At this very moment, there is a communications blackout and, therefore, only intermittent contact with my officials in Khartoum, but they are working to establish the full details of the situation. We have updated travel advice to reflect the unrest and we will keep it under review to ensure the safety of British nationals and our staff, although I understand there are no flights at the moment. We are working with international partners and expect to make a public statement later today. I will also speak to my US counterpart later today.

As we know well in this place, disagreement and debate are essential features of democratic politics. Disagreement and debate are neither a threat to Sudan nor a threat to the Sudanese people and as such I urge Sudan’s military leadership to change its course, to release detained politicians, including Prime Minister Hamdok, and to ensure Sudanese people can protest without fear of violence. The actions of the Sudanese military today are wholly unacceptable.

Women were a major driver of the 2019 protests that fought so bravely for democracy. Last week in Khartoum I met inspiring women leaders, inspiring women social reformers, inspiring women entrepreneurs and inspiring women community leaders, including the truly awe-inspiring Mama Iqbal, who successfully eradicated female genital mutilation in her 200,000-strong community of Tutti Island. She has undertaken to roll out her work across the country with help from UK aid.

Women and girls have a vital role to play in Sudan’s future and the UK stands with them. The military’s actions today have betrayed all the people of Sudan, but especially the women and girls.”

My Lords, on Monday Vicky Ford welcomed the United Nations Secretary-General’s condemnation of the military’s action, stating that the UK was actively calling for a briefing at the UN Security Council. She added that she would be speaking to her US counterpart later that day. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of these initiatives? The release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok yesterday is welcome but the statement by his office said that other government officials remained in detention, their locations unknown. Can the Minister tell us what discussions in the last 24 hours Ministers in the department have had with the security and military forces in Sudan to urge the release of those who have been unlawfully detained?

My Lords, the UK strongly condemns the arrest of civilian members of Sudan’s transitional Government by the military yesterday. We are also deeply concerned by reports of protesters having been shot. Over the past two years, Sudan has been on a delicate pathway from oppressive autocratic rule towards freedom and democracy. The Minister was in Khartoum last week, as she told the House of Commons, where she stressed the need for all parties to support the civilian-led Government’s work to deliver the democratic transition process that has been widely agreed.

In response to the noble Lord’s question, together with the US and Norway we have issued a troika statement condemning the suspension of the institutions of state, the declaration of the state of emergency and the detention of Prime Minister Hamdok and other members of the civilian leadership. The statement also calls for the immediate release of those unlawfully detained.

My Lords, I declare an interest as outlined in the register. I was due to be in Khartoum next Friday, scheduled to meet Prime Minister Hamdok on my 13th visit to Sudan before, during and after the democratic revolution. It is an absolute tragedy that has afflicted the people of Sudan, especially the women and young people, who have been so active in the transition process. There is considerable concern that diplomatic access will be refused to officials, many of whom I have spoken to over the last few weeks leading up to the coup. Can the Minister update the House on ensuring that there is diplomatic access to Prime Minister Hamdok and other Cabinet Ministers who have been detained and are now under house arrest in their own properties?

Secondly, there is significant concern that certain countries allied to the UK may well be offering significant sums of money to the military, which has now taken power. Will the troika and the EU work together to ensure that allies of our countries will not financially support military dictatorships that overthrow democratic transitional administrations?

The noble Lord makes an important point. It is clear, as everyone would agree, that the actions of the military are unacceptable. We are reassessing our commitment to restart a phased defence engagement in light of what has happened. The noble Lord also mentioned the impact particularly felt by women and girls. It is worth acknowledging, as the Minister for Africa said yesterday, that women were a major driver of the 2019 protest and fought so bravely for democracy. Last week in Khartoum, Minister Ford from the other place met a number of those inspiring individuals who have shown the vital role that women and girls have to play in the country’s future, and the UK solidly stands with them, both from over here in the United Kingdom and through our humanitarian assistance and overseas development programmes.