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Darfur: Risk of Genocide

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, following the discovery of mass graves and an increase in crimes targeting non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur, what assessment they have made of the risk of genocide in that region.

My Lords, the UK strongly condemns the abhorrent attacks on civilians across Sudan. Reports of atrocities, including the UN report of a mass grave in Darfur, are, of course, deeply disturbing. These atrocities need full and thorough investigation. Those responsible must be held accountable. The evidence suggests another crime against the people of Sudan. Our immediate priority is to stop the violence in Sudan, to ensure that civilians are protected, and to secure immediate safe and unfettered humanitarian access. We remain seized of the importance of investigating these attacks.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Reports of mass graves come from Geneina, a place I visited during the genocide in Darfur, when hundreds of thousands died and 2 million people were displaced, many of them fleeing to Chad. The Minister will recall the recommendations in the All-Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan’s report, which was published in April following the inquiry that I chaired, warning of the risk of a new genocide in Darfur.

How are we fulfilling our duties, in this 75th anniversary year, under the convention on the crime of genocide, which places on us and on the international community the duty to predict, prevent and punish those responsible for atrocities, targeted in this case at non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur? How are we assisting the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan KC, who told the United Nations Security Council last week that we are

“in peril of allowing history to repeat itself”?

He said that Darfur is

“not on the precipice of a human catastrophe but in the very midst of one. It is occurring”.

Are we collecting the evidence? Are we protecting those at risk? Are we stopping that catastrophe unfolding?

My Lords, I agree with Karim Khan, the ICC prosecutor. That is why we are working very closely with him. He gave that evidence last Thursday, during the UK presidency. It is also important that he recognised that the ICC has a continuing mandate during this conflict and in Darfur. As the noble Lord will know, it is directly investigating whether genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes generally have occurred. We are very much focused on that.

On evidence collection, we have a central unit within the FCDO that allows us to collect some of the evidence remotely. There are issues of access in Darfur. I remember visiting Darfur myself, and the challenges were still immense when there was access. However, as I said, the first step must be a resolution on a cease- fire between the two warring sides to allow for a full assessment to be made.

My Lords, what Karim Khan said at the Security Council was about impunity. He gave the historical cases; court cases are still continuing. One plea he made to members of the Security Council was: what pressure would be put on the Government of Sudan to co-operate fully with the ICC? Can the Minister tell us what we are doing to put pressure on Sudan so that people cannot act with impunity in the future?

My Lords, as I have already said, we are working very closely with the prosecutor. As the noble Lord will be aware, various avenues are being pursued in Sudan to resolve this conflict. The first thing is having a ceasefire. We are working with regional counterparts in IGAD and the African Union. We are also working as part of the quad, including with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US, and of course we have troika responsibilities historically to Sudan. All of these avenues are focused first and foremost on stopping this conflict and, secondly, as the noble Lord articulated, ensuring that these crimes are fully investigated and that there shall be no impunity for those who have committed them.

My Lords, we are all in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this matter. Is it not deeply disturbing that the Security Council, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Collins, has two permanent members which are themselves implicated in crimes against humanity, and that it is very possible that those could be defined as genocide as well.

My Lords, importantly, since the establishment of the United Nations the UN Security Council has sought to provide a forum. It continues, notwithstanding the challenges we face from certain members, to play an important role and to provide a way to address the issues of conflicts present and to avert future conflicts. I hear what noble Lords say, and of course we pursue all issues and concerns raised by any member of the international community and any member state in a forceful manner through bilateral representations, and we address them through multilateral fora.

My Lords, I declare an interest; I am actively involved in supporting dialogue with Sudanese civilians, including last week in Addis Ababa. Will the Minister agree that there is now a very real risk of ethnic and tribal conflict across the whole of Darfur? But there is a chink of light, as the civilians resisted calls by Minni Minnawi and other leaders to arm themselves. All efforts should be focused on supporting the current talks in Chad, which are multi-ethnic and could offer an opportunity for wider talks in Sudan. Some 200,000 Sudanese have fled into Chad. This is a crisis that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, we can see ahead of us, but it is one that can be prevented.

My Lords, I recognise the important work that the noble Lord is doing and I very much appreciate the strong engagement we continue to have outside the Chamber. I also recognise the importance of civilian engagement at this crucial time. The noble Lord and I have discussed this matter, and we will be pursuing it to see what role the UK can play in strengthening that voice. As I said, we are engaged at all levels with all key negotiations. Ultimately, what is required is that both sides cease their current crimes. Both generals believe that their reason for being is to beat the other into non-existence, which, ultimately, means that civilians suffer. On the humanitarian crisis, it was eye-watering to see the displacement both internally and externally prior to the conflict. Tragically, this continues, running not into the hundreds or thousands but into the millions.

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, the impact Darfur has on neighbouring countries is very serious. Many people are fleeing to neighbouring countries, particularly South Sudan, where the humanitarian crisis is already a major concern. Given that many are already in famine circumstances and the UN aid programme is stretched to the limit, can the Minister explain what we are doing to assist those who fled Darfur?

First, as the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Purvis, said, those who are fleeing are often targeted, including many minorities. Early evidence from the mass grave shows that it contains 87 ethnic Masalit people. On the noble Lord’s specific question, we recognise the importance of South Sudan but the supply chain to it is through Sudan, and there have been reports of supplies being held up or seized by the warring factions. That is why we need to ensure that all the different diplomatic channels are fully explored. A key message needs to be given to both sides that they need to cease warfare now, so that humanitarian aid can reach the people of Sudan and, as the noble Lord said, the people of South Sudan as well.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the African Union and of course we are going to need the support of the African Union consistently in addressing this horror and, indeed, similar horrors that are likely to occur in future. Is he aware that the African Union as a whole has recently applied to join the G20, arguing that Africa has no adequate voice in geopolitical affairs or in gaining the support of the wider world with the problems we are discussing now? Is that something that he and the Government would look on favourably? Is there a way forward in which we can work more closely with the African Union anyway, 21 members of which happen to be members of the Commonwealth?

My Lords, I have noted this very carefully. During the Indian G20 presidency, this was pursued by India in both the invitations extended and the role of the African Union. I think there is a case to be made, as we see the different movements of power and power centres, that it is not just the European Union or western blocs: the African Union is equally important in what it presents, in terms of both conflict resolution and the empowerment of communities across the continent.

My Lords, what is happening in Sudan saddens me greatly, like other noble Lords in the House. I have had the privilege of working with women parliamentarians and civil society in Sudan: it is a country of great potential. Can the Minister assure us that he is also taking on board what is happening to the women of Sudan? In particular, how are we making sure that in this conflict, the rape and pillage of women and families is not being used as a weapon of war, given the worsening situation?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we continue to focus on the terrible tragedy that is unfolding in Sudan, with a particular focus on the plight of women and girls, as she points out. It is not just in Sudan; it is a tragic fact that wherever conflicts occur, the most vulnerable are attacked, and that includes women and girls. That is why only on Friday I chaired a session of the UN Security Council focused on preventing sexual violence in conflict, where we introduced a new guidebook, working with the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, on what action states can take in terms of prevention, not just in addressing live conflict. I agree with the noble Baroness and I assure her that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, the Development Minister and I, as the multilateral Minister, are focused on delivering those exact messages.

This is a simple case of human values. The kinds of abhorrent crimes we see against women and young girls are shocking, to say the least. When we see victims as young as four, five or six, if not younger, being attacked, raped and pillaged in conflict, including in the conflict in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa—for example, in the DRC—we must act. We will continue to work collectively to ensure that we can put these abhorrent practices into the history books.

My Lords, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the situation in Darfur is dire, and I am grateful for this opportunity to be reminded of that. At least six towns and villages have been burned to the ground, alongside numerous cultural sites. We have heard a little about the effect on girls and women, and boys over fighting age are being shot. Understandably, many of the targeted Masalit ethnic group are fleeing to surrounding countries. We have heard about those going to South Sudan, but the vast majority are going to Chad. What steps will the Government take to provide Chad with support for the refugee crisis as a result?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises the important issue of the displacement of refugees. We have already made a series of announcements of support for the stability of Sudan and its near neighbours. At the moment, alongside our £5 million commitment to help the urgent needs of refugees and returnees in South Sudan and Chad, we have, through the Development Minister, made a further commitment of £21.7 million, which we announced specifically for humanitarian aid for Sudan as part of our contribution at the UN Horn of Africa conference. We will continue to assess the key issue but, going back to other questions, the challenge is not just about providing money and support, it is about ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those most in need.

My Lords, two decades ago in Darfur, systematic rape was used as a weapon of war as part of ethnic cleansing and genocide. No one has been held accountable and those same crimes are being repeated today. Can my noble friend tell the House what concrete steps we are taking so that this time around documentation is sufficient so that we reach accountability, not as an aspiration but as a reality?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I am sure she will acknowledge the steps that we have taken to ensure that the testimonies of those who have survived sexual violence in particular, but other crimes too, are fully documented. Often there are representatives of well-intentioned INGOs in the field, but their collection of evidence can sometimes negate the impact of allowing a successful prosecution.

The concrete steps that we have taken include, as my noble friend knows, the Murad code, which allows not for a time-limited period but ensures that evidence can be collected and sustained, to allow for successful prosecutions. Indeed, that is why we are working closely with international courts such as the ICC, and the prosecutors specifically, to ensure that the connection between testimony collection and prosecution is very live.

My Lords, we are aware of the extensive involvement of the Wagner Group in this conflict and its associated criminal activities but, if one is to believe the messages coming from Moscow— I admit that is a bit of a stretch—the Russian Government are taking direct control of the Wagner Group and its activities. What assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the direct involvement of the Russian Government in the conflict in Sudan, which of course is hardly likely to simplify the challenge of achieving a lasting peace?

The noble and gallant Lord raises a key point. Of course, we are fully aware of the growing influence of the Wagner Group in many conflicts across Africa. On the question of Russian state and non-state activities in Sudan, we are making repeated representations to and raising our concerns with others, both near neighbours and other countries that have influence. We are particularly focused on Russian activities in Africa, which include reports of Wagner Group involvement in gold mining specifically and in disinformation campaigns in Sudan. The noble and gallant Lord is right: it is a key concern at the moment, with the growing influence of, and instability caused by, the Wagner Group. As we have seen, it is not a reliable partner, and even the Russians are learning that lesson.