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Volume 837: debated on Thursday 18 April 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, as penholder on Sudan at the UN Security Council, to support an immediate ceasefire in Sudan to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and regional destabilisation.

My Lords, the UK uses its position as penholder on Sudan at the UN Security Council to increase the international spotlight on continued atrocities and to pressure the warring parties to end the fighting. On 8 March, we secured Resolution 2724 which calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access. We work with Security Council members and at the UN to keep Sudan firmly on the council’s agenda, including at the UK-requested meeting tomorrow.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and for his presence yesterday at a meeting with members of the Sudanese diaspora, where we heard some harrowing stories about what is going on there. Sudan has largely fallen off the media radar. Up to 11 million people are displaced, with famine looming—think of the consequences of that. Yesterday was the anniversary of this conflict. One clear message came out of that meeting: stop the war and stop the fighting, and all else will follow. I am not naive—I know that you cannot just click your fingers—but can the UK apply increasing pressure on our international partners, particularly in order to stop the arms feed to the UAE, Iran and the different partners? Secondly, can we restore the UK envoy to Sudan in order to maximise our diplomatic heft at this time of enormous crisis?

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. You would have to have a heart of stone not to have been affected by the witness statements we heard yesterday at the APPG, and they built on many others I have heard. He is absolutely right: the conflict ending is the only way we can get help to the nearly 18 million people in desperate need of it.

The UK has a special envoy to the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, which includes Sudan: Sarah Montgomery, who is very engaged and knowledgeable on this issue. We are obviously working with her, and we also have a representative for South Sudan, which is deeply affected. I shall be visiting South Sudan in the very near future to see the impact this is having on the surrounding countries. We want to do anything we can, and we will work with anyone to try to get the warring parties to cease their conflict.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to be moved by the statement he heard yesterday at the meeting organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan. Does he agree with the assessment of the representative of the World Food Programme, who spoke at that meeting, that the situation is “catastrophic”? Eleven million people are displaced; 16 million are facing catastrophic levels of hunger; tens of thousands have been killed; and atrocity crimes are being committed in Darfur. As he says, this has become a forgotten, brutal war which is just marking its first anniversary, as the right reverend Prelate said. With aid workers killed and access to only 10% of the population, how can we accelerate relief work without an end to the fighting by these warring parties? What more can we do to end the flow of Iranian drones and armaments into this appalling conflict, in which the daily suffering, misery and deaths mount, and such terrible atrocities are occurring? How will we bring to justice those responsible for some of these crimes?

There are a lot of questions there, and all very pertinent. On the last one, we gave £600,000 last year to the Sudan Witness organisation. and I am sure we will give more in the future. We hope it is compiling a record of the atrocities and that we will be able to bring those people to justice.

The noble Lord may have seen the interview my colleague, Andrew Mitchell, gave in Chad, where he saw many of the displaced people. He was incredibly moved by what he saw, and nobody who sees this can have a different emotion. The most frustrating thing is our inability to act. We have doubled our bilateral aid to Sudan and we are supporting neighbouring countries. I was in Paris on Monday at the international meeting on Sudan, where €2 billion was promised to Sudan. But if we cannot get the aid in and we cannot stop the conflict—the Sudan Government have closed the border with Chad—it is incredibly frustrating. But I will work with the noble Lord, the all-party group and others, listening to any suggestions they have for alleviating this problem.

My Lords, quite possibly the two rival leaders will slug it out at the expense of the people until one is killed or goes into exile. Do the Government see any hint of compromise at all between the two rivals?

To be frank, no. The warring parties have clearly come to the view that there is no benefit to their aspirations in ceasing the conflict. Until one or both realise that this is the case, we will continue to put pressure on them and on those who continue to support them. We have just announced another raft of sanctions. At some point, those supplying them with the weapons, those carrying out the atrocities and those perpetrating this conflict have to realise that it has to stop.

My Lords, this truly horrendous civil war was superimposed on a number of existing local conflicts, doing untold damage. They were largely unseen and not taken on board. Further to the point made by the right reverend Prelate, the Minister will be aware that there is overwhelming evidence that the Rapid Support group is being funded first of all by the Libyan militia, under Field Marshal Haftar, by the UAE and by the Wagner Group. Among other things, thermobaric shells, which are absolutely lethal and do a great deal of collateral damage, are being supplied. What more can be done to put pressure on these third parties and state actors?

Some information on this was forthcoming in a Panel of Experts report in early March. We are deeply concerned by the report’s assertion that credible evidence exists of external provision and support, particularly arms, both to the south and to the RSF. Such actions clearly only prolong the conflict. We are engaging with international partners and others to make sure that we are holding those responsible to account, and that, where we can, we exert influence on them to cease stoking the fires of this conflict.

My Lords, I declare an interest, in that I worked intensively with civilians, many in exile in Addis and Nairobi, on the Taqaddam programme. A year and two weeks ago, I met with General Burhan and then, separately, with General Hemedti in Khartoum on behalf of civilians, in a futile attempt to avert the conflict and the absolute tragedy of the last year.

I welcome the Minister’s response, his sincerity, the UK’s continued support for civilians, and the most recent sanctions, including on the gold industry, which I called for in this Chamber on 28 June last year. I appeal to the Minister to send back to Downing Street the message that this is the world’s worst hunger crisis and the worst child displacement crisis. Slavery markets are now back in Omdurman. This is a horrific situation, and I appeal to our Prime Minister to get personally involved. When was the last time our Prime Minister spoke to another head of government or state about Sudan? This is an absolute emergency. The UK has a very deep relationship with Sudan, and our Prime Minister needs to be involved.

In fairness, I think he is. In answering the noble Lord’s question I can also answer another that was asked earlier. This is a catastrophe—there is no other word to describe it—and it is an absolute priority at the very top of the UK Government. We must move it from being what is too often referred to as the forgotten war to one that is deeply relevant. The wider implication in humanitarian terms for the most innocent people in the world is a catastrophe beyond all measure. I can assure the noble Lord that this is a priority for senior Ministers, whether in the Foreign Office or No. 10. I know they will try to exercise any leverage they can through many upcoming events, not least the G7. We will see what happens as a result. It is a priority.

My Lords, if Sudan collapses, it will be a disaster not only for the people of Sudan but for the region as a whole. The focus has to be on those supplying and supporting this conflict, which is a conflict against the people of Sudan. This is the reality. Emphasising the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about pushing this forward on the global agenda, I hope the Minister can reassure the House that we are having direct talks with neighbouring states in the region to ensure that the focus is back on the people of Sudan and not on supporting those who are fighting the people.

I totally agree with the noble Lord. On Monday at the Paris conference, a great many people who have some skin in this game were there. We want to make sure we are talking to the people outlined in that report as possibly providing arms. They need to be held to account and to be part of the solution, because we want to see an end to the fighting as a precursor to a proper, well-organised international humanitarian aid programme that the United Kingdom will be at the heart of.