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Volume 682: debated on Thursday 15 October 2020

I want to mention a few things. I will not go through the whole routine, but you are advised to wipe the microphones, observe social distancing and speak from the horseshoe. Only people on the call list can be called. If people use their time sensibly and modestly, we could possibly get through this before the Divisions at 4 pm, which I think would help everyone.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the June massacres in Sudan and the UK’s support for Sudan’s democratic transition.

Thank you, Mr McCabe—I shall try to observe that departure time. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this as one of the first debates in Westminster Hall since it reopened. In a world full of bad news, Sudan’s transition to civilian rule is a beacon of good news. We must make every effort to ensure that this transition to democracy is peaceful and successful. We all remember the years of brutal conflict in Darfur, and that underlines how important it is that Sudan makes a successful transition to freedom, peace and justice.

Last year the people of Sudan rose up and ousted former President Omar al-Bashir, who was in power for 30 years, and who was the first sitting President to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killings, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur. After he was deposed by the Sudanese people last year, he was imprisoned, tried and convicted on multiple corruption charges.

However, on 3 June 2019, after the Sudanese had forcibly removed President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, but still during the uprising calling for freedom, peace and justice, some military units stormed the protestors sit-in site, leading to the death of perhaps as many as 100 protestors. So my first question to the Minister this afternoon is, what can our ambassador to Khartoum, the excellent Irfan Siddiq, tell us about the progress of the inquiry into this massacre? It has been over 15 months, and the inquiry is under we are, but the world will not forget the victims and wishes to see justice. Is there more that the UK Government could do to help the inquiry and the search for justice?

The transition to democracy, with a Transitional Legislative Council led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, is civilian-led. The all-party parliamentary group for Sudan and South Sudan, which I chair, gives the Prime Minister and the process of transition its full backing. Some of the legislative changes brought in so far to end the oppressive legislation of the Bashir era are world class in their scope. I particularly welcome the fact that female genital mutilation has been criminalised. I remember seeing in Khartoum how the UK was funding programmes to help women speak out against this practice on behalf of their daughters. I seek reassurance from the Minister that that type of work continues. What else can the UK do to support the Transitional Legislative Council build democratic institutions and prepare for the elections in 2022? We are funding a range of programmes aimed at building democratic institutions, and I would be grateful for an update from the Minister on his thinking on that.

The all-party group also welcomes the recent historic peace deal. Comprehensive and inclusive security sector reform is vital, but it will be challenging. The key test of a civilian democracy is that the armed forces are under civilian control, and can intervene in domestic matters only at the request of civilian authorities that are accountable to the people. With the joint African Union and UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur ending, pending an update provided to the Security Council this month, I would be grateful for an update from the Minister on how he will reassure himself that the new joint force is trained and able to protect civilians peacefully. What is the UK doing to assure itself that the peace deal is effectively implemented on the ground, and how can we encourage non-signatory groups to sign the peace agreement?

Every country in the world is having a tough time economically at the moment, but poor people in Sudan are having a particularly tough time. Unlike most places in the world, which often attract global investment when there is regime change of this nature, Sudan is hampered by being on the United States state sponsor of terrorism list. The former regime was, of course, a state sponsor of terrorism, so that was appropriate. However, the transitional Government have taken steps to agree reparations.

I welcome the announcement at the Berlin partnership conference in June of the UK’s pledge of £150 million to help the economy, including £75 million of bilateral support and £80 million for the World Bank and IMF’s work on economic reforms. The bilateral support covers not only vital humanitarian assistance but vital funding for health, clean water and media freedom. The UK has also helped the UN Sudan Humanitarian Fund to help the victims of this year’s exceptional floods. In addition, through our funding of the Global Partnership for Education, the UK is helping to educate children in Darfur and elsewhere.

However, no economy can truly recover without being able to attract global inward investment. That is why I believe that now is the time for the US to lift Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. I understand that it is a bilateral issue between the United States and Sudan. I also understand that President Trump had the paperwork near his desk this summer, but that, at the last minute, the US Secretary of State made an additional request to Sudan that it normalise relations with Israel. No one would be more delighted than I if Sudan’s transitional Government chose to take that step, but it is a big ask of a transitional Government that has not been installed in any democratic exercise.

If the Prime Minister of Sudan feels that now is the right time, and that this is the right move for Sudan, I am sure such a move would have the UK Government’s whole-hearted support. It would certainly have the support of the all-party group. We have warmly welcomed normalisation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and between Israel and Bahrain, and it would be historic progress. However, I would understand if that step were thought too great a leap for the transitional Government right now. I certainly do not think the United States should make it a prerequisite for lifting the state sponsor of terrorism designation.

I ask the Minister to reach out to his US counterpart—and to ask his boss, the Foreign Secretary, to reach out to his US counterpart—to urge the Administration to act within the next few weeks. Whatever the outcome of the US elections, now would be a good time to celebrate one of the foreign policy achievements of President Trump’s Administration, reward the historic progress made in Sudan and enable the economic benefits of inward investment to flow into the country. My final question is, if that happens, will the Minister recommend that the Prime Minister appoint a UK trade envoy to Sudan, so that our two countries can increase their economic links?

Thank you again, Mr McCabe, and thanks again to the Backbench Business Committee for timetabling this important debate.

I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) for setting the scene so well, as she always does, and for bringing this important debate to Westminster Hall. I also put on record my thanks to her for the excellent work she did in her former position as Minister for Africa. It is not a surprise that she is here to put the case, and we are pleased to benefit from her wealth of knowledge. I am also happy to see the Minister in his place.

I echo the comments that the hon. Lady made in the House in June last year, when she rightly described attacks against civilians in Sudan as “sickening and brutal,” and they were. How else could one describe the terrible killings of over 100 peaceful protestors in Khartoum by members of the security forces? There is an urgent need to conduct detailed investigations into that violence and to hold all those found complicit in human rights violations in Sudan to account. When the Minister responds, can he tell us if he has had those discussions and, if so, can we be assured that those involved in those terrible atrocities will be accountable?

The Sudanese constitutional declaration commits to establishing an independent committee to investigate these killings. I urge the Minister to encourage his Sudanese counterparts to bring the people responsible to justice and to offer any support that the Government can to help make that happen. There is also a need to ensure that other human rights—particularly freedom of religion or belief—are respected in Sudan. At this point, I should register an interest as chair of the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief.

In terms of that fundamental human right, there have been many positive developments recently in Sudan. We have to welcome those, because that is good, positive progress. The Government have abolished legislation that made apostasy punishable by death. It has also made changes including the end of public flogging; the banning of female genital mutilation, which the Lady referred to, and which we all abhor, so we are glad to see that step; allowing non-Muslims to drink, import, and sell alcohol; and giving women the right to travel abroad with their children without producing proof of permission from their husbands. Some of these are small steps, but they are giant steps for people who have had their basic human rights denied for many years.

However, there are still problems. For example. Sudan’s criminal code contains several other provisions that limit personal freedoms and criminalise blasphemy, which have not yet been changed. So there are things we can still do. Churches have also been targeted by attackers, despite recent developments. As Sudan moves slowly towards a transition to equality and opportunity, and the right for people to express themselves, we find that some are holding things back. For example, a temporary straw church building belonging to the Sudanese Church of Christ in Omdurman was set on fire on 14 August 2020, just a few months ago.

In another recent development, on 13 August 2020, a judge in Khartoum sentenced a Christian woman to two months imprisonment and a 50,000 Sudanese pound fine for violating article 79 by dealing in alcohol, despite amendments that have been introduced, but which do not seem to be being implemented, stipulating that article 79 is no longer applicable to non-Muslims. The Government have made a commitment, which has to be delivered on. A Christian woman found herself in a position where she thought she was working within the law but is then disciplined because of the interpretation of it.

These incidents highlight how much more work there is still to do. It is important that the UK Government push for commitment to human rights reform. The hon. Lady referred to that, I want to see it and I believe everyone here would say the same thing. International scrutiny will be essential to make sure that the demands of Sudanese people are met. Those demands include the creation of a transitional Parliament representing every region, and it is important to set aside seats in it for those of other ethnic and religious minorities. Other countries have done it. Why not Sudan?

The demands also include the appointment of civilian governors, justice and accountability for human rights violations, so that when violations happen there is a methodology for addressing them. The UN Human Rights Council, in particular, should be pushed to maintain close scrutiny of the human rights situation in Sudan: is it transitioning correctly and are the steps that have been committed to taking place? That needs to be established. The Human Rights Council should also be pressed to adopt a resolution allowing for annual independent reports from an individual or a body mandated to monitor and investigate human rights abuses in Sudan. I believe that, if we can monitor, check and regulate from outside we can see whether the job that the hon. Member for West Worcestershire and I want done is getting done.

I urge the Minister to help by pushing for the removal of sanctions on Sudan, and encouraging the US to remove it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire is absolutely right about that. If we are to encourage democracy and encourage the country to move forward, we need to do that, and I fully support it. Restrictions on US foreign assistance would be lifted and Sudan would be allowed access to much-needed debt relief and financing from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. If we want to bring a nation forward and give it the opportunities that others have had, one thing that must be done is to give people the opportunity to have a better life—a better quality of life and greater wellbeing through employment, living standards, and so on. That can happen if we act as I have outlined.

Finally, I call on the UK Government to work with the international community to provide financial and technical assistance to the Sudanese Government for the reform process, so that we can help them to manage the process and the transition from a dark past to a bright future. It is a pivotal and delicate moment in Sudan’s history, and we want to help. There is a good opportunity for progress, after decades of oppression, but there is also the ever-present danger of descent back into tyranny and chaos, as we know all too well from the Arab spring, which showed how quickly things can change. I know that the Minister acts on his words, and we know him by reputation and the job he has done in the past. I urge him to do all he can to ensure that that pain of transition will turn to prosperity for the Sudanese people. That is what I and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire and, I believe, the Minister all want.

It is a rare delight to speak in this House on Sudan, a topic that we do not often debate. When I visited the country a few years ago I discovered a beautiful land with a rich history, many UNESCO world heritage sites and a warm and friendly people. However, the Sudanese have been failed; they have suffered systemic poverty, an earth-shattering civil war and Government repression. Members will be all too aware of the terrible massacre of 3 June 2019 when security forces opened fire outside a military headquarters in Khartoum on protesters who were calling for the generals to hand power to a civilian Government. Countless innocent people died. Opposition doctors claimed that 130 people were killed and hundreds more injured. That was a disgusting and sickening crime against people who were standing up for democracy, and this country and its Government must stand with those who died and support them and their relatives.

After the massacre, the UK summoned the Sudanese ambassador to the Foreign Office to register its concerns and called for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the massacre. The Government also made it clear that there must be an agreed transfer of power, as demanded by the people of Sudan. Today I am pleased that significant progress has been made as a result of the constitutional declaration of August 2019, and that the UK’s statement has been heeded. I appreciate the fact that the Government has stepped in to protect people and move things forward.

The agreement secures the creation of a council of Ministers and a legislative council. Encouragingly, 40% of seats on the legislative council are reserved for women, which is a remarkable statistic for the region. The agreement also includes a commitment to an independent investigation of the atrocities of the June massacre. The transition really does promise a bright new future for Sudan, and it gives the Sudanese people a real stake in their country for the first time. We have heard passionate descriptions by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) of what has been done in the transition, but clearly a lot more needs to be done and words need to be backed up by actions on the part of the current regime in Sudan.

The UK’s support for Sudan’s democratic transition remains resolute and steadfast. In June’s aid conference, we committed £150 million to Sudan for humanitarian aid, social programmes, new infrastructure, Government reforms, and, in addition, the coronavirus response. At the conference, the Minister for Africa repeated that the UK Government would work with the Sudanese Government for successful democratic transition. However, as we have heard, things have not always gone to plan and not always gone smoothly, so we must press the Government to go further and faster with the Sudanese Government.

Considerable challenges remain for Sudan, and there is more that the UK must do to secure the country’s future. This month’s peace agreement, signed by the transitional Government and armed rebel groups, was welcome news. However, it needs to be fully implemented and must be expanded to include all armed actors. Sudan must undertake serious economic reform, building on the help already offered by UK experts, and must ensure greater transparency in governance, a robust environment for media freedom and improved healthcare provision.

Of particular interest to me is the religious freedom of Sudan and the protection of Christians there. In the recent past I have been deeply concerned by the persecution of Christians in the country, with Open Doors ranking it the seventh worst nation on earth for that crime. There are nearly 2 million Christians in Sudan, an important minority in a nation of 30 million Muslims. However, religious conservatives have been pushing for a sharia state so that they can enforce a strict Islamic regime. Thousands of Christians have been killed and displaced indiscriminately. Many churches have been demolished, Christian leaders have been arrested, and blasphemy laws have been used to criminalise Christian-born citizens and converts alike.

The civilian-led Sudanese Government must take urgent steps to protect Christians, their faith and their culture in accordance with the rights and freedoms promised by the constitutional declaration. As we have already heard, promises have not been matched with actions, and the UK Government must intercede and press the Sudanese Government on that. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about Sudan’s prospects under a civilian Government, with marked improvements in governance and security. I would love to see tourists visiting Sudan from all over the world. I very much believe that tourism and opening it up Sudan to the world will reduce many of its problems and increase its wealth as more people come in and see the wonderful sights. It is a place that many know little about, despite the fact that Sudan has so much to offer, which is something that I discovered when I visited a few years ago.

For instance, I am sure the House knows that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt. The majestic Nubian pyramids at Meroë and Nuri are every bit as impressive as their Egyptian cousins, but are completely forgotten by some. General Gordon’s Nile gunboat lies distressed, alone, in the Blue Nile Sailing Club in splendid isolation, and the imposing confluence of the mighty White and Blue Niles sees little fanfare. The ancient city of Naqa is one of the largest ruined sites of Sudan. It once served as a bridge between Africa and the Mediterranean world and boasts gems such as the Temple of Amun. Even, as the House will know, my passion for the Emperor Justinian of Byzantium was sated when I travelled there and discovered that the Nubians were converted by missionaries despatched by the emperor in the 6th century. That shows that Sudan has been at the centre of our world, the Mediterranean world, for a long time, and it is a shame that we have let it go away and not embraced it as much as we should have. We should return to the days of embracing it.

Sudan truly is a wonderful and exciting country. I urge Ministers to listen to what we have heard today and take it on board to help push everything forward. I look forward to returning soon to witness Sudan’s democratic rebirth.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I commend the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) not only for securing this crucial debate, but for the leadership and commitment that she has shown over many years to secure peace and justice in Sudan, not only in her tenure as the Minister for Africa but now as the chair of the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. I declare an interest as a long-standing member of that all-party group and as someone who has spoken over many years on Sudan and South Sudan, including in my time before I was elected to Parliament when I worked for World Vision and Oxfam. I also have a significant Sudanese diaspora in my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth who have regularly raised concerns, particularly during the turbulent times that we have seen recently.

I also worked with our former colleague, Jo Cox, along with the former Prime Minister David Cameron and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), to highlight many of the atrocities occurring in Darfur many years ago. We took them out to Sudan and Jo showed them at first hand the reality facing the people in Darfur at that time. The contributions to the debate, including from the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), show that the House stands united in support for the Sudanese people and the work that they are doing to secure a new future of prosperity and justice under a civilian-led Government. We have had some very informed contributions.

The Khartoum massacre in June last year was a sickening display of arbitrary violence wielded against peaceful protesters by the then security forces and the transitional military council. It was an unprovoked attack on protestors, who were acting peacefully in calling for a transition to civilian-led government. It was a violent and bloody attack on the Sudanese people’s rights to freedom of assembly, expression and political activity, and it was rightly condemned by the UK Government and the United Nations. Although there are conflicting reports on the exact number of people who lost their lives or were injured—not least due to the internet blackout and other restrictions—Amnesty International has shown that over 100 people could have been killed and more than 700 injured. There was indiscriminate use of live ammunition, tear gas, whips and sticks, and there are disgusting reports of sexual violence against women and men. Again, can the Minister give us details on what the Government are doing to support the inquiry into the atrocities that have been reported?

Unfortunately, torture, arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual violence and rape are the ghastly tools of oppression that have been used by Sudanese security forces in the past, both before and after the overthrow of President al-Bashir. Conflict and attacks have been endemic for the past 20 or 30 years, most notably in the Darfur genocide, but also in the other conflicts that we have seen. The rapid support forces, the national intelligence security services and other militia groups, including those referred to as the Janjaweed, have enacted violence and repression in multiple scenarios. They were also believed to be participants in the Yemeni civil war, and they are suspected of war crimes by Human Rights Watch.

Obviously, the decisions on al-Bashir and whether a trial takes place at the International Criminal Court are ongoing. I want to point out that one of the Janjaweed leaders, Ali Muhammed Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, is subject to arrest for atrocities allegedly committed in Darfur. He has surrendered in the Central African Republic and is due to attend hearings in The Hague. It would be useful to hear the Minister’s views on that case.

The physical, medical and psychological impact of the attacks on the civilians of Sudan is immeasurable. As the historic Juba peace agreement moves Sudan forward towards an inclusive, open and democratic civilian-led Government, the crimes of the past must not go unpunished, and the victims of the attacks must receive justice. The Sudanese Government should facilitate investigations and justice, including ascertaining the full facts of what occurred in the massacre last year and in other attacks over the recent decades, and providing support to people who have faced physical and sexual violence. I hope the UK Government will give their full support to those effective justice processes for people who have been affected.

Although the massacre and attacks have marred so much of the revolution in Sudan, the Juba peace agreement is a historic achievement and a significant reward for the persistence and commitment of the Sudanese people. By bringing rebel groups into the governing council, into the Ministry and into the transitional council, the agreement has rightly put reconciliation and co-operation at the heart of the transition process. I hope that the Minister can explain what the UK is doing to support the implementation of the agreement and to ensure that there is not impunity for the people who have been involved in crimes against humanity, genocide and other human rights abuses over past decades.

[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]

The Juba peace agreement also deals with the return of more than 2 million Darfuris to their homes and villages. As the hon. Member for West Worcestershire pointed out, the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur will finish at the end of this month, leaving the protection of civilians entirely in the hands of the Sudanese armed forces. Given the attacks that have historically taken place against the Sudanese people, there are understandable fears, so I hope the UK will use its position on the UN Security Council to push the United Nations to fulfil its responsibilities to the people of Sudan, and to work with the new Government in Sudan to ensure that there is appropriate protection. Hon. Members have made the point that other groups, particularly Christians, have been targeted in the past. I, too, have worked with Open Doors, and I commend its reports about the situation for Christians and other religious minorities.

Political transitions are always precarious, and the violence in recent years makes the situation in Sudan even more so, but added to the mix are significant economic and development challenges. As we have heard, Sudan is dealing with the worst flooding that it has experienced in decades. The number of people at risk of contracting water-related diseases has doubled from 5.6 million in April of this year to more than 10 million now, with water sources facing biological contamination. There have also been agricultural losses. It is estimated that 1 million tonnes of crops have been damaged and hundreds of thousands of heads of livestock belonging to tens of thousands of households have been lost. We have also heard about the locust infestations in many regions across east Africa, but the impact in Sudan and South Sudan in particular is serious.

As in all countries across Africa recently, we have heard in the past few days worrying reports from the World Health Organisation and the African Union on increasing cases of covid-19, and Sudan, too, has been affected—in both the primary effect and the secondary impact of diverting efforts from tackling other diseases. Deaths have fallen in Sudan, but this is an ongoing situation that the UK Government and others will have to keep closely on top of. Will the Minister help by outlining what support and changes to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office programmes are going on in relation to Sudan, in particular in response to the flooding and agricultural damage?

The hon. Member for West Worcestershire was right to point out the situation with regard to the US and Sudan’s place on the state sponsors of terrorism list. It would be useful to hear from the Minister whether he believes such measures remain appropriate now, despite past activities. What assessment have the Government made of the impact that sanctions are having on the peace and transition process?

Sudan also holds up to $60 billion in past debts, including debts owed to UK Export Finance of just over $860 million. Will the Minister tell us what steps are being taken to investigate debt restructuring and relief for Sudan, in particular to support the transition to democracy?

We must look to the UK’s ability to respond to ongoing processes, as this transition is showing, given the change in UK Government machinery with the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office. Obviously, there are multiple issues there, including human rights, justice, rule of law and democracy, and, of course, the development challenges.

Sudan received £84.3 million for 2019-20, but I understand that only £33 million has been approved for 2020-21. The Sudan conflict reduction and stabilisation programme is also planned to end in March 2021. That is my understanding of the figures—if incorrect, will the Minister clarify what the budget for Sudan will be from official development assistance spend? What programmes will be cut or reduced? Will the Sudan conflict reduction and stabilisation programme continue past March next year?

Finally, Sudan is obviously a strategic location. Not only is it right to get behind the transition and peace and stability in Sudan, but there is the wider UK strategy in east Africa, with that focus on development, trade, security and stability. Will the Minister say a little about how the UK’s priorities in the wider region will develop, and how Sudan sits within them? What is happening with regard to South Sudan, which remains in an extremely volatile and serious situation to the south?

We all, like the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, want a situation in which we can visit Sudan and celebrate its incredible history and people. My father visited Sudan in the 1970s on a joint services expedition with the British Army, as part of a Royal Geographical Society exploration. He told me some fantastic stories about people he met and the wonderful sights he saw. He travelled through Darfur, including El Fasher, and other places which, decades later, were subject to some of the worst atrocities we have seen in recent times. We are all behind this transition and we all want to see Sudan and its people succeed into the future.

What a wonderful debate, and what wonderful passion from people who know and have visited Sudan. I should start by thanking by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), but instead I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), who, in the unlikely event that he wished to take up a second job, could do so for the Ministry of Tourism of Sudan.

When I was explaining my Africa role to a colleague in the Tea Room, they said that they did not know Africa very well, adding, “But I have been to Sudan to tour around.” The depth of understanding of the continent among Members of Parliament is much richer than one would at first assume. That is not just on the paths most well trodden, but with respect to some of the beauty spots. I did not know about the pyramids, for example. However, I will not get overexcited about Sudanese history, because the debate included lots of matters of substance, which is what I want to concentrate on.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire not only on her work as Minister for Africa and on Sudan, but on her continued work for the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. Two weeks ago, in particular, the group had a good discussion of an hour, when some concerns were shared and I updated them a little. It is good to formalise those discussions and open them up to the rest of the House.

First, I should say that Sudan matters incredibly to the United Kingdom, and increasingly so, both today and over the next few years. We have long-standing historical ties and a vibrant diaspora. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), discussed his diaspora, which is not typical, but neither is it uncommon—there are many concentrations of Sudanese diaspora across the UK. We are proud of our support for the change process, sometimes quietly and discreetly behind the scenes, sometimes slightly more up front. We are ready to make Sudan a priority, and I do not use those words lightly, representing as I do 47 different countries—that is not even the whole continent.

Our engagement in Sudan reflects why we have brought together development and diplomatic expertise, as the hon. Gentleman also mentioned. That means that everything is joined-up and different elements of Her Majesty’s Government can better operate together. We have come together for countries such as Sudan, where things are quite complicated, but also for those across the continent for which there is no simple development answer—we have touched on economics, tourism and a number of other issues. We have come together to end conflict and help that bottom billion.

In considering why Sudan is important, I want to reflect on the Foreign Secretary’s appointment of Stefan Dercon as his policy adviser, to ensure primarily that we are spending official development assistance well, but also that we are spending it where we have maximum impact—for example, on an international opportunity, or where we have specific expertise. We have specific expertise and history in Sudan. There is a specific opportunity to help the transitional Government to get back on their feet and a specific opportunity, which will not exist forever, to get the economy back on track. That is why I announced in June that we would support Sudan with £150 million overall, an uplift of what we were doing at the time.

As has quite rightly been said, we have had to reduce the budget elsewhere because of the reduction in GDP. I am more than happy to share with the hon. Gentleman a breakdown of those figures so that we can unpack that. I know that he has a different perception, but this is one area in which we are investing more than we expected to. That is documented, but I will ensure that, beneath the bonnet, all the programmes that he and others in the Chamber consider effective are reflected.

As several hon. Members underlined, Sudan has seen massive changes since Bashir went in April 2019, and I acknowledge the bravery of the citizens who pushed that change. They often faced violence and made lots of sacrifices, many of which were quite horrific, so we must stand side by side with their successors to deliver the full change, rather than allowing this to be simply one particular event in which one person has gone.

Despite attempts to silence those voices, I am heartened that, 18 months since the removal of Bashir, Sudan remains on a good path. Progress is never as fast as we would like, but the trajectory is solid. Throughout the period, we have demonstrated our support for a civilian-led Government, and for Prime Minister Hamdok specifically. We have engaged politically, and built international support and an extensive development and humanitarian programme.

The first challenge is perhaps the economy. There is an unsustainable debt, which we cannot fix until some of the fundamentals are there, because inflation is at 160%. We need to internationalise that situation, which is what the Berlin conference was about and why we pledged £150 million overall, £80 million of which will go through the World Bank to support a safety net to protect the most vulnerable during a financial transition. That will allow for the debt to be delivered, so that we can build a sustainable economy, particularly when we move forward to the next stage—I will come back to the economics later.

We should also commend the Juba peace deal of 2 October, but we do not remain lazy: we are still looking for the non-signatories to come on board. Bob Fairweather, the envoy to both Sudan and South Sudan, who is known to us all, will be pushing that forward.

I am also proud of the UK’s role in UNITAMS, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan. That incredibly important mission will be used by the international community to help the marginalised. We have also supported UNAMID, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, which it was important to retain; we could not just walk away and leave a vacuum in Darfur. While I have not seen some of the more touristy areas, I have visited Darfur in another capacity.

Returning to the economy and how it interplays with the issue of state-sponsored terrorism, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire, am disappointed that more progress has not been made. We should all recognise that sometimes loud diplomacy is not as good as subtle diplomacy, but senior officials have spoken to the US about this matter, and I would hope to have some indications of positive progress even after the process of getting it close to the President’s desk. Due to both covid and the US election, these things tend to get pushed, but for Sudan this is a major building block through which other things can start happening, including trade.

My hon. Friend’s idea of a trade envoy is excellent, and I urge her to lobby the Department for International Trade about it. I know we gossiped about potential names, and there are a number of good candidates who know that turf; I think we now have a number of other candidates who we know are interested in Sudan.

The challenges are big, which is why we need to get the humanitarian piece right, the economic piece right and the conflict piece right. Some 10 million people are suffering from food insecurity, which is why we have invested £70 million in development assistance this year. The pandemic has exacerbated that insecurity, and we have shifted our programmes to include an additional £5 million due to covid and to accelerate the search for vaccines and other things that are helping.

Mention was made of flooding, which has been at levels not seen in decades and has doubled down on the crisis: everything is hitting at the same time. The UK is supporting the Sudanese-led response through the UN and non-governmental organisations as part of our £27 million plan to support the humanitarian effort.

Turning to human rights, a number of people have recognised the progress made on female genital mutilation. A number of issues around women’s rights that seem small to us are actually massive in that type of arena. I am less sighted on some of the blasphemy issues, but we will make sure I am sighted on those things as I deal with them going forward.

I had discussions with the Sudanese acting Foreign Minister about three weeks ago, and specifically raised issues of human rights as part of the transition. We co-sponsored the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council last week that maintains the level of support on these issues. In relation to Bashir, he remains in country and will be dealt with in country, and individuals at The Hague will be monitoring that carefully and supporting that process. It is important that justice is done, and seen to be done, to support progress going forward, as well as to punish what happened.

Most recently, we were all appalled by the violence on 13 June 2019, particularly given that it took place so long after the overthrow of Bashir and the optimism that followed, which shows that while the trajectory is good and going forward, there are steps backwards. There is a commitment from both the military and the protest movement to investigate; our officials have received assurances that that inquiry will be independent, and the acting Foreign Minister tells me that extensive submissions have already come in. From what I have seen, it is unclear who specifically co-ordinated and ordered that attack, but equally, it is clear from things that I have seen and been told that it was the security forces of Sudan. The Sudanese security forces—under Bashir and afterwards—are quite a disparate group, so it is difficult to understand the interactions and know who was actually responsible. If we can get answers from the inquiry, it is really important that we so.

Despite the many challenges, I am pleased that we remain a committed long-term partner for building society and institutions. We have an excellent ambassador. I saw him when I visited, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire has seen him a number of times. She has worked more closely with him than I have during this period. Ambassador Irfan Siddiq has worked tirelessly in the interests of Sudan, and has liaised with us back in the UK, explaining the detail. It is not always easy for an ambassador to be an honest but diplomatic friend of Sudan, and a good ambassador sometimes crosses that line and takes a step back or forward. Bad ambassadors are the ones who are liked by everyone and do not say boo to a goose. I fully support Irfan in what he is doing and other ambassadors who are honest and open, and get stuck in.

As part of our bilateral relationship, we will be moving things forward even further. I will visit Sudan, and I am looking forward to visiting the region more broadly soon. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth urged me to go into detail about the region and the neighbouring countries. I am more than happy to do that at great length; however—reading the situation—perhaps I should progress a little more swiftly.

I want to make sure I pick up everything that has been raised. On institutions, we are providing technical assistance and support. There has been talk of a nascent Parliament and women’s representation. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) had some interesting ideas about ethnic and religious quotas. Obviously, that is not something that we have here, but it can be appropriate and can work in other countries, particularly those in transition.

I know the Minister will do this, but I want to have it on the record. When he visits Sudan and has the opportunity to discuss these issues through the ambassador and directly with the Government, will he raise the issues of religious persecution and the representation of religious minority groups—not just in the Government, but in how the laws of the land are interpreted? The law of the land has changed—I have referred to article 79—but the judiciary has a different interpretation. I agree that this should be done in a gentle way, but let us do it right.

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance that, the next time I or another Minister visits Sudan, those issues will certainly be raised.

This has been an excellent debate among well-informed people, and I hope I have made a small contribution to it. I thank everyone for their efforts, and I thank the civil servants for preparing me for what is my first covid-secure Westminster Hall debate.

Thank you very much, Dr Huq. It is wonderful to see you in the Chair.

This has been a well-informed and wide-ranging debate, and we have covered most of the salient issues. On the Minister’s assertion about the increased engagement that he and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are putting in place, as parliamentarians who are interested in Sudan, we always welcome being kept updated on the detail of those programmes. We also want to understand how much work the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are able to do without having the “state sponsors of terrorism” designation lifted, and how much depends on that designation being lifted.

We have a window in the next two to three weeks to reiterate these points, which colleagues around the Chamber echoed, to President Trump’s Administration and emphasise that the time is now right. From an economic point of view, this could not be more important to the development of the welfare opportunities of the Sudanese people and their ability to grow their economy and help themselves out of the terrible legacy that they have been left with as a result of that designation. I want to put that point on the record. I thank the Minister and colleagues who participated in the debate for highlighting what an important time this is for UK-Sudan relations.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the June massacres in Sudan and the UK’s support for Sudan’s democratic transition.

Sitting adjourned.