HL Deb 07 November 1995 vol 566 cc1625-7

2.47 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their latest estimate of the human rights situation in Sudan and its effect on the well-being and development of the people; and what action they are taking in international fora to ensure that any problems are effectively addressed.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we continue to express our concerns about the abysmal human rights situation in Sudan to the Sudanese Government bilaterally, with EU partners and through the United Nations. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised the subject with the Sudanese ambassador on 13th September.

Lord Judd

My Lords, have the Government had time to read the disturbing reports by the noble Baroness and most courageous lady, Lady Cox, following her recent visits to that country? Does the Minister agree that, while there is still too much evidence of brutality on all sides, not least in the south and the Nuba mountains, it largely negates any prospect of effective humanitarian or development programmes? Can he assure the House that the Government are working together with other governments in the European Union and the UN to persuade the parties to the conflict to invite a human rights monitoring team to go unimpeded to that country to watch the situation and safeguard the interests of the ordinary people?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, there are disturbing reports continuing to emerge from southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains about the bombing of civilian settlements, massacres of civilians and systematic slavery. We are concerned about the continued obstruction by the Sudanese Government of humanitarian aid to areas of Sudan, including the Nuba mountains. We shall continue to push bilaterally, through the EU and through the UN, to increase humanitarian access to those Sudanese in need.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government recognise that the continuing extreme poverty of a great many Sudanese people—poverty recently seen by the Archbishop of Canterbury when he visited the area—can create a fertile seedbed for Islamic extremism? Can the Minister say whether the Government will allow non-governmental organisations to engage in development rather than just supplying emergency aid?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury was a great success and he was extremely candid in his views on the situation in Sudan. We are concerned about the situation. Where blocks are being placed on humanitarian aid, we are doing everything we can to free them up. The first thing we must do is to ensure that the aid reaches the people who need it.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are increasing reports, not only of widespread slavery as such, but that the Sudanese Government are actively encouraging the enslavement of African women and children while at the same time denying that it exists? Will my noble friend reiterate his assurance that the Government will put pressure on the regime in Khartoum to allow access by human rights monitors to all parts of Sudan, with particular reference to ascertaining whether or not slavery exists? If it exists, will the Government press for the urgent release of all people who are enslaved at the present time?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I can only reiterate that we are applying as much pressure as possible to lessen this terrible situation. We are not holding back in any way from applying such pressure.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, though the authorities in Khartoum continue to pay lip service to the IGADD process, does not the Minister agree that the ability of neighbouring countries to play any role in solving the conflict in the south has been seriously undermined by Sudanese aggression, particularly against Uganda and Eritrea? As a permanent member of the Security Council, will the United Kingdom consult with its colleagues on the Security Council to ascertain what additional measures of preventive diplomacy may be taken outside the framework of IGADD?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we have not ruled out action at the Security Council. However, we must be certain of total support. If divisions occurred in the Security Council or efforts to agree a resolution failed, it would be to Khartoum's benefit.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, does the pressure to which the noble Lord referred include an arms embargo?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I shall have to consult on that question and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that we are dealing with one of the most wicked and cruel regimes in the world today? The noble Lord said that the Government are taking what action they can. Will he tell the House precisely what they are doing to bring an end to this dreadful regime?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I can only repeat my original Answer. We are continuing to express our concerns directly with the Sudanese Government bilaterally, with our European Union partners and through the United Nations.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that as with all Commonwealth affairs, rhetoric on human rights without effective action begins to diminish human rights themselves? Can he therefore at least assure the House that the Government will be tireless in their commitment to gaining access for monitoring teams to Sudan on behalf of its people?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, that is exactly what I have been saying all the way through this debate.