§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy on recent developments in Sudan
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords contributing to this debate, at a time that is so critical for the people of Sudan.
Since the National Islamic Front (NIF) Islamist regime took power by military coup in 1989 and declared military jihad against all who oppose it, the toll of human suffering, with 2 million dead and 5 million displaced, exceeds the combined toll of Rwanda, Somalia and former Yugoslavia. There is now a ray of hope with the peace talks, which need strong encouragement and urgent measures to resolve outstanding problems.
I shall focus primarily on the continuing violence and violations of human rights in Darfur and the unresolved status of the "marginalised areas". I wish first to refer to another concern: the imposition of Sharia law in the north and Khartoum in particular. If Khartoum remains the capital of Sudan, it must reflect the beliefs, traditions and culture of all Sudanese people. Many are deeply opposed to Sharia, which violates principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) such as equality before the law and freedom to choose and to change religion. Moreover, the NIF is implementing 707 harsh Sharia punishments, such as sentencing Intisar Bakri Abdulgader, a 16 year-old Christian girl, to flogging with 100 lashes for adultery, while the man who forced her into this situation remains entirely free from any penalty. This sentence would violate the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
I turn to the continuing conflict in Darfur, where the situation is so grave that senior UN officials have warned of an impending human catastrophe: Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs declared that the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is probably the,worst in the world today".All the evidence demonstrates that the destruction of the primarily African Muslim peoples, through deliberate attacks on civilians by Khartoum-backed Arab militias and deliberate denial of urgently needed humanitarian relief amounts to "ethnic cleansing". That phrase was used explicitly by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, in a BBC radio interview on 18 December.
Although he was making the point that the many reports of ethnic cleansing cannot presently be confirmed because of Khartoum's denial of access to humanitarian relief and international observers, other UN officials and Sudan analysts have been explicitly speaking of the "systematic" denial of humanitarian relief, as well as the "systematic" nature of militia attacks on non-combatant civilians with the "organised" destruction of the Fur, Masseleit, and the Zaghawa tribal groups.
Also, a Channel 4 news report on 6 January alleged "ethnic cleansing", showing the first images taken inside Darfur, of ghost village after burnt ghost village, destroyed hospitals and mosques and blackened skeletons of burnt civilians. Old men, women and children, without food or possessions, stood stranded in the desert and testified to horrific and systematic attacks across the region. Pictures of Sudanese Government Antonov bombers flying overhead proved that those perpetrating the attacks are not merely northern tribes with a vendetta but the NIF Government.
The scale of that catastrophe is enormous: MSF estimates that there are about 750, 000 displaced people in Darfur; and that in December 30, 000 had fled into Chad, with another 3, 000 fleeing last week. The NIF claims that,the [Sudanese] Government is firm on fully shouldering its responsibilities of protecting the lives and the property of citizens, and relief workers in Darfur",describes its substantial relief programmes. But all the evidence from NGOs, refugee testimonies and these first media reports belies its claim. Access by international NGOs is severely limited and their activities are very restricted. And there were reports of yet more aerial bombardment of civilians by the NIF 708 as recently as Monday of this week. Consideration should be given perhaps to indicting the NIF for crimes against humanity.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience concluded that Darfur has given new urgency to the committee's long-standing "genocide warning" for Sudan, which was previously focused on southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. The committee indicated that its,warning was based on the following actions of the [military government] of Sudan: a divide-to-destroy strategy of pitting ethnic groups against each other, with enormous loss of civilian life; the use of mass starvation as a weapon of destruction: toleration of the enslavement of women and children by government-allied militias; the incessant bombing of hospitals, clinics, schools and other civilian and humanitarian targets; disruption and destabilization of the communities of those who flee the war zones to other parts of Sudan; and widespread persecution on account of race, ethnicity and religion".It concluded that,taken individually, each of these actions is a disaster for the victims. Taken together, they threaten the physical destruction of entire groups".The International Crisis Group's most recent report declares that Khartoum-backed Arab militias in Darfur are attacking,unprotected villages with no apparent link to the rebels other than their ethnic profile";and Amnesty International has warned that,the situation in Darfur is at risk of rapidly degenerating into a full-scale civil war where ethnicity is manipulated".The conclusion is that there is compelling evidence that the Khartoum Government is "largely responsible" for the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. It is intolerable that the international community continues to allow what all evidence suggests is genocide. Therefore, the EU's recent call for a cease-fire, for the protection of civilians and for unimpeded humanitarian access is welcome.
However, urgent international action is also essential. Khartoum's claim of "national sovereignty" must not be allowed to conceal the desperate plight of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians or hinder access to them. One can only surmise that the failure of the international community to ensure humanitarian intervention derives from an unwillingness to disturb diplomatic initiatives involved with the peace talks. But that is a dangerous misunderstanding because, unless the international community shows its concern for the people of Darfur, and the peoples of the designated marginalised regions of Nuba Mountains, Abyei Province and Blue Nile, as well as other marginalised peoples, such as the Beia people of eastern Sudan, peace will be very partial and ultimately unsustainable.
All these people have suffered at the hands of the regime in Khartoum—brutality, discrimination and a lack of representation and of a share of the national wealth. At present, they may reasonably conclude that the international vision of peace is focused only on Khartoum and the south. Unless all the people of Sudan have cause to believe that their interests—indeed their physical and cultural survival—are enshrined in any peace agreements, those agreements may not produce a lasting peace. The incentive to resort to armed 709 insurrection could prove irresistible. And, if Khartoum sees that the international community is willing to ignore the massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur and to condone its denial of access to humanitarian aid, it may conclude that it can remain obdurate and achieve outcomes on its terms.
The United States, the other countries in the troika—Norway and the UK—as well as Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) countries, must look comprehensively at Sudan's problems if the goal is to secure a just and lasting peace.
Perhaps I may therefore conclude by asking the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will urge: the NIF regime to open all parts of Sudan, especially the conflict-wracked regions of Darfur, to international humanitarian and human rights organisations; urge all involved in the peace talks to ensure that the wishes of all those living in the marginalised areas are taken fully into account in any decisions concerning their future status; ensure that any funds for reconstruction are conditional on full and transparent implementation of all aspects of the agreement; use their influence to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights, according to the UDHR and other international conventions, for all citizens of Sudan; and, finally, with regard to Darfur, work alongside other EU member states to facilitate the passing of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a comprehensive ceasefire, the convening of peace talks that include the presence of high-level international observers, an end to attacks on civilians, immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access, and the positioning of international monitors.
The people of Sudan believe that Britain is uniquely placed to help. They do not forget our historic relationship, which bequeathed many benefits but also a legacy of bitter conflicts, for which we carry an historic responsibility.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister how Her Majesty's Government will fulfil that responsibility at this critical juncture, helping Africa's largest nation to move forward from carnage and catastrophe to peace, justice and prosperity. The opportunity for this sea change has not been so propitious for decades; it is an opportunity that must not be lost.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Lord Clarke of Hampstead
My Lords, it is indeed a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and to thank her for the opportunity to discuss recent events in Sudan. I pay tribute to her for her untiring efforts on behalf of the people of Sudan and, as the House well knows, in many other parts of the world.
There are many issues that are matters of concern to all who want to see positive moves by the Sudanese authorities that could lead towards a less repressive set of policies being implemented by the Government of that country. This debate, short as it is, will, I am sure, note that there have been some encouraging breakthroughs in the peace talks that have taken place in Naivasha. At the same time, events in the country itself indicate that the Government of Sudan continue 710 with their policies of repression and the abuse of human rights. In fact, comment has been made that the peace talks are being used by the Sudanese Government as a means of avoiding the necessity of fighting a war on more than one front.
Human rights are still being abused; people living in northern Sudan continue to have their basic human rights violated. The right to a free press is still a long way from the people of Sudan. It had been the hope of' many that press freedom would be a reality, following a decree by President al-Bashir last August. He had decreed that state censorship of newspapers should be lifted. That hope was soon dashed. Censorship, together with regular suspension of the right of some newspapers to publish, continues. Within days of the president's decree, the daily Al Alwan was suspended on 2 September. Originally banned until 24 September, a further ban was imposed two days later. It was eventually lifted on 16 October.
Similar censorship and banning of other newspapers has taken place. The Khartoum Monitor, an English-language daily, was suspended on 13 September, in direct defiance of an Appeal Court ruling that had quashed an earlier cancellation of that paper's licence. It was allowed to reappear later in October.
Five and a half weeks later, the paper was suspended again, the seventh time in two years. The allegations against the Khartoum Monitor were that it promoted slavery, worked against the peace process and worked against the Government. Other papers, including Al Azimah, have had suspensions and bans imposed on them by the Government.
Not only newspapers are affected by interference; the allegations that are so often made against the press have also been made against the independent television channel Al-Jazeera. It has been alleged that in December, representatives of the Sudanese national security forces visited its offices and informed staff of the Government's displeasure at some of its programmes. Later in the month, on 17 December, security operatives raided the agency's Khartoum offices and arrested Salih Adam Belo, a journalist, and his cameraman, Hamid Tirab. The security people also confiscated their equipment. Mr Belo was accused of transmitting programmes that were,stuffed with false information and poor, biased analyses, with pictures and scenes selected to serve its ends".The National Security Authority, which arrested Mr Belo, has the power to detain people without charge or trial for up to nine months. The evidence cited against Mr Belo included accusations that he had transmitted programmes reporting on tuberculosis, landmine victims and events in the western Darfur region. Mr Belo was released from Kober prison on 24 December. He continues to undergo interrogation.
On 1 January, the security authorities are reported to have said to the Government in Khartoum that they wanted the licence that allows Al-Jazeera to have an office in the country revoked. Mr Belo is one of many courageous journalists who tried to collect and publish the facts about what is happening in their country.
711 There have been protests both locally and internationally. The German news agency, DPA, reported that Sudanese journalists organised a sit-in at the offices of Al Ayam and the Khartoum Monitor. They were protesting about the banning of newspapers. More than 30 journalists representing 17 newspapers have signed a statement that by taking the action they did, they hope to,guarantee rights of expression and to enhance freedoms".They called for the lifting of the bans and for fair trials for the two papers.
There is insufficient time to mention other facts about this repression and the denial of people's rights to read or see what is happening in their country. I would, however, like to refer to one other area of concern—the treatment of human rights defenders and trade unionists. The harassment of trade unionists and human rights defenders has also continued. On 21 December last year, the NSA arrested nine members of the General Trade Union Council at a peaceful meeting in a house at Shambat, Khartoum north. The men were interrogated about the activities of their organisation. They were released seven and a half hours later and ordered to report to the agency's offices the following morning at 11 o'clock. The following day, the men were not questioned but held until 6 p.m., and again ordered to report back the following day.
On 28 December, the NSA arrested Dr Madawi Ibrahim Adam, a human rights activist and consultant engineer at Lambda Engineering Company. He is also chairperson of the Sudan Social Development Organisation, a registered non-governmental organisation. Dr Adam was arrested at his home in Omdurman; security force operatives are said to have searched the house, seized documents and damaged the building. One of the documents seized was a tender for a project to develop water stations in southern Sudan.
Within Sudan, there are others, and other organisations, who want to express their concern about the treatment meted out to representatives of NGOs. Students and the Sudan Organisation Against Torture continue to highlight many of the abuses that are taking place.
I conclude by asking my noble friend the Minister to press our Government to let the Sudanese authorities know of the concern that many outside of Sudan have for the people of that country, who are looking forward to the day when free speech and the defence of basic human rights become a reality in Sudan.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, the prospect of a genuine peace agreement in Sudan is obviously tremendous news. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for being late for her speech. She has pursued this issue for longer than I can remember, and she must feel some satisfaction. Congratulations are due to all the negotiators, but it is also time to recognise the commitment of this Government and the valuable work put in by our FCO envoys and their staff who helped put the talks back on track last 712 summer—not, for once, overshadowed by the United States, whose pressure behind the scenes has also contributed. But it is not over yet.
The wealth-sharing agreement signed last week was another milestone, given the bitterness of the oil war in Upper Nile and the resulting internal divisions in the south. Oil revenues now amount to more than two-thirds of Sudan's export earnings, and a 50:50 split, supervised by a national commission of experts, will give the south a huge psychological advantage as well as an economic leap forward. However, we are not there yet. This is only the first stage and there are still substantive issues to resolve, not least control over oil in Abyei in Kordofan and the other disputed regions. Agreements in lakeside hotels in Kenya seem very far removed from the frontline in western Sudan. The Foreign Minister has suggested having a final signature in Africa—contrary to what Senator Danforth is proposing—which seems more appropriate than Washington.
In Darfur, the collapse of talks sponsored by the Chad President last month has brought further conflict. Two previous ceasefires have failed. According to Amnesty International, more than 200 people, mostly women and children, were reportedly killed this month, when scores of villages around Zalingei in west Darfur were again attacked by Government armed forces and Janjawid militias, including armed rebels from Chad. According to refugee accounts, the marauders came on horses and camels. Homes were burnt, livestock and possessions were looted and many children were abducted. Some 7, 000 have been displaced in the latest raids, some crossing the Chad border and most now needing food and medical attention.
Since last April, more than 700, 000 people have fled their homes, mostly to other towns in Darfur, while more than 90, 000 have crossed the border to Chad. Our own DfID is supporting relief work through the NGOs. UN aid workers intend to move 15, 000 refugees away from the frontier to protect them from cross-border attacks by Sudanese militia and aircraft. The picture is extremely complicated because the dominant ethnic group, the Zaghawa, straddle both sides of the border and have allegiance to different political parties.
The UN estimates that 3, 000 have died in this conflict alone. Human rights agencies like Justice Africa and Anti-Slavery International fear a return to the pattern of civil war in Bahr el-Ghazal in which government-sponsored militia have carried out murderous raids and abductions over many years. As an ASI council member, I do hope the Government of Sudan recognise the strength of feeling on abductions, given all the detailed work done by their own committees with the Dinka people with the support of UNICEF and Save the Children.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, has already said, activists in Darfur and elsewhere, human rights workers and journalists are still being held in detention without charge and many have reported the use of torture. An unelected government that continue to deny their citizens free speech and commit well 713 documented human rights violations are not a government who deserve international recognition as a party to the new peace agreement.
President al-Bashir is not yet behaving like a peacemaker. He has extended the emergency for a year and is seeking an internal military solution in Darfur just at a time when he has gained some international respect in peace talks with the south. By talking with different voices Khartoum will soon lose diplomatic credibility if it does not reopen talks with some mediator from outside, other than Chad which is already a party. At the very least, the GoS and the SPLM should jointly agree to find a solution to Darfur outside the IGAD peace process.
Will Her Majesty's Government join in international protests against the latest raids in Darfur this month, including the use of aircraft by the GoS? Will they urge both parties to the final agreement that it should contain a clause committing them to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Darfur? Does the Minister agree that it would be premature for the parties to sign before that is done?
Colonel Garang says that peace is now irreversible, but many other critical issues are now being discussed such as the joint armed force and the release of POWs with demobilisation much further down the line. The UN is now to take on a monitoring task through the monitoring and protection teams and I assume that the UK will play some part in that.
Power-sharing arrangements under an interim national administration still have to be decided. Once signed, the peace deal is to remain in force during a six-year period when southern Sudan is at last able to enjoy a degree of autonomy. Like many risky diplomatic deals, this one is built on blocks that are not yet all in place. A successful agreement presupposes reconciliation in the south, which is not a foregone conclusion. The enthusiastic public reception given to the SPLA in Khartoum in November showed that it is ready for power, but a key question is the sharing of jobs in the interim administration and whether the SPLM can bring together the multitude of small parties and political factions from the past. In the north, the picture is not much clearer. The Umma and DUP parties are split and Hassan al-Turabi remains a wild card. His Popular National Congress is now drawing people away from the NIF-dominated National Congress.
Finally, the NGOs, especially those with expertise in human rights and democracy, will have an important role in building confidence in the new administration. The new peace agreement must bring with it a stronger legal framework, leading to a new atmosphere of openness and a greater involvement of civil society in national and local government, and in meeting—above all—the urgent reconstruction needs of the country.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sandwich, along with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. rightly paid tribute to the noble Baroness, 714 Lady Cox, for so consistently keeping events in Sudan before your Lordships' House. I am happy to join them in that tribute. I also join my noble friend in paying tribute to the role played by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, in constantly and intelligently dealing with the peace process and keeping us informed of what is happening in Sudan. Recently, she will recall the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about the situation in Darfur. Along with others, I asked supplementary questions about that and was grateful to the Minister for the reply that she gave on that occasion. I look forward to hearing what she has to say today about the continuing problems in Darfur.
Obviously we all welcome the progress made in the peace talks in Kenya, particularly the agreement on wealth sharing that was signed last week. That agreement has managed to cover a number of crucial areas, including the division of revenues, the management of oil resources, and the reconstruction of some of the areas devastated by the war. I wish to talk especially about the role of oil, in the past and future, in helping to facilitate that process of reconstruction.
The agreement seems to give the ravaged areas of southern Sudan, which I visited just over a year ago, a fair deal. Just as importantly, it gives hope to those people whose lives have been adversely affected by the exploitation of the oil fields. In particular, I welcome the provisions in the agreement that those people who have suffered are entitled to some form of compensation. That the Government of Sudan is required to take action in cases in which the exploitation has causedfundamental social and environmental problems",is also progress.
In parenthesis, I might add that the Auxiliary Bishop of Torit, Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek—who has had nine or 10 attempts made on his life—specifically raised the involvement of British oil companies with me during my visit to Torit. He vividly encapsulated the issue by his remark that,every barrel of your oil is half full of our blood".We in the West bear a significant responsibility for financing a government that has practised genocide against its own people. During the past week I have written to the chairman of trustees of one of our most respected major British charities pointing out that their own complicity in the industry has been concurrent with running a disinvestment campaign. In 2000, the charity first asked shareholders and pension funds to consider disinvesting from oil companies operating in Sudan, because they were fuelling the war. It named British Petroleum, the largest minority shareholder in PetroChina, as an indirect investor.
In 2001, the charity called for an EU ban on investment in these oil companies as the only way to ensure that:European business is not financing the war nor exacerbating human rights violations".On that occasion, the charity named Royal Dutch/Shell as well as BP.
715 Today, through the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, the charity continues to urge,shareholders, pension funds and institutional investors to divest from companies active in Sudan's oil extracting industry or trading in Nile Blend Crude, including indirect investors such as BP".Although the charity has called on others to disinvest, it has failed to do so itself. It talks much about "positive engagement", but it has failed to produce any example of engaging with these companies through its investments. Throughout the whole campaign, the charity has continued to hold shares in both BP and Shell through its own company pension fund. If its own arguments are correct, then it would have to accept that it is complicit in the killing of thousands of Sudanese Christians, animists, and those Muslims who remained in the south.
Despite repeated telephone calls following my letter, I am disappointed to say that I have not had a response from the charity in time for this debate. All of us—especially charities running disinvestment campaigns—need to consider carefully how we use funds. Charities, especially, have a duty to consider the churches and individuals who support them, and should know how their actions will appear to their supporters. On the positive side, oil interests will play a significant part in the shaping of the new Sudan. Those who have investments should, at the very minimum, use their leverage to engage companies in pressing for change.
There remain several outstanding issues on which companies, charities and those who invest in them could act in assisting the peace talks to find a way forward. One of those relates to the proposed system of power sharing, including the rotating presidency, and the quota of ministerial posts that will be given to the SPLA. It is important that the SPLA receives a fair deal here. In particular, it is worth noting that, at present, the NIF Government has numerous parallel systems that govern security and other areas of government, and these may hinder SPLA ministers from exercising any real power.
The relationship between the proposed tiers of government is another area that needs greater clarification and may require further safeguards. There are three tiers proposed for the interim period: national government, the authority governing southern Sudan, and the authorities governing the states and regions. How these different tiers will relate to each other has not yet been properly resolved. Another problematic issue regularly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is worth reiterating—the issue of the future arrangements for the three marginalized areas—namely, the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile, which is also known as the Funj Region, and Abyei district. That is crucial. Although those areas do not form part of southern Sudan geographically, they share the same ethnicity. People from those areas have fought alongside the south and successive northern governments have consistently underdeveloped them. It is important that, in any final peace deal, the treatment that has taken place in the past is acknowledged and they are treated in the future with 716 fairness and justice. Companies with economic muscle should use it to insist that Khartoum takes that question, and the others that I have raised, seriously.
Those outstanding issues, together with past experience, help to explain why many southerners, while welcoming the progress made so far, continue to be very wary about the sincerity of the NIF. As one southern observer called Natalino Losuba Mana, who runs Norwegian People's Aid in the Yei county, says:No one is celebrating yet. Well wait to see these promises of peace fulfilled rather than living in hope. We still feel we will make a very good agreement that will never get beyond paper".To conclude, the Minister has said that Her Majesty's Government are,committed to helping the Sudanese parties reach a comprehensive peace agreement". —[Official Report, 6/11/03; col.951.]I welcome that approach and hope that our debate today will assist her and her advisers as they continue to help the peace talks to move forward.
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, which all noble Lords have expressed, not only on returning to the question of Sudan in this House for the nth time, but also for the indefatigable and incredibly brave work that she does in Sudan itself.
A year ago, I said that the Government would have to be generous in reaching a compromise between the SPLA's demand for 60 per cent of the oil revenues and the offer of 10 per cent that was then on the table. As we have heard, they were so prepared, and the final deal of 50–50 between north and south is a fair one, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, acknowledged. The extension to non-oil revenues is sensible too.
The establishment of a dual banking system, with an Islamic no-interest section in the north and a conventional section in the south will be a challenging project, because the Bank of Southern Sudan must be established in a vast territory that has had no banking facilities throughout the war. The common currency, the free movement of capital, and semi-independent fiscal regimes in north and south will create formidable difficulties in the management of the system, and the detailed regulations will need a great deal of input from both Islamic and conventional banking experts in the outside world.
Many issues are still outstanding that must be resolved, including the power sharing referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the status of the Nuba Mountains, the Southern Blue Nile and Abyei. I see that the first two of those territories are well on the way to a solution, but the situation in Abyei still poses formidable difficulties as it is home to a largely Dinka population. and a number of SPLA leaders were from that area of the country. However, President al-Bashir was adamant in a nationally televised speech last November that the 1956 boundary between north and south that is the legacy of independence was immutable.
717 There are also security arrangements to be made, including the number and composition of the international ceasefire monitoring force, the relocation of belligerent troops, including particularly the repatriation of government of Sudan forces to the north, and the prevention of incursions in the area of the border between north and south. Details remain to be agreed of the referendum implementation mechanism for the vote on the self-determination of the south in five years' time.
Meanwhile, apart from the peace agreement between north and south, there are other problems, as noble Lords have mentioned. Notably, there is the crisis in Darfur where, as the International Crisis Group pointed out a month ago,an end to the war in the south could become the catalyst for a new and bloody chapter in Darfur unless negotiations are broadened to include western rebels".We must face the fact that there is in Darfur an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, comparable in scale with what happened in Kosovo prior to the international intervention there. Noble Lords may need to reflect on the difference in treatment between Kosovo and Darfur, in the sense that there has been no call whatever, on behalf of the victims of the conflict, for the international community to go in and help.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, 3,000 have been killed in that conflict from the outbreak in February 2003 to the end of the year. For those who have fled across the border into Chad, I have the figure of 95, 000— and 30, 000 in December alone, according to UNHCR. Hundreds of thousands are estimated to be internally displaced in Darfur itself. Precise estimates are impossible because international humanitarian agencies are kept out, but Amnesty International says that it has received lists of hundreds of civilians killed and villages destroyed, as well as the actual names of children said to have been abducted by government-supported militia.
The picture given by refugees in Chad is the same. They told UNHCR that the militia attacked villages, first shooting people caught in the streets. Starting early in the morning, the militia raid village houses, stealing everything including livestock. One refugee from the village of Garuma was quoted in the UNHCR report as saying that on 2 January 150 militiamen arrived on horses and camels in his village. He fled with his pregnant wife and their five children and hid in the surrounding hills, where his wife gave birth one day after they had escaped. The militia set fire to the scrub around the hill and the family had to take refuge again on another small hillock. The entire population of his village—about 2, 000 people—had gone into the surrounding countryside or moved to the nearby villages or crossed the border into Chad.
When I raised the matter of Darfur in the debate on 6 November, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, the Minister acknowledged the problem in Darfur and said that we would continue to press for unfettered access. She did not respond to the suggestion that the African Union should consider the wider implications of the conflict. However, there are now African voices, such as the respected Kenyan newspaper, The Nation, calling for the international community to 718 seek ways in which to address the crisis in the region. Chad is a poor country and its eastern region bordering the epicentre of the crisis in western Darfur is semi-arid. It simply cannot cope with a flood of destitute refugees, and Sudan should he told in no uncertain terms that its conduct towards civilians in Darfur is intolerable.
The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, covered amply the serious problems of human rights. I am particularly concerned about the alleged rule of the Sharia that requires 100 lashes to be imposed on unmarried women who become pregnant after being raped. That includes two cases that have been taken up by our ambassador in Khartoum of teenage girls whose appeals against sentence are still awaited. As I wrote to Chris Mullin in November, we have to say plainly that such penalties are unacceptable. He replied a month ago that we would press for a response to the representations already made about those cases. It would not be sufficient for the girls' appeals to be granted on some technicality; it is the law of zina itself that is contrary to natural justice and should be repealed. I hope that we will not be deterred by false considerations of cultural sensitivity from saying so to the Sudanese Government.
There are also the numerous cases, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, referred, of detention without trial, execution and attacks on freedom of the press. The Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustapha Osman Ismail, says that he wants a final peace agreement with the south to be signed in Africa and not in Washington, as President Bush has suggested, to show that Africans can solve African problems. That is an excellent proposal. Why should not Khartoum demonstrate that Sudan can also deal with its other problems by simultaneously stopping the attacks in Darfur and ending cruel punishments, executions and arbitrary detentions? It might gain a reputation for itself not only for statesmanship in ending the north-south conflict but for a new initiative on human rights in the whole of Africa.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Rawlings
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Cox on securing this timely debate on the situation in Sudan, and add my tributes for all the marvellous work that she does to those made by other noble Lords today. As I said before, and I will say again, it is especially important that we discuss the situation in Sudan regularly, because, as many of your Lordships have pointed out, it is extremely volatile and is subject to almost weekly change. There is no doubt that everyone is delighted by steps towards peace in a country that has been dominated by a civil war for the past 20 years. We welcome the agreement to share government revenues, particularly from oil, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, as well as the planned new authority in the south of the country.
The situation in Sudan has come a long way. We congratulate all those involved in bringing the agreement about. For the Islamist regime now to say hat it is prepared to allow more freedom of religion and to let the south hold a referendum on succession in six years' time, 719 along with power sharing, is a significant shift. However, there are still vital issues that, if left neglected, could undo all the progress made so far. I speak of the regions ignored by the agreement. First, the agreement fails to express clearly how the marginal areas of the Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba mountains and the Abyei will be governed, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. What steps are being taken to ensure that these area interests are represented and will come under the new authority? Of course, the most significant of ignored regions is Darfur, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Cox, and most other noble Lords.
Conflict in the three states of Darfur in western Sudan has brought a huge humanitarian crisis to the Chadian border. Fighting continues in this region, which is excluded from the agreement signed the other day. According to the UN World Food Programme, it has caused the displacement of around 1 million people, about 95, 000 refugees, including up to 30, 000 during December, who have fled fighting between the forces loyal to the government in Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, as well as tribal and ethnic clashes.
The UN has recently launched an emergency appeal for 11 million dollars to cover the food needs of 60, 000 of the most vulnerable Sudanese refugees. Will the Minister tell us what contribution HMG will make to this fund? What other support are they providing to try to prevent worsening of the humanitarian crisis? As well as the refugees in Chad, there are 1 million internally displaced people. Killings and damage to land contribute to this year's poor agricultural production, despite earlier promises of a satisfactory yield. The situation in the south of Darfur is apparently especially precarious due to the desert environment of the area.
On Monday 12 January, the UN reported that the needs of the Darfur region could not be met due to insecurity. A spokesman said that only 15 per cent of the people are in areas accessible by the UN. The prolific supply of small arms, increased banditry have led to a complete breakdown in law and order on the ground. Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund has reported growing numbers of displaced children working as domestic labour, prostitutes and beggars. It has been reported too that the Sudanese Government are not fully protecting the lives and property of relief workers in the Darfur region, let alone its citizens. This will be the end of the tentative steps to peace in Sudan unless it is immediately addressed. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us in winding up what Her Majesty's Government are planning to do about the continued problems in Darfur and its integration into the rest of Sudan.
Christian Aid, among other NGOs, has expressed a particular concern regarding the effective verification and monitoring of the agreement, including ceasefire arrangements. There are still unconfirmed reports of fighting in south Sudan, including attacks on the oil fields. Will the Minister tell the House what action or plans Her Majesty's Government are undertaking to 720 support the monitoring of the situation, and what measures are in place to bring parties to account if they do so breach the agreements?
Now that there is an agreement in at least part of Sudan, what measures are being taken to implement and support a thorough survey of the condition of the country? We are particularly worried that the devastating spread of HIV/AIDS, the displacement of large numbers of people, and the rape that tends to accompany warfare, will have created ideal conditions for the further rapid and widespread transmission of the virus. This support, as we have seen, can significantly affect a country's ability to get back on its feet.
I have touched on but some of the main points surrounding the situation in Sudan as a whole. Darfur continues to be a critical issue that cannot be ignored. It undermines the great steps forward taken in the current agreement, and places at risk the future development and reduction of poverty in the country as a whole.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for bringing the recent developments in Sudan to the attention of the House. I welcome her continued dedication to the plight of the Sudanese people, and I thank her for all the advice that she has given to the Government on this issue. It has been valuable to have this relationship with her.
The last time we discussed developments in Sudan, things were looking more positive than for some time before that. Excellent progress continues to be made on the peace talks in Naivasha between the Government and the SPLM. Both sides have now described the peace talks as irreversible, and we hope that they will continue to provide a framework agreement soon. Although problems persist in some areas—and we have heard a great deal about that in the past 45 minutes—there is, at last, a real chance for peace in Sudan, and a real chance to end the suffering of the Sudanese people.
It has been freely acknowledged around the House that as is so often the case in peace talks, we are investing heavily in this process, while at the same time acknowledging, as so many of your Lordships have, that there continue to be some terrible problems. There are problems around human rights, including, as my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead reminded us, press freedom, including some of the appalling punishments that your Lordships have described. There is also the enormously difficult situation in Darfur. The noble Baroness concentrated much of her address on the situation in Darfur, but she also rightly acknowledged that the peace process is going ahead, and that point was also acknowledged by my noble friend Lord Clarke.
On 7 January, the Government and the SPLM signed an agreement on wealth-sharing arrangements, which is an important factor in what we are discussing. That provides for the division of oil revenues, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly drew our 721 attention, the banking arrangements and the creation of a joint transition team to prepare budget estimates and raise funds for reconstruction. This is a significant step towards peace in Sudan. I would be happy to arrange a full briefing on this issue, if noble Lords have not yet had one.
I recognise the strength of the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, put forward about disinvestment. I hope that he will agree that while we are making progress in this area, and while we may be pressing forward on the peace issues, now may not be the time to press the lobby on disinvestment. The oil in Sudan should be used for the benefit of all. It is the oil that may provide the platform for the improvement overall in the conditions in Sudan. I hope that the agreement signed on 7 January will allow us to give that greater reality on the ground.
The parties are continuing to talk about resolving the remaining issues on power-sharing in the three conflict areas of Southern Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains and Abyei. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us of that point. There are important issues to be resolved here, and there must be a genuinely inclusive, democratic system of governance that respects the rights of all Sudanese people. That is the best way to ensure popular ownership of the peacekeeping arrangements and thus the sustainability of any future peace arrangements. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings—who made some very forceful points on some of these areas of outstanding difficulties—that those matters have not yet been resolved and are still under discussion. The points that she has made are very well taken in those continuing peace discussions.
Given the progress already made, the parties hope to have a framework agreement within weeks, and a comprehensive package within a few months. There is still work to he done on those issues. If we are able to get such a comprehensive package it will be a real achievement, one to which the United Kingdom will have made a significant contribution through our special representative for Sudan, Alan Goulty, and the joint Foreign Office/DfID Sudan Unit, as well as the embassy in Khartoum.
Many of your Lordships have played a crucial role in that, including the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I should also like to place on record ministerial thanks for all the work and commitment that officials in both the FCO and DfID have dedicated to this project in the past 18 months, a time when we have been in constant contact with all parties, offering support and advice.
Let us turn to the issue of United Kingdom financial assistance. As many of your Lordships said, ultimately it does not matter what is written on the piece of paper—what really matters is how that piece of paper is implemented. Of course what is on the paper is important, but the real issue is what happens on the ground. Implementation is going to be even more difficult than negotiating the agreement. The support of the international community, as many of your Lordships have acknowledged, will be crucial to ensuring that the peace holds.
722 The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked various questions on UK financial assistance. We have allocated£28 million to Sudan for 2003–04. There are plans for a donor conference in Oslo once a comprehensive peace agreement is secured. We would expect our contribution to increase significantly in future years. We will of course need to co-ordinate carefully with the United Nations and other governments and non-governmental organisations working in Sudan. Co-operation and careful planning are the only way to ensure that Sudan gets maximum benefit from the external assistance that it receives.
Sudan will also need our help to meet the humanitarian, recovery and reintegration needs of its people. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, was absolutely right when he spoke about the importance of this implementation issue. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has already carried out a scoping mission to plan for a UN peace support operation. We will continue to help with the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of combatants, and local level peace-building work.
There will also be an opportunity for Sudan to develop more effective systems of governance, particularly of justice and security, and in terms of public administration. That of course includes the development of the capacity of civil society in the fields of human and child rights, gender and legal awareness so that they are able to engage with donors as partners and critically engage with the government.
There will also be much work to be done with the Sudanese to develop and implement policies that really do benefit the poor people. The noble Lord used some compelling language about poverty in relation to the oil industry. We acknowledge that it is enormously important to address the poverty issue. Improved macroeconomic management will be key in that endeavour, as will resolution of Sudan's debt problems. Once an agreement has been signed, the UK will chair a support group of key international creditors and donors to help ensure timely co-ordinated action for clearance of debt arrears. I hope that that, too, is a piece of good news.
The relevant international agencies and financial institutions are planning joint assessment missions in both the north and the south to look at the requirements for development assistance. The Sudanese parties must obviously be fully involved in the process and feel full ownership of the outcomes of such a process.
Many noble Lords were very worried about the human rights issues. We continue to be very concerned indeed about the human rights position in the whole of Sudan, regardless of religious or ethnic background. The promotion of human rights through advocacy with the government and support for NGOs remains one of this Government's priorities.
I assure your Lordships that we raise the human rights issue on a regular basis, both bilaterally and as part of the EU/Sudan dialogue. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, discussed the human rights situation with the President of Sudan and others during his visit to 723 Khartoum on 10 December. He then raised the issue of the cross-amputation sentence on a 16 year-old boy who has been accused of armed robbery.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we arc also raising the sentence of flogging on the 16 year-old girl to whom he referred. The punishment has been postponed until 23 January. I am not clear at this juncture whether this is merely a postponement or whether it will be a rehearing of the sentence, which is indeed a savage and terrible one. I undertake to keep the noble Lord informed on that as he has made such a point of raising it with my honourable friend.
The question of Sharia law is a very difficult one; it raises a whole range of issues. We respect the view that Sharia law has some part to play. However, I am bound to say that we also share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the application of these very extreme punishments is inconsistent with international human rights standards and with Sudan's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I hope that that gives him the explicit assurance that he seeks.
We have also raised the issues raised by my noble friend Lord Clarke of Hampstead about the suppression of freedom of the press. Our ambassador in Khartoum spoke to the Minister of Justice about this matter on 22 December. We continue to press on that issue.
Similarly, we continue to press on the issue surrounding the recent report of arrests of political activists, supporters of NGOs and trades unionists. Our embassy in Khartoum has raised these issues with the Government in Sudan who have acknowledged our concerns and who have indeed undertaken to look into these matters and report back to us. I shall of course report hack to the noble Lord on that.
We need to monitor all these issues very closely. We were disappointed that, despite our hard work and that of our EU partners, we did not win the vote on the UN Commission on Human Rights last year. It was lost, as many of your Lordships know, on 16 April 2003. The defeat meant the termination of the mandate of the special rapporteur. We now have to consider how to tackle this issue in 2004. I should also tell your Lordships very quickly that, last week, in the margins of the regional conference on democracy and human rights held in Sanaa, my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith was able to discuss some of these issues with the Sudanese Foreign Minister. I hope that that news also is welcome to your Lordships.
I still have some time until the 1.30 p.m. restart time. With your Lordships' permission, perhaps I can take three or four more minutes to say something about what happened in Darfur. Many of your Lordships concentrated your remarks on the concerns that remain in Darfur. Your Lordships are right that the situation is very worrying. Insecurity in Darfur means that there is limited access, and so there is limited ability to assess the situation properly on the ground. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, the requirements in all sectors—food, water and 724 shelter—are enormous. I think that the noble Lord used the word "catastrophic" at one point. These are real problems.
Civilian protection also is a major concern, with repeated reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by various factions, as described by your Lordships this afternoon. Against that background, the breakdown of the peace talks—these are of course separate peace talks—between the government and the Sudan Liberation Movement was a severe blow. All sides should know from bitter experience that a military solution is not in prospect and that peace and reconciliation is the only way forward to a brighter future for Darfur.
Our ambassador in Khartoum and the UK special representative speak to the Government of Sudan and the various Darfur movements on an almost daily basis. We are fully engaged; that is the point which I am very anxious to get over to your Lordships. Indeed, the special representative is in the region this week and has held discussions with the First Vice-President, among others.
By providing for a truly decentralised federal system, the overall Sudan peace agreement should help address some of the root causes of the conflict in Darfur. But in the immediate short-term a ceasefire must be re-established to allow unfettered humanitarian access. We have offered our good offices to all parties to help them reach a peaceful solution. We have also suggested, as many of your Lordships have, that there may be a role for the international community in assisting in the implementation of a peace deal.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also raised points on unimpeded humanitarian access. It is absolutely vital that unimpeded access is given. That is another point that has been raised over and over again.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, wanted to know how we are monitoring these issues. In the past few days Her Majesty's Government have agreed to provide a temporary senior humanitarian affairs officer to assist the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator and humanitarian agencies on the ground to strengthen the continuing United Nations and international crisis response. Therefore, we, in this country, are making another effort to put another person on the ground for the monitoring purposes which I acknowledge are enormously important. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we have raised with the authorities the military and aerial bombardment to which he referred. We have protested about that; we have raised those points. I hope that I shall be able to report further on that.
We are also engaged with the EU heads of mission in Khartoum. We had discussions earlier this month. We and others in the EU have already pressed the Government of Sudan about Darfur and where it stands in the dialogue. Of course, we are pressing through the United Nations and the Secretary General's special envoy; and we are engaged with the United States.
725 The Sudanese people know as well as any people anywhere how fragile and complicated peace building can be. It is all too easy for the perhaps disillusioned few to threaten the process. No one underestimates the difficulties that we face, in particular the difficulties in Darfur. But as noble Lords have acknowledged Sudan now has a real opportunity to bring to an end the suffering of its people. It is an opportunity which has to he seized.
It is crucial that everyone, in all parts of Sudan, get to appreciate what is at stake—the real prizes of peace, security, stability and poverty reduction—and that everyone in Sudan feels that they have a say and a stake in their country's future. It is the best way to ensure that any peace agreement holds good for the future.
The price is great, not just for Sudan, but for the entire region. A peace agreement in Sudan brought about under African mediation and implemented in Africa by Africans would be further evidence that while the continent may have its problems, it also has its solutions.
§ Baroness Crawley
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.30 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 2.23 to 2.30 p.m.]