Exploitation of Oil in Sudan


House of Lords

Monday, 9th July 2001.

Sudan

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What is their response to recent developments in Sudan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we remain focused on the situation in Sudan and are committed to helping to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. What really matters to the people of Sudan is an end to the enormous suffering caused by war. We were concerned, therefore, at the recent rebel offensive in Bahr El Ghazal and by the Government of Sudan’s response. Last month we prompted an EU statement calling on both parties immediately to stop hostilities in order to create an environment conducive to negotiations and have reiterated that message bilaterally.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. As this is the first time the Sudan has been discussed in your Lordships’ House since the sad loss of Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, this may be an appropriate time to say how much we all miss him and his always valued contributions on this subject.

Can the Minister say what the Government have to show for their policy of dialogue with the Government of Sudan, who continue to bomb innocent civilians and to perpetuate a war in which over 2 million have died and 5 million have been displaced? Has not the time come to follow the example of the United States

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and adopt a more robust approach to that undemocratic regime which took and holds power purely by military force?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her tribute to Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. We will sadly miss him.

The US Administration are reviewing their policy on Sudan. In fact, only this morning I had a meeting with Assistant Secretary Kansteiner. As the noble Baroness is aware, we take a balanced view on Sudan. Our central objective is to secure a just and lasting peace. The EU-Sudan dialogue focuses on five areas–I shall not go into them in view of the short time available. We believe that the Sudan has made progress in relations with its neighbours; for example, it signed an agreement with Uganda. The Sudan is adopting an acceptable approach to counter-terrorism. We have noticed some progress on human rights and democratisation and there has been some moderation of police and security activity, although I agree that abuses undoubtedly occur. So there has been some progress, but there is still a long way to go.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the removal of civilian populations, the food shortages and the mass murders arise to a substantial degree from the exploitation of oil? If the oil companies chose to use their economic muscle to exact more ethical standards from the government, they might save thousands of lives. Has anyone discussed that possibility with them?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble and learned friend will be aware that through our own ethical trading initiative we have pressed organisations to ensure that they adopt ethical standards in their work in a variety of development countries. We have pressed for oil revenues to be used for development projects and for transparency in the oil accounts. The Government of Sudan gave public assurances to that effect. We shall be looking to them to honour those assurances. We shall remain focused on that issue as more evidence becomes available.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, among the five issues that are being discussed in the Sudan, the noble Baroness did not mention the abolition of slave-like practices. Does she agree that, although the committee established by the Government of Sudan to eradicate the abduction of women and children has made some useful progress, the practices continue up to the present day? No serious investigation has been made of the root causes and nobody has been prosecuted for the crime of abduction, contrary to Article 25 of the Convention Against Forced Labour which was signed by the Government of Sudan as long ago as 1957. Will the Government use their good offices, both bilaterally and through the ILO, to persuade the Government of Sudan to comply with the recommendations made recently by the Anti-Slavery International to eradicate those practices once and for all?

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Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble LordLord Avebury, may find it helpful to know that we have been looking to the Government of Sudan to ratify ILO Convention 182 on extreme forms of child labour. To bring an end to abusive child labour practices, including slavery and bonded labour, has been a priority not only of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but also of the Department for International Development. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan on those matters.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, has the Minister seen the recent reports from the Bishop of Rumbek about the killing of civilians in Raga as a direct result of the bombing of those civilian populations? Bearing in mind what she has already heard from those who spoke earlier, is it not time that we reviewed our policy about exploitation of oil in Sudan? The areas around oil fields have been ethnically cleansed of civilian populations. In the light of that, should not we review the advice given by the Department of Trade and Industry in its booklet, Doing Business In Sudan, a Guide for Exporters?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, the Department of Trade and Industry and the FCO do not promote trade with the Sudan. We are completely honest in the information we give to companies in relation to what we feel about the situation there. We were of course concerned to hear the reports of aerial bombings in southern Sudan. We raised that matter with the Sudanese Government at the highest level, making it absolutely clear that the bombing of civilian targets was unacceptable.

Lord Elton: My Lords, in view of the pertinent remarks of the noble and learned LordLord Archer, can the Government say whether the time has come for our Government to call a conference, either bilaterally or through the United Nations, of the governments of all those countries in which companies exploiting oil in the Sudan are located, to agree minimum standards of human rights and to require those companies to make observance of those standards a pre-requisite of their continued operation in the extraction of oil?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in my reply to my noble and learned friend I made absolutely clear that through our work in the Department for International Development as well as that done in the FCO, we are trying to ensure that companies take their corporate responsibilities extremely seriously. We are pressing the Sudanese Government to try to ensure that oil revenues are spent in a developmental context. I shall take away the nobleLord’s specific point of bringing the oil companies together and write to him.

Baroness Strange: My Lords

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we are now into the ninth minute.