Sudan: Darfur


Sudan: Darfur

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

    What assessment they have made of the allegation by Human Rights Watch that the Government of Sudan are responsible for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we have seen the Human Rights Watch report and that of the UN which was presented to the Security Council on 7 May. The UN has identified disturbing patterns of human rights violations by the Sudanese Government and the Janjaweed militia which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report makes no conclusion as to ethnic cleansing, but notes that attacks by the Government and the Janjaweed appear to have been largely ethnically based.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, given what the Minister has just said, the description used by the United Nations of Darfur being the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the Swedish Government’s description of what is happening in Darfur—where there are mass executions, the burning of villages and the destruction of food supplies—as genocide, when will Her Majesty’s Government raise this issue by way of resolution in the United Nations Security Council in an endeavour to bring together an international campaign to hold the Sudanese Government to account? What has to happen to change the passive role we have taken so far of merely monitoring the situation? Are we not in grave danger of making the same mistakes that we made at the time of the genocide in Rwanda?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I cannot agree that we have been passive. We have been seriously engaged in the crisis in Darfur—which, I agree, is absolutely dire—from its start. We are extremely concerned. We have lobbied at the highest level in Khartoum and we are in almost daily contact with the Government of Sudan and the Darfur groups. As the noble Lord knows, Jack Straw, Hilary Benn and Chris Mullin made clear the seriousness of our concerns when they met the Sudanese Foreign Minister on 11 May. Our priority all along has been first to achieve a ceasefire, and the noble Lord will know that there is now a ceasefire that has been broadly holding—

I go no further than that—since 8 April. We must now ensure that the African Union deploys the monitoring commission to oversee that ceasefire.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Sudanese Government’s slaughter of their own people in Darfur, together with recent reports of military offensives against its own people in the Upper Nile, proves that their commitment to the peace process is extremely dubious and that they are using the peace talks to gain credibility and time while they continue to kill their own people? Therefore, would Her Majesty’s Government, who have been criticised for their inadequate response in the Human Rights Watch report, now consider seriously much more robust measures, such as targeted economic sanctions, arms embargoes, a UN Security Council resolution, and even taking action in regard to the commission of crimes against humanity?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: the Government of Sudan do have a responsibility to protect their people. We have made that very clear in all our contacts, from ministerial to ambassadorial level. She is also right that the UN has taken the matter seriously and will continue to do so. Our discussions with the UN will continue. If we do not get any further and the ceasefire is not held, and if the Government of Sudan do not co-operate as they said they would—for instance, in regard to providing access for NGOs to the people who are suffering so much—we shall talk to our international partners about what further steps we may take.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when the Sudanese Foreign Minister addressed the Sudan parliamentary group on 11 May he said that the Sudanese Government had yet to respond to the recommendation made by the UN report that an international commission of inquiry should be authorised to examine the actions of the regular army and the Janjaweed militia and to make recommendations on a process of accountability for the crimes that are being committed? Will the Government press President al-Bashir for a response to this recommendation? Has he yet accepted the Secretary-General’s proposal that he should disarm the militia, whose attacks on civilians in Western Darfur have led to this grave humanitarian crisis?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree that the position of the militia is very much key to this crisis. One of the pressures that we are exerting on the Sudanese Government is that they must rein in and neutralise the armed militia known as the Janjaweed. We have continued to say this on an almost daily basis. The priority now is to get the monitoring commission into place. The African Union is working on this as we speak.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking in response to the UNICEF report that there is increasing alarm about the low level of sanitation, the growing number of displaced people requiring shelter and signs of increasing malnutrition among children and women?

Does the Minister agree that the horrific child malnutrition level of 23 per cent—which is already well above the internationally recognised critical level of 15 per cent—is unacceptable?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree that this is a dire situation and that the figures given by the noble Baroness are totally unacceptable. DfID has already contributed more than £16.5 million, and we have provided key personnel to support the UN co-ordination effort in response to this humanitarian crisis. Our ambassador in Khartoum has taken the lead in establishing regular fortnightly meetings between the Sudanese Government and donors to discuss and try to reduce the obstacles to the humanitarian access of NGOs into Darfur.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, when the Sudanese Foreign Minister was here, he also denied that the political detainees in Darfur had been released. Will Her Majesty’s Government press the Sudanese Government to release all detainees in Darfur?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I shall pass on that request to the department.