Queen’s Speech: Sudan

Debate on The Queen’s Speech, November 24th 2004

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Independent Crossbencher): My Lords, there have been many rich themes in today’s debate on the gracious Speech. In reflecting perhaps one of the Government’s own priorities in the gracious Speech, many of those who have contributed to the debate today have chosen to speak about the challenges facing Africa. I should like to do the same.

Six weeks ago on behalf of the human rights organisation, the Jubilee Campaign, I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester spoke so eloquently earlier on, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan, to which the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have referred. The reports I wrote following those visits are on the Jubilee Campaign’s website, and I have made them available to the Minister.

In all three countries I was struck by the sheer scale of the fatalities. In 20 years some 2 million people have died in the Sudan; 800,000 in the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago; and since 1998 some 3 million people are estimated to have died in the DRC—a staggering 2,000 every day. These are casualties and deaths on a par with Europe’s great war. Violence and conflict have of course rendered development a near impossibility.

In Africa, weapons of mass destruction are often small arms and munitions shamelessly sold by western business interests. The Government’s determination to bring the Export Control Act 2002 into force is commendable, but there are still loopholes. Earlier this week the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who is in her place, answered a Written Question [HL4414] that I tabled about the sale of arms to Sudan by a British businessman John Knight and his associate Brian Foster.

In an interview with the Scotsman on 18 November, the arms dealer said that as weapons had been supplied to Hitler he saw no issue in selling arms to Khartoum. He had been asked to supply 130-mm field guns, T72 main battle tanks, multiple rocket launchers and semi-automatic pistols, and although these weapons were ultimately caught by the Export Control Act he did supply Antonov AN26 transport planes. He said that he believed they would be used to drop aid. These planes of course can be fitted with bomb racks, and the United Nations has highlighted how they have been used to bomb many people in the south of the country.

When I went to rebel-held areas in southern Sudan I saw the damage reeked by the Antonovs. The Bishop of Torit told me how 72 bombs had been dropped on his compound, including a school that had been obliterated. Children told me how they had learnt to tell the difference between the drone of the Antonov engines and those of the UN aid planes. I hope the Government will consider further how such transactions can be forestalled and loopholes, including third party deals brokered by UK nationals in third countries, can be thwarted.

In the long term, the consequences of raging conflict in Africa are appalling. I know that the noble Baroness who will answer the debate tonight agrees because of the speech she made on this subject herself just a couple of weeks ago.

In Rwanda, for instance, they include a staggering 260,000 orphans, of whom 65,000 are HIV positive. At a genocide site at Murambi I saw the disinterred corpses of pregnant women and children—some of the 58,000 people slaughtered as so-called peace keepers simply looked on because it was not part of their mandate to intervene.

We are rightly proud of our record in providing food and aid in countries like Rwanda and Sudan. But an aid worker in Darfur put it to me like this. He said:

“What is the point busting a gut to get in humanitarian aid if then you are simply going to let the people you feed be shot dead by the Janjaweed?”.

It was emphasised to me again and again by people in Darfur that it is not aid that they want but the weapons taken away from their attackers, and their land returned.

In Darfur I took first-hand accounts from people who have seen loved ones killed and raped, from people driven off their land, and from terrorised people whose villages have been razed to the ground.

Two weeks ago the Sudanese ambassador to London, Dr Hassan Abdin, at a meeting here in the Moses Room, disputed the veracity of the accounts collected by the journalist, Rebecca Tinsley and myself. He told an aid worker who had just flown in from Darfur that it was not true that aid workers were also now at risk. Moments later a UNICEF representative told the same meeting that only the previous day 88 aid workers had been evacuated from west Darfur because their safety could no longer be guaranteed. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, this week the situation has deteriorated further, with representatives of Save the Children having their own lives endangered when they were caught in the crossfire.

The Sudanese army has been moving into the camps under the pretext of searching for “rebels”. The BBC’s Fergal Keane said,

“to watch the officials and police of a state like Sudan—which has just signed a peace agreement—demolishing people’s shacks under the eyes of international observers and breaching international law is quite extraodrinary and unique”.

He said that he had never seen anything like it in 21 years of covering African affairs. He said:

“The population is bewildered and terrorised”.

Sudan’s Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, said that it was the act of a responsible government to move the occupants to a better location. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called the action a violation of humanitarian law. BBC’s “Panorama”, just two weeks ago, broadcast harrowing and graphic footage, which, no doubt, many noble Lords saw. The decaying remains of men, women and children, murdered during genocidal attacks, were shown. At El Geer camp 250 families were moved on to police trucks; they were later reported to be trying to shelter from the scorching sun outside another camp, at El Suaref. A total of 1.7 million people have now been displaced in Darfur and at least 70,000 have been killed. The community leader at El Geer said that they now fear being forcibly sent back to their village, which they fled after attacks by Janjaweed militia. A senior African Union official in Sudan says:

“The ceasefire has been violated every single day”.

The United Nations has called Darfur,

“the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe”

The United States and now Canada, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have formally declared this to be genocide.

In a letter that I received today from the Prime Minister, he says:

“You say that what is going on in Darfur is genocide. You may be right but the international community can only take such a decision based on sound evidence”.

I am unclear how much evidence is required or why the United States, and now Canada, was able to reach that view two months ago on the basis of the same evidence available to us all.

I have no doubt that what I saw in Darfur is genocide in a technical sense as well as in reality. The US was right to declare it to be so, and I agree with Colin Powell. What mystifies me is why we are in denial. Two years ago, the Prime Minister rightly said:

“I tell you, if Rwanda happened today, we would have a moral duty to act”.

We are one of 135 signatories to the 1949 Genocide Convention, which requires us to protect, prevent and punish those responsible. It does not say that our moral duty ends by passing the responsibility to a few African Union soldiers who have inadequate resources and a wholly inadequate mandate. It does not say that we simply have a moral duty to provide greater access for humanitarian aid to feed people while leaving them to be raped or murdered by genocidal forces.

Using Chapter 7 powers, the Security Council gave the government of Sudan until the end of August to disarm the Janjaweed militia. As on so many previous occasions, they failed to comply, and our collective failure to respond has left the Sudanese Government with the belief that they can do as they have done over the past 20 years with sheer impunity.

Last week, in advance of the Nairobi meeting of the UN Security Council, the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, and a senior Labour Member of the European Parliament, Mrs Glenys Kinnock, wrote to the Prime Minister. They said:

“It is time to get tough with the Sudan Government, the architect of this slaughter, ethnic cleansing, rape and racism. The British Government must not equate the actions of the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan, working in concert, with the comparatively small scale attacks by the Darfur rebels, nor must we fail to hold the Sudan Government to account for fear of upsetting the Khartoum regime”.

They added:

“Sudan is already a failed state, and its Government must be forced to negotiate for a genuine peace and a federal solution to the grievances of all its regions”.

They called for three immediate things: first, the enforcement of a no-fly zone; secondly, increased resources and an enhanced mandate for the African Union soldiers; and, thirdly, targeted sanctions against the government of Sudan, including a total arms embargo, the freezing of assets and a travel ban on the regime’s leaders. That is undoubtedly the right way to proceed.

To date, we have been deterred from pressing for oil and other sanctions against Sudan by countries such as China, which has extensive Sudanese oil interests. But, there are moments when a country has what the Prime Minister calls “a moral duty to act”—and this is one of those moments.

Sudan: Slavery

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government are taking a role in relation to this issue, and have done so for some considerable time. The abduction of women and children is a serious and distressing issue to which we pay particular attention. Our ambassador raised the issue recently during the EU/Sudan dialogue meeting with the Sudanese Minister of Justice. It was for that reason that those discussions took place. We have a critical dialogue, which is bearing fruit.
I disagree with the comments of the noble Baroness in relation to the efforts that are currently being made by the Save the Children Fund and others. We are making our way forward. Approximately 560 abductees have been returned, and that is a good thing.
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, given today’s press release from the Sudan embassy and the on-going and horrendous conflict between northern Sudan and southern Sudan, which I have witnessed at first hand, can the Minister say whether there is evidence of an enslavement dimension in the struggle as regards the south? If so, what can be done about it?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, this issue has been looked at very broadly. It would be wrong to divide the north and the south in the way suggested by the right reverend Prelate. We are bringing together civil society groups, government groups and the Churches–to which I pay tribute–to try to find a solution which will bring lasting peace to Sudan. Slavery is one aspect alone of a very difficult and complex issue. If we could solve the issue of peace, we would much more quickly solve the issue of abduction.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, if, as they insist, the Government of Sudan are not themselves encouraging slavery as an instrument of policy, is there any valid reason why they should not open up the whole of the country to aid workers and to human rights monitors? Will Her Majesty’s Government urge them to do that? Until they do, can
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my noble friend assure the House that the Government will not encourage British companies to invest in Sudan?Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord raises a number of issues. Of course it is right that non-governmental agencies should be able to work safely in Sudan. The House will know that there has been a difficult and contentious dialogue between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA, both of whom–to put it at its lowest–have not behaved as one would wish them to on all occasions. We are trying hard to bring about change in this area. It is slow; it is complex; it is difficult and it is at times distressing–but there is a view that we are moving forward.
As regards business, I heard what the noble and learned Lord said about that. We issue strong advice, and we are happy if people take it.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government of Sudan have taken no action against the raids in which civilians are abducted into forced labour and slavery? Does she also agree with the workers’ representatives at last year’s ILO conference that, while some meek initiatives have been taken, there has been no real progress towards the abolition of forced labour and slavery? Therefore, in her bilateral conversations with the Sudanese, will she encourage them to revoke their refusal to allow an ILO technical mission to visit that country and advise on the further steps which could be taken?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that Her Majesty’s Government are taking every opportunity that they can to raise this issue with the Government of Sudan and that we are moving forward in that regard. The issue needs a multilateral approach as opposed to a unilateral one. We are encouraging all those who will join with us in this endeavour to try to make things better.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, while I agree with what the noble Baroness has said today–particularly in regard to a multilateral approach–will she return to the answer that she gave to the right reverend Prelate and agree that what is taking place in Sudan today is the deliberate seizure of women and children, in particular, as slaves as a weapon of war? Does she agree that there is a need to create safe havens in the Nuba mountains and in those areas of southern Sudan where the situation is particularly perilous? Does she further agree that the whole House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the work that she has done in highlighting these massive violations of human rights?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord said in relation to the good work carried out by the noble Baroness. However, I would add a note of caution. We know that there has been a lot of concern about the purchasing of slaves or of
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those in bonded labour–by whomsoever does so–because it feeds into those who wish to profit from it. Although I entirely endorse what the noble Lord said, I add that caveat.The issue is a real one. I have said already that all parties need to come together to try to find a solution. But that solution is not easy; it is complex and it will take time.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government still consider Sudan to be a terrorist state?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Sudan has had its difficulties. It would be quite wrong to so describe it. We have a critical dialogue with the Government of Sudan. We have to deal with real issues and we are inviting the Sudanese Government to join with us in dealing with those issues, and that will continue.