My Lords, Her Majesty's Government strongly support the efforts of UNICEF and Save the Children Fund (UK) to work with the Government of Sudan to eradicate the practice of abduction of women and children and to return those abducted to their families. We also support the efforts which have been made by the New Sudan Council of Churches. Our ambassador visits the affected areas to drive home the message of our concern to those dealing with the issues on the spot.
Abduction is a central issue in the EU/Sudan political dialogue and we also raise it regularly at the highest levels in our bilateral contacts with the Government of Sudan. Through the European Union, we give financial support to this difficult and sensitive work.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she accept that the Government of Sudan have been widely condemned by the United Nations and by many human rights organisations for complicity in slavery? Does she further accept that the measures to which she referred are widely deemed inadequate in terms of the numbers freed compared with the thousands who have been captured and enslaved with the complicity of the Sudanese Government? Can the Minister explain why Her Majesty's Government continue to do business with that regime--even to the point of inviting its Foreign Minister here against the spirit of UN Security Council sanctions--instead of, here in the land of William Wilberforce, taking a lead in the international community to achieve the abolition of slavery in Sudan?
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.
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?
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.
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 my noble friend assure the House that the Government will not encourage British companies to invest in Sudan?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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 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.