– in the House of Lords at 7:58 pm on 7th October 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Conservative 7:58 pm, 7th October 2002

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to recent developments in Sudan.

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who are to participate in the debate as the situation in Sudan is becoming ever more serious and as the people of Sudan are anxiously waiting to hear whether Her Majesty's Government will offer them more substantive support than their largely ineffective policy of critical dialogue. With up to 2 million dead and 5 million displaced in recent years from war-related causes, the toll of man-made suffering exceeds that of Rwanda, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia combined.

Yet this huge tragedy goes largely unreported by the media and is effectively condoned by western governments. The National Islamic Front (NIF), the so-called "Government of Sudan", has declared jihad in its most militaristic form against all who oppose it, Muslims as well as Christians and traditional believers. The weapons of jihad include massive military offensives against innocent civilians, enslavement of many abducted women and children and the manipulation of aid, with the regime regularly denying access by UN Operation Lifeline Sudan to vast areas of that huge country.

In addition to the military jihad against the African peoples of the south and the Beja Muslim people in the east, the regime has consistently violated the human rights of Arab Muslims living in the north, with imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings. Recent reports from Darfur indicate an escalation of NIF brutality there.

The suffering has to be seen to be believed. That is why the regime declares regularly "no go" areas where it attacks locations with low-flying helicopter gunships and high-flying Antonovs dropping 500 kilogram bombs on to civilian targets such as schools and feeding centres. Then ground troops carry out a scorched earth policy, killing men, women and children, or, in Bahr el Ghazal, abducting many into slavery. They steal or destroy cattle, crops, homes, leaving survivors bereft of loved ones and means of subsistence.

I recently visited one of the regime's "no go" areas in eastern Upper Nile, where children were dying from whooping cough; 89 had already perished as local health workers had no medication. We took Erythromycin to treat those afflicted and halt the epidemic. But while there, we met many other civilians who had walked for 13 days, forced to flee from their villages which had been attacked by NIF troops. Women with babies were so exhausted and malnourished that their breast milk had dried up and they were holding their dying babies in their arms.

Such is the reality behind the signing of the Machakos agreement on 20th July between the NIF regime and the main opposition group engaged in conflict, the SPLA. This supposed peace agreement hit the headlines and raised hopes. But less than a week later the NIF launched another massive offensive in western Upper Nile with reports of several hundred civilians killed and thousands displaced.

The second round of talks at Machakos were preceded by intensified attacks by the NIF on civilian targets in the south, including bombing raids on the diocese of Torit, targeting schools and a camp for the displaced. One raid occurred on 19th August, the very day the talks resumed, and NIF bombings persisted during the negotiations, which continued despite these flagrant violations. But when, on 1st September, the SPLA retaliated by retaking the town of Torit, the NIF withdrew with shameless hypocrisy, accusing the SPLA of violating the agreement.

Of course in a war two sides fight and the SPLA is party to the conflict, with all that that implies. But to suggest, as the British Government typically do, symmetry of aggression and violations of human rights between the NIF and the SPLA or NDA is outrageously misleading; for example, only the NIF uses aerial bombardment against civilians; and in all the locations that I have visited under SPLM/A or other forms of NDA administration, I have seen more effective establishment of civil society and respect for human rights than the NIF has ever attempted. For example, we are told by Arab traders from the north who come south to trade that they feel safer with the SPLM/A than with the NIF's rule of terror in the north.

On 27th September, in an escalation of their policy of denying aid to many parts of Sudan, the NIF stopped all aid flights into southern Sudan, denying three million people medical and food aid. This action led the chairman of the Committee of Conscience of the US-based Holocaust Museum to "strongly reiterate" the organisation's genocide warning on Sudan, adding that,

"once again the Sudanese government is attempting to use starvation as a weapon of destruction against its own citizens".

The fact that this total ban has just been lifted is no cause for commendation. It should never have been imposed. The regime should he required now to stop all restrictions, opening up all of Sudan to aid, wherever needed.

The NIF is using oil revenues to buy weapons such as helicopter gunships to kill its own people and has adopted a policy of systematic ethnic cleansing of all the communities who live near the oil fields. When I visited Gumriak in western Upper Nile, NIF troops had just attacked with low-flying helicopter gunships, shooting at women and children, Antonovs dropping 500 kilogram bombs, and ground troops which burnt approximately 6,000 homes. 11 churches, seven mosques, three animist shrines, the school and the clinic. That is just one example of huge swathes of Sudan cleared to accommodate oil exploitation. The NGO International Crisis Group has confirmed the use of oil revenues by the NIF to buy sophisticated weaponry, including a reported 120 million US dollars-worth of new Mig-29 fighter aircraft, already used to bomb the hospital town of Lui on 21st September, killing 13 people, including four children.

The NIF is also reportedly trying to buy a radar system from Alenia Marconi Systems. If this sale is approved, it could be a breach of the EU embargo on the sale of dual-use equipment to Sudan.

There are other causes for concern which the British Government seem to be ignoring—reports of the re-establishment of terrorist training camps; the transfer of Al'Qaeda gold to Khartoum; and membership in Al'Qaeda of several of its prominent leaders.

The NIF may have bought immunity by providing some information on international terrorism and on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but many believe that there will be a high price to pay for allowing this Islamist ruthless regime to become even more entrenched; to pursue its brutal ruthless policies of ethnic cleansing; and to engage in international terrorism.

I have visited Mr Alan Goulty, the Government's special representative for Sudan, to discuss our first-hand evidence. I also wrote on 16th September to express acute concern over recent developments. In a reply dated 26th September, Mr Goulty dismissed the significance of this briefing as "second or third-hand advocacy".

I hope that the evidence presented tonight will not receive the same cursory dismissal from the Government, whose special representative does not visit the areas directly affected by the war and where continuing flight bans leave civilians suffering and dying unreached, unhelped and unheard. The evidence underpinning the concerns I have expressed comes from many and well-respected sources, too voluminous to be compressed into the time allowed, but I shall place a fuller briefing in the Library of the House.

I conclude by asking the Minister: first, what equipment and chemicals, such as precursors for chemical weapons, which may he used by the NIF to kill its own people, have been exported by the United Kingdom to Sudan in the past four years? And, given the close links between Sudan and Iraq, what measures have the Government taken to ensure end-user accountability of such exports? Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government promote measures to prevent the deaths of thousands more civilians, such as: requiring the NIF to lift its flight bans on aid organisations, allowing them to reach all civilians in urgent need of aid, before many more die; insisting on the effective deployment of international monitoring teams set up under the March agreement; supporting the US Congress recommendation to install an early warning system to detect and notify impending attacks on civilians; pressing the NIF to maintain Lokichokio in Kenya as the base for relief operations for southern Sudan, the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile and eastern and western Upper Nile; and providing more resources for relief organisations operating in the designated "no go" areas, where people die of starvation and disease, or have to move to NIF-controlled areas where they suffer gross violations of human rights?

The British Government maintain they are helping the situation through "critical dialogue". But the evidence shows that while the regime talks, it kills. The time has come to ask whether this "critical dialogue" just gives the regime credibility while it commits murder behind closed borders. The people of Sudan are looking to Britain for effective help, not just talks and words. I hope that the Government will not disappoint them because I heard today that the US Congress is considering the Sudan Peace Act while we speak, which would put significant pressure on the NIF.

I therefore hope passionately that Britain will not be left behind shamefully and recorded ignominiously in history for failing the people of Sudan in their hour of desperate need.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 8:09 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for many noble Lords on all sides of your Lordships' House in expressing admiration for the sustained way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has tirelessly sought to bring the suffering of the people of Sudan to the attention of your Lordships' House. She has performed another great service today, highlighting the suffering in Sudan and bringing it to the attention of the international community. I join with her in hoping that the list of proposals that she has laid before your Lordships and the Minister will be implemented and acted upon.

Two weeks ago, on behalf of the humanitarian charity Jubilee Action, whose progenitor, Jubilee Campaign, I co-founded 17 years ago, I visited southern Sudan and travelled into the Sudan People's Liberation Army-administered areas in the diocese of Torit, which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned a few moments ago. I was with the auxiliary Bishop of Torit, Bishop Akio Johnson. There have been nine attempts on his life. He is scarred by bullet wounds. His story is one of immense personal bravery and courage, a pen portrait revealing a broad narrative of suffering.

Even as the negotiators were hammering out the detail of the Machakos protocol, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Bishop Akio's home and compound were being blitzed by the Sudanese military. In three raids on Ikitos on 26th and 29th June and 12th July, 72 bombs were dropped on his residence. It was obliterated. If the occupants had not scrambled into shelters, there would have been a massacre. The compound also houses a primary and secondary school at which more than 200 children are being educated. Both schools were destroyed but, miraculously, the prudent provision of bomb shelters saved the lives of the children. Bishop Akio told me that many were vomiting and crying and were deeply traumatised.

Many refugees inside Sudan are dying from hunger and thirst. Cholera and other virulent diseases rage. The effects of daily aerial bombardment and the indiscriminate laying of anti-personnel landmines can be seen in the countless torn limbs and broken bodies. One Red Cross surgeon working at Lokichoggio, the last Kenyan outpost before the border, told me that he had undertaken about 300 operations during the past month, and that two other surgeons had done the same.

"It's not a civilan hospital", he said,

"it's a field hospital in a war".

Of course, Machakos did not deliver a ceasefire and it is difficult to see how real progress can be made without one. When the SPLA liberated Torit on 1st September, the scale of the destruction there became apparent. The cathedral church of St. Peter and Paul is desecrated. The smaller church of Our Lady of the Assumption has been razed to the ground; only one small wall remains. The foundations of the church have been turned into a military bunker and the bricks taken to build a mosque. The town itself has been forcibly Islamicised; the road signs turned to Arabic and water and medicine given only to people who have changed their identities to Islamic names. One group of 180 children had been taken to Khartoum and radically indoctrinated, encouraging a hatred of their parents and turning them into child soldiers.

Bishop Akio would like strenuous efforts to be made to create a process of reconciliation. Indeed, after the capture of Yei, he personally intervened to stop the killing of Sudanese troops whom he fed, clothed and had repatriated. But he says that an end to the bombing is a prerequisite before any kind of reconciliation can begin. He says:

"People's hatred has gone very deep."

The picture of devastation is much the same throughout the south. For instance, at Mur Ahat Tha, four children and their mother were killed, along with six others, when its church of St. Mary, rebuilt four times, was levelled again in August.

I went to Narus, where the dispensary has been completely destroyed. The buildings are a mangled ruin. One local inhabitant, Moses March, showed me where a family of seven—including five children and also an unborn child— died in a direct hit on their hut. In addition to the massacre of Martin Lowie's family, 23 people were killed in raids on Narus. I saw live munitions lying in the school play area.

In the areas of southern Sudan where conflict still rages, children are being killed daily and women raped. UNICEF told me that,

"children are being crippled, nails put into their knees, and their Achilles' tendons deliberately broken so that they can't run. There are serious serial human rights abuses. The government connives by arming the tribes who are involved."

All that in a country in which 10 per cent of children die before they are five; where life expectancy is only 56 years; where 92 per cent live in poverty; and where, in a vast land mass, there are a mere 20 secondary schools.

In recent months, the Sudanese Government have been intensifying their raids on areas around oilfields, with the aim of depopulating those districts. Since the oil began to flow in Sudan, the Khartoum Government have been able to increase their military spending from £110 million to £220 million. Bishop Akio is scornful of the morality of western oil companies. He says that

"every barrel of oil that they extract is half full of oil and half full of blood. When people decide where to buy their petrol, they should remember that."

At the least, we should require oil companies to reveal the size of their receipts from and the scale of dealings with Sudan. We should ensure much greater pressure, including economic sanctions such as a ban on investment, on Sudan by the broader international community in close partnership with regional states in a concerted effort to end the terrible war.

The Government of Sudan should also be held much more closely accountable by the international community for their deliberate bombing of civilians and the widespread and systematic enslavement of Christians and people of traditional religions and their forced conversion. Those atrocities clearly constitute war crimes. Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians in times of war. The Sudanese Government are targeting civilians through air raids and, with their allies, deliberately and systematically enslaving thousands of non-Muslims. Those atrocities, due to their extensive, serious and systematic nature, can be considered as crimes against humanity and those responsible should be held to account.

The war in Sudan is a war that the West frequently ignores. It is a client war whose roots lie in the same conflict that led to the carnage of New York's twin towers. It is a war that, far from being contained, is having a ripple effect throughout the region—as far away as Chad—and it is a war whose line of engagement has become Africa's Maginot line. The blood-letting has its roots in racism and fundamentalism; it is a blood-letting exacerbated by radicals seeking to impose their beliefs on non-believers; and it is a blood-letting motivated by greed for resources—primarily oil. With 2 million dead, surely it is a war that demonstrates that it is easier to begin wars than to finish them. The whole House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for enabling us to raise these issues tonight.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that they are limited to six minutes each.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 8:17 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, we are indeed indebted to my noble friend Lady Cox and I extend some sympathy to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, who must reply to the debate. Her Majesty's Government are not in charge of the world community and the noble Baroness is not in charge of the Foreign Office, so she starts with a gigantic task. We as a nation are not responsible for the world community, but we are neighbours to the other countries in it and we are neighbours to the Sudan—distant though it may be. If ever I saw people left in a ditch by robbers, it is the Christian members of the southern half of that country.

I was always brought up to believe that oil and water would not mix, but in this case they do. It is the Egyptian interest in water that gives them their desire for the Sudan to be retained as a single state, because the Nile is largely dependent on sources in the south of that country. Also in the south of the country are the ample resources of oil. They do not only fuel the fighter aircraft and armoured vehicles used in the war, they also fuel the whole war campaign and are the war's purpose. The oil enables the Government of the Sudan to pursue their desire of retaining the oil. Regrettably, they are doing so by a policy that has been accurately described as ethnic cleansing—something that we recently thought worthy of our intervention in the Balkans.

It is oil that provides the money to buy the Antonovs and now the MiG fighters that are being used and which will, if this is allowed to proceed, finance the purchase of the radar system to which my noble friend Lady Cox referred. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's answer to my noble friend's question as to whether that sale is in breach of the European regime and, if so, what steps the Government are taking—not are about to take—to ensure that that sale does not take place.

We are discussing a disaster of Biblical proportions that has gone on not for years but for generations. It is a tragedy. I have previously heard the Minister ably and lucidly defend the policy of critical dialogue: it is better to talk to people close to than to shout at them from a distance. Those are not her words, but that is, I think, the philosophy. One is more likely to exercise influence that way. However, I would be grateful if, on this occasion, the Minister could tell us what critical dialogue consists of and how critical it is.

We are talking about a government who have knowingly and deliberately imposed the sort of regime that the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, vividly described. According to a report by Agence France Presse on 31st July, a member of the Sudanese Government—the Information Minister, Mahdi Ibrahim—when questioned about the veracity of an SPLA claim that up to 300 people had been killed and up to 100,000 displaced by the renewed government offensive in western Upper Nile, replied:

"That's what happened lately".

That is an extraordinarily calm admission of something that ought to have put those responsible in the international dock.

I have raised the question of oil before. If the tap were turned off, the war would fizzle out. It would become an old-fashioned war. Numbers would diminish, speed would diminish, and the opportunities for diplomacy would increase. Dependency on the goodwill of other countries would become a powerful factor in the thinking of those who devise the policies. If we do not have the power to turn the tap off, the companies that extract and sell the oil surely do. It is not in their interests to do so individually, but, if they were to act collectively and say, "We are no longer prepared to finance your fighting by extracting and selling your oil and paying you fees, revenues and taxes", the picture would change.

That would have to be a matter of international agreement. It could not be voluntary because, if one company broke the ban, that would cause the whole thing to cease working. It would also, incidentally, make the breaker of the ban exceedingly rich, which is what it is all about. If such a situation could be arrived at, the companies could have a substantial and satisfactory effect on what was going on. That is why, to my surprise, I found myself drawn to support the proposal made by the United Kingdom branch of Save the Children in May that there should be transparency in the financing of such matters and that it should be arrived at by international agreement.

I shall expand on that at another time, but my six minutes are up.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 8:23 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is right to ask with forceful energy and urgency about the response of Her Majesty's Government to recent developments in Sudan. Her unswerving commitment to the people of that African country, riven by years of civil war, has gained the admiration and respect of us all.

Too easily and too often, the desperate plight of the Sudanese people has been forgotten or obscured by other global events and conflicts, as now by the Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian confrontations that dominate world attention. Yet, the war in the Sudan rages on, with over 2 million dead and over 5 million displaced over the years from war-related causes, as other speakers have said. Only the other day, an American bishop said to me that there was never any mention of the civil war in the Sudan in the United States. It was well described by a Jesuit priest, who called it a hidden holocaust.

Together with the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church is one of the few organisations that have an effective presence on both sides of the long-running civil war. At the beginning of September, I was in Kampala, Uganda, meeting the bishops from northern and southern Sudan, who had gathered together for a retreat and conference, in which I was privileged to take part. It was a rare event because the bishops are unable to meet in their own country. Some live outside the Sudan, caring for their countrymen in exile.

At the beginning, the mood was upbeat. The Machakos peace talks were gaining momentum. After years of intense suffering and heartbreak, bitter disillusionment and frustration, there was cautious optimism that the civil war could be nearing an end and that genuine peace might become a reality. Within a day or so, hopes were dashed by news that the government's representatives had withdrawn and the whole peace process had ground to a halt. With that came a profound sense of disappointment and distress on the part of the Church leaders. Peace had seemed so near; once again, it seemed so far. A month on, the peace talks have yet to be resumed. I urge Her Majesty's Government to do all in their power to encourage the various parties to get back to the table and resume negotiations. Sudan has suffered far too long; its traumatised, impoverished people deserve to see fresh signs of hope.

In the view of many, the Machakos peace protocol still offers the best framework for peace negotiations for several decades. Most southerners feel that the agreement provides, at last, a starting point for more substantive discussions. The Sudanese Churches broadly welcome it as an important contribution to the process of bringing peace to Sudan. However, they point out several problematic areas that need clarification. They include the delineation of northern and southern Sudan, particularly with regard to the Nuba Mountains, southern Blue Nile and Abayei county. There is also a lack of detail in the protocol regarding the sources of supreme law that would be worked out during the period prior to a referendum on self-determination, envisaged for six years' time. There is a general feeling in northern and southern Sudan that the talks should be widened to include groups representing civil society, women, the churches and other political and military parties and organisations. That would give wider Sudanese society a feeling of ownership of the process, thereby giving Machakos a better chance of success.

In the meantime, reliable reports indicate that the bombing and killing of innocent people in southern Sudan has continued and even intensified, as other noble Lords have illustrated. The banning by the Sudanese Government of all UN humanitarian flights from Kenya to eastern and western equatorial regions in southern Sudan denies 3 million people medical and food aid. Starvation is again being used as a weapon of destruction, although there have been few expressions of outrage from the international community about the attacks on civilians or about the fact that a regime is starving a part of its population to death by deliberately engineering famine for the second time in that country's history.

As your Lordships will be aware, oil and water are major factors, as are the rich resources of gold and uranium that have been discovered in the south. It is reported that thousands of civilians have been forcibly displaced from western Upper Nile to make way for oil exploration. The SPLA has urged oil companies to halt exploitation and production until a just and lasting peace exists within the country. However, so far this appeal appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

"Sudan is a Highly Indebted Poor Country. Peace would lead to debt relief and a fresh start in bringing development and hope to the people",

Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, declared recently. Therefore, like other noble Lords, I believe it important that Her Majesty's Government are more robust in taking forward the concerns expressed today for the Sudanese people.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative 8:30 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate Sudan at this critical time in the peace talks between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA. I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Cox on securing this debate.

In following the right reverend Prelate, I want to take this opportunity to mention what I believe to be a relevant and important meeting which is presently taking place in Canterbury. Today was the first day of a two-day faith and development meeting, hosted jointly by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn. The participants, from all major world religions and faiths, believe that without common understanding the fundamental goals of fighting poverty and misery on earth, and giving each human being the chance to develop his or her potential, cannot be achieved.

The emphasis is on dialogue, understanding and a strong common purpose, commitment and communication. These are particularly necessary in the case of Sudan, with its deep religious and ethnic divisions. I warmly congratulate Canon Richard Marsh, who is chair of the World Faiths Development Dialogue Trustees, and Katharine Marshall, director of the World Bank and counsellor to the president, on their enormous achievement in taking forward the agenda I have mentioned.

Sudan's people, far beyond the two distinct Arab and African cultures, are a melting pot of languages, tribes and religions. The current conflict alone has lasted nearly 20 years, fuelled by race, religion and now increasingly, as has been analysed, by oil. As Senator John Danforth, the US Special Envoy, has put it, Sudan is a desperate place, whose people live

"in the most difficult conditions that people can live in".

For while other conflicts and other crises are headline news, Sudan's suffering is often unreported and ignored. All too often, it is reduced to a series of soulless statistics: 36 years of civil war in 46 years of independence; 2 million dead; 4 million internally displaced; 500,000 refugees. Despite all the horror and misery implicit in these terrible statistics, still they fail to provoke widespread international outrage and to goad our global conscience into calls for immediate action. The shocking truth is that we do not even know for sure how many have died or been internally displaced.

In the past two decades, Sudan's people have known hunger and slavery used as weapons of war. They have known the aerial bombardment of civilians, attacks on relief centres and the looting of aid supplies. They have been driven from their homes, their religious freedoms compromised and their human rights trampled on over and over again. Yet the killing fields of Sudan barely register in the public's awareness. Sudan is a mere blip on the radar screen of political action and public opinion. Unlike other crises, when Sudanese civilians are bombarded from the air, we see little news and few pictures.

In July, a window of opportunity allowed hope to stream into this desperate, war-torn country. All parties involved admitted that they had a responsibility to engage in serious negotiations, which, in itself, was a major step forward. Both sides agreed to talks under the auspices of the IGAD peace process. As we have heard, on 20th July, after five weeks of talks, the Machakos protocol was signed between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM. It was a significant breakthrough. Once implemented, it would allow the southern Sudan to hold an independence referendum after a six-year power-sharing transition period and it would exempt the mainly Christian south from Sharia law.

Yet despite all the progress made towards peace as a result of these negotiations, the failure to agree a cease-fire on the ground until last week threatened to undermine the whole process. While there has been good news in recent days, today is nevertheless a very good opportunity for the Minister to update us on the military situation on the ground.

This is a critical time for Sudan. Both sides in the conflict face a moment of truth. Until last week, a peace process was underway at the same time as a major military offensive. Access to humanitarian services is being denied to hundreds of thousands. Not for the first time, Sudan is walking a fine line between opportunity and catastrophe. This apparent policy pursued by both sides of "talk and fight" at the same time is counterproductive and dangerous. It is wasting time that the terrorised civilians of Sudan simply do not have to spare. The cycle must be broken if Sudan is to grope its way towards any sort of peace.

A cease-fire, which owes its existence to tactical posturing rather than a genuine commitment to peace, will be as short-lived and as inadequate as all the other cease-fires which have come and gone during this protracted war. We have learnt in Sudan that words and promises mean nothing unless they are underpinned by real actions committing both sides irrevocably to the path of peace. The people of Sudan have heard much impressive rhetoric, but have seen little real improvement.

As the International Crisis Group's report makes plain, the Machakos talks represent the best chance for peace the Sudanese people have had in two decades. Both sides in the conflict stand at a critical crossroads and they must decide whether they will reap greater benefits from war or from peace. I hope that the Minister will share her views on whether there is a real commitment on both sides to the Machakos peace agreement. For if both sides do not mean what they say, the peace plan is doomed to follow its ill-fated predecessors.

In conclusion, today's debate must be seen within the context of the G8's Africa action plan, agreed at Kananaskis this year, which mirrors the Government's approach to African affairs and carries the Prime Minister's personal backing. It is important that we are told how the New Partnership for Africa's Development will be translated into practical improvements on the ground in Sudan.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 8:36 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate said that the plight of the Sudanese people is all too frequently forgotten. But not in this House, where we always have the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, to remind us of it and to draw your Lordships' attention to the need for more robust action by the Government.

It was too good to be true when the Sudanese Government and the SPLM signed up to an agreement for self-rule in the south, the sharing of oil revenues and a referendum in six years' time. The Macharkos protocol, referred to by all noble Lords, would give the south the power to run its own affairs. However, it said nothing about how the security of the south was to be managed and left both sides trying to gain the upper hand militarily before the substantive negotiations began. The Government walked out on the negotiations on 2nd September, after the SPLA recaptured Torit and returned to the battlefield, at the same time launching intensive bombing campaigns on civilian areas, including IDP camps, and at the end of September imposing a ban on humanitarian aid flights to the south.

Now the parties have agreed to resume talks on 14th October and there will be a cease-fire from that date. The aid flights resumed yesterday after intense pressure by the UN and other players.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, described the brutal struggle for possession of the oil-bearing territory in western Upper Nile, part of the region which would have the right to secede in six years' time. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, described the ethnic cleansing in which the Government forces killed or evicted 100,000 local people from their homes in an operation which bordered on genocide. The Government need and want the extra revenue from the oil to pay off international debts and to buy more arms to conduct this kind of warfare.

Will Britain urge that the displaced people must be allowed to return or, if their homes and land are genuinely needed for works connected with oil exploration and development, they should be properly compensated? In the negotiations to determine the amounts payable, the displaced people should be provided with expert advice on what has been paid in other situations where large capital projects are implemented under World Bank guidelines.

If the south is to run its own affairs, presumably government forces will have to withdraw from the whole region. What arrangements are contemplated for security and has IGAD thought about providing troops to supervise disengagement, disarmament and demobilisation?

As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, there is nothing in the incomplete protocol on the boundary between the north and the south. But if it is to be as it was on 1st January 1956, as we understand the Government want, it would orphan three areas whose interests need to be considered: Abyei, a Dinka area of south Kordofan, where the northern Baggara were allowed to graze during the dry season during the colonial period; the Ingessena Hills of southern Blue Nile; and the Nuba mountains, which have been mentioned. The SPLM cannot speak for these people and they should be given the right to say which of the two entities in the federal state they want to join. Will that question be deferred until they are properly represented?

Human rights have figured largely in the debate. Amnesty International has published a human rights agenda for a lasting peace in Sudan, and it expresses particular concern about the situation in Darfour, which has been mentioned, where 12 people were executed in May and another 88 are in prison waiting for the death sentence to be carried out. Those sentences have been imposed by special courts which do not comply with any international norms for fair trials.

The UN special rapporteur, Gerhart Baum, has referred to,

"the adverse impact of oil exploitation on the human rights situation"; the discontinuation of the transition to democracy after December 2000; the obstacles put in the way of opposition politicians who wanted to contact him; the harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders; and the lack of freedom of expression.

The Sudan Organisation Against Torture reports a wave of arrests of Popular National Congress members; a sentence of 100 lashes imposed for adultery on a woman who had recently given birth; and the closure of newspapers and arrests of journalists.

Can we raise these matters with the participants in the resumed Machakos process? We should play an important role in getting that process back on track, as has been said, with human rights prominent on the agenda. But the priority is to stop the fighting and agree on measures for an international monitoring force to look after the cease-fire. The Sudanese Government say that they want this and Mr Garang has accepted it. They must now sit down and decide, with the best technical military help available, how the forces are to be separated and what help is needed from the international community to keep them apart on the ground. Only if peace is consolidated now will it be possible to begin the daunting task of creating new autonomous government structures in the south.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 8:42 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, once again I congratulate my noble friend Lady Cox on initiating this important debate. 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 subject to almost weekly change.

It is also a timely debate because the peace process in Sudan is at a crucial point. At present, Sudan has the prospect of negotiating a lasting settlement. The Machakos protocol represents the latest series of talks between the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Although negotiations broke down during early September, I understand that talks are due to resume in a week's time. This should be welcomed. It will come as a massive relief to the millions of Sudanese longing for an end to Africa's longest-running war.

Fighting, however, has not ceased completely. As your Lordships know, the Sudanese situation is so complex that ostensible progress towards peace is rarely an unqualified success. Only last week the National Democratic Alliance, which includes the SPLA as its largest component, said it had taken a town on the Sudanese-Eritrean border. It is clearly very difficult to comment constructively on a situation that changes virtually from week to week.

It is for this reason that I should like to focus today on the humanitarian situation in the Sudan, in which the prevailing conditions are rather more sustained. Although the resumption of talks represents welcome progress, unmitigated civil unrest has taken its toll on the Sudanese. The figures are well rehearsed and I firmly believe that we have a moral and political responsibility to act. Anyone familiar with the history of the Sudan will recognise that Britain has certain responsibilities towards that country. The current global situation demands that we deal with the barbarous circumstances in countries like Sudan, which we should remember was the haven of Osama bin Laden before he moved to Afghanistan.

I should like to say a few words on the way I perceive the humanitarian situation to be affected by other events in Sudan. I speak with due humility, given the expertise that exists among noble Lords who have already spoken. The single most important factor in starting to deal with the terrible problems of the Sudanese is to initiate a genuine ceasefire. As my noble friend Lady Cox mentioned, it is all too easy to see the problems in Sudan as a jihad between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. The logical conclusion is that any lasting peace settlement in Sudan should be firmly rooted in secular democracy, with religious freedom as a pre-requisite for lasting peace.

However, each group involved in the peace process has its own agenda, be that dominance of the country, exploitation of oil revenues or independence and secession from the state of Sudan as we see it now. Clearly Sudan's problems cannot be solved by peace talks designed specifically to address religious conflict. If a ceasefire is a prerequisite for progress and the improvement of people's lives, the possibility of achieving one is hampered by the different interest groups wrangling for supremacy.

As we have already heard, Sudan's oil resources present the peace process with a major problem and cannot be separated from recent developments within the country. Time and again we are forced to acknowledge that the drive for self-determination is hampered by oil. The NIF government see oil as the factor that gives them the decisive advantage in the war against the rebel groups. On the other hand, the SPLA has focused its campaign on damaging the oilfields as a means of hitting the government's revenues. I do not think that the answer is to halt Sudan's oil production. Making the country poorer cannot be an answer. Until a settlement is properly founded the Sudanese oil revenues will do nothing for the population as a whole.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan forcefully stressed that now is a crucially important time for the peace talks to address the problems that will determine the future of the Sudanese. It is also a crucial time for the international community to determine its engagement with the peace process. A determined, internationally-supported drive for peace is essential if the conditions for development, increased respect for human rights and justice are to triumph.

I should be grateful if the Minister would explain to your Lordships' House how the Government intend to respond to the resumption of the peace talks; how they perceive the future of Britain's relationship with the Sudan; and what progress is likely to be made to alleviate this long-standing humanitarian crisis. Specifically, I should be interested to learn what consideration the Government have given to the recommendations of the International Crisis Group. These recommendations should be regarded as an important starting point in any discussion on the next steps to be taken in securing peace for the Sudanese.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 8:48 pm, 7th October 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating the debate. The noble Baroness has a long-standing commitment to the people of Sudan. I am left with nine minutes to respond to the debate and I shall do my best.

No one denies the suffering in Sudan. It is Africa's longest-running conflict, the latest period of which has lasted 19 years, resulting in more than 1.5 million deaths, hundreds of thousands of refugees and widespread famine. But it is a complex conflict and much of the fighting is factional and neither government nor rebel forces can win militarily. That is why we are working to establish peace. It is the only solution.

We continue to believe that 2002 offers a real window of opportunity for peace in Sudan, and the United Kingdom has a major role to play in ensuring that this opportunity is seized. We support the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process as the best chance to bring an end to the civil war through a negotiated settlement. As an active member of the IGAD Partners Forum and in co-ordination with other governments that take a close interest in Sudan, we have stepped up our efforts to revitalise the IGAD initiative.

I take issue with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that our policy is "largely ineffective" and that the tragedy in Sudan is,

"effectively condoned by western governments"'

The Government are committed to helping the Sudanese people seize the opportunity for peace. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development visited Sudan earlier this year. We have appointed a full-time Special Representative to Sudan and established a dedicated joint Foreign Office-DfID Sudan Unit, so that our efforts have a better focus and greater dynamism.

I remind the noble Baroness that Alan Goulty, the Special Representative, and staff from the unit have travelled extensively in Sudan. Their efforts in working with international partners—including Kenyan Lieutenant General Sumbeiywo, the IGAD special envoy—to support the peace process have already yielded dividends. As to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the G8 Africa Action Plan makes specific reference to the efforts that will be made by G8 countries, including the United Kingdom, to bring peace to Sudan.

A number of your Lordships spoke about the Machakos talks. UK observers were present throughout the first round. We welcomed the Machakos protocol, which represented a significant breakthrough in the major issues of state and religion and self-determination for the south and a step towards the realisation of a just and lasting peace.

The second session began on 12th August but was suspended. I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford that we and others supported General Sumbeiywo's efforts to bring the parties back to the negotiating table—ideally on the basis of an understanding that there will be a cessation of hostilities on both sides for the duration of the talks.

What features make Machakos different from previous peace talks? One is the international presence. We are there with our partners to ensure seriousness of purpose and to demonstrate our commitment to help the Sudanese people to achieve peace. Of course we and other international players will help to implement any agreement that is reached at Machakos. That is all substantially different from previous efforts to reach peace in Sudan. I assure noble Lords that the talks at Machakos will include discussion of most of the issues that were raised this evening. I was very pleased to hear the good news that the parties have agreed to return to the talks on 14th October. I welcome also their agreement to a military stand down, which will take effect on the resumption of the talks.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the importance of a ceasefire. We see the cessation of hostilities as an important first step. Of course we are concerned about the on-going fighting, particularly in south Sudan—and in particular the attacks against civilians committed by government and opposition forces. The government and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement reached agreement in March to refrain from attacks against civilians. We look to both sides to respect that agreement.

The United States Government are in the process of establishing an international team to monitor the March agreement to refrain from attacks on civilians, as recommended by Senator Danforth. We expect that to become operational very soon and are ready to provide financial support if required.

There has already been some progress in Sudan this year. For example, as a result of Senator Danforth's efforts, talks were held in Berne in January between the Sudanese Government and the SPLA aimed at achieving a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains region. We worked closely with Senator Danforth to achieve that and the ceasefire, although limited to the Nuba Mountains, is a small but encouraging step towards peace. We provided the vice-chairman, police liaison officer and seven monitors to the Joint Military Commission.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and others commented on the humanitarian situation, particularly in south Sudan. We too were concerned about the recently imposed flight ban. We made high-level representations in Khartoum and to the Sudanese Foreign Minister when he visited the UK at the end of September. We and others urged the Government of Sudan to give all possible help to the UN and NGOs to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. We therefore welcome the Government of Sudan's decision at the weekend to lift the flight ban. The World Food Programme was planning to resume flights today.

In the decade since 1991, Britain has pledged more than £220 million to help with humanitarian crises in Sudan. This year we have committed more than £8 million to support humanitarian work and the peace process. Our humanitarian work includes support for health, food security and nutrition, water and education in the worst-affected areas of Sudan. We are also supporting work across lines to trace and resettle women and children who have been abducted. In support of the peace process, we have committed nearly £1.8 million in running costs and personnel for the Joint Monitoring Commission.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Avebury, and others spoke about human rights. The promotion of human rights remains one of our priorities. We are concerned about the human rights of all in Sudan, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Undoubtedly Christians are among those who have been killed and have suffered as a result of Sudan's civil war. Our embassy in Khartoum is in constant touch with the Government of Sudan on human rights issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked me to be specific about the nature of our critical dialogue. In addition to the support that we have given to the peace process, we have had a number of meetings with Ministers and others in the Sudanese Government. Most recently, we met the Foreign Minister when he was in London. Human rights are a key part of that discussion.

We make representations about our human rights concerns not only bilaterally but also with our European Union colleagues through the renewed EU-Sudan dialogue, which provides a forum for strong criticism of the Sudanese Government and allows for a co-ordinated EU assessment of the human rights situation. We sponsored human rights resolutions on Sudan at the UN Commission on Human Rights and in the UN General Assembly's Third Committee.

There has been some progress. For example, the ratification in December 2000 of the International Labour Organisation Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour; the commitment of the Government of Sudan to facilitate the establishment of the independent national institution on human rights and an advisory council for Christians; and the commitment of the Government of Sudan to embark on a programme of civic education in democracy.

There is still much work to be done. But the only long-term answer to the suffering in Sudan is a peace settlement that will allow the people of Sudan to rebuild their lives.

In response to the specific question of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we have no evidence that the UK has exported equipment and chemicals such as those which she described. The UK applies the European Union arms embargo rigorously.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, talked about oil revenues. We have pressed for revenues to be used for development projects and for transparency in the oil account. One of the initiatives launched by the United Kingdom at the World Summit on Sustainable Development—I look specifically at the noble Lord, Lord Elton—is an initiative for transparency in extractive industries, which is something for which we would like to secure international support.

A just peace agreement in Sudan is long overdue. Once a peace agreement has been reached, the international community will be able to contribute as never before to the rehabilitation of Sudan—a goal that we all share.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 9.2 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.59 to 9.2 p.m.]