Sudan: Darfur

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 30th January 2007.

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Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 8:10 pm, 30th January 2007

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on launching this debate, with his remarkable sense of timing, in the week when the African Union is meeting in Ethiopia. This is the first time that I have had a chance to participate in a debate on Sudan. It is very impressive to see the knowledge, passion and concern shown by noble Lords.

My interest goes back as far as 1947, when, at the age of 11, I flew out to Sudan in the school holidays to join my father, who served there for 25 years and helped to pull down the flag on 1 January 1956, on the independence of Sudan. Later, as a Minister of State, I had the privilege of visiting that country two or three times. Anyone who has had any dealings with the Sudanese, north or south, has great affection and respect for them.

The people of Sudan have suffered too much devastation and loss of life in the past several decades. If the Sudanese Government can have been persuaded, after a great deal of pressure, agony and loss of life, eventually to settle in the south, they must be persuaded to settle in Darfur as well. As so many of my noble friends have said, it is right that we—and the Sudanese, above all—should expect the international community to continue to press vigorously, first, to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, but secondly and equally importantly, to find a longer-term solution and a greater, better framework for stability in Darfur.

The conflict stems from a lethal mixture of problems. First, there is the long-term problem: the rivalry for land and water between the settled farmers and the riverine tribes against the pressure, moving southwards, of the nomadic people. At a young age, I had experience of that as the last British district officer to join the Kenya Administration in the northern province of Kenya, with the Somali nomads pushing south and pressing for water and land, often creating violence. It is the job of any Government in those circumstances to hold the ring and to keep the peace. That is not happening in Darfur.

An additional problem is that this area has been marginalised for a long time, lacks water and has been treated as a backwater, with no proper participation in regional or national government, a problem fuelled during the past 10 or 15 years by the pressure from theocratic Islamic ideology—in the 1990s in particular—and now with the subjugation of the people by the Sudanese Government, using the Janjaweed as their weapon. The consequence, as we all know, is the disaster that we see in front of us, another shameful human disaster. Two thousand villages have been destroyed, at least 2.5 million people have been displaced, at least 200,000 refugees have gone across the border to Chad, and at least 200,000 people—probably many more—have been killed.

In this post-imperial age, what is required in such crises is the vigorous mobilisation of international influence and support, both to deal with the humanitarian crisis and to provide a longer-term framework for the people to live in peace. I am sure that my noble friends are right to have stressed in this debate that we must look to the regional powers—the region itself—to take the lead. For that reason, I join everyone else in saying that it is good that they have taken the decision that President al-Bashir should not be the chairman of the African Union. Then the regional powers need the support of the United Nations. It is good that in Ethiopia the new UN Secretary-General said that he wanted to take the lead in that area. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister on that.

Beyond all that, we need all the time to analyse what the rest of the international community can do, using what influence it has. I ask myself and the Minister what moderate Arab Governments are doing and saying, because it should cause Arab leaders deep embarrassment and shame when they see what Arab people are doing to each other and to African people in Darfur.

By contrast, I ask the Minister also to say something about China, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned and which has growing influence in Sudan. As we know, it is the biggest investor in oil; it has built the pipeline to the Red Sea; it has invested US$8 billion in the oil exploration contracts. Sudan imports products from China on an enormous scale: 14 per cent of all imports to the country come from China. China therefore has growing influence; it can bring benefits to Africa and Sudan, but it can also do harm. We see the evidence that it has propped up corrupt dictators—I cite Zimbabwe as the best example—and it is today propping up President al-Bashir.

The great country of China is becoming a great power. We are entitled to look to it to show more statesmanship and leadership. I hope that the Government are being vigorous in embarking on a dialogue with the Chinese Government—I hope that the Minister can say something about that—to influence them to play a constructive role. The people of Sudan deserve a better deal than they have.