Sudan — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 7th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for the Home Office 1:15 pm, 7th January 2010

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, speaks from long and continuous experience of humanitarian work in many parts of Sudan. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said, we listen to her with the greatest respect and with gratitude for raising the formidable obstacles to implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement and the Darfur agreement. She quoted the opinion of an NGO that Sudan is sliding towards a violent breakup. That is the general fear of several others in a report issued just now, warning of a possible humanitarian disaster. That was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They are demanding urgent diplomatic effort to prop up the fragile five year-old deal that ended decades of internal conflict. I ask the Minister whether this can be left to the NCP, as the noble Baroness suggests, or whether it really needs interested action by the international community to reinforce those negotiations between the parties.

I am afraid that Sudan has had too little attention for a country that is ruled by a dictator accused before the International Criminal Court of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, with the backing of the subservient National Congress Party. It is incredible to think that Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power for 20 years, is certain to win the elections when they take place, even though under his rule, as we have heard, 5 million to 6 million people have been internally displaced-the largest figure for any country in the world-with a quarter of a million refugees having fled over the borders to neighbouring countries and some 2 million people having been killed as a result of internal conflicts, including 300,000 in Darfur since 2003.

The NCP is the only recognised lawful political party, with 355 seats out of a total of 360 in the last parliamentary elections of December 2000. It is difficult to see how a reasonable and fair election can be held under these circumstances. The elections cannot possibly be free and fair when the Government have conspicuously failed to honour the conditions laid down in the CPA. According to the International Crisis Group, 16 provisions of the CPA remain to be implemented, including new laws reducing the powers of arbitrary arrest and detention, allowing the freedom of the media, an independent electoral commission and unrestricted access to international observer teams. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly asked what discussions had been held with China, which has been conspicuously silent on these issues. I look forward to the Minister's answer to that question.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the arrest last month of three senior leaders of the opposition SPLM. They were released hours later, but while they were in custody, one of the detainees, the deputy secretary-general of the SPLM, sustained injuries that required hospital treatment. If this is to be the pattern, the election campaign will be a disaster. Our ambassador in Khartoum said last June that we were committed to "establishing an environment conducive to free and fair elections" and that we had "been supporting preparations for the elections for some time". What assessment have the Government made of the chances that any of the 16 conditions that were named by the ICG as not having been met will be accomplished in the short interval that remains before April? At what time does she think we ought to cut our losses and withdraw support, which is costing us a lot of money?

Since October last year, the US has been following the path of appeasement, and as its special envoy acknowledged under questions from a congressional committee, it is dealing with senior officials of a genocidal regime. If there were signs of reform, the new policy might be politically, if not morally, justifiable; but the goals of US policy in Sudan-the establishment of stable, sustainable governance and the prevention of a haven for Islamist terrorism-are nowhere in sight. Are we following in the footsteps of the US, as we usually do? Will the Minister say what is our policy, and that of the EU, on direct contacts with the regime, and as a result what concessions the regime has made on the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement?

Meanwhile, the UK is a substantial contributor to the funding of UNMIS, the UN Mission in Sudan; UNAMID, the hybrid UN/AU mission in Darfur, and MINURCAT, the UN mission in Chad and the CAR, where the spillover from Darfur is a major causal factor of unrest. How much of the $2.2 billion cost of these three operations are we paying for as a Government, and what personnel are we providing? Is each of these operations likely to continue into 2010-11, and will their budgets be of the same order of magnitude? How can the Security Council justify spending such a large sum of money on a state which has defied the principles of democracy and human rights, and is heading now for a rigged vote?

The one bright spot on the horizon is that the terms of the referendum on the status of southern Sudan appear to have been agreed between the Government and the SPLM. I am pleased to hear that the people of Abyei, which is on the borderline between north and south, are to have their own referendum. South Kordofan and Blue Nile are to have what are described as "public consultations", although it seems that the terms of reference and timing of the consultations have still to be announced. If the Minister has any information about the details, it would be useful for it to be put on the record in this debate. I understand that the Security Bill, passed at the same time just before the Sudan Parliament was prorogued for an indefinite recess, provides a far-reaching power to arrest people without their constitutional right to fair process, legal counsel and a proper prosecution with a stated charge.

Although both parties want the April elections to succeed, the SPLM challenges the validity of the census which determined constituencies and boundaries, and there is the problem of the 2 million displaced people in Darfur who will be disfranchised because they would have had to return to their homes to be registered three months before 7 December, the last date of the process. The conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei must have made registration there equally problematic. Can the noble Baroness give us any indication of how many of the people who would legitimately have been entitled to return to their homes and register to vote are now being deprived of their opportunity to take part in these elections?

The International Crisis Group recommends that a mediator of international stature be appointed, to convince the NCP and SPLM that they should renegotiate the timetable for meeting the comprehensive peace agreement benchmarks, with the April 2010 elections postponed to November, but the referendum still being held in the first week of January 2011. What is the Government's view on this proposal, and do they know what the reaction to it by the parties has been? Of course, if the Government have no intention of allowing free elections, a seven-month delay would be futile because the same considerations would apply after that gap. In any case, steps have to be taken to prevent a constitutional vacuum in July when the GNU and other interim institutions created by the comprehensive peace agreement expire. Does this not require a new protocol to the CPA? What steps are being taken for that purpose?

The CPA contained no provision about delineating the border between north and south, and in the five years since it was signed, that deficiency has been ignored, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out. Since the main oilfields are in the border region, the matter has become extremely sensitive. Khartoum has been accused by the NGO Global Witness of falsifying the oil production figures so as to short-change the south on the revenue-sharing. Is it possible that the two entities might agree to commit themselves to agreement on definition of the line by an independent international commission, as with the Lauterpacht commission on the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia? If this is not practicable, what other methodology should be considered for reaching the decision in less than 12 months' time?

Finally, several noble Lords mentioned the depredations of the LRA, notably my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lords, Lord Sheikh, Lord Judd and Lord Alton. It has continued to wreak havoc in Western Equatoria, and on an even larger scale over the border in DRC. The noble Baroness asked whether UNMIS could be given a more active role in protecting civilians, presumably on the lines of the Security Council's Resolution 1906 giving an enhanced role to MONUC. Others, notably my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have made a case for strong action on this if the election is to be successful. It is an interesting idea that the goals of the two missions should be closely aligned, and it leads me to ask whether the Minister thinks that it would be possible to go a stage further. If UNMIS and MONUC were to co-ordinate drives against the LRA, as my noble friend Lord Chidgey was suggesting, by the regular armed forces on both sides of the DRC/Sudan border, it ought to be possible to eradicate this very unpleasant armed group once and for all.