My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for introducing this important debate on recent developments in Sudan. I echo the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Judd, on the continual interest in and expertise of the noble Baroness on this area.
One of Sudan's most violent regions, Darfur, has almost disappeared from the news completely and has been deemed a "low intensity conflict". But the magnitude of the conflict has not lessened for those living in it who after all these years are still struggling to survive. Even the very survival of the state is uncertain, as is the quest for peace in this fragile country.
This is still the biggest humanitarian operation in the world, with almost 4.7 million people dependent on aid. More than 250,000 refugees from Darfur have lived destitute lives in truly horrendous conditions in refugee camps in Chad for six years. Camps with more than 2 million internally displaced people inside Darfur are even worse, and 30 per cent of those displaced are school-age children. On a daily basis, men, women and children as young as eight are raped, killed or abducted the moment they step out of camps to get food or water. Sadly, there have been reports of these atrocities occurring within the camps, perpetrated by family members, refugees and, disturbingly, some aid workers. This is not isolated in Darfur; it is occurring, and is largely undocumented, right across the refugee camps and killing fields of Sudan and its neighbouring areas.
Several noble Lords mentioned the Lord's Resistance Army, which emerged in Uganda and has kidnapped tens of thousands of children during two decades of guerrilla war. There are reports that the LRA is now striking across Sudan's south-western frontier, hunting for children. What representations have the Government made to the peacekeeping forces in Sudan to bring to their attention these security breaches and human rights violations so that they can act against them?
Part of the crisis in Sudan is caused by the influx of refugees from conflicts over the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Two thousand people have been killed in southern Sudan since January last year, including in horrific massacres. The United Nations mission to Sudan has described the situation in southern Sudan as a "humanitarian perfect storm" caused by intertribal fighting, a food deficit and a budgetary crisis. What are the Government doing to help resolve these three causes? What is the Government's stance on Omar al-Bashir's refusal to recognise the International Criminal Court, thereby evading justice for the crimes that he has been accused of committing? Many Sudanese do not recognise the ICC. What efforts are the Government making to strengthen its reputation and influence?
Despite the unimaginable monstrosities that continue in Sudan, there have been positive developments in some areas. Most notably, after much negotiation, the north and south have agreed on terms for a referendum in 2011 on southern independence. This was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sheikh. Elections are due to be held in April this year. They will be the first since 1986. What actions are the Government taking to ensure that Sudan keeps its promises? How will both these events be policed and monitored for transparency and fairness? This point was made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is almost certain that violence will increase in the run-up to these events. What plans are in place in anticipation of such an occurrence? Will the Minister inform the House of any plans and support that are in place to assist Sudan after the election and referendum?
The implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement is a step towards enhancing political stability in Sudan. It provides a framework for wealth and power sharing. It also establishes restrictions on the resupply of military equipment to forces in the agreement's ceasefire zone. However, a study by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey accused forces in north and south Sudan of engaging in an arms race that risks plunging the nation back into civil war. The study stated that,
"arms transfers to all parts of Sudan continue unabated and, in some instances, are increasing".
In the light of the fact that the report says that EU-based organisations are facilitating the arms trade, what action will the Government take to stop such activities?
Although Sudan is not officially at war, we all know that this does not equate to peace. All the underlying causes of conflict remain and extreme violence could return very quickly. My noble friend Lord Sheikh pointed out that our historical connections with Sudan go back a long way. Therefore we in the United Kingdom must do everything in our power to help that country's quest for peace.