Sudan - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 6th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 11:30 am, 6th June 2019

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent events in Sudan, following attacks against protestors by Sudanese security forces.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, we condemn the violent attacks by the Sudanese security forces against peaceful protesters in Sudan this week, which left many civilians dead or injured. The Transitional Military Council bears full responsibility. The United Kingdom calls for the human rights of all Sudanese people to be respected, the resumption of the political process with the protesters and the opposition, and an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led Government, as demanded by the Sudanese people, in a swift, orderly and peaceful manner.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, according to reliable sources in Sudan, the death toll this week from the crackdown on peaceful protesters is now well over 100? Men have reportedly been hacked with machetes and thrown into the Nile. Women were raped in front of their children. As one survivor said, “It was a massacre”. Given that the attacks against civilians continue outside Khartoum in at least 11 towns, what are Her Majesty’s Government doing to support those valiant, peaceful protesters, and what steps will the United Kingdom take to ensure that the military junta is called to account?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I agree totally with the noble Baroness. I have seen reports over the last few days and I got a full update about the situation this morning. As she will know, our embassy is not far from where the camp was set up. The official toll from the military authorities is 46, but media reports indicate that the number is more in line with the one she raised. On the UK’s representation, our ambassador on the ground, with his team, is in direct contact with the military authorities. I pay tribute to him. To answer the noble Baroness’s second question, I can say that he is also directly meeting the leaders of the opposition, including the Forces of Freedom and Change. We are working hand in glove with the troika and the African Union to ensure that those committing these crimes, including those involved with the Transitional Military Council, are held fully to account.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, a few weeks ago everyone would have hoped that a peace process would happen and that we would see a transition. Of course, that hope has been dashed by the recent press reports. One report yesterday in the Guardian said that the US Government had approached the Saudi Government to influence the Sudanese military to hold back. Have we been working with the US Government to place that sort of pressure on the Saudis, who seem to have a far greater role than most people realised?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The noble Lord is quite right. He will recall that the Saudi Arabian Government, along with the Emirati Government, have offered £3 billion of assistance to Sudan. Of that money, about £500 million has been deposited. I assure him that the US Government are raising this with the Saudis, as we are. On working specifically with US Government, I had a conversation about 10 days ago, in advance of the latest situation, with Ambassador Sam Brownback on freedom of religion, which is a key part of ensuring that there is a new Sudan with a full civilian Government incorporated. We continue to work closely with the United States Government, but also with the Saudi and Emirati Governments.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, civilians are being killed close to military headquarters by soldiers in uniform. Journalists are being expelled on the orders of men in uniform. Supplies are being looted by men in uniform. I think we are getting the message that the military leaders look more and more like the regime they claim to have overthrown. Yesterday, the Transitional Military Council arrested opposition leader Yasir Arman and are holding him in an unknown location. Surely action is now vital through the African Union suspending Sudan, while condemning the massacre; through convening an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to force Russia and China’s hand; by beginning a process to prevent the TMC from representing Sudan in the General Assembly; and through insisting on the immediate release of Yasir Arman. Does the Minister agree that, without these actions, words of remorse, regret or disapproval are merely feckless and expedient measures?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I agree with the noble Lord, and assure him that with the United Nations—in terms of the Security Council in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva—the United Kingdom as a penholder is taking these responsibilities very seriously. I am in discussions with our ambassadors in both places to see what next steps we can take. On the Security Council, we are co-penholders with Germany and will continue our discussions. The troika is focused on these issues, and, as I said in an earlier answer, we are impressing on the Sudanese authorities—including the ambassador in the United Kingdom—that all options are on the table, including looking at the current sanctions policy. Those who are culpable will be held to account.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, I was in Khartoum in January. I too pay tribute to the ambassador, whose communication on social media has been superb, despite internet problems. The other country involved is Egypt, which seems to have a vested interest in not putting too much pressure on Sudan. Can the Minister say anything about our conversations with Egypt and its influence over events in Sudan?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

I put on record my thanks to the right reverend Prelate for his interventions in Sudan. Working with Her Majesty’s Government, he was instrumental in the opening of Christian schools despite the restrictions imposed, and we are grateful. I am sure he agrees that the different communities of Sudan have a key role in establishing the new Sudan. As for our working with international partners, he mentioned Egypt. I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are also working with the Saudi Arabians and the Emiratis. Intense international pressure is required to ensure that civilian rule can be incorporated at the earliest opportunity. We are working through the good offices of the African Union, where Egypt again has a pivotal role.