Sudan: Darfur - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:39 am on 29 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 11:39, 29 February 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of people killed or displaced throughout Sudan and Darfur during the current conflict, and what assessment they have made of warnings of impending famine.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, after 10 months of war, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project estimates, based on the available data, that over 12,000 people have been killed. Sudan now has the largest number of internally displaced people globally; over 8 million have been displaced overall since the conflict began. Some 17.7 million people face acute food insecurity and 700,000 children are already acutely malnourished. We are providing £38 million in humanitarian aid to Sudan.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, is it not extraordinary that, with thousands dead and over 8 million people displaced, as the Minister has just told us—more than in any other conflict in the world—the tragedy in Sudan has received such little attention? At one camp in Darfur, one child dies every two hours; 700,000 children are acutely malnourished; and widespread atrocities by Hemedti’s RSF—heirs of the genocidal Janjaweed in Darfur—have been described as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. Can the Minister tell us what we have done to establish the role of Wagner and the UAE in supporting the RSF, and the role of Islamist groups and Iran in supporting the SAF, and what the international community is doing to hold to account those responsible for this catastrophic suffering, including the discovery of mass graves? What hope does the UK hold out for both an end to this horrendous war and the restoration of democracy in Sudan?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble Lord for his great experience and interest in this case. Where I would question what he says is that the UK certainly is not ignoring this. We are the pen-holder on Sudan at the Security Council and have taken a number of diplomatic initiatives, held events, working with IGAD and the quads, to try to make sure that we are moving forward as best we can in diplomatic terms. On aid, I agree with the noble Lord that the most regrettable recent event has been the closure of the Chad border, through which most our aid went, and the impact of that on people is devastating. We have given £600,000 for the Centre for Information Resilience Sudan witness project, which is examining precisely the points he raised and will, hopefully, be able to take forward cases to the International Criminal Court in the future. We are also taking measures to sanction individuals and organisations that we know are responsible for some of the atrocities he described.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Minister reminded us that the UK is the pen-holder and he talked about how we are working with our allies. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is absolutely right that our eyes have been taken off this dreadful situation in Sudan. Can the Minister tell us what exactly we are doing, perhaps as pen-holder, to secure a further resolution at the Security Council, so that we can get the world to focus once again on this disaster happening in Sudan?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are taking our role as pen-holder extremely seriously. We have held in-confidence sessions within the Security Council to try to bring forward a solution. Alongside Norway, we jointly funded the Sudan humanitarian conference that took place in Cairo in November—an event that brought together Sudanese grass-roots organisations, NGOs and the international humanitarian system to develop co-ordination mechanisms to give greater voice to Sudanese organisations in the humanitarian response. We are involved in a number of different diplomatic efforts, as well as trying to get our aid through in this very difficult situation, with the Chad border now closed, but also through South Sudan. Our post in Khartoum is closed but is operating out of Addis. We have staff in Nairobi where the UN aid programme is being co-ordinated, and we are taking a lead in trying to get as much help as we can to the people of Sudan and then in due course hold those we can to international account for the atrocities they are committing.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the potential impact of this conflict on regional stability? And why have they not renewed the position of the special representative for Sudan and South Sudan at this key time?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am not sure about that last point and will certainly get back to the noble Baroness on that, but she is absolutely right that this has a destabilising effect across the region. I am shortly to visit South Sudan, where I will be able to see what impact it is having on that country, which has considerable difficulties but not on the scale that we are seeing in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. I will absolutely make available to the House all information we can on what we are doing regionally as well as locally.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Conservative

My Lords, as well as the appalling consequences that were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the Minister aware that there are 19 million children in Sudan who have been out of school since April last year? As well as the 700,000 children suffering malnutrition, as has been mentioned, I gather there are another 4 million who are likely to suffer. Is the Minister aware that the RSF has already captured Sudan’s second city, Wad Madani, and—as the noble Lord mentioned the appalling atrocity in Darfur—that the US is sanctioning some of its leaders and also using every diplomatic pressure on those foreign powers supporting the RSF? Can the Minister elaborate further what we have done and what we are going to do?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On sanctions, asset freezes were applied to three commercial entities linked to each party—the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces—involved in the conflict of Sudan. These sanctions, which target entities that the SAF and RSF have used to support their war efforts, are part of our broader efforts to put pressure on parties to reach a sustained and meaningful peace process, allow humanitarian access and commit to a permanent cessation of hostilities. We do not speculate on further sanctions, but I can tell my noble friend that we are keeping this regularly under review and working with other countries to see if we can stem the flow of arms from countries where we have influence to make sure that that is not heating up an already very dangerous situation.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop

My Lords, the Archbishop of Khartoum has been forced to leave his home, along with his family and many of his people; they are now living in exile in Port Sudan. The Church of England dioceses with links to Sudan have tried to transfer funds to support the archbishop and his people, only to discover that banks are either unwilling or unable to transfer funds to Sudan. What assessment have the Government made of the banks’ willingness or ability to transfer funds in support of people who are suffering so terribly?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am very happy to work with the right reverend Prelate and anyone who has means of getting support to particular groups such as he suggests—not just faith groups. There is a fracturing of the whole civil society across Sudan, and those are precisely the people whom we need, first, to support those in need in the current situation and, then, to rebuild the country in the future. Something as simple as banking is very important, and I am very happy to look at any suggestions he has about how the Government could influence the banking community to continue to support organisations such as faith-based ones.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, the Minister mentioned rebuilding. Has his department made any assessment of the damage to infrastructure in Darfur since April 2023—for example, the damage to water supplies, schools, medical facilities and humanitarian aid storage?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We have, and we are. This is obviously a continuing conflict; it appears that the RSF has taken large parts of Khartoum, so that part of the conflict is ongoing. In Darfur, I cannot give precise details, but part of the atrocities being committed is not just against people but against the infrastructure that supports them—such as those that the noble Baroness listed. In our package of international support to rebuild Sudan, we need to make sure we are rebuilding those assets that society will need.

Photo of Baroness Helic Baroness Helic Conservative

My Lords, last year the US made the official atrocity determination for Sudan, citing war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Does my noble friend agree that measures and pressures must be applied not only to companies but to countries that support the RSF through funding, political support and provision of weapons?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I absolutely agree with my noble friend. We are working with others to stem the flow of arms and support for these organisations, which is flowing through countries that we deal with regularly. We have a situation where civilians are trapped in the conflict zones, unable to access basic services. There is a lack of supplies and the food security crisis that is increasing day by day has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing. We want to make sure that we are not only functioning internationally at a diplomatic level but also trying to make sure that we are supporting those in country in the best way we can in very difficult circumstances. Preventing other countries delivering arms into Sudan is a key priority.