Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:23 pm, 15th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I commend Harriett Baldwin not only for securing this crucial debate, but for the leadership and commitment that she has shown over many years to secure peace and justice in Sudan, not only in her tenure as the Minister for Africa but now as the chair of the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. I declare an interest as a long-standing member of that all-party group and as someone who has spoken over many years on Sudan and South Sudan, including in my time before I was elected to Parliament when I worked for World Vision and Oxfam. I also have a significant Sudanese diaspora in my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth who have regularly raised concerns, particularly during the turbulent times that we have seen recently.

I also worked with our former colleague, Jo Cox, along with the former Prime Minister David Cameron and Mr Mitchell, to highlight many of the atrocities occurring in Darfur many years ago. We took them out to Sudan and Jo showed them at first hand the reality facing the people in Darfur at that time. The contributions to the debate, including from the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), show that the House stands united in support for the Sudanese people and the work that they are doing to secure a new future of prosperity and justice under a civilian-led Government. We have had some very informed contributions.

The Khartoum massacre in June last year was a sickening display of arbitrary violence wielded against peaceful protesters by the then security forces and the transitional military council. It was an unprovoked attack on protestors, who were acting peacefully in calling for a transition to civilian-led government. It was a violent and bloody attack on the Sudanese people’s rights to freedom of assembly, expression and political activity, and it was rightly condemned by the UK Government and the United Nations. Although there are conflicting reports on the exact number of people who lost their lives or were injured—not least due to the internet blackout and other restrictions—Amnesty International has shown that over 100 people could have been killed and more than 700 injured. There was indiscriminate use of live ammunition, tear gas, whips and sticks, and there are disgusting reports of sexual violence against women and men. Again, can the Minister give us details on what the Government are doing to support the inquiry into the atrocities that have been reported?

Unfortunately, torture, arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual violence and rape are the ghastly tools of oppression that have been used by Sudanese security forces in the past, both before and after the overthrow of President al-Bashir. Conflict and attacks have been endemic for the past 20 or 30 years, most notably in the Darfur genocide, but also in the other conflicts that we have seen. The rapid support forces, the national intelligence security services and other militia groups, including those referred to as the Janjaweed, have enacted violence and repression in multiple scenarios. They were also believed to be participants in the Yemeni civil war, and they are suspected of war crimes by Human Rights Watch.

Obviously, the decisions on al-Bashir and whether a trial takes place at the International Criminal Court are ongoing. I want to point out that one of the Janjaweed leaders, Ali Muhammed Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, is subject to arrest for atrocities allegedly committed in Darfur. He has surrendered in the Central African Republic and is due to attend hearings in The Hague. It would be useful to hear the Minister’s views on that case.

The physical, medical and psychological impact of the attacks on the civilians of Sudan is immeasurable. As the historic Juba peace agreement moves Sudan forward towards an inclusive, open and democratic civilian-led Government, the crimes of the past must not go unpunished, and the victims of the attacks must receive justice. The Sudanese Government should facilitate investigations and justice, including ascertaining the full facts of what occurred in the massacre last year and in other attacks over the recent decades, and providing support to people who have faced physical and sexual violence. I hope the UK Government will give their full support to those effective justice processes for people who have been affected.

Although the massacre and attacks have marred so much of the revolution in Sudan, the Juba peace agreement is a historic achievement and a significant reward for the persistence and commitment of the Sudanese people. By bringing rebel groups into the governing council, into the Ministry and into the transitional council, the agreement has rightly put reconciliation and co-operation at the heart of the transition process. I hope that the Minister can explain what the UK is doing to support the implementation of the agreement and to ensure that there is not impunity for the people who have been involved in crimes against humanity, genocide and other human rights abuses over past decades.

[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]

The Juba peace agreement also deals with the return of more than 2 million Darfuris to their homes and villages. As the hon. Member for West Worcestershire pointed out, the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur will finish at the end of this month, leaving the protection of civilians entirely in the hands of the Sudanese armed forces. Given the attacks that have historically taken place against the Sudanese people, there are understandable fears, so I hope the UK will use its position on the UN Security Council to push the United Nations to fulfil its responsibilities to the people of Sudan, and to work with the new Government in Sudan to ensure that there is appropriate protection. Hon. Members have made the point that other groups, particularly Christians, have been targeted in the past. I, too, have worked with Open Doors, and I commend its reports about the situation for Christians and other religious minorities.

Political transitions are always precarious, and the violence in recent years makes the situation in Sudan even more so, but added to the mix are significant economic and development challenges. As we have heard, Sudan is dealing with the worst flooding that it has experienced in decades. The number of people at risk of contracting water-related diseases has doubled from 5.6 million in April of this year to more than 10 million now, with water sources facing biological contamination. There have also been agricultural losses. It is estimated that 1 million tonnes of crops have been damaged and hundreds of thousands of heads of livestock belonging to tens of thousands of households have been lost. We have also heard about the locust infestations in many regions across east Africa, but the impact in Sudan and South Sudan in particular is serious.

As in all countries across Africa recently, we have heard in the past few days worrying reports from the World Health Organisation and the African Union on increasing cases of covid-19, and Sudan, too, has been affected—in both the primary effect and the secondary impact of diverting efforts from tackling other diseases. Deaths have fallen in Sudan, but this is an ongoing situation that the UK Government and others will have to keep closely on top of. Will the Minister help by outlining what support and changes to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office programmes are going on in relation to Sudan, in particular in response to the flooding and agricultural damage?

The hon. Member for West Worcestershire was right to point out the situation with regard to the US and Sudan’s place on the state sponsors of terrorism list. It would be useful to hear from the Minister whether he believes such measures remain appropriate now, despite past activities. What assessment have the Government made of the impact that sanctions are having on the peace and transition process?

Sudan also holds up to $60 billion in past debts, including debts owed to UK Export Finance of just over $860 million. Will the Minister tell us what steps are being taken to investigate debt restructuring and relief for Sudan, in particular to support the transition to democracy?

We must look to the UK’s ability to respond to ongoing processes, as this transition is showing, given the change in UK Government machinery with the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office. Obviously, there are multiple issues there, including human rights, justice, rule of law and democracy, and, of course, the development challenges.

Sudan received £84.3 million for 2019-20, but I understand that only £33 million has been approved for 2020-21. The Sudan conflict reduction and stabilisation programme is also planned to end in March 2021. That is my understanding of the figures—if incorrect, will the Minister clarify what the budget for Sudan will be from official development assistance spend? What programmes will be cut or reduced? Will the Sudan conflict reduction and stabilisation programme continue past March next year?

Finally, Sudan is obviously a strategic location. Not only is it right to get behind the transition and peace and stability in Sudan, but there is the wider UK strategy in east Africa, with that focus on development, trade, security and stability. Will the Minister say a little about how the UK’s priorities in the wider region will develop, and how Sudan sits within them? What is happening with regard to South Sudan, which remains in an extremely volatile and serious situation to the south?

We all, like the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, want a situation in which we can visit Sudan and celebrate its incredible history and people. My father visited Sudan in the 1970s on a joint services expedition with the British Army, as part of a Royal Geographical Society exploration. He told me some fantastic stories about people he met and the wonderful sights he saw. He travelled through Darfur, including El Fasher, and other places which, decades later, were subject to some of the worst atrocities we have seen in recent times. We are all behind this transition and we all want to see Sudan and its people succeed into the future.