HL Deb 09 December 1992 vol 541 cc267-308

8.32 p.m.

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy towards developments in Sudan.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a number of disturbing developments in Sudan. I should like to thank all noble Lords who are participating this evening, especially for retaining their patience and a space in their diaries during successive changes of date.

First, I declare my own interest and involvement in Sudan. A few years ago I spent the summer as a nurse in remote area desert work in North Kordofan in the small town of Hamrat El Wiz developing an immunisation and health education programme for the Moslem communities living there. In August this year I had the opportunity to visit southern Sudan in response to an invitation to Christian Solidarity International from the New Sudan Council of Churches. We visited the areas of Waat and Nimule. We had also hoped to visit Yambio but logistical problems made that impossible.

I have therefore visited both the North and the South, although sadly the situation in the North has deteriorated very seriously since I was there.

My concerns, and the questions which they raise, are based on either first-hand evidence or reports received from people or organisations for whom I have great respect. They involve three inter-related issues: violations of human rights in the North and South; humanitarian needs; and the need for a political solution to the problems.

The right to life is the most fundamental human right of all. Yet thousands of Sudanese have been killed in recent years—by drought, flood, famine and war. Many of those deaths have been inflicted by deliberate killing or by the withholding of life-sustaining supplies. It is also reckoned that about 5 million Sudanese have been displaced from their homes and homelands. Of those approximately 2 million have had to flee to the North, about 2 million to the South and about 1 million abroad.

I can speak with personal experience of the plight of those who have had to flee from their homes to seek safety in the South. Many of those are refugees from the government's brutal policies in the Nuba Mountains; others have had to flee from the war or from the effects of drought or flood, to avoid starvation in places now rendered inaccessible to humanitarian relief.

The situation for refugees in the South is desperate. We visited camps for displaced people at Aswa and Atepe, near Nimule. The authorities estimated approximate populations of 19,000 at Aswa and 23,000 at Atepe with a further 41,000 at Ame. Aswa camp had been established only within the previous two weeks before we went for refugees from war in the Torit region and was administered by the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association. Food was being provided by various organisations, including the UN World Food Programme. However, it had been limited to a supply of only 2.7 kilogrammes of unground cereal for each person for seven days. There was no other food, such as beans or oil, except for a limited supply of food supplement for malnourished children, which had run out.

Problems abounded. For example, there was no equipment for grinding the cereal. There were no mosquito nets. The only water available was from the river, which could be as much as 3 kilometres away, and nine people, including children, had been killed by crocodiles in the previous fortnight while collecting water from that river. There were acute shortages of essentials such as shelter and blankets; being the rainy season, temperatures could fall quite low. People were living in quagmires. There were no buckets for transporting water. Cooking utensils were not available. There were no medicines to treat the numerous illnesses, including TB, diarrhoea, dysentery, scabies, kala azar, some leprosy and worm infestations (hookworms and tape worms). As the people said: "We could talk about other shortages such as soap, but because we are only displaced people all we ask for are the essentials for survival".

The camp at Atepe had been established in July and accommodated refugees from Bor, Torit and other areas, including some from Ethiopia. Most of the people there had had time to build their own dwellings and, with characteristic Sudanese initiative, begun to cultivate plants. Food and blankets had been supplied by various NGOs. So their predicament was not as desperate as that in Aswa. But there were still acute shortages of essential foodstuffs, including milk. Medical problems were similar to those in Aswa and people were dying daily from conditions which could have been treated if only medicines had been available.

Acute shortages of medical supplies were also dramatically evident in the hospital at Aswa. Built in 1982, it had been closed in 1986 when all the equipment and fittings were taken North, leaving an empty shell. That hospital now serves a catchment area of 700,000 people, but the only supplies which had been received were a consignment of drugs from the diocese of Torit and surgical dressings from the ICRC. Problems abounded: no running water—the only pump was broken; no electricity—the solar generator's batteries were down, so surgical operations had to stop at sundown; no sanitation; no tools to dig latrines or air-raid shelters; and an acute shortage of medical supplies. Urgent needs included plaster of Paris, needles, syringes, intravenous fluids and administration sets; surgical dressings, basic instruments; antiseptic solutions, indeed all basic supplies. In spite of those shortages the hospital was about to develop a primary health care programme with 180 clinics; 65 were already operational and had begun vaccination programmes with supplies from UNICEF. I and my colleagues were deeply impressed by the care being given by the staff in impossible conditions and we made urgent recommendations for the immediate provision of essential supplies.

I have dwelt at some length on the plight of the displaced people in southern Sudan because I can speak with first-hand knowledge. I can also testify to the aggressive policies of the government in attacking civilian populations with aerial bombardments. Attacks with Antonov planes may occur at any time, but especially on Sunday mornings when the Christian communities gather for worship. I recently received a letter from a medical colleague who described an air-raid in which a large bomb fell very near a large gathering causing some deaths; any nearer and it could have been a catastrophe.

There are other situations in southern Sudan which are also cause for great concern, such as those in Juba and Malakal. In Juba between 250,000 and 300,000 people are being held hostage by government forces. A particularly worrying development was the expulsion of all foreigners, including personnel of aid organisations. The conditions in which these hostages are being kept are reported to be horrific. They are imprisoned in the stadium and churches, subject to maltreatment and starvation. There have been recent reports of arrests, torture and executions. The roads around Juba have been mined to make it impossible for civilians to escape.

The SPLA have been allowing government flights to take food into Juba, despite the fact that government forces earlier this year used six flights by aircraft with United Nations markings to transport soldiers and military equipment into Juba. The lack of independent, international supervision of the distribution of this food is a matter for serious concern. The release of these hostages in Juba must surely be recognised as an urgent priority by the international community if the 250,000 to 300,000 people trapped there are to be saved from death, or a fate worse than death.

It may be of interest to your Lordships to note that the situation in Juba and other violations of human rights in Sudan are apparently highlighted in resolutions before the United States Senate and Congress.

Other areas of concern elsewhere in Sudan include the fate of the people in the Nuba Mountains and the plight of the displaced people moved into the desert around Khartoum. The Nuba people have been subjected to appalling atrocities by government forces: villages have been attacked, villagers massacred and reportedly over 100 men have been crucified. Atrocities have been going on for some time and have been documented by reputable organisations, such as Africa Watch and Amnesty International.

With regard to the treatment of displaced persons who fled to the north, there have been reports of gross violations of human rights there. Reports indicate that between 400,000 and 500,000 refugees have been forced out of Khartoum into the desert, with no adequate supplies of water, food or shelter. The only people allowed to visit them are, it is reported, Moslem agencies. It is claimed that they require refugees to deny their own religious faith and give allegiance to Islam in order to obtain humanitarian relief.

As I begin to draw to a close, I wish to make some general points and to ask my noble friend what extra help the Government can give to alleviate the suffering of the people in Sudan. First, very briefly, there are the general points. I have focused on the suffering caused or exacerbated by the present Government of Sudan. This is because I try to follow the example of Andrei Sakharov and to take the side of the victim. Although the conflict in southern Sudan involves fighting and resistance by the SPLA and although there are reports of some atrocities carried out by their forces, it is the belief of the people with whom I worked that the SPLA is in general fighting a just war for the survival of the people of the south and for the protection of their basic human rights, including religious freedom, and that it has the general support of the population who now live in the south. Certainly the predicament of the hostages trapped in Juba, the people in Malakal, the tragedies experienced by the people in the Nuba Mountains, and the suffering of the displaced people pushed out into the desert around Khartoum, are all issues for which the government in Khartoum must be called to account.

I know that the Government have made valuable and valued contributions in the form of aid through the ODA. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend details of this aid. Therefore I conclude with four specific questions to my noble friend. I gave a little notice of them, but I apologise that I could not give more notice.

First, will Her Majesty's Government be able to exert their influence to prevail upon the Government of Sudan to respect the human rights of all its people, to which it is indeed formally committed by being a signatory of relevant treaties? I ask in particular whether the Government are able to use any political initiatives to prevail upon the Sudanese Government to release the hostages held in Juba and Malakal, and to provide safe havens for them and for other people tragically displaced by war or natural calamities, perhaps particularly the internal refugees concentrated in Nazir and Waat? There is a precedent for the concept of safe havens in what has been talked about and provided for the Kurds. There is an urgent need for similar initiatives for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Sudan.

Secondly, may I ask my noble friend whether further thought could be given to the logistics and to the amount of the distribution of life saving humanitarian aid? As I mentioned, some aid is being provided to the south, but it is inadequate to meet the desperate needs of the people; also it often cannot reach those most in need. This raises two subsidiary questions. With regard to logistics, could some assistance be provided to help with the repair of roads and provision of appropriate trucks to enable access to refugees who at present are unable to reach the supplies provided? Could the Government use all their powers of persuasion in conjunction with the EC and the UN to require the government in Khartoum to guarantee access by independent international aid organisations to provide aid to all in need, especially those hostages trapped in Juba and Malakal; and to all internal refugees, especially those in Nazir, Akobo and Waat, and those relocated in the desert around Khartoum?

Thirdly, would my noble friend agree that it is a matter of concern that, as the West pours millions of dollars of aid into Sudan, the Khartoum Government are reported to be using some of that for forced Islamisation, with their policy of in some places making aid conditional on religious allegiance to Islam?

Finally, could this Government use all their powers of persuasion to encourage the Government of Sudan and the SPLA/SPLM to convene a peace conference under their auspices to try to achieve a peaceful resolution of the current civil war? There is widespread belief in Sudan that the British have a special understanding of the complexities of the present situation, as well as some responsibility for establishing the political framework which set the scene for the resulting tragedies. The people of Sudan are looking to Britain for help, not only with humanitarian aid, but also for political initiatives for a just political solution; for protection of basic human rights and perhaps support for a referendum for the people of the south and from the Nuba Mountains on their political future.

The situation of the people suffering from natural and man-made calamities in Sudan has been allowed to fall off the bottom of the agenda of international concern, as the tragedies of former Yugoslavia and Somalia have understandably preoccupied the media. But the suffering of the people in Sudan is horrendous in intensity and in scale. It could soon become another Somalia. The people there feel forgotten and betrayed by the rest of the world. I hope that we in Britain will not fail them in their hour of desperate need.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I warmly compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on initiating this debate. We all know of her strong, caring commitment and we applaud her dedicated personal work among the starving, oppressed, strife-torn peoples of Eastern Europe and Sudan.

As we debate the awful plight of the Sudanese people, we are mindful of the terrible, inhuman treatment of poor people throughout the world—people living on the fringes of today's modern society and its cruelly divided communities. We know only too well of the suffering and the deaths caused by drought, pestilence, disease and other natural disasters.

As communities and as individuals we cannot rationally come to terms with some of these tragic happenings. But when we are made aware of so many avoidable bitter murders, so much mayhem, cruel brutality and suffering, and when we see untimely deaths and destruction brought about by gross misuse of political power, internecine conflict, sheer greed and the evils of misplaced sectarianism, as well as the misuse of nationalism, tribalism and ideologies, we gasp with disbelief and despair. We try earnestly to rise above the depressing challenge of the words, Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn". My interest in the plight of the Sudanese was quickened in 1979. Together with the late Lord Brockway and the Reverend Noel White, Assistant General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in Ireland, we sought the help and advice of the Overseas Development Administration about an element of aid to Sudan which impinged on the relationship between Khartoum in the Moslem north and Juba in the largely Christian south.

I have not since been actively involved in the ongoing work in Ireland, both North and South, relative to the Sudan situation. However, I am pleased to be able to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and other noble Lords that firm organisational developments continue among the Churches in Ireland concerning current Sudanese affairs.

In October the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Robert Eames, wrote to me expressing the concern of the Irish episcopal bishops about the serious existing situation in Sudan. I know that the Archbishop and the Irish bishops are anxious to do whatever they can to help and are interested in the outcome of the debate.

Last week I discussed Sudan matters with Dr. David Stevens, the General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, and with the Reverend Dr. Gordon Gray, Convener of the Overseas Board of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. I understand that active arrangements are being made among the Churches in Ireland to promote the co-ordinated planning of aid efforts in Sudan. Those proposals for developments are being undertaken in conjunction with the established church organisations in Sudan and in the neighbouring parts of Kenya, Uganda and Egypt. The proposals will be aimed to include measures to give suitable relief aid to meet the plight of the peoples of Sudan, to work for the cessation of civil war and guerilla fighting and to alert the active attention of the international community to the urgent need for appropriate action.

The past history and reports of current events in Sudan are complex and difficult to disentangle in order to enable positive and reasoned aid action. Professional diplomats and experts in Sudan affairs appear reluctant to make firm pronouncements on the kind of concerted action that is required. After recent consultations with some Sudanese people now in London I believe that the objectives are clear. All efforts should be designed to help towards the establishment of an accountable democratic government; the provision of equitable law and order; the laying of foundations for economic development; and the enhancement of the social well-being of the Sudanese people based on acceptable standards of civil liberties, human rights and lasting peace.

In that connection I believe that it is important that in any proposal for action aid we fully recognise that Sudan is the largest country in Africa, with frontiers on the borders of eight other sovereign states. Other factors are that the United Kingdom and other governments have made vast amounts of finance, goods and services available to Sudan in humanitarian relief efforts. There are also partnership arrangements between the government and non-governmental agencies, as well as the amount of voluntary aid giving by the general public. However, it is obvious from the deplorable events about which we have heard this evening, about which we have read and about which we have been told by the Sudanese that more requires to be done to rescue, remedy and rebuild the Sudan community. We heard in reality and in detail an account of the terrible suffering of the Sudanese given by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I cover a broader canvas, but it is important to ensure that the details are made to work. My broader canvas includes more detail of the accountability of others to look at the needs of the Sudanese.

I believe that, while much has been done by way of aid to the civilian population, there is a serious lack of committed political will and urgency by the UK Government and among the international community organisations to deal in an open and constructive way with the realities of Sudan's future. I recognise that urgent and constructive action is needed but at the same time caution and diplomacy are essential. It may be that, with the present alignment of opposing ideological power blocs, precipitate action will cause a worse and more difficult situation. We cannot ignore those facts.

It may be helpful if the Minister will tell the House the Government's policy on international community action. There appears to be a reluctance by the Government to place Sudan matters on the agendas of the Overseas Development Administration and the Foreign Office. They appear to have a low priority in both those departments. Sudan is low on the agenda of parliamentary affairs. The last date on which Sudan was mentioned in a general way was on 30th January 1991, almost two years ago. It was a debate tabled by the Official Opposition Party in another place on the subject of famine in sub-Saharan Africa. I understand from the Inter-Parliamentary Union that there has not been a visit to Sudan under the auspices of the IPU since 1975. The last Sudanese parliamentary group to visit London was in 1978.

In that connection it will be helpful if the Minister can explain the extent of the current bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the Sudan Transitional National Assembly. Furthermore, what is the extent of the United Kingdom's import and export trade with Sudan? Have government departments approved any United Kingdom contracts for public works construction in Sudan? It is important to have those facts. They may reveal a relationship at government level which is not reflected in what is seen to be reciprocated by the Sudanese powers which are in control.

The situation in Sudan is exceptionally grave. Among the many organisations interested in the future happiness and well-being of the Sudanese the following points are a consensus for action. I wish to quote from a fortnightly publication issued by a number of Sudanese who are living in the United Kingdom and other countries outside Sudan. They detail a number of the matters described by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and conclude by stating: we honestly fear that Sudan is on the verge of becoming another Somalia or Bosnia unless swift and immediate international action is taken. We humbly urge the International Community, Nations, Humanitarian Organisations, Non-governmental Organisations, Churches and Individuals to co-operate and ensure that the United Nations Resolution on Sudan addresses the Need for Conflict Resolution, Humanitarian Aid and Human Rights". I wish to conclude by outlining some of the recommendations put forward by one of the foremost international non-governmental organisations which I shall not name at this stage. It is a consensus on what is considered to be necessary and feasible to cope with the serious situation in Sudan. The first recommendation is: Donor governments should convene a donors' meeting early in 1993 to examine human rights abuses, Sudan's humanitarian needs and the Sudan Government's food export request. EC Governments, including HMG, should urge the UN Secretary General to convene the Security Council to discuss the human rights situation in Sudan and to consider further international means, including within the United Nations system, to ameliorate the humanitarian situation in Sudan. HMG should use every occasion—within the UN, within the EC, within the Commonwealth, and in other fora—to secure conditions in which a just and democratic political settlement can take place". Finally: If the Sudanese government continues to abuse the human rights of the Sudanese people, the international community should apply further sanctions, including an arms embargo, and should consider the first range of options for humanitarian intervention that are open to the United Nations under this Charter". I have not given notice to the noble Baroness of my questions but I look forward to her replies to the matters that other noble Lords and I have raised this evening.

9 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness for raising this matter this evening and for continuing to strive to find a date for it. I am delighted that she has found a date on which I am able to join in the debate.

It is a sign of the gravity, complexity and the horror of the situation that many of the humanitarian organisations which have been able to give information to your Lordships about the situation in Sudan do not wish to be named lest they should be hindered in the work that they are doing. Indeed, there is considerable doubt as to whether some of the workers working on entirely humanitarian lines will be given visas to go back to the country. I am particularly lucky to have been briefed for this debate by a personal friend who has been working on and off for quite a long time in Sudan and who knows as much about the situation as anyone.

This country has a special responsibility to respond to the situation in Sudan. I believe that that is based on two main pillars: first, our previous involvement with the country which means that the Sudanese themselves recognise that we have a responsibility, because of our record in the past, to help them in the future; the second—and this is probably part of the noble Baroness's foundation for her interest—is the necessity that we have still as part of Christendom to try to help in a situation in which people are suffering because of their faith. As Christians we are called upon to help anyone who is suffering because of his faith but we have it on the authority of St. Paul that we have a special duty to those of the household of the faith. In western Europe we should take that seriously. For a very large part it is the Christian communities which are suffering so badly.

The position is appalling. We have heard a great many details already and I shall not take up your Lordships' time in repeating them. I should like to mention three particular points. The first is the Iranian involvement in this matter: the production of arms, the mounting of a holy war against the Christian population, and the interest in oil combined with the two.

Secondly, there is the threat to the Nuban people; and many of your Lordships will have read the letter in The Times today on that subject. Thirdly, there is the fact that it is not merely a matter of religion. The moderate Moslems are being threatened, killed and massacred almost as much as the Christians.

There are two points, both of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, but to which I should like to draw particular attention as a shopping list for the Government, particularly as regards what they urge the United Nations to do because what is needed is a strong United Nations initiative in this area. The first point, which has been mentioned by both previous speakers is the free passage of civilians from Juba. That is a humanitarian matter of the greatest importance and urgency.

The second point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, is an arms embargo. The flow of largely Iranian arms, which are almost certainly western arms from Europe, into the hands of the government conducting their jihad in Sudan must be stopped. The United Nations has the right and the power to be able to achieve that.

Those are the points which I should like to put to Her Majesty's Government this evening. I hope that we shall be given a positive answer from the noble Baroness this evening.

9.5 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry

My Lords, I too express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for posing this Question which is so crucial, and which should be crucial to many in our country at present. I saw evidence of that late last summer when a Church leader from behind the lines in the southern Sudan —a most saintly and magnificent man who had spent months walking round the whole area as a kind of apostle for his people even though they were starving and suffering at the time—came to stay with us. Having got out from behind the lines, he met me and he spoke to many people in Coventry and Warwickshire. I shall never forget the impact that he made as he described the forgotten war which no one is reading about, hearing about, or knowing much about in this country. There are not many of your Lordships hearing about it in this House this evening. It is a war in which many are dying or are abandoned and alone. As he said, "We die and the world keeps quiet".

Questions arose from large congregations in all parts of the country who heard him speak. Why are our Government not taking a political initiative on this matter and why have we never heard them speaking of it? Why do we know nothing about it? What are the media doing about it? What are the United Nations doing about it? Those were penetrating, innocent and direct questions which are reflected in the Unstarred Question this evening.

I thought that the dignity, authority and inspiring quality with which that man described the situation of a church in a place of untold horror was really saddening. To him it certainly seemed to convey a neglect on the part of the western Church and a failure on the part of European governments, but particularly our Government with all their responsibility for shaping the country in the past, to make any political intervention. The Sudan which I had experienced in the 1970s and 1980s when I was general secretary of the Church Missionary Society was a very different Sudan. It was liberal-minded, humane and positive in many ways. It was a different kind of Islamic faith. I remember a fellow passenger travelling out on Sudan Airways remarking that he felt closer in spirit to his Christian landlady in London than to some of the Moslem fanatics whom he hoped would never come to power in his own country. Now they have, and moderate Moslems like him must fear and suffer.

I see the beginnings looming of a great catastrophe in that country about which we have heard so little and about which I do not believe any government have done sufficient—certainly not our own—in political terms. As a result of the United Nations action, originally in respect of the Kurds and now in Somalia, and the debate over Bosnia, we are seeing a widening feeling among people in this country and other countries that the extreme denial of human rights, massive human suffering and near genocide in any part of the world should be met by some kind of intervention by the United Nations.

In the Sudan we are witnessing the imminent possibility, as noble Lords have already said, of a disaster which is even greater than that in Somalia. What action is our Government prepared to take? There has been nine years of war; intolerable suffering caused not only by war, but also by terrible injustices and misgovernment which is ruthless and widespread; an abuse of powers by the Sudanese Government, and of course one must say also the conflict of murderous factions in the Sudan People's Liberation Army on the other side. But the Government show abuse not only in combat areas but in the whole country—terrible, inexcusable violations of human rights, the most recent of which has been the killing of local or foreign aid workers. In September in Juba they even executed local US aid workers. They are depriving people of food, blocking the way to good health and frustrating the non-government organisation staff who are trying to help. All that is extremely alarming.

In addition, we have heard from other noble Lords about the change of religion being imposed in order to secure food and other actions of that kind. Nearly 2 million Sudanese have died, not just in war or even for resisting the government, but as victims of enforced starvation, massacres and wrongful assault. We have heard already this evening about the treatment of refugees in the north who were forced out of Khartoum into desert camps; deprived of water, food and medical aid; abused and ill-treated. We heard about the beleaguered Juba and other towns in the south and the refugee camps where ordinary non-combatant populations are subject to a reign of terror, sudden arrest and torture in the infamous and notorious White House in Juba. That reminds me of stories of President Amin at his worst in Uganda.

We heard about the Nuba mountains. I visited there and remember the happy communities; the sense of a pre-Islamic culture even though many of them were Moslems. I remember how some of our own Church leaders came from that area where the Church is now growing. Yet in that place we now see thousands being killed on ethnic grounds alone; villages are attacked; women are raped. It is near to genocide and an upheaval of the whole population.

All that has emerged since the rise to power of the present government, strongly influenced by the National Islamic Front—the previous Party—and indeed by Iran imposing a terrible security system across the whole country. It is a fearful distortion of Islam—we must not call it "Islam". That kind of imposition of the Sharia law since 1991 and that kind of interpretation of the Jihad, which is everywhere preached without qualification both in the south and in the north, is serious. There seems to be some kind of an Iranian-inspired deliberate thrust towards East Africa in the preaching and propaganda that I have heard, as well as an Iranian thrust towards the former Chevron oil fields found in the south.

The Sudanese Government are trying to put a polite front on all that when one speaks to them. They are experts at sounding convincing when assuring one of their good intentions. I know because I have met and discussed with representatives and at first trusted what they said to me until I discovered that it was simply not the reality. They have even managed to suborn an Anglican bishop into their ranks to be a kind of front man in the Cabinet. One can imagine the sense of betrayal felt by every Church person that I have heard speak of him.

I trust that our Government can give us more than answers about the magnificent aid which they have already given. Aid alone is not in question; it is a question of political action. I trust that they will run the risk of not colluding with the deceptive assurances of the Sudanese Government. Far more is needed. The Senate of the United States Congress has already begun to act. On 2nd October 1992 it recognised that the government of Sudan engages in a consistent pattern of gross violation of internationally recognised human rights; that they wage war in battle without regard to the civilian population and that the government of Sudan engages in gross abuses of human rights elsewhere in the country, including the campaign of forced displacement of tens of thousands in Nuba.

It recognised all those things and decided to resolve to ask the President of the United States to meet with the United Nations Secretary-General to arrange the convening of the Security Council to discuss the human rights situation and to consider further intervention. I trust that the new President is likely to respond to that pressure and persuasion in the United States. I do not think that we should believe any assurances of change or improvement. I do not believe that we should leave the Americans to act alone as we appear to be doing somewhat in Somalia. I do not believe that the Sudan Government can adequately meet the questions that we are asking at the moment about human rights. We should look critically at their request to export tonnes of food, including products for animal foods, to the European Community. We should be asking a great many more questions about that.

I believe that the northern government in Sudan is now on the verge of a big offensive. It is at this moment that Her Majesty's Government should urge the United Nations Secretary-General to convene the Security Council to discuss this human rights situation and to consider international pressure to relieve the vast human suffering; to ensure the safe conducts that we have already heard about, and to try to press an arms embargo which, if the United Nations were to press it, Iran might still be persuaded to comply with.

We have heard talk this evening of another Somalia. Indeed, when one thinks about the figures —and I hate to bandy them because one person suffering is enough—and a total population of 8 million in Somalia and one under threat of famine of 5 million; and when one turns to the 26.2 million in the Sudan and a population under famine threat of 7.5 million, one begins to see the scale of what we are facing. There is real danger of a greater disaster in another part of Africa of which we seem to have heard in this country amazingly little not only from the Government, as I have said, but from anyone else. I believe that this matter must be taken to the United Nations to avert another catastrophe. Nothing less, and no reassuring replies otherwise, will do. Juba is a place of appalling suffering at this time just like other besieged cities such as Sarajevo on which we have concentrated, and with a much deeper danger of the total extermination of a large part of the population if it is allowed to go on.

So I urge that Her Majesty's Government take this even more seriously than I know they already have and seek public and political action to remedy this wrong.

9.16 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, as I served twice in Africa as a diplomat and was brought up there, and as I have visited Sudan in earlier years and known many distinguished and honourable Sudanese both from the north and the south, I feel particular sorrow and concern at the terrible situation in the south today as well as some shame that I had not fully realised how appalling it has long been.

Not so long ago the world knew what was happening in the Gulag and behind the Iron Curtain, only with great difficulty. We heard of what was happening in Afghanistan where the Russians were waging a colonial war, through such courageous and distinguished journalists as Sandy Gall. Now we know what is happening in the former Yugoslavia just as we followed the Gulf War on television. Yesterday the US military operation to safeguard aid operations in Somalia was on the television screens at the very moment of landing.

But without my noble friend Lady Cox, her courage and persistence both in seeing for herself and in bringing what she has seen to the world's attention both in this House and elsewhere, we should apparently know virtually nothing about the forgotten war; the ethnic cleansing; and the reported selling of some women and children into slavery; and the destruction of whole communities which has been going on with unremitting ferocity in Southern Sudan for nine long years since the advent of the Nimeri regime, pledged to the conversion of all non-Moslems, Christians and animists alike.

Since 1989 the regime has of course become yet more militantly fundamentalist. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is not truly Islamic any more. I need not repeat what my noble friend has said. A whole nation is being destroyed both in terms of its peoples and its economic and social infrastructure. When the dry season begins again in January we can expect military operations by the Sudanese Army to be renewed with yet greater force.

In any case, we are witnessing the displacement of some 3 million people—a vast human tragedy in terms of refugees —not least people whose only crime in the eyes of the regime in Khartoum is apparently to be Christian or animist. They are reportedly being forced to embrace the Islamic faith, to die or to be taken into slavery or forcible relocation in the desert in what amounts to extermination camps.

It is hard for us to imagine the courage and desperate strength of those minors who walked from Southern Sudan to Kenya via Ethiopia to escape and those who still resist conversion and retain their Christian faith. But the world is not hearing about these apparent flagrant violations of human rights, nor the ethnic cleansing which we so condemn in Yugoslavia and indeed in Iraq.

I believe that both the US Senate and the European Parliament have passed resolutions calling on the UN to concern itself urgently with the situation and to make what representations it can, given that the UN as yet has no mandate to intervene in the internal affairs of the country on the issue of human rights. I hope and believe that Her Majesty's Government have associated themselves with such representation. I realise, however, that first there is a long history of Islamic expansion within and into black Africa, of which this is a further and more militant phase. There will be some powerful Islamic states which, far from agreeing to bring UN pressure to bear in Khartoum, will be likely at least to condone, in some cases actively to support, a fundamentalist regime. Iran is an obvious example. The UN cannot act effectively unless there is a real consensus, and that takes time and long, patient and discreet negotiations. To do it by megaphone, to quote our earlier debate on Hong Kong in this Chamber today, will be counterproductive at government level.

I am quite sure, too,—although I hope to hear this categorically stated by my noble friend the Minister —that we will have suspended any bilateral aid, whether humanitarian or development aid, to Khartoum long since, because the Khartoum Government's actions in the south not only gravely infringe human rights, but cannot possibly be described as good government when they are destroying what economic structure there was.

In this connection, I should like to ask: what are the criteria of the International Monetary Fund which, I believe, has recently granted financial aid to the Khartoum Government? Even if it is not required to relate its aid to the human rights record of a receiving country, as we do, can it really call what is being done "good government"? I realise that my noble friend the Minister may not be able to answer that now, but I should like to know later. Are any stipulations made by the IMF about ensuring that a proper share of the aid goes to the south, and that it is not made conditional by Khartoum on conversion to Islam, as is apparently the case in the distribution of humanitarian aid? I should like to hear from my noble friend the Minister how we now distribute humanitarian aid. It is absolutely unacceptable that the delivery of that aid should be impeded. Are the nongovernmental organisations prevented from going in through Kenya or Uganda to deliver aid where it is most wanted? If not, could not Her Majesty's Government's former humanitarian allocation and, indeed, the share destined for development, be translated into trucks, lorries, farm implements and grinders for corn?

In short, I realise that in dealing with the Khartoum Government, we can as a government use only the most delicate and gradual moral pressure, preferably through other more moderate Islamic states, to bring about a change. I am confident that Her Majesty's Government are proceeding in just that way. However, that should not prevent, first, specific encouragement to the media to go and see and to tell the story to the world. That would at least bring in more voluntary aid for the NGOs to distribute. I was much heartened by the excellent letter on the Nuba in The Times today. We need more of that. Secondly, it should not prevent moves to deliver our official aid, both humanitarian and developmental, through adjacent countries such as Kenya and Uganda. The actions of the Khartoum Government are, after all, creating large numbers of homeless and dispossessed people who can escape only into neighbouring countries which are poor themselves. A way must be found to get the aid where it is needed. Thirdly, there must be moves to persuade the IMF, the World Bank, and the European Development Council to withdraw all support from the Khartoum Government unless a mechanism of oversight can be developed which specifically ensures that a proper proportion of that aid actually reaches the south.

Finally, although I recognise that this is a delicate time to pursue the question of the Khartoum Government's human rights record when the Islamic states are themselves exercised by what they see as our failure to protect Moslems in Bosnia, in practical terms we have no levers to exert since Khartoum does not need our aid, given the powerful support which it is receiving from Iran, and no sanctions could be effective. Still, we must speak out loudly and clearly here today. I hope, through the responsible members of the media, to tell the world what is happening and to send a message of admiration and support from a Christian country to suffering Christians, and especially from Britain which has had so long and honourable a connection with Sudan.

9.23 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the previous two speakers addressed the House from a background of first-hand knowledge of Sudan. I cannot claim that advantage and therefore certainly will not detain the House for more than a few minutes. The last time that I was in Khartoum was 40 years ago when I was passing through to southern Africa.

My initial reason for wishing to speak in this debate was my admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and for her heroic humanitarian efforts. My second reason—and in the same connection—was the horror stories which the noble Baroness retailed tonight and of which she has made me aware.

I am very glad on this Christian occasion when there is so much ecumenical pressure that I am able to bring a message through Cafod, the Catholic body which has done so much for many years in that part of the world, from the Catholic bishops in the Sudan. On the last occasion I was less than courteous to one of the right reverend Prelates but on this occasion I am full of admiration for, and in respectful agreement with, the right reverend Prelate. I shall come to that in a moment.

I have studied this matter rather intensively, not only with the help of Cafod but with the help of a lady and gentleman who know that part of the world very well. The gentleman has spent many years in the Sudan and neighbouring countries. I was talking to him again this evening. In that sense I come with knowledge which has recently been obtained. We are all aware of the horrors in the Sudan. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others could have spoken for hours on the subject. No one doubts the horrors of the place. But we are left asking ourselves what we are going to do about it. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that we must not betray the people of Sudan. I feel that that is the right way of approaching it, but how much can we do unilaterally? We could do more than we are doing now but unilaterally our achievement would be limited. It does not excuse us for not improving on our present performance, but we must look to the international effort, a point stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, and other speakers.

I wish to give strong and clear support to the right reverend Prelate. Are the Government prepared to do what the right reverend Prelate suggested? Are they prepared to approach the Secretary General and call for a meeting of the Security Council? I ask the question but I do not necessarily expect the Minister to answer tonight. However, I expect an answer on the next occasion because it is a question that cannot be ducked. The answer is a straightforward yes or no. It is not a question where any evasion is possible, although a certain postponement may be necessary at this hour of the evening.

I do not say that everything else is subsidiary to that issue but everything else pales into relative insignificance compared with that. Are the Government ready to place this on the agenda at the highest possible level in the biggest possible way? If they do not do that —I do not ask the noble Baroness to answer the question tonight—they will be shirking their duty and doing what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said. If we in Britain are not doing that much we shall be betraying the Sudan.

9.28 p.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, I should just like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in asking this Question on the situation in south Sudan. I do so with much diffidence, not least because of a general reluctance to intervene in the affairs of another country, especially one with which we have generally had friendly relations. Furthermore, Sudan is the largest country in Africa and also the poorest, with very few resources. It must be desperately difficult to govern.

I should like to say a few words on the situation in Juba, but before doing so perhaps I may mention a number of factors that have a bearing on the present situation. First, since its foundation in the seventh century AD, Islam has had periods of militancy and periods of relative quietness. Now, spurred on by Moslem fundamentalists, Islam appears to be entering a new period of militancy. From many Islamic countries there are reports of persecution of minority religions, including Christianity, which itself overseas —sadly not in this country—is very much on a growth tack. So the two religions are coming together on a collision course.

Secondly, as was the case in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, religion and politics in Islamic countries are pretty well the same thing. What is more, they determine the legal system.

Thirdly, the people of south Sudan are different from the people of north Sudan ethnically and in their religion. For most of known history they have not been part of the same country as north Sudan. They do not want to become Moslems and they do not want Sharia law. Their fears of being discriminated against have proved to be all too justified, and to say that their human rights, especially religious freedom, are being denied would be the understatement of the year.

Perhaps I may now turn to the situation in Juba, the capital of the south, which is currently a battlefield for the warring factions. A recent report has said that the "massacre continues unabated". There are at least 250,000 people virtually imprisoned in the city. The main roads from it have been mined to deter escape. Another eye-witness has stated that lynch law is the practice of the day. Recent reports say that people are being crucified in north Sudan. The latest reports say that that is also happening in south Sudan. Youths are arrested without reason and are never seen alive again. Women are taken in for questioning, raped, killed and then thrown in the river. In the words of one eye-witness, the population is in "absolute fear".

The food situation is desperate. Some people cultivated food along the banks of the Nile. Just before it could be harvested, soldiers destroyed the crops and the fields were mined. The people of Juba feel abandoned by the West and, in particular, by the Christian Churches of the West. They know that we are their only chance, and they are aware of what is being done in Bosnia. They cannot understand why there is so much outcry and horror over what is happening in Bosnia while there is no outcry or horror apparent about south Sudan, even from their fellow Christians. For that reason I congratulate the noble Baroness on raising this matter in your Lordships' House.

In the past few days Moslem governments meeting in Jeddah have expressed their concern about the situation of Moslems in Bosnia, as they are fully entitled to do. Likewise, the governments of Christian countries are entitled to be anxious about the fate of Christians in south Sudan. It is not our job to tell the Sudan Government how to run their country. However, there are limits to the means that can be used to enforce their policies. In the light of what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and other speakers have described, the world will not be able to go on doing nothing indefinitely.

What can we do to help? I have four suggestions, none of them very original: first, I should like to see the Government and private organisations setting up a group to monitor the position as closely as possible. I was struck by the success of the results achieved by monitoring and keeping matters in the public eye when Russia was denting the human rights of some of its citizens. It is important to have a monitoring group set up to watch the situation as closely as possible and to keep it in the public eye.

Secondly, the Government should bring to the notice of the United Nations any serious denial of human rights, especially a denial of freedom of religion as laid down in paragraph 18 of the 1948 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Thirdly, we should give all possible support to attempts by the United Nations to improve the situation in south Sudan. Fourthly, if the food position in Juba does not improve, we should press the United Nations to take food there as it is doing now in Somalia.

I should like to make one further point. With the increased militancy of Islam, the growth of the Christian Churches overseas, the increase in the world's population, the damage to the world's environment and the gap between rich and poor countries, situations such as those in south Sudan and Somalia will become even more frequent and more dangerous to world order than they are at present. That is something which long-term planners will have to take into account.

9.35 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury

My Lords, in a volume of reminiscences called Yet being Someone Other, Sir Laurens van der Post tells the story of a wartime venture when he was in command of a camel train taking supplies and ammunition from the Sudan to the Allied forces in Ethiopia. After a gruelling journey they reached their rendezvous to find no one there. Ahead towered the huge escarpment leading to the central Ethiopian plateau. Should they go on in the hope of making contact—which would mean manhandling their loads up that precipitous trail, a mile into the sky—or turn back? The young Sudanese drivers were weary, homesick and reluctant and held a council. What decided them to go on was the speech of an older Sudanese who said simply: "You are too young to remember the time before government"—by which he meant the Sudan Political Service—"came to our country. But I do remember, and if Government asks me to carry this load up there by myself, I will do it"

That is a moving story and I quote it to remind us of the achievement of some of the finest colonial judges and administrators ever to go out from the United Kingdom. They laid the foundations of the modern Sudan. Most of what they created has tragically been thrown away. What has never perished is the tradition in the hearts of the African peoples of southern Sudan that the West in general and Britain in particular are their friends and friends, moreover, who believe in justice and loyalty. It is to the West that the African Sudanese look in their present anguish.

This link is strengthened by the Christian Churches. Like all the African Churches, those in the Sudan are now fully indigenous. But the Sudanese Christians treasure their ties with the nations that brought the faith to them. In the suppression of religious freedom which they are today enduring, they rightly look to the world-wide Church to stand alongside them. The Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Anglican bishops and the New Sudan Council of Churches have appealed to the world to take note of what is happening.

The diocese in which I have the honour to serve has for 20 years had a special partnership with the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. During that time, we have built up by exchange visits, aid projects, educational programmes and personal contact a very considerable awareness of and insight into Sudanese affairs. In the light of that knowledge, I have no doubt that this is the most perilous hour for the basic human freedoms of African Sudanese since the days of slavery.

We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox —to whom we are grateful for this opportunity—harrowing details of the privations endured by some of the 5 million Sudanese displaced from their homes by the present war. Let me add briefly to that from our own Church evidence. An experienced eyewitness visiting one of the camps in the desert outside Khartoum, to which, as we have heard, southern refugees have been forcibly evicted, wrote: Conditions rival any I have seen … the heartlessness of the forced removal is matched only by the total lack of amenities". A team from our diocese recently went to camps of Sudanese refugees in Uganda. In Yondu, a fairly small camp of originally 8,000 women and children was growing at the rate of 3,000 a week. The frontier camp at Nimule is thought to hold half a million people, but who can be sure? Even in Uganda, aid convoys that try to make the arduous journey are ambushed by brigands and in southern Sudan the corridors for transport are even more hazardous.

We have already heard of the hunger and disease in Juba. A letter from the war zone there the other day contained these words: Lucky are the people in Yugoslavia and Somalia for the world is with them. Condemned are the people of Juba, for the world has no access and no interest to know". It would be easy to say, "Yes, this is all very sad, but it is the result of internal rebellion against the de jure government of an independent sovereign state and that means there is little we can do". I understand that line, but I believe that it mistakes both the history and the present reality.

The second civil war, which began in 1983 while I was myself visiting the Sudan, was itself a protest against injustice: the political fragmentation of the south—and forced fragmentation; the unfair plans for southern oil; the threat to the environment and way of life from the Jonglei Canal project; the Arabisation programme; and the imposition of Sharia law on the Sudanese. Because of the lack of a proper constitution and basic legal code there was nothing to which an African could appeal for redress of grievance. The whole system made human rights, as we understand them, impossible.

Indeed one of the problems we face today is that the Sudanese Government does not culturally operate with the concept of human rights, which it regards as cover for Western interference. But we need to keep in mind that the vast majority of African Sudanese, although indeed they understandably sympathise with the SPLA, have never been involved in the war at all. They are simply the grass on which the elephants fight. All they have ever wanted is a fair, non-sectarian system with equal justice and equal opportunities for all, and it is for them that the world community has a right and a duty to be concerned.

After the abortive SPLA attempt during the past summer to seize Juba, the people there have been the victims of a reign of terror by the intelligence and security organisations, of which we have heard something from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. Even the mutilated bodies of schoolboys have been taken from the Nile with their school bags still tied to their backs. The very officers and men of the Sudanese Army have been victims.

Similarly after the attack by the Nazir faction of the SPLA on Malakal in October, reliable reports indicate that the Government's security officers arrested more than 150 officials and political figures, some of whom were tortured and executed. Both in the north and south the competing operations of no fewer than five internal security organisations mean, as always, that suspicion and mistrust are setting colleague against colleague, friend against friend. Open and honest discussion of the nation's problems is impossible.

There is a danger, when one is a representative of a Christian community, that comments of this kind will be heard as being anti-Moslem. This is all the more so when much violation of human rights has a religious character. Let me say with all the force at my command that neither in the Sudan nor out of it do the Churches see their plea for justice as an attack on Islam. If diplomatic influence on Khartoum is to have support from moderate Islamic states, it is vital to make this clear.

What Sudanese Christians want is a constitution and system of justice which guarantees religious liberty for all—Moslem, Christian, and indigenous African religion alike. They had enjoyed such freedom. They know its value. That makes its loss all the more poignant. For make no mistake, it has been lost. It was already under threat during the days of President Nimeiry when churches in the Nuba mountains were burnt down or bulldozed, and permission to build regularly refused. Violence and murder against Christians were not uncommon in that area even then. Since that time such crimes have become more general.

Priests and catechists have been tortured and killed. Church workers and religious from abroad have been deported. At least one bishop has been arrested and maltreated in detention without formal charge. Harassment, victimisation and discrimination are the norm. In particular I would draw your Lordships' attention to discrimination in the educational system. At the youngest end, children are not now admitted to primary education unless they have first attended two years of a Moslem halwa to be instructed in the Islamic faith. At the other end, adherence to Islam is now a condition for admission to university.

What can the world do? Some would like to see a United Nations-sponsored constitutional conference at which all parties could negotiate the kind of legal basis for a unified state to which I have referred. This, if it could be achieved, would be the greatest prize but I have to say that I see little prospect of this. The only pressure that might have brought it about was a military stalemate. With Iranian backing for the government forces and an SPLA split over policy and with diminished sources of supply, such a stalemate looks increasingly improbable. The swing to the government in the fortunes of war was probably the biggest single reason for the collapse of the Abuja talks. There seems little hope of resuming them now.

Similarly, much as we would all like to see a Western-led arms embargo, I am afraid the prospects for one are frankly non-existent—all the more so in view of the shoddy record of the West in the Iran-Iraq conflict. I believe the most likely way forward is through diplomatic and economic pressure linked to humanitarian aid. The suffering of the innocent Sudanese people needs to be highlighted around the world beginning, as everyone in this debate has urged, in the Security Council of the United Nations. The corridors for aid delivery already negotiated by the United Nations need to be made secure. Outside organisations and the United Nations observers must have access to all the areas in which displaced persons are currently in need, and all aid must go through them and not through the Sudanese Government. The prime requirement is to prime the Sudan open to unhindered world inspection and make it clear that the present government will not have international support until that happens. If we can achieve that, further improvements might follow.

I had a brother-in-law who years ago went to work in the Sudan for a multinational company. Tragically, he was killed in an accident shortly afterwards but he was a man of wide travel and experience. He said that of all the peoples among whom he had worked, the Sudanese were those with whom he had felt happiest and most at home. Many of us know what he meant.

This debate tonight is known about by those people. Hopes have been pinned upon it. Let it not just be for the record. Let us hear from the Minister some assurance that those hopes will not have been in vain.

9.48 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, how ironic it is that at a moment in history when the world was rejoicing at the collapse of the second great tyranny which has afflicted this century, we should discover that what lay beneath it was not a simple longing for freedom but a seething mass of racial and tribal hatred. In spite of two massive and catastrophic world wars, the earth seems to be more full of hatred and destruction than ever. And if you add to racial intolerance the elements of politics and religion the mixture becomes as explosive as anything the human race has yet managed to devise. In the course of only this day in your Lordships' House we have heard of intolerance and tyranny in Indonesia and in China; the newspapers are daily full of Serbian atrocities in Bosnia, and today brings the news of the armed relief mission to Somalia.

Yet there are other tyrannies to be fought, and the Sudan is as grave a case as any even though it never makes the headlines. Here the poisons of racial hatred, political oppression and religious intolerance are as powerful and as murderous as anywhere in the world. Yet the world does little to stop the systematic destruction of a fine and historic people and of a land which has the potential to be the agricultural saviour of a whole region of Africa. It needs only peace, organisation and water. What it receives is warfare and the unholy piling up of weaponry.

No civilised country will countenance the suppression of all religions save one, all political opinions save one, and all racial types save one. And yet the Sudanese Government give every indication of doing exactly that; and they give every indication of using all the means at their disposal to do so. Their armed forces continue to fight a useless and inhuman war against their own citizens. Wholesale imprisonment and deportation are the order of the day, and religious persecution is at a level of frenzy.

Yet much of that is done in the name of righteousness. Atrocities are committed in the cause of jihad, the "holy war". No war is holy; and no convictions, political or religious, can condone slaughter and oppression. Such things done in the name of militancy or fundamentalism are every bit as evil as such things done cynically. God save us from the convictions which allow the ends to justify the means. I am reminded of a verse of Chesterton's: Likelier the barricades shall blare Slaughter below and smoke above And death and hate and hell declare That men have found a thing to love". What hope can our Government see of bringing some sense of compassion and decency into the actions of the Sudanese Government? Is there anything that the Government, or any of us, can do for the desperate people of the Sudan, caught as they are by the twin claws of starvation and oppression? Or do we and the Government despair of it? We must not. A country which has been in the past so much under our influence, and indeed within our power, deserves better of us. Not only history but humanity demands it of us.

There is a new and terrible phrase abroad, invented in Yugoslavia and known to the world for years in its actions, but which now echoes across the world—"ethnic cleansing". Its evil brothers are political cleansing and religious cleansing. In the Sudan what is in need of cleansing is not the race, or the politics, or the religions of its people but the hearts and minds of the powerful.

9.53 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, only this morning I was chairing a meeting concerning protective action for Bosnia. Today is a sombre moment, not only for Sarajevo but also for many places in the Sudan. It is in that context that I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for giving us an eye-witness account of the sufferings of the people in a place that should be a fertile and prosperous country. We all admire her courage and commitment in delivering personally much-needed supplies to places where most people fear to tread. Such actions are all the more necessary because there are few, if any, foreign journalists allowed in the Sudan and the movements of diplomats are strictly limited by the Government of the Sudan.

It may be helpful if I try to sketch a little of the history and background. The Sudan is a country of nearly 1 million square miles—the size of most of Western Europe. Its coast faces Saudi Arabia and, as has been mentioned, its land frontiers march with those of eight other African states. It became independent in 1956 and since then there have been some 26 years of military rule. The armed forces consume 40 per cent. or more of the government budget.

Since June 1989 the National Islamic Front has been in power. As is well known, that is a fundamentalist coalition of intellectuals, officers and others. For more than 18 years the south has been in revolt, with a period of uncertain peace between 1972 and 1983. Since then there has been little by way of education or medical service in the south. War, drought, floods, famine and disease have laid waste not only the south but also the Nuba Mountains and other areas. A major cause of war has been the attempt to impose Islamic law and the Arabic language on non-Islamic peoples.

The result of these mainly man-made disasters has been a dramatic scattering of people. The total number of refugees and displaced people may well be even greater than that given by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. My information is that 2 million to 3 million Sudanese are dispersed in all the inhabited parts of Egypt; 350,000 or so work in other Arab countries. Zaire contains some 600,000 refugees; Kenya up to 200,000; Uganda of the order of 100,000; Ethiopia and other countries some 50,000. In addition —as if that were not enough—there are some 2½ million displaced people living in appalling conditions, as we have heard, in the Khartoum region. The displaced therefore amount to some 6 million out of a total theoretical population of about 27 million.

There is little doubt that food and water have been used by the NIF government as levers to force Christians and others to convert to Islam. I have myself met an eye-witness to the selling of children into slavery. Indeed, he had himself redeemed some of them. Your Lordships will know that under the Koran a Moslem may only own a non-Moslem slave. There is some evidence, as has already been touched upon, that crucifixion has been used by the army and government militias as a punishment and in order to inspire terror. Some churches—for example, those in El Obeid and El Nahud—have been closed and many missionaries have been expelled, notably from Juba. Such things happen despite the Sudan's adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the Convention against Torture.

It is regrettable that the government in the Sudan seem to have been encouraged to violate basic human rights by their contacts with such other countries as Libya and Iran. In June the Economist reported that the Sudan was selling millet to Libya valued at £7 million in order to be able to purchase weapons. That occurred at the very moment when it was asking for 130,000 tonnes of grain relief from the European Community in order to feed its western provinces. Iran is reported to have built a powerful radio transmitter near Port Sudan and to be completing new naval and air bases nearby. Four thousand tonnes of weapons are said to have been delivered from Iranian sources during October. Are these weapons, I wonder, intended for a government offensive in the south during the dry season, beginning from now onwards?

When the major city of Malakal was recently taken by the SPLA, six Iranian military advisers were captured. Other Iranians are thought to have been piloting Sudanese military aircraft. All these developments are profoundly worrying to friendly neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kenya.

I am glad to say that world opinion is now beginning to focus strongly on the Sudan despite the lack of press and diplomatic observers. In August this year the Catholic bishops sent out a clear appeal from Lusaka, which they repeated from Rome in October. They did not hesitate to use the word "genocide". On 8th October the United States Congress, as has been mentioned, approved a resolution on human rights and humanitarian relief. That was followed a month later by an even stronger resolution in the European Parliament. Japan has cut off all aid except for humanitarian relief. The United Nations appointed Dr. Gaspar Biro as a special rapporteur for the Sudan. Has Dr. Biro begun work and will he receive all the facilities that he needs, for example, to travel where he wants and to see whom he wishes without fear of reprisals on those he sees?

I was glad to hear by letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, that a resolution on the Sudan is being prepared for discussion at the Third Committee of the forthcoming UN General Assembly. But I am sure that everyone will agree that that is not nearly enough. We need positive action from the Security Council, as many speakers have said.

Turning to the domestic front, are Her Majesty's Government fully satisfied about the personnel of the Sudanese Embassy in London? I understand that a considerable proportion of the people working there do not enjoy diplomatic status. Will the Government seek to increase the number of broadcasts on the BBC World Service in English and in other languages which are capable of reaching the Sudan? That service is very often the only source of true information available in remote regions. It is doubly important in an era of propaganda and lies.

The Sudan is massively in debt. In 1990 it owed 13 billion dollars and since 1989 the Sudanese pound has fallen in value by a factor of 11 or 12. The debt thus exceeds the estimated annual gross domestic product. Those who hold that debt should insist on an immediate ceasefire, followed by real negotiations for peace and an appropriate constitution. The Nigerian Government are much to be congratulated on their efforts which brought about negotiations last summer at Abuja. Alas, the negotiations were adjourned without agreement being reached. New attempts are therefore necessary. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will play their part in the desperately needed work for peace and that full use will be made of all available techniques for conflict resolution.

Earlier we spoke about safe havens for the Bosnians. Safe havens have been mentioned again this evening as being vitally needed in the south Sudan. They are necessary before even the ceasefire can be agreed in order that there is interim protection for vulnerable people. I hope that all donor countries which have poured in large quantities of aid and relief during the past 10 or 20 years will now concentrate their minds on protection for the most vulnerable people. One hopes that that will lead to a ceasefire and to a permanent peace.

10.4 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House shares the admiration expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for the indefatigable work of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. In Sudan and in many areas where human rights are violated she works on behalf of the people and shares their sufferings. She brings back graphic reports which enable us to understand the plight of those people far better than we would otherwise. She then raises those matters effectively in your Lordships' House. We all owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.

The noble Baroness has rightly singled out the Government of Sudan—military dictators—for criticism this evening because their record is deplorable as I can say from my knowledge of the situation, although that is not as great as hers. I am chairman of the parliamentary human rights group and we have listened to the representations of the Sudan human rights organisations. We have received a good many letters and reports from people who have experience on the ground. I can confirm what has been said by other noble Lords: we have been asked not to mention names because that might jeopardise the work. That is an indication of the Sudan Government's attitude to any kind of criticism.

The problem is that so far the Sudanese have proved to be completely impervious to outside criticism, pressures or influence. As I understand it, our Government ceased development aid in January 1991, which no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Park, will be pleased to hear, and they continued to express to the regime their great anxiety about the lack of respect for fundamental freedoms including the freedom of religion, as Ministers have assured the parliamentary human rights group.

The Government joined our EC partners in supporting the decision of the UN Commission on Human Rights to appoint a special rapporteur to investigate the human rights situation in Sudan. When the Minister replies, perhaps she will say whether or not the Sudanese Government have agreed to co-operate with the human rights rapporteur in his investigation.

In regard to the civil war in the south, the Government have made it clear that they expect a solution to be found by negotiation and not on the battlefield. They have approved the efforts of the Nigerians to act as mediators. The second round of the talks was due to begin again on Saturday, according to Nigerian spokesmen, but it has been deferred. It would be useful if the Minister would take this opportunity to say something about the prospects for the resumption of talks.

As my noble friend said, Britain is historically responsible for the creation of modern Sudan. We joined the Arab, Moslem north to the black Christian south. We delineated the boundaries of Sudan at the end of the 19th century and we handed over to the northern politicians who secured the acquiescence of the south by promising to consider federalism after independence. Of course, they failed to deliver that and for 17 years after independence there was a low intensity civil war until the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement which gave regional autonomy to the south. That carried some hope of a solution with it. However, Nimeiry (who was one of the parties to the agreement) abrogated it in 1983, and as we have heard, attempted to impose the Sharia which reignited the civil war.

My impression is that the second round of talks, if they resume at Abuja or elsewhere, is unlikely to succeed for two reasons. First, the SPLA has split into three factions, and some of the heaviest fighting has been between Colonel John Garang and his deputy Mr. William Nyuon, who was head of the SPLA delegation in Abuja. The disagreement between them appears to have stemmed at least to some extent from Mr. Nyuon's agreement to a unified SPLA delegation at Abuja so that the prospects for any accord among the southerners as to who should represent them at a resumed meeting must be extremely dim.

Mr. Nyuon and Mr. Riak Machar, who defected earlier with 25,000 men and withdrew them to the eastern bank of the Nile, are both of the Nuer tribe, whereas Colonel John Garang is a Dinka. Therefore, tribal rivalry is added to political differences. As has been mentioned by a number of your Lordships, including my noble friend Lord Beaumont, the Iranians are pouring millions of dollars-worth of arms into Sudan—and my estimate is 600 million dollars —mainly from China, I am informed, making it a springboard for Teheran's long-term plan to spread its Khomeinist ideology throughout north and central Africa.

Several noble Lords said that that huge arsenal cannot be intended for the defence of Sudan because there is no foreign threat to her territorial integrity. But the enormous growth of Sudan's military potential and the presence of 30 Iranian military advisers in Khartoum—referred to in the Sunday Times on 1st November—constitutes a threat to peace. That is why I agree with all noble Lords who said that the matter must be referred to the Security Council. It is a serious threat to peace. I should like the Minister to say whether the Government are taking it seriously and what information they have regarding the activities and intentions of Iran in the region.

I read in the newsletter issued by the Sudanese Embassy that last week a 32-man delegation from Iran, headed by Chief Justice Mohammed Yazdi, and including security intelligence officers, was in Khartoum. The Chief Justice took the opportunity of denying that there were any military personnel from Iran in Sudan. It would be useful to know whether the Government have any evidence of their presence. We heard of the three Iranians captured in the south. I believe that there is solid evidence, but it should be brought to the public attention and raised as part of our case in the United Nations for saying that a threat to peace exists.

According to the Arabic daily newspaper, Al-Sharg al-Awsat, of 30th November, Iran is preparing to hold a meeting in Khartoum in February 1993 for the Khomeinist groups, which they support in 19 countries. They were discussing with the Sudanese the establishment of an international secretariat in Khartoum. The Chief Justice said that Iran's relations with Sudan were of strategic importance, and he indicated that Tehran was planning a massive increase in aid to Sudan.

As many noble Lords said, if the Nigerian-brokered talks are almost certain to fail, should we not be looking for some alternative solutions to the agony of the south which has claimed an estimated 600,000 lives according to Médecins sans Frontières? There are now four warlords competing for the territory, counting the government as one of them. The position is therefore just as desperate, as has been said, as that of Somalia and demands just as radical a solution. But unlike Somalia, they have a de jure power, however little southern territory it controls. I wonder whether the authorities in Khartoum could be persuaded to hand over the administration of Juba to the United Nations, if at the same time the rebel factions would agree to a cease fire. If that could be done, then the relief work could be enormously accelerated; the grisly phenomenon of extra-judicial killings could be ended and the Sudanese Government would be relieved of a substantial military burden. The way would be open to a constitutional conference such as has been suggested to tackle the difficult questions left unresolved at Abuja—the present religion, the unity of the state and the self-determination of the south.

The alternative is too frightful to contemplate. I was given the estimate of 316,000 people being holed up in Juba with no clean water, no electricity, no telephones, no medicines and very little to eat. According to Amnesty International the army executed 300 people without trial following the SPLA attacks on the city in June and July, and demolished the houses of nearly one-third of the inhabitants to create free fire zones in the suburbs. Hundreds of people were reported to have been arrested and the whereabouts of many others remains unknown. The ordeal of the weakened and demoralised inhabitants subjected to that reign of terror defies the imagination. At the same time, the devastation of the whole region and the advancing government forces into areas previously held by the SPLA forced many thousands of new refugees over the border into Kenya. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury referred to the huge influx of refugees into Kenya and Uganda. We heard estimates that as many as half a million have been displaced internally by the fighting.

It should be noted that the Government, in response to international criticism of what happened in Juba, set up a judicial committee under the chairmanship of Judge Muhamad Ahmed Abu-Sin, to inquire into the events that took place in Juba during June and July". Unfortunately, the judiciary in Sudan is not independent and any judge who gives a ruling that the government do not like is taking a very serious risk as the example of Judge Bushara Abdalla Bushara may illustrate. Mr. Fadl Ahmed applied to the court for an order that an autopsy be carried out on his son, Dr. Ali Fadl, a prominent member of the Sudan Doctors Union, who had died under torture on 21st April 1990. Judge Bushara ruled that the initial report, which had been made by the general secretary of the Islamic Medical Association and his deputy, did not comply with recognised medico-legal procedures. The two army doctors who certified that the cause of death was cerebral malaria were not considered to be reliable by the judge. He ordered that a second report he made by Dr. Yassin Abdalla Ahmed Imam.

The family of the victim then filed criminal charges which were rejected by a different judge and then by the Attorney-General, who apparently has a judicial role in Sudan. The family then petitioned Judge Bushara again and he granted them access to police and medical reports. On the basis of those the family then preferred legal charges against the security forces. But when an inquiry was begun by the magistrates that was aborted when pressure was brought to bear by the government and Judge Bushara was forced to retire. The lawyer who had acted for the family has had his licence to practise revoked.

The case of Dr. Fadl was cited in a recent BMA report on the involvement of doctors in human rights abuses under the title Medicine Betrayed which I commend to your Lordships' attention. The BMA makes some practical suggestions. It appeals, to the international medical community to encourage effective opposition to torture in countries where the pressure for medical participation in human rights violations is considerable". That is certainly the case in Sudan. It must be extremely difficult for doctors employed in the public services in Sudan to denounce torture, but they are under an absolute moral obligation not to countenance torture or any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Equally, doctors elsewhere in the world should invite the Islamic Medical Association to condemn torture and to discipline any of its members who are involved in cruelty.

I mention these cases because the law, the medical profession and the universities have all been subverted by the dictator, General al-Bashir. The Washington-based Fund for Peace published a detailed report in May this year on the abuse of academic freedom in Sudan which makes very sad reading because the universities had a proud record of liberal studies under the British. The government took power to appoint vice-chancellors and appointed a hard liner who was also a long-time member of the National Islamic Front, the military's principal backers, to the vice-chancellorship of the University of Khartoum.

Then all the universities were compelled to use Arabic as the teaching medium, putting southerners at a competitive disadvantage. We have heard about the compulsory Islamic instruction being introduced not just for Moslems but for all students. In the University of Khartoum an alleged 25 students were expelled over two years to May 1991 for political reasons. Early this year the widespread arrests of students took place in the University of Khartoum. New legislation gives the chairman of the National Council for Higher Education and the secretary-general of the council, who is also a long-time NIF member, the power to dismiss academics for ideological reasons.

In April 1992 four University of Khartoum professors were dismissed out of hand and without explanation by presidential decree. One of them was Professor Mohammed Al-Amin Al-Tom, who is Sudan's only professor of mathematics. Not surprisingly, many academics have fled into exile and in higher education as a whole academic standards have plummeted.

We have heard that it is not only in the South that whole peoples have been targeted by the malevolent regime of General Al-Bashir. The plight of the Nuba people in the province of Kordofan has been highlighted by several of your Lordships and by many human rights organisations such as Africa Watch, Amnesty International, Sudan Update and Sudan Monitor. All have given detailed accounts of the situation. Nuba Mountains Solidarity appealed to the UN human rights chief, Jan Eliasson, when he visited Sudan on 13th September, to stop the government's brutal treatment of their Nuba subjects. I should like to know whether the Minister has any knowledge of the results of Mr. Eliasson's visit and whether he was allowed to visit Southern Kordofan to speak to detainees and to check the government's claim that all those who were forcibly removed from their homes, ostensibly to protect them from harm when the SPLA moved into the area, have now been allowed to return as the Sudanese Embassy claims.

According to a US AID report of 7th October 1992, forced relocation of Nubans was still continuing and the governor of Kordofan had ordered that 25,000 to 30,000 people who had been at Kadugli be moved to five other places in Northern Kordofan. It reported that UN personnel and NGOs were prohibited from visiting the Kadugli area, but local organisations reported that 80 per cent. of the children in the camps were malnourished; diarrhoea and skin infections were rampant, and there was no medicine to treat the sick.

The policy of gratuitously moving people from one location to another is not confined to the provinces. In the Khartoum area, as many as 700,000 internal refugees from Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal states in the south have been compulsorily relocated into five official sites outside the city, where they are totally dependent on relief aid. As has been said, only Islamic organisations are given access to them. Another 1.3 million are still threatened with relocation, despite growing international protests. The Sudanese authorities have not allowed international agencies to provide basic services for any of the uprooted people, who are living in the most appalling squalor and destitution.

It is impossible for any of us to convey in a few minutes the extent of the human rights violations in Sudan today, and the dangers posed by Khartoum's policies to the whole region. Not content with beggaring their own people, persecuting the intelligent, and driving hundreds of thousands of them into exhile, they are trying to export intolerance and thuggery to Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, and their acquisition of a sophisticated arsenal of weapons of mass destruction is a very serious threat to peace. We cannot afford to wait until the volcano erupts. We must take action by asking the Security Council to consider this matter as one of urgency.

10.22 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, this has been a disturbing debate. We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for having provided this opportunity to focus on a grave situation which presents such a formidable challenge to humanitarian concern. The noble Baroness is widely respected both inside and outside this House for her courage and commitment on such issues. She is no armchair commentator, as her determination to be out there in the front line, working alongside those in need, seeing for herself, has repeatedly made clear. We must therefore take her observations to heart.

The situation in Sudan is bad enough. But, as my noble friend Lord Blease and the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, have emphasised, it raises wider issues—issues which must be urgently faced if similar tragedies are not to be repeated around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and other noble Lords have spoken about the refugees and displaced people in and around Sudan. There are between 40 million and 50 million refugees and displaced people in the world as a whole, and that is expected to rise to 100 million by the year 2000. Think of it: 100 million individual men, women and children destined to a miserable existence of fear, anxiety, malnutrition, disease, suffering, total insecurity and premature death. At a time of so much concern about immigration and asylum policies—about keeping people out —what kind of myopia is it that fails to recognise that massive world-wide instability and migration can only increase the flow of those desperately trying to take their children to a better life? What kind of global policies are needed to treat the causes rather than the symptoms?

As the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Coventry and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, pointed out, in our concern about Sudan there are lessons in Somalia and, indeed, in Yugoslavia. In Somalia we see, belatedly, at the behest of the United States a determined intervention to ensure that the humanitarian relief reaches those in need. But why has it taken 300,000 deaths there before that happened? What could have been done at a far earlier stage to prevent the slide into anarchy and chaos? Why did action have to wait for the end of the US election and a decision in Washington?

This is not the first time that the UN has settled for the role of tagging behind and authorising decisive US initiatives. But is this a sound basis for global governance? Great credit is due to President Bush—of course it is—for acting, but why are the world's governments, which together make the UN, with all the insight and experience of the UN system at their disposal, unable collectively to generate a genuinely international will for timely humanitarian initiatives based on early warning and forward looking analysis? What is the role and record of our own Government and Permanent Representative at the UN in promoting this kind of imaginative and pre-emptive diplomacy?

How far is the United Kingdom taking a lead in what must become one of the most acute debates in international affairs: the degree to which sovereignty can be allowed to inhibit effective international humanitarian action when accountable, legitimate or decent government is totally absent and the inevitable need for such international action is becoming obvious? Indeed, what are the long-term implications for internal self-generating development and self-determination when failure to act in time necessitates large-scale intervention at the eleventh hour plus, as has happened in Somalia? And related to that, what is the Government's position on the totally unacceptable difference in status, grimly illustrated repeatedly in Sudan, between those who as a consequence of tribulation cross a national frontier, acquiring the designation of "refugee" with UNHCR protection, and those who as a consequence of equally harrowing experiences move within their own strife-ridden country but do not happen to cross a frontier and are thereby categorised merely as "displaced people"? The greatly respected High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Ogata, has repeatedly drawn attention to this inhumane distinction. On what remedies are the Government working? Why are safe havens right within Iraq but not elsewhere; not least in Bosnia, incidentally? Could they be appropriate in Sudan?

Turning to the immediate situation in Sudan, the FAO harvest mission started work there last month. Its report should be available by the end of December. Some believe it possible that that report will indicate a national surplus, with good harvests from the irrigated and mechanised sectors. Future plans will certainly have to take that report fully into account. However, we are all agreed in this debate tonight that it is civil war which punishes the people of Sudan. Since independence in 1956 that country has had only 10 years of peace between the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972 and the resumption of the civil war in 1983, a resumption in which I found myself caught up on a visit to Juba and the surrounding area.

The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, was right to remind us that since 1989 the war has been characterised as a jihad by the Moslem northern Sudanese dominated government, and has in recent years resulted in increased victimisation, harassment and danger for civilians. As a result of the intensification of the fighting, relief needs have drastically increased, while access to the population has decreased. Development work has also become increasingly difficult. Recent peace talks have failed to produce results and the various parties and factions seem as intransigent, hostile and at least as far apart as ever.

Although exact figures are not available, it is clear that millions are suffering. Conflict is of course mainly confined, as we have heard, to the Christian and Animist southern areas and the transitional zone between the northern and southern regions. Since the last and continuing major government offensive, which began last January, an estimated 1 million southerners have been displaced either forcibly or by fear of insecurity. Communities have been destroyed in military actions, cattle have been raided and crops have been burnt or stolen. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury has powerfully described, this process of disruption has created widespread suffering and impoverishment.

However, directly or indirectly, the effect of the civil war has been profound on the lives of people in the north as well as in the south. Vast amounts of resources have been committed to maintaining military campaigns; resources that could be better used for the development and welfare of the country. Lives are threatened and lost not just by the fighting but, on a far larger scale, by food insecurity, disease and disruption of traditional lifestyles.

The scale of the disruption and displacement is vast. For example, over 1 million southern displaced people barely exist within greater Khartoum. Many of those people do not have adequate food rations, shelter, clothing, health care, sanitation or emergency services, because of a lack of accessibility and the inability of international agencies to deliver humanitarian services in areas of conflict.

The southern displaced people have become effectively what have been aptly described as "refugees in their own country", and have been referred to in the Khartoum press as "infidels". They have been evicted forcibly from settled squatter communities or their traditional lands into so called peace villages and camps. Rural production has been undermined. As we have heard tonight, there are repeated reports of arrest and torture, and of the Sudan Government attempting systematically to purge government-held areas of all dissenting groups.

Amnesty International has recently chronicled the depredations of the Juba security authorities in their attempts to eradicate any group suspected of posing a threat, following the SPLA's attacks on that city. Recently, local European Community and UN staff have been executed in Juba itself. The "peace villages" and camps are being serviced, almost exclusively, by Sudanese NGOs, mostly Islamic. Repeatedly, the Sudan Government have promised international agencies access to those camps to provide humanitarian assistance, but so far such access has not materialised because of obstruction by that same government.

In fact, there seems to be a co-ordinated policy by the political and security authorities to isolate displaced people from the international agencies. That containerisation of the southern population has put the Islamic relief agencies in a de facto position of supporting the Government's political and military objectives while at the same time discharging their own Islamic mission. If there is little reliable information about the true needs of the displaced groups in Sudan in their appalling plight, it has to be recognised that that is due primarily to the evident lack of co-operation by the Sudan Government refusing permission for assessment missions in the north and south.

Whatever the balance of justice referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has stressed, reports indicate that brutality and repression are not the monopoly of any one party to the civil war. The UN has recommended that pending the report of the special mission sent to investigate the deaths of two UN staff members in south Sudan last October, non-essential operations in SPLA-controlled areas should be suspended. An important feature of the SPLA's tactics has reportedly been the destruction of crops and widespread cattle raiding which exacerbate historical tribal animosity. In Juba, agro-pasturalist groups tell of ongoing cattle raiding and crop destruction by SPLA-backed militias. Many of those pasturalists have been compelled to move to Juba with their meagre possessions in an attempt to maintain at least a minimum subsistence level.

While the Sudan Government restrict movement in and out of the city, there is also evidently fear among the displaced, who would like to return to their villages and cattle camps, that if they do so their few assets will be stolen, their children will be coerced into the SPLA militia and their women will be abused and maltreated. The SPLA has recently threatened to shoot down food relief flights and to close Juba airport. It has shelled the city of Juba constantly for weeks on end. Naturally, it is the civilian population that has suffered. Against those stark realities, it seems, sadly, that the UN's attempt to address humanitarian needs through Operation Lifeline Sudan has proved unable adequately to protect the interests of the poor and vulnerable in south Sudan.

In Khartoum, the UN appears to lack the necessary strength, co-ordination and cohesiveness for effective representations and authority. In the face of an intransigent Sudan Government, who are often accused of showing little compassionate regard for their own people, the UN has been marginalised in its attempt to deliver goods. In effect, the Khartoum Government exercise the power of veto over where OLS flights can land in south Sudan.

The UN does not appear to have been able to stand up for the principles of OLS by ensuring access to vital supplies to those most in need. Observers report numerous examples where the Sudan Government should have been challenged for stonewalling international access.

As my noble friend Lord Longford has reminded us, what is being sought by a growing number of those with humanitarian concern for the people of the Sudan is that the UN should take a more proactive role in protecting the well-being of those affected by the war and the consequences of government action. Certainly in this respect it would be useful to hear the United Kingdom Government's assessment of the record of the new humanitarian affairs arrangements at the United Nations.

Six vital steps at least have been advocated by key humanitarian players. They include those outlined tonight by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont, Lord Robertson, Lord Hylton and Lord Avebury. The first is to appoint a very senior UN representative with clout, with the full direct backing and authority of the United Nations Secretary General himself. This person could have a regional brief for the overall crisis in the Horn. The second is to provide an effective umbrella for the humanitarian work of the international NGOs by pressing the Sudan Government and the SPLA to allow such NGOs to have unrestricted access to areas of need and by insisting that neither side has a veto over relief flights. The third is to press the Sudan Government and the SPLA to allow free movement of people throughout Sudan; the fourth to establish corridors of peace—in other words, specific guaranteed overland relief routes in southern Sudan; the fifth to appoint human rights observers with open access to all detention centres, relocation zones and areas of conflict, especially the large garrison towns; and sixthly, to explore further options for taking forward the peace process such as, for example, a UN sponsored constitutional conference.

It is vital to hear the United Kingdom Government's position on these proposals. The UN is not a self-contained separate entity. It is in the end nothing more nor less than the governments of which it is comprised. It is the will and resolve of those governments and their commitment which create the context in which the Secretary General and his colleagues can effectively act. What will the United Kingdom Government urgently do to support the Secretary General in taking stronger action and to help him secure a report on human rights in Sudan for consideration by the UN General Assembly in the Security Council?

If Somalia and Yugoslavia have taught us nothing else, they have surely demonstrated that the international community has to act in time. Now is the time—it is already very late—to make the plans to be implemented if all else fails; plans to protect humanitarian access routes by UN troops and, if need be, to apply an arms embargo. Now is the time, above all, to demonstrate that globally and consistently, not just on an ad hoc, piecemeal, arbitrary basis, the UN is determined to take its humanitarian mandate as seriously as any other. Would that in the orgy of introspective European pre-occupations our leaders meeting in Edinburgh these next few days could lift their eyes to the global challenges that face Europe in the wider world of which it is inseparably a part. Of no other issue is this more true than of the Sudan which we have been debating today.

10.38 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Cox has, as usual, introduced a most timely debate. She has done so with the authority of having made a brave visit to Sudan earlier this year and I pay tribute to her. The affairs of Sudan attract depressingly little attention and I hope that my noble friend's debate tonight will help stimulate public interest in the terrible events which are unfolding in that unhappy country.

I should add that, although Sudan has not caught the British public's interest, the Government have not overlooked its needs, as I shall explain. I must disagree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blease; we have been very active in Khartoum, Nairobi, London, Brussels and New York, to try to increase pressure on the government in Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, to improve their human rights record and take a more responsible attitude to the delivery of relief to the needy. It is also important to keep in mind the fact that neither side in the dispute is entirely innocent. Both the Government of the Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army have on occasion hampered relief and neither have exemplary human rights records.

Relations between the United Kingdom and Sudan have undergone a period of pronounced strain. This is not of our volition. The right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury in particular has stressed the friendship and affection that are felt towards Sudan by many in this country in all walks of life. The Sudanese people still habitually look upon the British as their oldest friends. But there are obstacles in the way of an improvement in relations—obstacles which we look to the Sudanese Government to remove.

The principal problems—discussed by so many noble Lords this evening—are the Sudanese Government's parlous human rights record; the lack of progress towards anything resembling an accountable form of government acceptable to all areas of the country, and all sectors of society—the last election was in 1986; Khartoum's apparent unwillingness to negotiate seriously to hasten a peaceful solution to the civil war in the south; obstruction experienced in the provision of desperately needed humanitarian relief. We do not see eye to eye with the authorities in Khartoum on a number of regional issues.

Finally, there is the charge that the Sudanese Government has an equivocal attitude towards terrorism. The release from prison last year of those responsible for the Acropole Hotel bombing in 1988, in which five Britons died, highlighted this point. We have warned the Sudanese Government in no uncertain terms of the consequences—both international and bilateral—of support for terrorist groups. These circumstances have persisted for some time. They caused us to terminate our programme of developmental aid to Sudan in January 1991: a programme which we have no plans to resume at present. They have prevented any improvement of relations ever since. We nevertheless consider it important to do everything we can on our side to maintain a dialogue with the Government of Sudan, in the hope of persuading them to ameliorate their policies. We do not consider that it would be in the interests of the Sudanese people to abandon this attempt.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the question of the Sudanese Embassy in London. There are 14 accredited diplomatic staff in the Sudanese Embassy in London, and three accredited non-diplomatic staff (service stall). We have no record of the locally-engaged staff at the embassy. While there is no obligation on embassies to inform us about locally engaged staff, we do request this information annually from all missions in London. The Sudanese Embassy has not replied to any notes in recent years. We have made it clear to the Sudanese authorities on a number of occasions that we expect all the staff of their embassy in London to behave in accordance with accepted diplomatic practice.

It is not easy to persevere in our objective of maintaining a dialogue. Our relations have if anything worsened in recent weeks. Noble Lords will be aware of the shocking events in the south, in Juba particularly. Among those whom the authorities summarily executed there for suspected collusion with the enemy were Sudanese employees of the representative of the EC Commission, and employees of the US Embassy. These actions underlined to us, and to other countries, the circumstances of terror and oppression under which so many ordinary Sudanese people live their lives.

Our emergency aid to Sudan has formed an integral part of our efforts to avert widespread famine in the Horn of Africa. In Sudan, these efforts have been largely successful when measured against the 8.5 million people at risk at the height of the drought in mid-1991. But there are many reasons for shortages. This problem was brought to a head with the onset of the drought in 1990. The Sudan Government's reluctance to accept donor emergency aid and its antipathy to foreign relief agencies has obstructed the effective assessment and delivery of relief to those in need. But food has been successfully distributed to most drought-affected areas in the north through the concerted efforts of donors, UN agencies and NGOs. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that we were one of the first donors to pledge food aid at the start of the present food crisis. Since then, despite the Government of Sudan's obstructive tactics we have provided a continuous and substantial flow of carefully targeted bilateral emergency aid throughout Sudan, totalling over £37 million. Our aid is provided on the basis of need, regardless of political or religious affiliation. We are the second largest bilateral donor of emergency food aid, with commitments of nearly 100,000 tonnes since 1990.

South Sudan is fertile and potentially an important source of food for the whole country. However, civil war has not only destroyed its agricultural capacity but made it a candidate for food aid. The fighting has prevented agencies from delivering relief to the region.

We are concerned about obstacles by all sides in the civil war which have hindered deliveries of relief assistance to those in need. The Government of Sudan have frequently withdrawn permission for UN relief flights, causing severe localised deprivation. My noble friend Lady Cox and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have suggested that we should press for both sides to allow NGOs unlimited access.

We have made just such representations both bilaterally and through the Community throughout 1992 to try to stabilise deliveries. The continuing lack of concern by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, who have persistently breached UN Operation Lifeline Sudan's agreements, has prompted concerned countries, including Britain, to increase international pressure on both sides to allow relief to be delivered to those in need.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, I am glad to be able to tell the House that the UN has now resumed relief flights to most locations in the south, including Juba. In addition, a recent consensus by all factions offers improved prospects to sustain and expand air, road and river routes, creating corridors for relief. But the situation remains fragile.

I can assure my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth that we continue to provide emergency aid to the south, as and where conditions permit, using UN agencies and NGOs, some of which are working in life-threatening circumstances. I would like to pay tribute to them. I must tell the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury that we do not channel our emergency aid through the Government of the Sudan. We have provided over £18.8 million in bilateral assistance to Operation Lifeline Sudan since it was established in 1989. This includes nearly 17,000 tonnes of food aid, most of which has had to be airlifted; an expensive but essential and often dangerous operation. The food has gone to feed people in Juba, and other besieged areas in the south.

In answer to my noble friend Lady Cox, who asked about improved logistics, we have also provided transport to help get the food through. We stand ready to do more if it is possible to do so. My noble friend Lady Cox's moving description of her recent visit to some of the camps for the displaced in south Sudan illustrates for us the plight of these poor people, the victims of a protracted civil war.

We are concerned that UN agencies and NGOs are frequently denied access to the displaced, thus hindering the delivery of emergency assistance. Nearly 3 million people may be affected.

About 1 million displaced persons, mainly from the south, are in camps around Khartoum and Kosti. As my noble friend Lady Cox has said, many have been forcibly located to inadequately provisioned sites. The Government of Sudan have treated them badly. I can assure my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth that as holders of the local presidency we led two EC démarches to try to improve their conditions. We support the UN's efforts to provide planned voluntary relocation to sites with adequate basic facilities. Overall, we have provided £6.4 million in bilateral emergency aid through British and Irish NGOs to help those unfortunate people.

The position of the British Government on the war is clear. We consider the Sudanese people should be allowed to seek a solution to their political problems by peaceful means. We send this message to all involved, whether the government or the factions of the SPLA: we welcome any effort to achieve this objective. With our EC partners we have consistently given our political support to the present initiative of the Nigerian Government to try to bring the parties to the civil war to the negotiating table. We are disappointed that the parties are not yet able to take up the Nigerians' invitation to a further meeting which was scheduled for this week. However, I am sure that the Nigerians will want to continue their patient and generous efforts. I am equally sure that we should not write off those efforts.

In relation to human rights, which have been raised by all speakers this evening, three main patterns of violation have given rise to concern. The first is on the political plane. What we understand as the fundamental conditions for a democratic society are presently absent in Sudan. All political parties have been dissolved. The trade unions have been re-established but are under tight political control. There is no freedom of public expression if that involves any criticism of the régime. All institutions, including the army, government ministries and the universities, have been purged to ensure their orthodoxy.

The second issue is what the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, described as the poison of religious discrimination. The Government of Sudan recognised in the first round of peace talks in Nigeria in June that Sudan was a "multi-religious, multi-ethnic" society. But, in practice, the churches experience a good deal of hostility and obstruction. We have heard this evening the remarks of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Coventry and Salisbury. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, reminded us that the Catholic Church and Catholic organisations have made their views equally plain. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, stressed, we should remember that it is not just non-Moslem's human rights that are at risk.

Thirdly, there are groups of people who are particularly vulnerable. I have spoken about the displaced and about the shocking events in Juba. I would simply reinforce the concerns expressed by other noble Lords about the disturbing reports of ethnic cleansing coming from the Nuba hills. I read with alarm the letter from Survival International published in The Times today about the threat to the Nuba people. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that Jan Elliasson did not visit southern Kordofan in September, principally because there was no assurance that he would be able to speak freely to the Nuban people.

We have expressed our concern on those points to the Sudanese Government on numerous occasions, both bilaterally and in international fora. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we were active in Geneva in supporting the decision to appoint a special rapporteur on human rights and we fully support his efforts. In our capacity as holders of the EC presidency we made a formal démarche to the Sudanese Government in October. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, in particular that with our EC partners we wholeheartedly and actively supported a resolution on human rights in Sudan which was carried by an overwhelming margin in the United Nations General Assembly last week.

The Sudanese Government respond that they are misunderstood. My response to that is simple: they should allow impartial observers to travel freely throughout Sudan to assess events for themselves. That would in particular allow us to establish the facts surrounding the circumstances noted by my noble friend Lady Cox in her speech of the civilians in Juba, Malakal and other towns in the south.

On the point of access to objective information, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also mentioned the role of the BBC. BBC World Service English language broadcasting can be heard in Sudan on a variety of frequencies. I shall write the rest of my reply to the noble Lord. He also mentioned the possibility of using the Sudanese debt. I am grateful for that prior knowledge. I shall write to him.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blease, for his suggestion that the Government should look at the possibilities of further action through the United Nations to alleviate the situation in Sudan. I note the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the UN should play a more proactive role. I should like to say at the outset that we rule out nothing on that score. The UN General Assembly has now given a clear message. It is under no illusion as to what is happening in Sudan. We have heard a number of interesting suggestions for further UN sponsored activity.

My noble friend Lady Cox raised the possibility of safe havens for southern civilians who are displaced. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, suggested a UN special representative for Sudan and the Horn, the insertion of human rights observers and the convening by the UN of a peace conference. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, raised the possibility of an international arms embargo, as did the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. But most of those ideas would probably need the support of the Security Council.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked for a yes or no answer from me on this point. I apologise to the noble Earl, but the role of the Security Council in the context of Sudan is difficult to decide upon. It is not clear from the situation in Sudan that there is a threat to international peace and security. The time may well come when the majority of council members considers that it does—the moment that there is some agreement among UN members that pressure is most effectively exerted by reference to Sudan's human rights performance and therefore should be pursued in the General Assembly and in the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

There is no doubt that letters will be falling like snowflakes from the ODA in answer to the questions that I have not answered. I have done my best and the hour is late. I believe that the Government's policy towards Sudan is a clear and steadfast one. No one should be in any doubt as to our position, least of all the present government in Khartoum. Our overriding concern is to continue to help those who suffer most from the present state of affairs—the people of Sudan themselves, who have endured famine, poverty, war and repression with such dignity and stoicism. I should like to assure them that we shall continue to use the means at our disposal, whether through the targeted provision of humanitarian assistance or through diplomatic pressure, to help alleviate their plight.

I should once again like to thank my noble friend Lady Cox. I hope that she will think that I have given her at least a fair bite of the cherry.

House adjourned at one minute before eleven o'clock.