HL Deb 18 January 1994 vol 551 cc571-600

10.58 p.m.

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

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to raise in your Lordships' House the tragedy of Sudan. I know that many noble Lords have a deep concern for that land and for its people. I am especially grateful that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury will speak, following his courageous and profoundly appreciated visit to Southern Sudan. Having by coincidence followed in his footsteps a few days after his visit, I can testify to the enormous encouragement that he and Mrs Carey gave to those whom they met and to all the people in the South who had felt largely forgotten by the international community, and especially by the international Christian community. Also of course, copies of the debate will be distributed widely in Sudan, and the contributions of all noble Lords taking part, particularly at this late hour, will bring great comfort to countless people who will know that people here care for them in their desperate situation, a situation which may soon deteriorate from desperate to catastrophic.

In opening the debate I wish to address four themes: a brief overview of developments since the previous debate in your Lordships' House in December 1992; the urgent humanitarian needs; human rights violations and the suffering caused by military offensives; and some ways in which the international community might help efforts by bringing about a solution combining peace with justice.

My first involvement in Sudan was as a nurse, working in desert areas in North Kordofan in 1986, developing an immunisation programme for the Moslem communities in remote villages. I returned in 1992 to the South with Christian Solidarity International, a human rights organisation which tries to be a voice for those with no voice, speaking on behalf of victims of repression, regardless of their colour, creed or nationality.

We found people in Southern Sudan fighting for physical survival against the military offensives and blockades imposed by the Khartoum Government, and for religious and cultural survival against that Government's policies of Islamisation and Arabisation. Of course, their suffering was sadly exacerbated by fighting between factions of the SPLA. We documented our concerns, and many were put on record in the debate in your Lordships' House in December 1992.

I subsequently received an invitation to the Sudanese Embassy in London. I was invited to hear their Government's position. Of course, keen to hear both sides, I accepted gladly. I also requested permission to go to the North to visit places about which concern had been widely expressed, and which had been generally inaccessible. The Sudan Government agreed and CSI sponsored that visit last July. I must express appreciation that the Khartoum Government kept their word. They arranged for us to visit all the places and to meet all the people we requested, and to conduct our meetings with no inhibiting official presence. We met senior representatives of the regime, and we visited Juba, Kadugli and Dilling in the Nuba Mountains, El Obeid and a camp for the displaced near Omdurman.

We met many Christians in those areas, and we also met political opposition leaders. I have since heard from some of those whom we visited, and I am glad to say that they had suffered no reprisals. That visit gave us an opportunity to raise issues of concern with the Government. Suffice it to say that, while we welcomed the Khartoum Government's willingness to allow us access, and also reports that the treatment of Christian communities had improved somewhat, we had to express grave concern over many issues. Those included human rights violations, not just of Christians but of Moslems who do not support the National Islamic Front regime, and of other political opposition members. Reports of detention and torture in ghost houses and prisons, policies of enforced Islamisation—for example, by making the distribution of food or medicine conditional upon the recipient's conversion to Islam—and the brutal forced relocation of displaced southerners in harsh desert conditions outside Khartoum. Time does not allow a fuller account now, but I shall put reports of our previous visits in your Lordships' Library.

This January, CSI sponsored another visit to the South. I regret that I have to report that the Khartoum Government have begun their dry season military offensive, with heavy fighting reported in three areas while we were there: around Wau, Yei and the southern Nuba Mountains. They have also been bombing civilians with Antonovs, targeting, for example, a church on a Sunday morning, a market and a hospital. There are reports of a massive build up of forces all along the frontier, with convoys of barges with military equipment on the Nile, and trainloads of soldiers, including Mujahadeen, converging for an all-out assault as soon as weather and ground conditions permit, probably within the next few days and weeks.

Everywhere we went, including Yambio, Nzara, Nimule, Akot and Ler, people are expecting to have to flee if government forces overrun their areas. If the SPLA cannot hold its positions, there could be a million more displaced people, adding to the 5 million already displaced. If the Government seal the borders, as they have threatened to do, the administrative infrastructure now maintained by the SPLA might break under the pressure and anarchic confusion develop, with all the horrors of a Somalia-like catastrophe.

As I have said, the civilian population has also suffered from fighting between the factions of the SPLA. I am therefore pleased to report that recently the two SPLA factions signed an agreement under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development, or IGADD, in which those leaders agreed to a cessation of inter-factional hostilities. We met the leaders of the two factions, Dr. John Garang and Dr. Riek Machar, and they both hope that this agreement will help them to withstand the onslaught from the North as well as to reduce the civilian suffering caused by inter-factional fighting. If it holds, that agreement is one ray of light on the dark horizon of Southern Sudan, but that horizon is dark indeed.

In terms of humanitarian need, there are vast numbers of people in dire situations receiving no help at all. Despite the valiant endeavours of many aid and relief organisations, to whom I must pay great tribute, shortages of resources prevent many in need from receiving any help, and others are inaccessible for political or logistical reasons. For example, in areas such as Nzara and Nimule, where much excellent work is being done, there are still inadequate resources to deal with growing numbers of TB cases and many are dying for lack of treatment. In other areas many people are completely unreached by aid of any kind—food or medicine. Of particular concern are the Nuba Mountains which have been effectively sealed off by the Khartoum Government. There is not a single doctor in that vast area behind SPLA lines, with up to 2 million people, and we were told that the people are so desperate that they will sell a cow in order to obtain a dose of penicillin.

But even in areas which are being served by massive relief operations, there is concern that there will continue to be a shortfall. For example, a senior official of the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) Southern Sector told us that Southern Sudan will require over 15,000 tonnes of food, medicine, seeds, tools and basic equipment over the next six months, and that it will cost 15 million dollars to transport that by air. Those figures are based on present needs and do not allow for increased needs caused by an escalation in military offensives—an escalation which is already occurring. The official also emphasised that OLS is prevented from meeting many urgent needs in the South, even where it has a mandate to do so. For example, in September 1993, the Government in the North withdrew permission for relief flights to Pariang, thereby suspending all relief work in that remote area; and the OLS was unable to gain access to Malakal for seven months in 1993, while reports reached Nairobi of many people dying for want of essential supplies. The official also confirmed that the OLS has no mandate to provide any aid at all to the Nuba Mountains.

I wish to draw particular attention to the plight of the people of the Nuba Mountains. They have been so cut off that a delegation, including Christians and Moslems, walked for 70 days to reach one area which we visited. In addition to their reports of the appalling lack of essential supplies, we also heard eye-witness accounts of atrocities inflicted by government forces. They described in convincing detail the way in which government troops attacked and burnt villages and their inhabitants; how their children had been taken into slavery and had been sold for between 300 to 500 Sudanese pounds per child in the open markets at Lagawa, El Daien and El Tabun; how churches were burnt and many people, including priests, pastors, catechists and elders killed. One witness from the Dilling area claimed 61 churches were burnt in 1991, giving details of locations; another witness from Um Durain described government attacks on villages, in which troops mowed down those who could not escape; burnt crops, causing approximately 12,000 people to die of starvation, and slaughtered Christian leaders, including Pastor Matta El Nur and Pastor Harun, who was found in his church in El Nugra and was crucified on 5th June 1990.

Other accounts of atrocities included the attack on Urn Sardibba, where reportedly government troops killed all the old people and Sheikh El Kumbulu Kori and Ibrahim Shai'i were crucified and had their ears cut off. Both are reported to be still alive. If so, there is evidence that crucifixions have been carried out on live victims, not just post mortem as had been previously suggested.

Other speakers gave examples of torture used in government detention centres, which they had suffered and/or seen inflicted on others. They included those procedures which have been consistently reported by victims leaving government detention centres in Southern Kordofan, for example, the "bag" method, in which the victim's head is put in a sack dusted with pepper and securely tied at the neck —the victim dies by inhaling the pepper—and the so-called "Mig" method, in which the victim is tied by the feet and hands behind the back and beaten until he makes a false confession or dies; and the torture and killing of detainees in front of relatives.

I have given some details to illustrate the kinds of very disturbing evidence submitted to us; I could give many more. I will also place a report of this visit which contains more details in your Lordships' Library. But before I leave the Nuba Mountains, I should like two of their people to speak for themselves: I witnessed these things for myself … And we are dying of famine and a complete lack of medicines. 3,960 people have died in Heiban area (alone) of starvation; another 2,000 have died of disease.

And another witness: The Nuba people feel neglected by the rest of the world. No country in the world is ready to support us, even with food.

Those words must constitute a challenge to us all. They are true. The people of the Nuba Mountains are entirely cut off and their plight is even worse than that of the desperate predicament of people suffering elsewhere in Sudan.

With this challenge, I turn to my final theme: a plea to the international community to step up its response to the crisis in Sudan as a matter of great urgency. In so doing, I hope that my noble friend the Minister may be able to respond sympathetically to the requests which I have been asked to convey to the British Government. They have been made in the belief that Britain has a special responsibility for the situation in Sudan, given the arrangements made prior to independence; and also, very positively, in the belief that the British have a unique understanding of the people, the cultures and the history of Sudan.

First, there is an urgent need for the international community to put pressure on the Khartoum Government to stop its military offensives against the people of the south and in the Nuba Mountains. We received many requests to ask the British Government to raise this issue as a matter of urgency at the UN Security Council; to consider an oil and arms embargo; the establishment of an air exclusion zone, to protect civilians against aerial bombardment; and the provision of safe havens and protected air/land corridors for aid.

Secondly, could the Government consider providing political and practical support (such as some resources for a secretariat) for the current IGADD initiative, to enable it to continue to try to support the peace agreement between the SPLA factions and to work towards a peace agreement between North and South.

Thirdly, many people in Sudan hope that the Government will fulfil their perceived historical responsibility by helping to find a solution which can bring peace and justice to Sudan. They hope that the British will understand that the people of the South and of the Nuba Mountains cannot continue in subjugation to the Khartoum Government, who are trying to annihilate them physically and/or to destroy their religions and their cultures. They hope for an opportunity to determine their own future, which they were denied at the time of independence.

Fourthly, would the Government support the endeavours of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Dr. Gaspar Biro, and of other human rights agencies to gain full access to all parts of Sudan, especially to the Nuba Mountains, and to all prisoners of war and other prisoners, to try to stop the brutal maltreatment which has been so widely reported?

Fifthly, could the Government encourage the international community to put pressure on the government in Khartoum to ensure that areas which have been cut off, such as the Nuba Mountains, receive humanitarian aid before their people suffer genocide, or are forced to leave their land in order to survive? And could Britain do all in its power to encourage the international community to respond adequately to the growing need for more aid in Sudan, without which many hundreds of thousands more people will die? In that connection, may I say how much I welcome and support the Archbishop's appeal for help with humanitarian aid, and wish it great success in helping to meet the many unmet needs in Sudan today.

Perhaps I may finish with an appeal to the international Christian community. CSI invited the Roman Catholic Bishop of El Obeid to accompany us on our visit. He had been exiled from Sudan for three years. His return was a very moving experience for him and for all whom we met, for he is much loved and respected by Sudanese of all Christian denominations, as well as by many Moslems. I will never forget the rapture with which he was greeted as our plane touched down on one of those remote little landing strips and the ecstatic joy with which the people in Ler, who had not seen a bishop for 10 years, welcomed him.

I plead to the international Christian community not to forget their brothers and sisters in Sudan. Wherever we went, we received urgent pleas for help—for food, medicines and educational materials; but, above all, for resources to help the growing Church. The Christian Churches are growing very fast, despite, or perhaps because of, persecution. For example, one Presbyterian pastor whom I met had baptised 3,004 people in the previous two days. But wherever we went, people asked for resources to meet their spiritual needs even more urgently than those for physical survival. One pastor asked me to give this message to fellow Christians throughout the world: Please give hymn books, Bibles, blackboards, exercise books. Evangelists preaching the gospel have no shoes; when they walk at night they are bitten by snakes".

I returned from Sudan, troubled and yet inspired—deeply troubled by the suffering already so prevalent and the fear of worse to come; but deeply inspired by a people who endure their suffering with serenity and with the famous Sudanese smile. But I pray that we may respond to their needs so that soon they may be able to smile with joy, celebrating the peace and the justice for which they yearn.

11.17 p.m.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the Unstarred Question which focuses on the critical condition of Sudan and what Britain might or might not be able to do as a friendly and concerned country. I wish to pay tribute to the remarkable contribution that the noble Baroness continues to make in bringing relief and humanitarian aid not only to the Sudan but also to other needy parts of the world like Nakorno-Karabakh and elsewhere. The work represents the best traditions of your Lordships' House in harmonising political leadership with compassionate care for those in need. I should like to express my gratitude for the noble Baroness's excellent speech.

I should like to say first how sorry I am that my planned pastoral visit to Northern Sudan was aborted. I have made it clear to the Sudanese Government that I hope such plans can be reinstated. Members of your Lordships' House may like to hear my own account of the sequence of events that led me, reluctantly and regretfully, to cancel that part of my visit on this occasion. I am, of course, very sorry that that decision also triggered off diplomatic difficulties between Her Majesty's Government and the Sudanese regime. I should like to make it clear that, although I am profoundly grateful for the unstinting practical help and advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when I go overseas, I go solely as a representative of the Church, not of the Government. I make my own decisions and take full responsibility for them. It is wrong to blame the Foreign Office or anyone other than myself.

It is my invariable practice to go overseas only as the guest of the local Church; but I always seek to go with the agreement of the government of the country concerned. Planning for the Sudan began on that basis. Assurances were received from the Government of Sudan that my visit to the Church, South and North, would receive their good will and support. I wanted them to be in no doubt that I intended to be with my fellow Christians in the rebel-held South, as well as with those living in Khartoum and other places under government control. My programme and arrangements for the visit were developed in consultation with the Sudanese Goverment representatives. I was also glad to receive an invitation to meet the President which, again, is an opportunity which is normally offered to me and one which I am always pleased to accept. Arrangements were agreed accordingly, and visas were issued for me and my party.

Less than two weeks before my scheduled departure I was informed that the Sudanese Government insisted on my going as their official guest. I judged that to be inappropriate. No reasons were given for their sudden change of plan, and there were no guarantees that I would be free to carry out my pastoral duties as I wished. I sent an urgent letter to the President asking that that unprecedented reversal of plan should be reconsidered. I received no reply. On the day before I was due to leave I called off my visit to the North and prepared for my departure to Southern Sudan as planned. To have cancelled my visit to the South would have been an unwarranted and cruel blow to people who felt forgotten and looked to me as a spiritual leader. By going to the South I was able to visit a people in great need.

The situation in Sudan is dire, as the noble Baroness has explained. Over 5 million people have been displaced by the war and factors connected with it. Some 263,000 people live in camps for the displaced in Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere. Their number grows all the time. One of our bishops, Bishop Seme Solomona, recently led 100,000 displaced people into Uganda to seek refuge and help. But the colossal human price which these figures represent is not entirely due to the war between North and South. Unfortunately, the internecine warfare between the two main factions of SPLA has exacerbated the plight of many. I pray that the current ceasefire may hold. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving an up-to-date picture of the position of the two factions.

Starvation and famine through prolonged warfare has blighted a beautiful and fertile land. It is almost impossible to comprehend the vast numbers of those who have perished or become homeless and rootless, the children who have been orphaned and the women who are without menfolk. In the South very few viable structures of society survive. The Church is virtually alone in providing a network of care. I was delighted to see how well the Anglican, Roman Catholic and other Churches worked together.

I believe that Sudan is crying out to the world for help, which in part is humanitarian help. In this country we have a wonderful tradition of care. We have already responded to that cry. I pay tribute to what government, voluntary agencies and the public have already contributed. But the need is still urgent, as all the agencies in this country will underline. Starvation is a daily reality in the Sudan, especially during the present dry season.

As the noble Baroness recognised, I have recently launched a fresh appeal to the general public with the support of my colleagues in the Roman Catholic, free and orthodox Churches in this country. The appeal is administered by Christian Aid, Cafod and the Church Missionary Society. The money will go to the Sudanese churches to meet the humanitarian needs of people in both the North and South regardless of religion and race. I trust that the British people will welcome this further opportunity to do something to help.

But Sudan also cries out for justice. It is wrong to think that the struggle between the North and South is a religious conflict. Religion comes into it but it is not the reason why conflict has continued to rage for 30 years. It is not a fight between Christians and Moslems. They have been living together in Sudan for hundreds of years without conflict. I met several SPLA commanders who were Moslem. The issue is very much bound up with the kind of society and nation that people want. The people of the South and many in the Nuba mountains resist, and will continue to resist, what they see as domination by the North, if that domination means the imposition of religious law as binding upon all. Evidence produced for the United Nations and the recent report by Dr. Gaspar Biro, the Special Rapporteur, shows that human rights have been infringed in Sudan. Dr. Biro does not condone SPLA atrocities, but the sobering conclusion of his analytical report is that the Sudanese Government are responsible for the most far-reaching infringements.

I was myself told again and again that the Khartoum regime had committed all sorts of human rights violations falsely in the name of Islam. We all know that there are different strands of Islam, as there are of Christianity. I am myself totally committed to dialogue and mutual respect between these great world religions. The approach of many Moslems in the Sudan, I am sure, is totally different from the approach adopted by the more fundamentalist elements in the Government. The problem is fundamentalism and intolerance.

This is what one community leader said to me in Nimule. He wrote these words down for me to keep: Fundamentalism is not only a threat to the integrity of Sudanese society but indeed a threat to world peace. Our war is not a war of ideologies. We are fighting in self-defence for survival. We have been oppressed and degraded enough. In our struggle we dream of a day when our people will live in peace with dignity. We dream of a day when our children will be well nourished and getting education in plenty". In my opinion, those words have a definite ring of truth about them. The people of Sudan are crying out for those primary human realities which we in this country take for granted: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and equality of opportunity. Those fundamental rights we are glad to acknowledge, and we are glad that they enjoyed by religious minorities in our country. Surely we must point out that such rights are universal and reciprocal. In our concern for the Sudanese people's physical survival, to which we respond generously and quickly, let us not ignore their cry for justice and human rights.

A curious irony is bound up in Britain's relationship with the Sudan. Our imprint is still very noticeable in Sudanese life and structures. They speak with great affection of the role we played in their country and they feel that their country and ours are bound in a brotherhood which still continues to this day. However, they wonder why we do not care for them any longer. Perhaps some of them do not grasp fully the realities of the post-colonial world. Indeed, the very thing they are asking us to do—to intervene on their behalf—is something we can no longer do so easily in this changed relationship.

Nevertheless, we have a continuing obligation to ask ourselves constantly what more can we do, going beyond humanitarian aid, to assist the many people in the Sudan, North and South, who are deprived of the very values which are essential to the human condition. It is not for me, as an Archbishop, to answer that question with authority. However, I am deeply unhappy that the international community seems powerless to do anything effective to advance the prospects of peace, human rights and religious toleration in the Sudan. I have, of course, made arrangements to brief both our own Government and the United Nations about what I have heard and seen, and have urged them to leave no stone unturned.

Obstructions to the flow of humanitarian aid throughout the Sudan must be tackled. Vigorous efforts should be made to lend fresh impetus to peace talks by every possible diplomatic channel. The Security Council should surely be pressed to discuss the report of the United Nations' Special Rapporteur and to take practical steps to follow it up. All this is immensely difficult, but we cannot give up on it. I can assure Her Majesty's Government and the United Nations that they can count on the continuing support of the Churches in any constructive moves to ease suffering and persecution and to advance the prospects of peace.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I rise tonight to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the diligence and care with which she pursues her interests in minorities abroad. I think she is a shining example to us all of care, consideration and compassion, and also effective advocacy. I am privileged to follow her lead in speaking about the subject tonight.

I have raised the subject of the Sudan over several years in your Lordships' House and have had contact with a group of Sudanese in London over this time who have kept me informed of developments and the problems there, including Stephen Baak and Dr. Deng.

I also pay tribute to the most reverend Primate because in the past I have been critical in your Lordships' House about some of his colleagues on the Bishops' Bench. Indeed, on 17th April 1991, if I may weary your Lordships with it, at col. 1496 of Hansard, having discussed the plight of the Kurds, in whose interests the noble Baroness has also spoken frequently in this House, I mentioned that some of us had been trying to draw attention to the problems of the Christians. I said that the Bishops' Bench had for some years made no mention of the problems of their fellow Christians in Africa. I went on to say: I hope that the inauguration of Archbishop Carey will usher in a new interest and concern not only for the social and moral welfare of the people of this country but also for our Christian brothers and sisters abroad in many lands who need our continuing support". So it is a great privilege and pleasure for me tonight to congratulate the most reverend Primate on his visit to the Sudan, with his wife. In one of his television interviews, I heard him say that he hoped that his visit had put the question of the Sudan's problems higher up on the international agenda. I am absolutely sure that it has done that. When he talks about the world community taking action, one of the prerequisites for that is that the subject moves up the international agenda. Unfortunately there are many problems which are of concern now in the international community, but he has done that. He has given the Sudan a much higher profile. I am much more confident now that some resolution of the problems may be reached. His visit has given renewed hope to those of us who have been pressing the case and I very much welcome what he has done. I wish him all the best in any future endeavours he may undertake. It is a great pleasure to see such an active person in his position.

11.33 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I should like warmly to echo what has been said by the most reverend Primate and the noble Lord about the work which has been done by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in regard to the Sudan, Armenia and many other parts of the world where human rights problems have arisen. It is a great privilege to follow her in this debate, as I did 13 months ago when she last dealt with the serious problems that we face in the Sudan.

One is sorry to note that there has been no improvement over that period. In fact, if anything, matters have got worse, as the noble Baroness showed, and as the most reverend Primate also illustrated from his remarkable journey to the South. I wish to congratulate him on it, as the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, did. I think it would be helpful if more visits of that kind could be undertaken by the Church. There are many other parts of Africa which would benefit from the rare visits of the Bishop, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has expressed it. I am sure that one could think on other occasions of places which would benefit enormously from the highlighting which the visit of the most reverend Primate has given to Southern Sudan. There is no doubt at all that television cameras will follow him, or any other prominent leader of the Church who goes to areas where human rights are being violated and where humanitarian relief is a serious problem.

Sudan is afflicted with two huge problems which are unlikely to go away so long as the military dictatorship of General Omar al-Bashir rules in Khartoum—the imposition of the Sharia in a particularly rigid way and the civil war in the South which has raged ever since just after the country attained independence in 1956, except for a decade after 1972 when the South had autonomy and its own internal government.

Those problems might have been solved by the coalition government which had been democratically elected if it had not been for the June 1989 coup by the present dictator, which was aided and abetted by the National Islamic Front of Dr. Hassan al-Turabi and which destroyed those hopes and instituted the darkest period in Sudan's history.

The military Islamists destroyed all the institutional structures which underpinned the democratic system in Sudan: free trade unions; professional associations; independent courts; autonomous universities; and a free press. They established a militia and a security apparatus to enforce the decrees of the dictatorship, and they tortured and murdered their opponents. They imported huge quantities of weaponry from Iran and China and tried to achieve a military solution in the South, as well as putting down unrest in the Nuba Mountains with the utmost brutality, as the noble Baroness has shown.

It is for those reasons that Sudan is universally condemned by democratic states, and why the United Nations appointed a Special Rapporteur, Dr. Gaspar Biro, to report on the gross and persistent violations of human rights which are still continuing. He has just produced a lengthy report which I had some difficulty in obtaining. It would be interesting to know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, when she comes to wind up, will be able to say that she has read the report. When I asked in the Library yesterday for a copy of it, they did not have one and there was no copy in the Foreign Office. It was not until this morning that, by some device, they managed to fax me a copy of Dr. Biro's report, which is apparently so difficult to obtain.

I must say that that happens very frequently with United Nations documents. They do not appear in the UN information office in London; they do not get to our Library in the House of Lords nor to the Library in the Commons at the other end of the corridor; nor do they seem to reach the Foreign Office, which is the place of last resort when the Libraries do not have them. I should be grateful to the noble Baroness if, when we come to debate these matters in future, she would ensure that any United Nations documents which are relevant to the matters that we are discussing are available slightly earlier than the morning of the debate in question.

In the South, the sufferings of the people have been compounded by the internal dispute that has been mentioned between the Torit faction under John Garang and the Nasr faction under Riak Machar. That has resulted, according to the US committee for refugees, in an estimated 1.3 million people perishing in the South in the past 10 years. The year to May 1993 was the worst so far. The World Refugee Survey, as has been mentioned, quotes 5 million Sudanese as being internally displaced by the conflict and by natural disasters; and the UN Secretary-General's representative on internally displaced persons told the Commission on Human Rights that half a million had been forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, a figure which does not tally with the 263,000 which was also quoted by Dr. Gaspar Biro, as was mentioned by the most reverend Primate. The Sudanese have drawn attention to that discrepancy, on which the noble Baroness might like to comment in her winding up.

However, an agreement was reached between the SPLA factions in November. It broke down almost immediately but was put together again finally with the help of President Moi of Kenya, to whom we should be most grateful. The parties said that self-determination for the people of South Sudan is the cornerstone of their position, but that was a restatement of a previous agreement made in June 1992.

It is essential that the factions now reach a long-term peace settlement so that the killings of civilians, the crop burning, the cattle raids and other crimes committed by the armed groups themselves may be stopped and the prospects of a deal with the Government in Khartoum may be enhanced. The groups in the South may have their own political agendas and if peace is restored then a democratic process could be initiated to allow the peoples to choose which of the policies they prefer. In the meanwhile the groups should respect each other's right to exist and to lay programmes before the people. That might be embodied in a formal agreement committing them to respect international norms on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. They might also, in such an agreement, concede the right of free transit through areas they control for humanitarian supplies, and they could establish mechanisms for co-ordinating their positions in any negotiations with the Government in Khartoum.

I believe that Britain could take a more active role in peace-making in the South. We know the region and its people from our experience as colonial administrators, and Britain is still very widely respected in the whole of Sudan, if not by the military rulers. I do not think that we should rely entirely on the efforts of the presidents of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Eritrea to stimulate dialogue between the parties of the civil war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, told me in a letter of 23rd December, because the nature of the regime in Khartoum is such that it is very difficult for it to compromise.

The former Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Aldo Ajou Deng, one of about 60 southerners in the Assembly, who fled the country on 15th December and is now seeking asylum in Britain, told me this afternoon that he despaired of any hope of an agreement, and that in the areas of the South which they control the Government are now extending the Islamisation programme into the schools, the judiciary and other sectors of public life. Although in the Abuja 1 agreement the regime had committed itself to the idea that the Sudan was a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural state in which the diversity of peoples should be respected and upheld, the doctrines and ideology of the NIF were being imposed everywhere without discussion or negotiation.

So Britain should concentrate on shoring up the agreement between the SPLA factions and promoting whatever dialogue it can between them and the Democratic Alliance, the organisation which brings together the Umma Party, the DUP and other smaller democratic bodies. At the same time we should be organising preventive diplomacy to stop the offensive against the South which, the noble Baroness has said, Khartoum is about to begin. Could not that matter be referred to the Security Council as a threat to peace, and could we not warn Sudan that if that genocidal attack is launched it could lead to penalties?

I realise that there are some difficulties in getting a tough resolution through the Security Council and that the inclination of Moslem states would be to close ranks, while some others would be nervous of any move which appeared to them to infringe the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states. But an arms embargo might be a possibility. It has been alleged by the Sudanese Human Rights Organisation that Italy has been selling militarised tractors to the regime and that Germany has sold it ammunition for the GM3 small arms used by the Sudanese infantry. I do not know whether or not those allegations are true.

I draw your Lordships' attention to the agreement that was reached by the CSCE on "principles governing conventional arms transfers" on 23rd November 1993, in which the participating states agreed to take into account, in considering proposed arms transfers, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the recipient country; the internal and regional situation in and around the recipient country, in the light of existing tensions or armed conflicts". States agreed to avoid transfers which would be likely to, be used for the violation or suppression of human rights…prolong or aggravate an existing armed conflict… be used for purpose of repression [or] support or encourage terrorism". So I believe that it would be possible for the CSCE to agree that on all these criteria it is inappropriate to sell to Sudan weapons or technologies which could enhance the regime's military capability. But since non-CSCE states, including Iran and China, are Sudan's main suppliers an effective embargo would have to be imposed by a mandatory resolution of the Security Council, as the noble Baroness has proposed.

It might have been possible for Sudan to remain united and peaceful with a secular, liberal decentralised constitution. With a rabidly Islamic government in Khartoum which oppresses Moslem and Christian alike, there is not much likelihood of an accommodation between North arid South. Personally, I think that the best hope would be for the people of the South to get de facto control of the region and formally to declare their independence. That would at least enable some of the 3 million people who have been displaced to return to their homes and to begin the process of reconstruction. It would also allow the humanitarian agencies to gain access to many of the worst affected areas.

I point out that boundaries have always been liable to change throughout recorded history. The question is whether they will go on being changed only by violent means, as in the past, or whether the United Nations has the wisdom and the humanity to develop means of promoting peaceful change where there is an evident demand for it. That is a point which I know was being made by Madame Mitterrand on her visit to London last week. No doubt she made it personally to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, when they met on Thursday.

One million of the displaced, mainly Southerners, are living in squalid camps outside Khartoum to which they were forcibly relocated by the state. The last time we debated Sudan secular humanitarian agencies were being denied access to those camps. Perhaps the noble Baroness can say whether that is still the case. Have we any more information about the condition of those people and could not the Special Rapporteur do more to publicise their treatment by their own government?

The Special Rapporteur was in Sudan for a short visit in December. While he was at the UNDP offices in Khartoum, a group of women came to present a memorandum to him and were beaten and manhandled by the security staff. One woman did speak to Dr. Biro and told him about the case of her husband who was dismissed from the Petroleum Corporation, detained, tortured and had some of his assets arbitrarily confiscated on 14th December, while Dr. Biro was in Sudan. This is a repeat of what happened on the rapporteur's previous visit in September, when four women who came to see him were arrested outside the UN office. He himself describes how he saw two women being dragged along the street and forced into a police vehicle, and a few minutes later the police arrested another 25 persons, mainly women, who were waiting in front of the UN offices to see Dr. Biro.

The Special Rapporteur is said to have visited Kober Prison in Khartoum North, where he listened for an hour to an account by Brigadier Muhammad Ahmad al-Rayah of the tortures he suffered, and the brigadier also gave him the names of other torture victims. The Parliamentary Human Rights Group, of which I am chairman, received a copy of a complaint by the brigadier about the tortures he suffered, dated 14th August 1993. We sent that to the Sudanese Ambassador on 16th September. He replied that the matter was being submitted to the Attorney-General, and he would let us know when any further information was available. We wrote again on 7th November reminding the ambassador of his promise. On 16th December we wrote a third time, having learned that a vehicle in which the brigadier was being transferred from Suakin Prison to Port Sudan Hospital for medical treatment had been intercepted by one Captain Mohamed al-Amin, and diverted to Port Sudan security headquarters.

Also in the vehicle were a number of other people including Mr. Abdel Rahman Abdalla Nugdalla, former Minister for Religious Affairs. All the prisoners were further tortured at the security headquarters, it is alleged. Mr. Nugdalla, a leader of the Umma Party and an MP up to the dissolution of Parliament in the June 1989 coup, had been arrested in August 1991 and sentenced to life imprisonment. I told the Sudanese ambassador that an informant had seen him in Kober Prison in November, but since then he had been removed to an unknown location. We are still waiting for information about his whereabouts, but in the meanwhile we have referred the case to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians will no doubt make its own investigations.

I mention the case of Mr. Nugdalla because it seems that the military regime is targeting people who played a role in the democratic system before the coup. Mr. Sadiq al-Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of the democratically elected Government, was detained and interrogated for about eight hours on 11th November at the security headquarters after he had met the US ambassador, Mr. Donald Peterson. His wife, Ms Sara al-Mahdi, a prominent member of the Umma Party, was interrogated for 10 hours at security headquarters, mainly about a party discussion paper on self-determination. Mr. Abd al-Mahmud Haj Salih, a former prosecutor general, and three other lawyer members of the Umma Party were arrested, also in December, as was Mr. Sidahmad al-Husayn, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

I heard from the Sudanese embassy this afternoon that the Chief Justice announced last week the formation of a judiciary committee to investigate the allegations of torture made by the brigadier. The problem is that now the judges in Sudan are not independent—they are members of the National Islamic Front and will do as they are told by the Government. The proposal is also open to the objection that, unless all the persons accused by the brigadier in his statement are legally represented and have the right to cross-examine and to make statements on things said by the other witnesses, the rules of natural justice may not be observed, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, would agree. If the regime had been minded to look into the brigadier's complaints, and for that matter any of the other victims, they could have had him medically examined, taken a proper statement, obtained the names of witnesses and taken statements from them, and, finally, decided whether there was enough evidence to justify prosecuting the torturers.

The Special Rapporteur no doubt receives information about all these and other arrests and cases of torture, but he is only on the spot for a few days each year on each of his two visits. It would be useful if he were to have an assistant permanently based in Sudan, so that he could receive first-hand accounts as soon as complaints arose, and also so that he could visit areas where gross violations of human rights are being perpetrated or are impending. He did get to the Nuba Mountains, where he visited government-held areas between 17th and 21st September 1993, although security considerations prevented him from going to the SPLA-held area. Dr. Biro heard a great deal of evidence about murder and other crimes against civilians in the region, by the army, the People's Defence Force and the SPLA. It should be noted, however, that the Dutch Minister of Development, Mr. Jan Pronk, who was in the Nuba Mountains from 23rd to 27th October, said that the situation there had improved. As the noble Baroness has said, 2 million people are effectively sealed off from the outside world, and it is particularly disturbing that the UN relief operation cannot get in there. Could we not try to persuade the Government and the SPLA to allow the ICRC to station representatives in the Nuba Mountains, with a view to ensuring compliance with common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions?

Sudanese refugees living in Britain say that the regime in Khartoum is irredeemably dangerous, both to its own people and to neighbouring states. I am disposed to agree with that conclusion. They accuse the military fundamentalists of sponsoring terrorism in Egypt and other countries in the region, an allegation which is also made by the US State Department on the basis of its intelligence reports. Sudan is impervious to pressure by the international community.

We must hope that in the end the people themselves will get rid of General al-Bashir, Dr. al-Turabi and all their works. In the meanwhile, the noble Baroness and the most reverend Primate have shown the people that, outside Sudan, there are those who care for them. They look forward to the day when they will enjoy the benefits that we have of democracy and freedom.

11.55 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lady Cox for initiating this debate at this opportune moment. I warmly congratulate her and the most reverend Primate on their courageous journeys into the depths of Sudan. Undoubtedly both visits have had a great effect, as I am sure will the visit of Bishop Englehard of the German Lutheran Church, who I understand is in Sudan today.

The position is extremely serious. The problems of Sudan do not go away. I quote: Relations between the United Kingdom and Sudan have undergone a period of pronounced strain. This is not of our volition". That statement seems to be applicable today, but it is actually a quote from the speech of my noble friend Lady Trumpington in our debate 13 months ago, on 9th December 1992, at col. 303. Nothing changes.

As I understand the position in Sudan today, the main priority is the peace process. As everyone has stated, it is not just a religious war, although I understand that many of the government forces are told that this is a jihad so that they have nothing to fear if they die in the war. However, this is not simply a war between Moslems and Christians; it is a much more complicated situation.

Perhaps I may first comment on the problems of the two factions in the South of Dr. Garang and Dr. Riak Mackar. It is vital that there is a united southern voice. My understanding is that the issues between the two men are resolved but that there remains the fear of each for the other. I believe that there is a lack of trust between them. Each fears the dominance of the other and what his own position will be.

I ask the Minister whether our Kenya High Commission can continue its influence in Sudan. While it is obviously impossible to give both of them any guarantee, perhaps our influence in that area may ease the problem between the two men in order to ensure that they will continue to work together.

My second point relates to the war between the North and the South. I was glad to learn about the report of the Special Rapporteur. I am not clear how far he went through the Sudan. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that point if she is aware of the contents of the report, as is the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It seems valuable for the rapporteur to report as widely as possible to the world about the situation in the Sudan. I hope that his journeys are not being inhibited by the Khartoum Government.

Is this the right moment at which to raise the issue of Sudan with the Security Council? I know that the United Kingdom Government were instrumental in gaining the appointment of the rapporteur by raising the issue with the UNHCR. But is not now the moment to raise the matter in the Security Council with a view to obtaining a proposal through that body?

The Sudanese Government's military offensive has now begun because the dry season has arrived. The refugees are pouring over the border at the rate of 1,000 a day. The situation is deteriorating in the refugee camps and on the border. The Kenyans are fearful of the position deteriorating further because of the military offensive along the border with Kenya. I suggest therefore that, in view of the need of the adjacent countries, this is the right moment to raise the matter with the Security Council.

Leaving the peace process, which to me is the cardinal issue at the moment, I turn to talk about aid. There are two heads of aid, one of which is in Sudan itself about which quite a lot has already been said. In many parts of the South there is no infrastructure except for what the Church offers. The two regimes in the South do have some infrastructure, but in other parts it is only the Church. As has been said, there is exciting growth going on in the Church, in spite of all that is happening. In one diocese alone there have been 40 new churches established in the past 10 years and we need to encourage them. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us about more government support going to the UN ventures and also to the NGOs which are working there.

The other deeply worrying issue is that of the refugee camps. There is a problem in analysing just how many there are. The numbers are increasing all the time and therefore some numbers are always out of date. But there is also a great need in those refugee camps and I hope that both charities' aid, including that which was recently initiated by the most reverend Primate, as well as the Government, will feed money in to provide the necessary supplies of food and medicine.

My third point concerns education, which has been mentioned but not touched on. In many parts of South Sudan at the moment there are no schools or books. A whole generation of Sudanese are growing up not knowing how to read and receiving no education at all. That is extremely serious, and I hope that the Government will be able to look at the question of education as well. I appreciate that food, the spiritual needs and medicine are crying out as being most important, but there is also a great need for education. I was even asked whether we could do something about a teacher training college in the South. I am not sure where that could be sited at the moment because I do not have the necessary information. But that question was raised in order to try to meet the problem of lack of education in the South of Sudan.

If I may use an overworked phrase, I believe that there is now a window of opportunity in Sudan because of the visits that were made and the start of the military offensive. The Sudan war is in the public eye and we should be doing what we can—I shall be glad to know what other action can be taken—in order to bring peace with justice to the Sudan.

12 midnight

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I shall be extremely brief, as befits someone who has not been to the Sudan since 1950, and then only briefly. I am happy that my noble friend Lord Judd is to wind up from these Benches. He is not only an expert, as indeed is the noble Baroness, on all matters concerning overseas aid, but he is chairman of the Oxford Diocesan Board for Social Responsibility and preached last Sunday, I believe, on courage. I am sure that he will be the first to salute the courage of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who has had so many connections over a number of years, and also the moral courage—if I may respectfully say so as a lapsed Anglican of 50 years standing—shown by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury under what must have been extremely trying conditions. It must have been extremely difficult to decide on the right course—and we must all agree that he chose what was the perfect course—in the circumstances. We are therefore most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the most reverend Primate and the other speakers.

My reason for speaking is that, as a Roman Catholic, it is as well to underline the fact that in this matter there is complete union between the Churches in this country and elsewhere. I inquired whether there was any distinct Catholic message. It would be wrong to say that there is. The one message is that heart and soul the Catholic Church is working together with the Church of England and the other Churches.

Time prevents me from reading the message of the Catholic Bishops. I shall confine myself to reading the message from the Pope, with which they conclude their letter. The prayer of the Pope was, that God's gift of peace will become a reality in your midst, that harmony and co-operation between North and South, between Christians and Muslims, will take the place of conflict, that obstacles to religious freedom will soon be a thing of the past". That was the message of the Pope, with which I am sure everyone, Christian and otherwise, can heartily concur.

Several years ago President de Valera, who has always been one of my heroes, called on the Irish people to do what one small nation can do to heal the wounds of suffering humanity. Tonight we have heard a great deal about suffering humanity. Britain is a much larger country than Ireland but in the world picture it is only one country with a population of 50-odd million. I believe that all noble Lords who have spoken believe that we can do more and we have heard various suggestions. It would be impertinent of me to try to improve on what was suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the most reverend Primate. I am glad that they have taken this initiative and I believe that great good will result.

12.7 a.m.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge

My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for bringing the situation in Sudan to our attention once more. I should also like to pay tribute to her courage in making yet another visit to South Sudan.

I listened with great interest to the account given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury of his visit to South Sudan early this month. His visit was also an act of considerable courage on his part and, of course, no less on the part of his wife. Furthermore, be brought Sudan into the headlines and that can only be for the good.

I wish to offer a few thoughts on the tragic situation in Sudan, to which there are no easy answers. First, as we know, Sudan is a huge country, divided into two parts which are completely different in people, religion, traditions and geography. The only common factor is their extreme poverty. They should never have been joined together under the same rule. The Sudanese Government are determined to keep them together, a policy which is being implemented with ruthlessness and much abuse of human rights. In particular, they are trying to bring the whole nation under the Sharia law, which, with its punishments of floggings and amputations and with its strong bias in favour of Moslems against members of other religions, is abhorrent to the people of South Sudan.

Secondly, I turn to South Sudan and the SPLA. We may need to remind ourselves of the extent to which, as so often in Africa and elsewhere, tribal factors bedevil the issue and cannot be ignored. The SPLA has split on tribal lines and there is a ferocious rivalry between the larger Dinka tribe and the Nuer and Shilluk tribes. Colonel John Garang, who formerly led the whole SPLA, now leads only the Dinka majority element.

Thirdly, I wish to draw attention to the disastrous economic situation and to the constant threat of famine in the event of a drought. That is made worse by the terrifying amount of soil erosion and deforestation, whose effects on the country will remain for a very long time.

Fourthly, I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the provision of humanitarian aid from outside is hampered by the absence of demilitarised corridors and by impassable roads into and through the South. That means that aid has to be delivered by air. The actions of the Sudanese Government exacerbate the situation. Regulations are changed, permissions are refused in both the North and the South and the bombing of relief centres has intensified.

We have no quarrel with either the government or the people of Sudan. Our only interest is the welfare of the Sudanese people who are the victims of the power struggle which has brought about the situation that we have been discussing this evening. What more can Her Majesty's Government do? Clearly, military intervention is out, although I presume that we have a contingency plan to evacuate British nationals if it ever became necessary. Sanctions would probably only aggravate the situation.

I believe that it is vital to maintain the flow of humanitarian aid, even if some of it goes astray. Pressure should be continued to be applied on the Sudanese authorities not to obstruct relief aid. The Sudanese Government should be urged to undertake not to impose Sharia law on the South but to allow freedom of religion. The leaders of the SPLA factions should be encouraged to implement the peace agreement between them which was signed last October. Any general solution would have to take into account tribal considerations. The IGADD initiative by neighbouring African states, which provides a ray of hope, should be supported. Lastly in this section I suggest that accurate information should continually be reported to the international community in order to maintain real pressure on the Sudanese Government. That should include a formal approach to the Security Council at the next opportune moment.

I end by saying that we should make it plain that we have a real and ongoing concern for the people of Sudan, especially the people of South Sudan. They will remain in our thoughts and our prayers. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

12.12 a.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, it is clear that the whole House is deeply indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for having tabled this Question tonight. Her deep compassion for the Sudanese and, indeed, if I may say so, her personal courage are an example to us all.

The most reverend Primate spoke with wisdom and sensitivity this evening. I found his reflections particularly telling. Of course he was right to change his travel plans in the circumstances that he described. However, we all trust that before long he will be able to visit the North. Perhaps I might just add that in his brief intervention I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, made a powerful challenge on behalf of the Roman Catholic community, of which he is such a scion.

The tragedy that we are debating is of special significance because of the particularly good relations which used to exist between the United Kingdom and Sudan. It grieves us all to see that nation racked by drought, civil war and famine. Sadly, recent events have indicated no easing of the abysmal cycle.

The grim reality is that in all but 10 years since independence in 1956 Sudan has enjoyed no peace. Between 1 million and 2 million men, women and children have died or starved to death as a result of bitter civil war. Of a total population of between 20 million and 25 million, as many as 7 million suffer as displaced people in North and South, as refugees in neighbouring countries or as persecuted ethnic and religious groups. More than three-quarters of a million people live in unbelievably bad conditions, which I myself witnessed, around Khartoum. They are destitute and dependent upon assistance provided by non-governmental organisations.

Grave human rights abuses against civilians in the South have been committed—we must face it—both by the Sudanese army and by the SPLA. Ferocious feuding between the SPLA factions has aggravated the suffering. In the North serious human rights abuses have been committed by the Sudanese Government against critics in all religious and many political groupings—brave Moslems as well as Christians—and the notorious so-called "peace camps" to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred are cruelly used to pressurise dissenters.

I believe that the international community must remain firm in pressurising both the Sudanese Government and the SPLA to put an end to military abuses against the civilian population and to ensure that all parties to the conflict uphold and respect the principles enshrined in the Geneva Convention. Those measures are obviously no substitute for a full ceasefire, but until such a ceasefire can be achieved they would at least go some way towards offering a degree of protection to a civilian population which has borne the brunt of the carnage.

Amnesty International, in a recent report on the situation in Sudan, has described the assault on the civilian population by both government and SPLA forces as ruthless, and the consequence of a deliberate strategy, in a conflict which has claimed the lives of many thousands of people. Indeed, Amnesty has stated that the warring factions have shown: a flagrant contempt for human life", and have committed the systematic abuse of human rights.

More generally, to make matters worse the extension of inappropriate large-scale farming systems has devastated much of Sudan's environment: 7 million hectares have lost their topsoil; erosion has accelerated; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has just reminded us, about 95 per cent. of the forest of east Sudan has been lost; and some 14 million small farmers have lost their livelihood. Economic conditions in the North have deteriorated sharply. Inflation, currently estimated as perhaps as high as 200 per cent., is rising steeply, and many goods are in short supply.

Recent reports indicate that a new famine, caused by drought, is imminent in areas of the North as well as the South. There may be a shortfall of 1 million tonnes in the North alone, while parts of the South East, near the Kenyan-Ethiopian border, are already suffering the worst drought since the 1940s. The prospects of a mid-1980s famine are real. I hope that the Minister will be able to demonstrate tonight her determination to provide the emergency relief for which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, called so powerfully tonight, in time and in the quantities necessary.

The most reverend Primate and the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, were surely right to stress that the terrible crisis caused by misgovernment, war and natural disaster is far more complex than just a conflict between Christians and Moslems or between North and South. As they argued, its roots lie in a variety of ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, political and historical differences. It concerns all marginalised groups, including those of East and West. All Sudanese suffer under a harsh dogmatic government, and the related economic and political consequences of war.

Of course Islamic reaction to Western Christianity arid its ethos is a factor. Undoubtedly, the Islamic government will argue that Christians have in the past used resources to promote the spread of Christianity and are likely to continue to promote their evangelism through the distribution of relief and humanitarian services. The Sudanese Government will argue that they must prevent that. That may well be a genuine conviction. It illustrates the imperative for perseverence at building a new understanding, and for Christians in Sudan and elsewhere to make it plain beyond question that their relief services are for people in need, irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity and culture, and are never a means for evangelism.

It is essential to work also at inter-religious ecumenical dialogue aimed at the promotion of mutual understanding. Christians should be freed from the misconception of Islam as a religion of violence—that will require tangible evidence—and should themselves, whatever the contrary historical and current evidence elsewhere, demonstrate constantly their desire for peace in Sudan at least.

What is the role that the international community and the British Government should play? We on this side of the House recognise the Minister's concern. We welcome the Government's support for UN action to monitor abuses of human rights. That is a vital initiative, and Dr. Biro, the UN Special Rapporteur who has recently reported to the UN General Assembly in November, should continue to receive all possible British support, not least in ensuring, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, argued, that his findings are considered by the Security Council.

We support the withdrawal of development aid from the Sudan and, equally, we strongly endorse the continued provision of emergency humanitarian aid through non-governmental organisations, the European Union, the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan and the UN specialised agencies. We are glad the Government supported the appointment of Mr. Taxler as the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for humanitarian affairs in Sudan. We also take this opportunity to applaud the dedicated and imaginative service of Mr. Streams as an outstanding public servant in his post as ambassador to Sudan, and we deeply regret the action of the Sudanese Government in expelling him. It was entirely understandable that in response the British Government felt it necessary to expel the Sudanese ambassador to Britain, although we would be interested to hear from the Minister tonight how much co-ordination there was with our European partners on all this, and how far their ambassadors actively supported Mr. Streams. We hope, however, that this recent breach in diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Sudan will riot dampen the Government's resolve to play an active role in promoting a peaceful settlement. Before this breach happened we had been encouraged by the Government's efforts, for example as evidenced in the EC troika visit to South Sudan in 1992, to promote peace talks.

Nevertheless, while emphasising the common ground between both sides of the House, I hope the Minister will forgive me if I seek clarification on her position in two respects. Does she or does she not believe, as some have suggested, that a sustainable settlement cannot be reached in the short term? If not, why not? Is she or is she not, again as some have suggested, determined to keep a cap on humanitarian aid because of a belief that the need for relief will see no end while war continues? And, if she is so determined, how does she reconcile this position with allowing need and need alone to determine her humanitarian response? In asking these questions I am not suggesting cynicism on the part of the Minister. She is not a cynic. What I fear is that she may be allowing Whitehall's self-styled realism to cramp her natural humanitarian instincts. That would be sad in the midst of so much misery and suffering.

For aid to be effective the international community must continue to exert all possible leverage on the Sudanese Government, and on both factions of the SPLA, to allow the distribution of food aid to the civilian population and to ensure all parties to the conflict refrain from using emergency aid as a weapon of war. It is also crucial to seek to ensure that the Government of Sudan honour the agreed list of airstrips where relief planes can land under Operation Lifeline Sudan, and to call a halt to the bombardment of these airstrips, and that all sides agree to allow relief vehicles road access into Southern Sudan without being hampered by mining or other troop activity. But the most critically urgent priority of all is that the British Government should take all possible action to help get the peace process back on track. Time is the enemy, and the longer the international community vacillates, the more likely it is that people will die from the effects of drought and famine. This is the supreme challenge we must meet, as a matter of urgency, with our European Union partners and through the United Nations.

It would be most helpful if the noble Baroness could this evening brief the House about the latest situation on the ground with respect to the fighting, and confirm whether there have been any recent negotiations between the Government of Sudan and the leadership of the two SPLA factions. Can she also tell the House if the members of IGADD, the inter-governmental authority on diversification and development, have planned further meetings still further to promote the tentative peace between the until recently warring SPLA factions and to facilitate dialogue between the government and both parts of the SPLA? Does she agree that the IGADD committee, bringing together as it does the governments of adjacent Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, could well provide the best mechanism for making progress in achieving a ceasefire and eventual political settlement, and that the British Government and other Western governments should therefore provide the committee with all possible diplomatic and practical support to achieve these aims? As in all conflict situations, we must never forget that lasting solutions can only be made by the parties to the conflict themselves. The contributions by outsiders can only be to facilitate. Those outsiders must always be wary of disempowering the parties on which the future depends.

An effective ceasefire and negotiated settlement to end the fighting in Sudan are central to the very survival of the Sudanese people. These factors are self evidently the essential preconditions for the reconstruction and development which will be necessary to rebuild Sudan's war-shattered society and economy. Short of such an overall settlement, what is the Minister's response to the recommendation by the aid organisations that donors increase the capacity of local NGOs to develop effective systems to deliver relief aid and to begin the work of reconstruction in those communities which are comparatively stable? The NGO staff in the field face almost unimaginable difficulties, stemming from the fact that they are faced with virtually complete socio-economic and infrastructural collapse in many parts of the Sudan.

In April 1991 the Prime Minister pledged: We shall not allow the plight of the African countries to be sidelined". That pledge is being tested across the African continent, but nowhere more than in Sudan. The Government will have the full-hearted support of the Opposition if they are able to demonstrate an unyielding commitment to the people of Sudan, both by humanitarian relief efforts and by a determination to work for peace. As peace is achieved, the Government will again enjoy the unqualified support of these Benches if they demonstrate a resolve to play the most positive part possible in the reconstruction of that war-devastated land.

In conclusion, perhaps the House would permit me one more strategic observation. Why are we in this impasse at all? How will history judge us for having allowed so much death, suffering and destruction to happen—and this in the age of the supposed new world order? It is calculated that still for every £1000 of expenditure by the world on armaments, less than £1.50 is spent on peace-keeping, and only a fraction of £1.00 on conflict resolution and pre-emptive diplomacy. Looked at by an intelligent being from another galaxy, this would be the clinching evidence that whom God would destroy he first sends mad.

The real lesson of Sudan, as of Somalia, Angola, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, is that, with our responsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council, the British Government should be in the vanguard of strengthening the role of the Secretary-General and the Security Council and the resources available to them to pre-empt collapse into chaos. Why is it that the post-Cold War world is still geared to preparing for war and, however inadequately, its consequences, but almost not at all to preparing for the prevention of war, and geared to coping with refugees but not at all to preventing the circumstances which generate refugees? The humanitarian challenge is clear, but I believe the economic case is overwhelming.

12.30 a.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I know that I speak for us all when I express my warm thanks to my noble friend Lady Cox for stimulating this debate. The fact that we are all more aware of the human tragedy that is unfolding in Sudan is due in no small measure to her tenacity, fortitude and courage. She has heightened public awareness, and she has played a real part in alleviating the suffering of the innocent, not only in Sudan but in many other places too. We owe her a very great debt of gratitude.

Others, too, are playing an invaluable role in bringing to our attention the terrible plight of the Sudanese people. I have not in my experience in this House seen our gallery so well attended at this late hour. I think that that speaks volumes for the concern that the nation has about the Sudan.

Perhaps I may thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and two Members of another place, Mr. Robert Banks and Mr. Tony Worthington, for their visits. Caring people all over the world want to help Sudan. By his example in visiting Southern Sudan, the most reverend Primate, like my noble friend Lady Cox, has shown the way which, as we heard in the debate, is now being followed by other religious leaders. I know the real difficulty involved in the visit of the most reverend Primate and his wife. We are immensely grateful to them, and to my noble friend Lady Cox for her recent visit.

I am extremely sad that over a year since the problems of Sudan were last debated in your Lordships' House the situation is as grim as ever and, in a number of areas like the Nuba Mountains, is even worse than it was a year ago. The humanitarian crisis seems likely to deepen in the coming months. But, as many speakers have observed tonight, what makes the suffering in Sudan so heart-rending is that it is due predominantly to the hand of man. I do not exclude the problems of climate and lack of food. I shall return to them later. But it is the continuing civil war that is central to Sudan's problems. Peace remains elusive. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, the human rights situation is a cause for profound concern.

The relationship between the peoples of Sudan and Britain remains as close as ever. That continues to encourage us to remain engaged in these most difficult circumstances in three principal areas: the search for peace; the provision of humanitarian assistance; and pressure for respect for human rights. However, our ability to help has been further tried by the attitude of the Government of Sudan. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked, our relations with Khartoum have long been strained but they are particularly strained at present. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the remarks he made about Mr. Peter Streams, our ambassador to Khartoum.

The expulsion of Mr. Streams was symptomatic of the total inability of the Government of Sudan to tolerate hearing views which do not mirror their own. I should like to say just a few words about our ambassador. Some noble Lords have met him. I am sure that they will agree with me that he is a man of integrity, energy and fortitude. He faithfully and professionally conveyed the concerns of the British Government and of both Houses of Parliament to Khartoum, particularly as regards its human rights performance. He properly tried to keep in touch with and report the range of political opinion in Sudan, which was neither a very easy nor safe thing to do.

The regime's principal charges against him were organising an EC boycott of the anniversary celebrations of the 1989 coup d'état; the arrangements for the visit of Tony Worthington and Robert Banks (by which, we presume, Khartoum means the meetings he set up with opposition figures); and his role in the visit of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the first, Peter Streams participated in a collective discussion of EC heads of mission in Khartoum, the majority of whom decided for themselves not to attend the celebrations.

On the second, Mr. Streams was rightly ensuring that Robert Banks and Tony Worthington were introduced to the full range of political opinion. On the third, the most reverend Primate has said himself that his decision not to visit the North was his own, arrived at reluctantly but for clear reasons which we all understand. So the regime's conclusion that those three actions of Mr. Streams constituted interference in Sudan's internal affairs and a consequent breach of its sovereignty, speaks for itself. We utterly reject such a conclusion.

The countries of the European Union have also rejected Khartoum's position. Our 11 partners have summoned the Sudanese heads of mission accredited to them to express their deep regret at the expulsion of Mr. Streams. The view of our European partners is that the explanation for his expulsion is completely unsatisfactory. They have told the Sudanese representatives that the action of the Government of Sudan in expelling Peter Streams will have an adverse effect on relations between the European Union and the Government of Sudan. In response to Mr. Stream's expulsion we have requested the withdrawal of the Sudanese Ambassador in London. At present we have no plans to nominate a successor to Mr. Streams, nor will we agree to the appointment of a successor to the Sudanese Ambassador.

But we wish to try to have a dialogue with Khartoum, although the behaviour of Khartoum now makes that very difficult. Our embassy there will continue to support the international humanitarian effort and monitor the political scene. It will pay particular attention to human rights issues. As my noble friend Viscount Brentford reminded us, our High Commission in Nairobi is doing all it can to help with the factions in the South.

We are deeply concerned about the Government of Sudan's lack of commitment to the international relief effort which is designed to help their own people. Early last year they pledged to provide 153,000 tonnes of sorghum for the relief effort. So far, they have met only half of it, despite continuous pressure from the UN and the donors. Nor do the Government of the Sudan facilitate the relief effort. International NGOs face problems in obtaining visas and permits to work in Sudan. The Churches and NGOs have great difficulty in gaining access to areas in severe need if the Government of Sudan decide to intervene. Even if the NGOs are able to start work they are frequently hampered by the unlawful requisitioning of their equipment and supplies.

The complaints about impeding aid are not restricted to the Government of Sudan. A number of people have commented that all SPLA factions in the South have at times also been guilty of obstructing relief efforts or redirecting supplies to their own ends. However, in time, of war that is almost inevitable. We regularly raise our concerns both with the Sudanese Government and SPLA. We emphasise that allowing the United Nations and NGOs to operate unhampered offers the best hope of stability and at least some return to normality in the South. We shall continue our efforts and very much welcome the support of others in the field.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about displaced persons round Khartoum. While there are some signs of improvement in the approach of the Government of Sudan to the needs of the displaced in the camps, those people remain living in absolute misery. We continue to press for international NGOs to have better access. In the past year we provided £640,000 specifically to help meet the needs of the Khartoum displaced, but it is not easy to reach and help them, willing as we are to try.

Your Lordships asked about action at the Security Council, which is most important. We should be conscious that there are limits on our influence, but in the past we have discussed in your Lordships' House whether Sudan should be raised in the UN Security Council. My learned friend Baroness Cox suggested a number of specific measures that would require the mandate of the UN Security Council, including the establishment of safe havens, an air exclusion zone, corridors of tranquility and an oil and arms embargo. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the Security Council might discuss the findings of the human rights Special Rapporteur. We have been active particularly in the past year in exploring all the possibilities of using the UN in different ways to keep Sudan under international focus. To achieve the right outcome from the Security Council the circumstances must be right. We must ensure that our action does not rebound and thus set back the cause of peace.

Despite the comments of my noble friend Lord Brentford, I am not yet convinced that all Security Council members would agree that the situation in Sudan constitutes a threat to international peace and security, but I understand the point that he makes. Certainly failure to act and to bring a resolution will indeed be a cancer within that part of Africa so long afflicted by the problems of Somalia and previously by problems in Ethiopia, Eritrea and even in Kenya and Uganda some years ago.

We must not place our arguments in a way that makes people believe that there is some sort of campaign between the Christian West and the Islamic world. That is an outcome which I am sure we all wish to avoid. Divisions in the Security Council which, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, knows, one fears from time to time or, worse, a failed resolution in the Security Council, could unravel all the work of the past months in putting diplomatic pressure on the government in Khartoum. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will understand that we will do everything we can to resolve the situation but we must at times go a little more gently than might seem to an outside observer to be desirable. But I will not rest on this issue. It is too serious and it is too threatening.

As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, our development programme to Sudan closed in 1991, but we are a major bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance. We have committed over £50 million bilaterally since September 1990 when the food crisis began. That includes our efforts as one of the largest bilateral donors of emergency food aid, with commitments of nearly 123,000 tonnes in that time. Since 1st January last year we have pledged over £13 million, including some 25,000 tonnes of food aid. Most of that has already been allocated through the international agencies and the voluntary organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked me whether we were prepared to help with the new humanitarian crisis. The answer is: yes, yes, yes. I have already anticipated the need to ensure that food is available in the next few months while donors are considering the 1994 appeals. Last November I approved another 5,000 tonnes of food for Kordofan and we are ready to do more. Indeed the NGOs know that. Our aim is to provide the essentials to sustain life for those in the greatest need. That assistance has been predominantly food aid, shelter materials, medicines and other essentials. But we wish to encourage a return to self-sustainability where conditions permit. As a first step we provide seeds and tools to those who are able to resume subsistence agriculture and fishing.

We are also providing funds through the European Union. Last year the European Union provided transport costs for 74,000 tonnes of local sorghum as well as 37,000 tonnes of non-cereals through the World Food Programme and the NGOs. We have already committed 25,000 tonnes of food aid for delivery early this year. We have initiated and participated in a visit by the EC troika of humanitarian Ministers to Sudan in June last year. That directly conveyed the concern of European opinion at the human suffering throughout the country. There is no question of capping our humanitarian aid. We will help in every way we can.

We have, too, to help them deal with the problem of refugees. As my noble friend Lord Brentford said, the plight of those refugees and the burden they place on neighbouring states is a matter of grave concern. I discussed this matter with President Moi some three weeks ago and we have already helped the Sudanese refugees in Kenya and Uganda and we shall continue to be ready to help.

My noble friend also asked me about education. It is an OLS priority for 1994 and we will see how we can help through the SEPHA appeal. But we have also encouraged British non-governmental organisations to put proposals to us to help with the basic educational needs, for this situation is so serious in Southern Sudan.

We very much welcome the most reverend Primate's new appeal to help the people of Sudan through the Church organisations. All those organisations are working for mankind, regardless of belief. Although we already work with many of the organisations, I shall keep in close touch with the progress of the most reverend Primate's appeal.

There is great affection in Britain for Sudan, and a number of noble Lords have reminded us of that this evening. I know that for many Sudanese there is a hope that Britain can somehow step in and sort out Sudan's problems. As I have intimated, we have consistently supported regional peace efforts. The Prime Minister has been in contact with President Moi over the East African initiative. I have discussed the plight of the Sudanese people personally with all four of the East African presidents involved in the IGADD initiative in order to encourage their efforts. I have conveyed to them the United Kingdom's wholehearted support for their work. We keep in close touch with them and with our European Union partners, and the Union is adding its diplomatic weight behind the IGADD initiative, urging the parties, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Brentford have suggested, the factions of the SPLA, to participate positively and constructively in the search for peace.

I understand the concern that we should take new steps in addition to those already taken—for example, giving the IGADD countries practical support with their work—and we are discussing possibilities about that in Brussels later this week.

One of the other points of which we need to be aware is that there needs to be a negotiated settlement which can allow all Sudanese to live in peace. It is not for Britain, or indeed the European Union, to define what that settlement should be. I do not believe it would advance the peace process were we to do so. So I will not seek to prejudge the outcome of future constitutional talks. But I will do all that I can to include all the people in those and to give them the support that they need. I believe that the people in the region are best placed to try to achieve the breakthrough that is so sorely needed.

In the past year we have seen no lull in the fighting in the South. Much of the misery was indeed due to fighting between the factions of the SPLA, as my noble friend Lady Cox has told us. But there have been efforts; although the Nigerian peace initiative failed to achieve a breakthrough. That is where, as I mentioned, the Presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea are seeking to assist, and we are backing them in their efforts. I was glad to see on 6th January that the leaders of the main SPLA factions had signed a joint declaration outlining their position on an agenda for peace talks. We now have to help them to hold those talks and to make sure that they bring real peace to the people.

There is not the success we would like to see. The East African leaders will go on working and I believe that there are at the moment fears amongst all those East African leaders that, before they are able to achieve some success, the Government of Sudan are planning a dry season offensive, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned. There are already some ugly reports of government bombing of civilian targets in the South. The problems of Southern Sudan will never be solved by military means. The Government in Khartoum claim to agree. But I may say that the international community will riot understand if their actions on the ground contradict their professed commitment to peace and negotiations. So I urge the Sudanese Government to heed this and to attend any meetings which the four IGADD countries may call in order to bring peace to Sudan.

It would be easy to talk for a whole half hour about the human rights situation. It is very dire, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and many other noble Lords have told us. We make our concerns plain on each occasion: in Khartoum, to visiting Sudanese Ministers in London, and to the representatives of the SPLA. As noble Lords know, we have worked hard over the past year in the UN human rights institutions. We secured the appointment of Dr. Gaspar Biro as the special rapporteur.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, received a copy of Dr. Biro's report only this morning. I shall ensure that at least one copy is placed in the Library, because that is where it should be for your Lordships' access. His report makes depressing reading. We strongly supported a further resolution at last year's UN General Assembly highlighting the situation and commending Dr. Biro's work. It was interesting that it was passed by an unusually wide margin of 111 votes to 13. We must keep up the pressure at the spring session at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva arid we shall work to ensure the renewal of the mandate for the special rapporteur.

I wish to make one general point. Our concern for human rights in Sudan is universal. It is not confined to the rights of Christians, the rights of Southerners or the rights of any particular group. We make representations to the SPLA as well as to the Government, so I assure your Lordships that there is no conspiracy against the Government of Sudan. We are not falsifying or exaggerating the problem. We and other members of the international community have a genuine concern and we expect the Sudanese Government to take this seriously. Above all, we want the UN Special Rapporteur and other observers to have full and unhindered access throughout Sudan, including, as my noble friend Lady Cox highlighted, to the Nuba Mountains.

I am deeply grateful to my noble friend for bringing this sad issue before us today. We are determined to press for an improvement in the situation, both through the continued, targeted provision of humanitarian relief and by pressing for political progress arid a better human rights record. The prospects are gloomy, and the chances of a peace breakthrough are not high. International opinion has an important role to play. I know that many Sudanese observers will take comfort from the concern which noble Lords and the most reverend Primate have expressed tonight, and from the detailed knowledge which is repeatedly shown in your Lordships' House about Sudan. For the Government's part, we shall continue to work as best we can to help bring the needless suffering in that country to an end. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, when he says that we need more conflict resolution. And above all we need more prevention of war and conflict. I hope that before very much longer we shall see relief too for the people of Sudan.

House adjourned at seven minutes before one o'clock.