HL Deb 08 June 1995 vol 564 cc1464-6

3.31 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What information they have about the detention on 16th May of Mr Sadiq Al-Mahdi, former democratically elected prime minister of Sudan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, Sadiq Al-Mahdi remains in detention, together with a number of other senior members of the Umma Party. The arrests followed a public statement made by Sadiq Al-Mahdi on 9th May which many interpreted as critical of the Khartoum regime. Our ambassador in Khartoum has raised this with the Sudanese authorities.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that when the family of Sadiq Al-Mahdi went to see the Attorney-General, Abdul Aziz Shiddu, on Saturday, he said to them that the first thing he knew about the arrest of Sadiq Al-Mahdi was when he read about it in the international media. He reminded them that under the national security Act it was possible for any person to be imprisoned without charge for a period of six months. Is that still the law and should we not impress on the Sudanese that if they want better relations with us they have to abandon the practice of imprisoning people without trial? Can the noble Baroness say how many detainees there are? Can she confirm the figure of 120 of all parties, which has been reported to me, including not just members of the Umma Party, but many former cabinet ministers and members of parliament?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are over 100 persons who have been detained. This sort of law is the very kind which denies human rights to Sudanese people from all kinds of different backgrounds. We thought that there had been some slight improvement in northern Sudan, but that was immediately marred by the arrest of Sadiq Al-Mahdi and other senior members of the Umma Party, as I said. It is the first time that there have been arrests on this scale since 1993. I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend Douglas Hogg had a meeting with the Sudanese Minister of State. He urged the government to allow access for the UN special rapporteur to the Sudan. He expressed our deepest concern about human rights and about those who are continuing to be detained without any charges being brought.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at a recent meeting in Cairo of leaders of the Sudanese democratic opposition parties from both the north and the south, which I was privileged to attend, there was unprecedented consensus about democratic proposals for the future of Sudan? Therefore does my noble friend agree that the imprisonment of the democratically elected former prime minister, and indeed of well over 100 members of the Umma Party, is evidence of the Khartoum regime's continuing and unremitting hostility to any progress towards democracy and genuine peace for the Sudanese people, and that a very robust answer will give comfort to those who are concerned about that?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is not just the abuses in northern Sudan. Some of the worst abuses, as she has bravely seen for herself, have occurred in southern Sudan. So all the activities like bombing civilian settlements, the massacre of civilians and the systematic slavery which go on are to be deplored. We shall continue to be active in securing the views of the whole of the world and representing them to Khartoum through our new ambassador there. We also made sure that the mandate for the UN special rapporteur was renewed because that is a most important step in trying to put right what is so definitely wrong in the Sudan.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most deplorable aspects of this sad situation is that the Government of Sudan endeavour to reject criticism as being anti-Islam? Does she further agree that there is nothing Islamic about arbitrary detention and torture; that the majority of those arrested in the past few weeks are members of the Ansar order of Islam; and that many of the most courageous opponents of the repressive and tyrannical regime in Sudan are in fact devout followers of Islam?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is absolutely right. We have to realise that the most ardent followers of Islam who want a much freer Islamic state are up against the National Islamic Front which is determined to impose Sharia law. Whatever the good signs have been, there is the underlying determination to impose Sharia law and to imprison without trial so many people who fight, as my noble friend said, for a democratic say for the people of Sudan. It is a very serious situation and it does nothing to help those moderate Moslems who wish to follow Islamic law, but in a moderate way.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness consider pointing out to the Sudanese people that this very ancient Parliament, composed of people from all over Great Britain and, in some instances, from the Commonwealth, and all the parties in this House and the other place, condemns absolutely what is going on in the Sudan so that they can understand that this is indeed the united view of all of Great Britain's parliamentary parties?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. We have to go on expressing these views to the Sudanese Government in every way we can. That we shall do with the new Sudanese ambassador when he arrives here later this summer, just as we do through our own ambassador now in Khartoum.