HL Deb 30 November 1995 vol 567 cc790-814

10.18 p.m.

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their present policy towards the government of Sudan in the light of reports of violations of human rights.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the serious violations of human rights in Sudan. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who have made themselves available at such short notice and so late to speak from their own areas of experience and interest. I shall focus on examples of first-hand evidence we obtained during recent visits to some of the most inaccessible areas of southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains under the auspices of Christian Solidarity International, or CSI, which is a Christian human rights organisation working for victims of repression regardless of their creed, colour or nationality.

CSI focuses in particular on people cut off from other aid organisations such as UNHCR, UNICEF or the International Committee of the Red Cross. I pay tribute to those organisations for the excellent work they do. But they can work only in areas with the permission of the sovereign government. The regime in Khartoum is denying access to many parts of the south and the Nuba Mountains, cutting people off from aid. CSI, being small and independent, is free to go where those major organisations cannot and to reach people who would otherwise be totally bereft of aid essential for survival.

The places we visited this year include locations in Bahr El Ghazal such as Pariang, Marial, Turglei, Nyamlell, and surrounding villages; in Eastern Equatoria, Loronyo and Kapoeta; and also the Nuba Mountains. The Government of Sudan deny consistently that the violations of human rights we witnessed are occurring. That is why I wish to take this opportunity to put on record examples of the evidence we obtained at first-hand, examples which sadly can he multiplied many times.

As regards military offensives against civilians, in Nimule and Kapoeta, in Loronyo, and in the Nuba Mountains, we witnessed aerial bombardment of civilians by government forces. We spent hours in foxholes while Antonov bombers circled overhead, bombing and terrorising civilians. Photographs of craters show the massive size of the bombs used against civilians—in the range of 500 to 600 kilograms. Those offensives cause death and injury and also the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of women and children who flee from ground and air offences. I should also add concern over very recent reports of use by the government of chemical weapons against civilians in the Nuba Mountains with bombs dropped from helicopters in Tulishi and Dibebat.

The second area of concern is the manipulation of aid and denial of access for major aid organisations to large areas of southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. A list of airstrips is issued every month identifying those which the Government of Sudan specify as open or closed. Any attempt to land at an airstrip not authorised by the government carries the risk of being shot down and any attempt to work in areas designated as no-go areas carries the risk of capture by government forces, as two courageous doctors working at Pariang found at great personal cost earlier this year.

The effects of the policy of no-go areas are two-fold. First, hundreds of thousands of people are totally bereft of essential supplies of food and medicines so that they are dying in vast numbers of starvation and treatable disease. Secondly, many women and children are forced to seek medicines and food by going to government garrisons in the south or to so-called peace camps in the Nuba Mountains or the north where there are many consistent reports that they become victims of the government's policies of enforced Arabisation and Islamisation.

There are widespread accounts of supplicants for food and medicine being forced to give up their Christian names and religion and adopt Islamic names and practices as a pre-condition for receipt of aid, much of which is apparently given by western donors.

We witnessed the effects of the policy of no-go areas in places as far apart as Pariang, Marial and Mayen Abun in Bahr El Ghazal to Loronyo in Eastern Equatoria. People in their hundreds were dying around us of starvation and disease. When we walked through the bush, we often found ghost villages whose inhabitants had died of starvation. Others were dying in front of our eyes. And those who were still alive showed us how they alleviated the pangs of hunger by eating grass and leaves which had no nutritional value but which at least made their stomachs a little less empty. We also saw many dying from diseases which could have been treated. It is not surprising that many women and children have to flee the government-controlled areas to obtain essentials for survival. But they are often reluctant to do so because of enforced Islamisation and many prefer to die where they are.

The third area of concern relates to evidence of widespread, systematic slavery in north-western Bahr El Ghazal. In Nyamlell, we heard many testimonies from former slaves who had either escaped or been brought back by their families. We took evidence from Arab traders who return African women and children captured in raids and enslaved in the north. They are brought back to their families in the south for an average price of five head of cattle per person.

We also heard graphic accounts and saw evidence of barbarities perpetrated during raids by government-backed forces against African towns and villages. For example, in Nyamlell and surrounding villages, we saw the aftermath of raids by government-backed muharaleen militias who swept into those borderlands from the north, massacring and torturing civilians, burning homes and crops, looting, pillaging and taking their bounty back across the border, including human bounty in the form of slaves.

When Nyamlell was raided on 25th March of this year, 82 men were massacred and 282 women and children were taken into slavery; old people were tortured and left for dead. All cattle and goats were rounded up and taken and property was ransacked, including the contents of the clinic. The Government subsequently took Nyamlell off the list of permitted access airstrips—so the people who survived the raid, many tortured or wounded, had no food and no medicine. When our plane touched down, they ran to us with poignant relief exclaiming, "Thank God you've come. We thought the world had forgotten us. We have absolutely nothing".

Before moving to my conclusions I wish to make special mention of the Nuba Mountains which we visited in August and where we took evidence from both Christians and Moslems of attempted ethnic and cultural genocide by the fundamentalist Islamic Government of Sudan, using policies of enforced Arabisation of the Nuba Mountain people as well as enforced Islamisation of those who are Christians.

I also wish to put briefly on record our concern over the policies of the Government in Northern Sudan, with brutal suppression of political freedom as illustrated by the lengthy detention of Sadiq El Mahdi and many members of his party; widespread reports of torture and detention in infamous ghost houses of those who oppose the regime and enforced military training of captured boys and men to fight against their own peoples in the South and the Nuba Mountains.

Finally, it is a tragic fact that the suffering of the southerners is exacerbated by factional infighting. The problem is deliberately exploited by the government who provide arms to some of the factions. However, since the Lafon Agreement earlier this year, there has been an encouraging tendency towards coalescence of southern forces.

I have just come from a conference, convened by CSI, of Sudanese democratic opposition groups who agreed a number of very significant resolutions. Those resolutions testify to the growing strength and unity of the democratic opposition which represents at least 90 per cent. of the Sudanese people. Those unanimously endorsed resolutions also provide substantial grounds for hope that democracy, peace, justice and respect for human rights could become a reality in Sudan. Many of those resolutions are consistent with the questions which I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister.

First, will the Government encourage the international community to take a much firmer stand against all the components of the policy of the Government of Sudan of genocide, involving not only destruction of life and widespread enslavement, but also destruction of culture, language, community, religion and ethnic identity. That policy continues to create misery of indescribable proportions with over 1.2 million killed and over 5 million displaced in recent years. It also gives rise to dangerous political instability in Sudan and throughout the wider international arena.

Secondly, and more specifically, will the Government encourage the international community—and, in particular, the member states of the United Nations Security Council—to prevail upon the Government of Sudan to cease hostilities against the people of the South and of the Nuba Mountains and to honour its voluntarily accepted human rights obligations to all its citizens, by insisting on access for human rights monitors to visit all areas of Sudan, under the direction of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan, in order to investigate the extent of violations of human rights; insisting that all parts of Sudan should be open to access by humanitarian aid organisations; applying pressure on the Government of Sudan to desist from further military offensives against the people of the South and the Nuba Mountains, if necessary by imposing an arms and oil embargo upon the Government of Sudan and considering the establishment of safe havens and protected air corridors; increasing support for the IGADD peace process, especially the Declaration of Principles calling for the right of self-determination, secular government and democracy; and, finally, by establishing a regular dialogue with representatives of Sudan's democratic opposition parties in order to encourage policies designed to promote peace and justice for all people in Sudan.

I conclude by emphasising that one cannot quantify the suffering caused by man's inhumanity to man—one baby dying of starvation is one too many, as is one person suffering slavery. But in the tragic calculus of man-made suffering, the tragedy of Sudan ranks among the greatest in the world today. I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure your Lordships tonight that we in Britain will do all we can to step up efforts to bring an end to this horrendous catalogue of man-made suffering and enable all the people of Sudan to emerge from this dark chapter of their history.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, it is a privilege to be the first to be able to congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing forward this debate and also on her absolutely indefatigable and courageous efforts on behalf of persecuted people in different parts of the world. She is an example to us all and we should be grateful for her efforts.

I have myself in the past in a minor way tried to draw attention to the problems of the Sudan: the atrocities, the killings, the mutilations and the slavery so vividly described by the noble Baroness. I have had discussions with Dr. Garang and his colleagues in the past, and I have been grateful for the way in which particular Christian groups and others have done their best to alleviate the suffering.

I have in the past been somewhat critical of the Bishops' Bench in your Lordships' House. On 22nd November 1989 during the debate on the Address I mentioned the Sudan and drew attention to the fact that: Over the past few years there has been no contribution from any of the right reverend Prelates with regard to the Christian community in Sudan".—[Official Report, 22/11/89; col. 102.] Again the following year on 13th November 1990 I said: there has been a negative return from the right reverend Prelates on the subject of the Sudanese Christians. I am sure that it would give heart to their Christian brothers and sisters in the Sudan if the Bishops' Bench made a concerted effort to ventilate and publicise the appalling human tragedy unfolding in that country".—[Official Report, 13/11/90; col 291] Since then I am glad indeed to pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury who has been to Sudan twice with great effect. He has not only seen for himself what was going on, first, in the southern part but also, latterly, in the northern part, Khartoum, where he spoke out with great courage at public meetings at the excesses of the administration. The mere fact that the most reverend Primate visited the country raised the whole profile of this problem, not only in this country but also elsewhere. I am grateful for the attention which he has given to this matter because it is a human problem of immense dimensions.

It is easy for us to speak here tonight and to ask Her Majesty's Government their attitude about this and that, but this sort of situation is really only alleviated by governments who can say there is enormous public pressure and public opinion behind their representations. I want to make a particular plea tonight to groups in this country who, with the best motives and with great sincerity, seem to be obsessed with the minutiae of human rights in this country and who are pressing for a written constitution regardless of the fact that a written constitution was no protection in the Weimar Republic against the rise of Hitlerism and the death of 6 million Jews, ½ million gypsies and innumerable mentally handicapped and mentally deranged people.

It seems to me that if these people, however well intentioned they are, would only spare a fraction of their efforts to concentrate on the quite grotesque violations of human rights in places like the Sudan that would be immensely valuable. It seems to me that this is a case where the Government need the fullest co-operation from everyone who is at all aware of these problems. Even if these other campaigning organisations only spared a fraction of their time to concentrate on issues such as this it would give the Government much more power to their elbow. There are financial resources available to them and surely the plight of the people in the Sudan merits a little of their attention.

If that were done, I am sure that the swell of opinion in this country would be such that the Government's representations would be very much more effective.

There would be a real chance of the violations which are taking place, the appalling reversion to slavery and the other matters described by the noble Baroness being pushed back as the Government of the Sudan realised that there was a limit to the extent to which they could stand up to that international pressure.

I make an appeal tonight that we support the efforts of the noble Baroness. Everybody in this country who has the good will must rally behind her efforts to prevent this abuse growing and to push it back.

10.35 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, again we are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her intrepid missions to some of the most dangerous areas in the world, from which she brings back first-hand evidence. Repeatedly, she enters zones of conflict, bringing the victims relief and carrying vivid accounts of human rights violations to your Lordships and the world beyond. Her work in Sudan has already done much to focus public attention on the horrors of the conflict in the South and the oppression in the Nuba Mountains, and now, in addition, she has demonstrated that slavery is still alive and flourishing in Sudan.

The noble Baroness's investigation extends the findings of the Special Rapporteur, Dr. Gaspar Biro. He says that there has been an alarming increase in the number of accounts of slavery, and of the abduction of women and children, and he regrets: the total lack of interest shown by the competent Sudanese authorities with regard to the investigation of the cases brought to their attention over the past years". Since these crimes are perpetrated by the Sudanese army and the Popular Defence Forces all over southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, they are obviously a deliberate policy and not the aberrations of a few renegade soldiers.

One positive development noted by the Special Rapporteur was the announcement by the Government in August that all political detainees were to be released, and some well-known prisoners such as Sadiq Al-Mandi were freed. But others were not released, and more have since been detained. The Special Rapporteur mentions in particular Brigadier Al-Rayah, who refused to withdraw allegations of torture he made in August 1993. He should be released and allowed to present his case before a competent tribunal.

Scores of opponents of the government were arrested following demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum, sparked off by the arrest of 22 men on 2nd September. At least 23 people were killed when police and government supporters used live ammunition against the protesters. Opposition sources put the number at more than 45.

Some of the detainees may have been involved in the demonstrations, but others, such as the lawyers Mustapha Abdel Gadir and Mohamed Ali al-Sayid, were known opposition figures. So the ending of political detention, for which Khartoum earned good marks from the international community, lasted about two weeks.

Human rights problems in Sudan can only be solved if there is a drastic change in the agenda of the government. The government say that they are committed to human rights, but they reject the definitions of human rights which have been laboriously developed by the United Nations over the past 50 years, and have replaced them with their own peculiar interpretation of the Koran. That makes dialogue virtually impossible, as it was with Humpty Dumpty, who said: When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean". Without a change in the ideology of the regime, there is likely to be no political settlement of the conflict in the South, no satisfactory answer to the charge of acting as sponsors of international terrorism, and no stable peace with, nor end to the subversion against, neighbouring states.

The Sudanese Government say that they are committed to IGADD, although Khartoum is at loggerheads with all the neighbouring states except perhaps Kenya. It is hard to imagine how progress is to be made within that framework. To compound the problem, the government reject the Declaration of Principles mentioned by the noble Baroness, which is the only hope of an end to the war. They say that the federal system, with the shari'a only in the North, already caters for the multiplicity of cultures and religions, but the principles call for the establishment of a secular democratic state, the political and social equality of all peoples to be guaranteed by law, and the right of the South to determine its status by a referendum.

On Sudan's alleged support for terrorism, the US says that Khartoum provides a safe haven for members of international terrorist groups and that it allows Tehran to use Sudan as a staging post and a secure meeting site for Iranian-backed extremist groups. The Sudanese handed Carlos over to France, but they continue to play host to organisations such as Abu Nidal, the Lebanese Hizbollah and Hamas. They openly approve terrorist acts such as the suicide bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv last October.

Sudan denies these charges and says that the Americans have been unwilling to give details of acts committed in support of terrorism because the information is classified. The US asked the Sudanese to investigate the alleged training of terrorists at a camp north-west of Khartoum, but that was peremptorily denied by the regime without investigation.

According to Chris Hedges of the Guardian, Sudan was helping the Iranians to ship arms to Algerian terrorists. The Sudan ambassador here denies any Sudanese complicity in the growth of Islamic terrorist movements in the neighbouring countries and in north Africa. He says that they are purely indigenous and that they have arisen spontaneously in each of the countries separately. One must admit that the published evidence is largely circumstantial, and the intelligence services in Washington, and perhaps London too, should consider releasing more of the information on which they rely.

One very serious matter is the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak in June. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister says that the operation was supported, assisted and facilitated by the Sudanese security services. He claimed the operation had diplomatic cover and that weapons used were directly traced to Sudan. Ethiopia asked Sudan for the extradition of three suspects, but Khartoum said that it did not have enough information to enable it to identify and locate them.

The OAU has a mechanism for conflict' prevention, and it discussed the assassination attempt at its September meeting. Sudan is not a member and was given no opportunity to reply to the allegations before a statement was issued. The OAU should publish whatever information it has, including the observations made by Khartoum, so that we can form our own opinion about who masterminded the crime.

There is also a problem in evaluating the charges and counter-charges of aggression and destabilisation made by Sudan, on the one hand, and Eritrea and Uganda, on the other. Uganda, which broke off diplomatic relations with Sudan in April, says that there have been frequent incursions by the Lord's Resistance Army and the West Nile Bank Front from Sudanese bases into Uganda, killing, kidnapping and laying mines; that those groups are armed by Sudan and that they even wear Sudanese uniforms; and that Sudanese warplanes have bombed and artillery shelled Ugandan territory. Sudan, on the other hand, accuses Uganda of aiding the SPLA, although for four years it had a monitoring team in northern Uganda which failed to come up with any evidence.

In conclusion, there is a threat to peace in the region and some countries are considering a complaint to the Security Council. Before matters get to that stage, could the Secretary-General be asked to appoint a special representative to make a tour of the region and report on the evidence for the charges of aggression and subversion, and the feasibility of preventive mechanisms?

10.43 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter

My Lords, in my contribution this evening I shall draw on the first-hand experience of the Church of England in respect of conditions in the Sudan. One source of that first-hand experience arises out of the practice which is followed by nearly every diocese in England of having a link with a diocese or province of the Anglican communion in some part of the world. The diocese of Salisbury takes very seriously indeed its companion diocese link with the Anglican Church in the Sudan. A second source of that first-hand experience comes from two visits paid in two years by the most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of Canterbury. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, referred to them.

From those and other avenues, clear information is reaching people in this country and is causing concern. We learn the effects of the deep divisions and civil war in the Sudan. Twenty per cent. of refugee children are under-nourished, life expectancy in the south is around 36 years of age. There is a crisis in the development process, human rights abuse and religious discrimination.

I well realise that we cannot expect democratic methods which we took centuries to develop to take root overnight. We remember that the ancient Greeks found that they went through a period of tyranny before the city states gloriously prospered democratically. So other concerned governments may well have little room for manoeuvre. But that is all the more reason for keeping up awareness of the conditions for maintaining the pressure of uncomfortable facts, not forgetting them because action is difficult.

As regards action, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made very clear on his visits the importance of good relations between Christians and Moslems. I can assure your Lordships that the Churches in general in this country put considerable resources into the work of inter-faith dialogue. The most reverend Primate, having made the point on the spot of the importance of good Christian-Moslem relations, was then able to say that Islamicisation undermines fundamental freedoms. We in this country know that from our history, we know from sad experience that faith imposed does not work.

Another point which the most reverend Primate made—and he said it to them—is that the Sudanese are not forgotten people. Might one path of action therefore be through the United Nations Security Council? We bear in mind what I understand to be the case—the refusal of the Sudanese authorities to co-operate with human rights investigation and monitoring. The Government have a difficult path to tread. I understand that development aid has been suspended, essential humanitarian aid has not. Might one path of action in the present situation be for this country to support the training of Sudanese who are in this country in preparation for the longed for day when they can return and take part in reconstructing the south?

Our European partners operate an arms embargo, but I understand that the French Government continue with military training, thus contributing to the repressive power of the Sudanese Government. Is there scope to prevail on our European neighbours in that regard?

I have made so bold as to suggest three possible practical paths of action for the Government, but above all, I trust we may go on hearing the voices of the suffering people. I can assure your Lordships that increasingly the Churches in this country are hearing those voices. I trust that they are heard also with urgency and attention by those with responsibility for British foreign policy.

10.49 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, we have heard from my noble friend Lady Cox terrible details of what the Khartoum Government have been doing with impunity for some years now: slavery, bombing and enforced conversion to Islam. A letter in The Times today, speaking movingly of the plight of the Abkhazians in the Crimea, oppressed by both Russia and Georgia in an ethnic war, says: Were they an animal species there would be an outcry at the prospect of their extinction". That could be said of the Sudanese Christians of the south, who are suffering in the same way and encountering the same degree of general indifference to their plight.

I last took part in a debate on the situation in the Sudan in December 1992. Then, and ever since, my noble friend has made unremitting efforts to bring the facts before the world and to give the people, despite all the difficulties placed in the way by Khartoum and the very real dangers which attend her activities, some small reassurance that they are not entirely forgotten. She has done the same over an equally long period for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, who have been similarly desperately fighting to retain their independence in the face of heavy attacks by the Moslem Azeri, backed by Turkey and Iran.

While Nagorno-Karabakh is, sadly, an internal battle in another country where we have no real standing to intervene, southern Sudan has a long-standing British connection and presumably only the fact that Sudan was an Anglo-Egyptian condominium prevented it becoming, on independence, a member of the British Commonwealth. It shares a border with both Uganda and Kenya. What the Government of the Sudan are doing in the Christian south creates immense refugee populations in those two Commonwealth countries and is part of a widely recognised drive by militant Islamic fundamentalists, lavishly funded and armed by Iranian and Iraqi money, to create a new sphere of influence in east and south-east Africa and to destabilise. There is even a growing Islamic presence in Malawi in the vacuum left by Dr. Banda's fall from power.

We should therefore have a most serious concern about the impact of the unchecked and monstrous behaviour of the Khartoum government, and even more of their fundamentalist strategy, on the stability of two Commonwealth countries, even if we felt unable to intervene in "internal affairs".

I asked the Commonwealth Secretariat whether the situation in the Sudan had been raised at the last meeting. The answer was no, but I cannot believe that President Museveni has not raised it in London. I believe he has had to allow a military team from Khartoum to tour northern Uganda regularly looking for evidence of SPLA training camps. It would be surprising if he did not feel considerable sympathy for the Sudanese of the south. I hope that the most recent reports of Sudanese bombing in Uganda will lead to a serious complaint being made to the UN, strongly supported by Britain.

I find it amazing that we pour aid money and help of all kinds into what I can only call the bottomless pit of Rwanda while people with whom those in the Sudan political service worked all their lives and who are Christians are being subjected to forcible conversion to Islam in a way which good Moslems would reject as repugnant, wicked and a betrayal of Islamic faith. I recognise that the Government, like the IMF and, I hope, all the other funding organisations have withdrawn all aid from Khartoum. But as in Iraq, the ruling clique do not suffer. They have plenty of money. They control the wheat; they have all the arms they need to bomb defenceless women and children. Some of those arms are coming from the former Soviet Union. Belarus, a bare week ago, was reported to have despatched a transport aircraft to Sudan. The consignment included surface-to-air missiles as well as firearms and ammunition.

My noble friend the Minister will say that, especially while the Sudan has powerful and rich fundamentalist friends, there is effectively very little we can do to exert pressure to stop this one-sided war. But there are things to be done. There should be unremitting pressure in the UN and by the NGOs, action with the US, and a co-ordinated Commonwealth effort, for at least three African Commonwealth countries are at risk.

Not least, what are we doing as a Christian country to help Christians? The Church of England is constantly concerned to bring the young into the churches. Instead of promoting the nine o'clock service, with its media glitz, the Church could perhaps bring in the young by describing the plight of beleaguered Christian communities in the southern Sudan and arranging for a few of these tragic people to visit this country and tell their stories. Individual parishes could adopt villages; they would be able to understand what is happening in a real way. The young are generous. Such generosity should be harnessed and turned outwards to the needs of the world.

We are Christians: we cannot be indifferent. It is very good that the Archbishop has visited the Sudan and spoken to the Sudanese and that there is a diocesan link. But we need action at grass roots level. That is what I hope the right reverend Prelate will support.

To sum up, there are strong political and strategic reasons for governments to give this issue the fullest publicity, especially the refusal to allow observers. There are also strong moral and human reasons for reaching out as individual human beings to answer a cry for help.

10.55 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for bringing up the subject of Sudan, which, despite its tragic afflictions, is one of Africa's greatest countries and deserves much more attention from the outside world than it receives. Sudan has many friends in this country who are inadequately represented in your Lordships' House tonight.

Our concern for Sudan depends on accurate information, which is scarce. We have been fortunate to receive some of this information today. Where a country is so isolated, I believe that aid programmes can be not only valuable in themselves but can also be effective channels of information, even a form of diplomacy, because they provide an essential humanitarian bridge between one country and another.

Human rights advocacy is, in fact, now a well established element in aid programmes. It has been there for some time, but it was unrecognised for what it was: a simple message describing the human condition, whether the plight of refugees or the displaced, or the suffering of minorities under intolerable persecution. The outside world, and especially the media, are privileged to receive such human rights reports, without which we could hardly be aware of the degree of injustice that exists. Sadly, it is the forgotten emergency and, as the Minister well knows, a fairly intractable one.

I have spoken to aid workers and representatives of the Churches in Sudan. Having not many years ago travelled through both the north and south, I have some idea of the extent of the suffering, not only of the people but of those who have become the advocates and messengers of human rights' abuses, who are often the health workers, clergy, teachers and social workers—the very people on whom society depends. As we have heard, they are not only southerners but all those who have fallen foul of the government in the north.

Aid workers in Sudan are frequently in a dangerous situation. The logistics of aid in such a vast country means that the best efforts can suddenly be stifled. Only this week, 240 expatriates, including British relief workers, working with Operation Lifeline Sudan were stranded in the south because the government suddenly cancelled all relief flights. The whole international relief programme has come to a halt, perhaps because the dry season has given the SPLA a new advantage, which Khartoum is trying to frustrate. In a civil war anything can happen, but this is one of the most serious developments that have occurred this year, at a time when the operation itself is under review.

There are signs that with the SPLA regaining territory, bombing is being stepped up and the war may be moving into a new phase. We must recognise the value of our aid workers, not simply as channels of relief but as ambassadors of our goodwill who, as has been said, have a parallel duty to be advocates of the poor. It follows that we need not only to take every measure to protect aid and human rights workers in these situations but to take seriously whatever messages they convey to us. We must also look harder for longer term programmes which will reduce dependence on food aid and outside assistance, although that is especially difficult in Sudan.

There is one impression in the media which I should like to help correct; namely, that Sudan is a country in which religious organisations are rampant and engaged in some kind of eternal crusade for souls. There are fundamantalist Christians and Bible humpers around. I was once flown by a blue eyed southern Baptist, who said, "God called me from the crop-spraying". But the Churches in Sudan, from my personal experience, are working with all sections of society and do not discriminate in their relief and development work. I know that from my contacts with Christian Aid, which has a longstanding relationship with the Churches. As already mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the diocese of Salisbury, where I live, also has a valuable Partners in Mission link with Sudan, which, through visits and exchanges provides another important lifeline.

It is worth mentioning that in the west we make too many assumptions about religious motivation on the side of Islam and Christianity. On the ground, in the country, the picture is often very different. I am not saying that there are not some Christian missionaries who should be expelled; nor am I denying that President Bashir's language is plainly inflammatory when he says that God and the angels are all on his side. But that is simply page one of his government's propaganda manual. I believe that we should make more effort to understand the reasons behind current fundamentalism of all persuasions, but that is another story.

It is easy to argue that the legitimacy of the Sudanese Government is primarily the business of the Sudanese people and that we cannot interfere. Nevertheless, as we know from other places, there are things the outside world can do if it will only have the courage to do them. I will not try to describe what our Government should do; they must just do more of it. Aid must not be a casualty, though I know there is an aid review in process. Despite the public silence about human rights, a lot has been going on, as we have heard, within the UN and some member governments. I hope that pressure will steadily continue. There is a good case for tactful diplomacy and we must keep as many contacts as we can of all kinds, including parliamentary ones.

On the development side, we can do a lot more through the NGOs, and I should like to mention in particular education and training in order to restore skills inside the country. Such programmes do not qualify under the present rules. There is a not irrelevant story of the Saudi ambassador which has circulated for a long time. He could not find a Sudanese to mend his water supply. He sent for his plumber from Riyadh, who turned out to be Sudanese! We must not penalise the Sudanese people for their government's policies. It is vital to help them to develop human resources which will be badly needed in the future.

There is daily suffering, torture, slavery, indiscriminate abuse of human rights and flouting of every kind of UN convention in Sudan today. We, as the British public, should help to raise the profile of a country in which such human rights abuses exist and help to expose those who are responsible. We must continue to bring those injustices forward until the people of Sudan themselves can be empowered to change them.

11.2 p.m.

Viscount Torrington

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for so ably putting the spotlight on Sudan tonight. I should like to be able to commence my small contribution to this debate by declaring an interest, but in fact I cannot. And the reason I cannot says a certain amount about the present state of the Sudan, for outside this House I work in the oil industry and Sudan is potentially a major oil-producing country. Any such country is always of interest to an oilman.

In fact my association with Sudan goes back over 27 years, pre-dating my involvement in the oil industry. In 1968 I flew a light plane from Johannesburg to London, during the course of which I explored the southern Sudan quite extensively. Like many people I had always thought that the Uganda-Sudan border was the edge of the desert and was amazed to discover myself flying over a green and fertile land, and then over the Sud itself—perhaps the greatest swamp in the world.

Sometime, I think in 1972, I sat in Gordon's Palace beside the Nile and, as a representative of a major British company, signed with President Nimeiry the original protocol which led to the building of the great Kenana sugar project. That protocol covered a number of other projects which seemed to promise a new dawn for the Sudan. They included cotton growing, ranching and other agricultural projects in the south. Only Kenana ever got going and that was, as far as I know, the last significant development project to reach fruition in the Sudan.

Ten or 15 years later the American oil company Chevron discovered the Unity and Heglig oilfields in South-West Kordofan. They were massive oilfields and had the potential to revolutionise the economy of the Sudan. But today they lie fallow and undeveloped, in need of a 1,000 mile pipeline to the sea.

What are the reasons for the consistent failure of the Sudan to capitalise on its resources? As we all discovered tonight the reasons are very simple. After a brief and rare flowering of democracy under the Sadiq el Mandi's government in 1986–1989, the Sudan has since been governed by a regime with no democratic mandate, which has run the economy into the ground and which, by foisting dogmatic extremist Islamic views and Sharia law on to an unwilling population, a large chunk of which is actually Christian, has rekindled all the flames of a bitter civil war in the south and perhaps the unfortunate events which my noble friend described.

The renewed fighting in the south, if it was not so tragic in itself, has yet again delayed the day when the south could emerge as the breadbasket of Africa, which it undoubtedly has the potential to be. It has also made the development of the oilfields impossible, since a 1,000 mile pipeline is indefensible. In any case, no serious banking consortium is going to put up money for a Sudanese risk of any sort at present, let alone one in a war zone or pretty close to it.

The civil war, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, is also putting a lot of strain on Sudan's southern neighbours. For example, the Garamba national park in Zaire which remains, in a way thanks to the virtual collapse of the Zaire economy, one of the ecologically richest and most unspoilt national parks in Africa, adjoins the Sudanese border over quite a lot of its boundary and is coming under increasing threat from armed southerners in search of food. Meagre resources, donated by western countries and aid organisations, are having to be increasingly diverted to anti-poaching patrols and it will not be long before serious fatalities are incurred on both sides.

I understand that the Sudanese Government claim that Sharia law does not apply to Christian southerners, particularly in the south, or even in the north. I suspect that no sensible southerner would risk a hand or a foot to test that premise. But what is said to irk them most of all is the implication that they are mere second-class citizens, exempt from certain laws because they are simple savages who would not know any better.

As we all know, there are several precedents for more than one legal system in a single country. There is the UK itself, with Scottish and English law, or Hong Kong, soon to have a separate system within China. Surely the solution for the Sudan must be a proper north-south federation or some similar arrangement, with appropriate legal systems in both parts of that federation, particularly a secular democratic system in the south.

I understand that Khartoum has long resisted the idea of any break-up or real federalisation of the country, but then on and off it has also had a long-running civil war. Maybe one day the penny will drop. What is clear is that the present policies of the Sudanese Government will not endear them to a large sector of their population and until either the government or their policies change significantly, the country will remain an economic backwater and an international pariah.

I suppose that it is really all our fault. After all, we drew the lines on the map and lumped together all sorts of incompatible bedfellows all over Africa. Whether or not we are to blame, I look forward to hearing what my noble friend feels HMG can do to influence events in that beautiful but unhappy country.

11.8 p.m.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is to be commended once again for tirelessly raising this issue. The situation is grave but not yet hopeless. Previous Questions in your Lordships' Chamber relating to the Sudan, as tonight, have concentrated on human rights violations in the continuing civil war and the freedom of expression, particularly as regards religion. I believe that we have failed to address adequately solutions in the past. We must give moral and political encouragement and bring fresh ideas to mediating efforts. We must keep the negotiating process on track.

Sudan is made up of many cultures, some say incompatible, with 26 million people divided into a great many ethnic groups, separated by regional and tribal loyalties. The north with its Arab culture and the proud heritage of African southerners will have to be reconciled in the search for a sustainable solution. Those who speak for the nation have set a moderate Islamic course for Sudan. The Islamic faith is an ancient belief system embodying a code of conduct followed by many millions the world over. It deserves to be regarded with sympathetic and respectful understanding.

Islam, however, must also engage in dialogue with Christianity with the same respect and sympathy. The right reverend Prelate was clear on this point. Constructive dialogue to promote national reconciliation is essential. Certainly, solutions will not come from military means. We must convince our many friends in Sudan of this.

I believe that we must focus on the soon to be announced presidential and parliamentary elections. A non multi party political system is being developed, appropriate, it is hoped, to allow for the creation of stability and peace in the South. The Sudanese ambassador tells me that a firm date for next year will be announced in December.

There are two fundamental issues in that regard. First, will the elections be deemed free and fair by the peoples of Sudan and the international community? There are experienced observers who do not believe in the sincerity of the democratic commitment, and feel sure that the elections will be rigged. I ask the Minister to use her strongest diplomatic might to ensure that that is simply not allowed to happen. The foundations for peace will come only from a democratic base, fairly tested. I urge the President of Sudan to request monitoring by outside observers of the forthcoming elections. That has to be in his nation's best interest.

The second issue—and one follows on from the other—is this: will the rebels participate or boycott the process? Here there is a clear role for the world community. The futility of armed intervention must be exposed, with the usefulness of constructive dialogue emphasised, and concretely supported.

But what is the most effective mechanism involving the international community? I fear that the IGADD initiative is losing its drive, and sense a difference in approach among the recent Friends of IGADD group meeting in the Hague. I shall be delighted if the Minister this evening tells us otherwise.

That having been said, three principal objectives have been established by IGADD states: democracy, secular government and self-determination for the people of the South. Federalism, with equitable distribution of wealth and appropriate parliamentary and ministerial representation in a system of federal states, seems fair. There are 26 states in Sudan, 10 of which are in the South, with 70 out of the 300 parliamentarians also coming from the South. There appear to be an equitable number of Ministers representing all regions of the nation. Gender issues are addressed also.

I am not convinced, however, about the merits of self-determination. No matter how attractive to the South, I do not believe it realistic. For the Sudanese Government, the degree of autonomy demanded by the rebels would represent the break-up of the nation. Pluralism must be an essential ingredient for sustainable peace, with regionalism being the African way forward, with shared resources and shared responsibilities.

Finally, I ask the Minister: what incentives can Her Majesty's Government offer the authorities to push the process forward? The Lomé provisions, for example, have been suspended. Will they be restored after a free and fair election? The essential components for solution through dialogue exist. We must not, for the sake of the people, give up on Sudan. But, if the President does not follow a reasonable agenda, I would urge Her Majesty's Government to take a firm line on where their support lies.

11.14 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for initiating this debate once again. I should also like warmly to congratulate her on her courage in the adventurous trips which she takes. It is a wonderful example to all of your Lordships. Perhaps more of us should be experiencing these trips in difficult and dangerous places.

I congratulate also the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on his visit there. I am grateful for all that the right reverend Prelate has told us about it. The significance of what the most reverend Primate said in the Sudan has yet to be totally realised. I believe that it has been of great significance and that the Sudanese authorities have taken note of it. Perhaps I may quote from his speech there of 8th October, only six weeks ago. He said: I know about the thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes, who have left behind them all that they own and all whom they love. Many of them live on day by day, month by month, year by year, not knowing whether their loved ones are dead or alive". He went on to talk about torture, rape, the destruction of property, slavery and death in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere. It took a lot of courage to say that in public in Khartoum, in Juba and elsewhere and I warmly commend it. I think that it has had a great impact and that the government there have taken note of it.

I should like to see our Government more thoroughly involved in the situation. I have one positive suggestion for my noble friend the Minister. At the moment we have a very able and talented ambassador in Khartoum, but he is very much occupied with his work there. Could somebody else be allocated to our embassy there to do much of the routine work and thus set our ambassador free to cultivate the relationships that he would like to make with all the different parties around the Sudan? My information tells me that he has a gift for making relationships and he could be a source for making contact, making friendships and building relationships across the different divides. Can my noble friend say whether that is a possibility? I understand that our country still commands a lot of respect in the Sudan and I believe that we could carry out a long-term peace-making effort along those lines.

Sadly, I have never been to the Sudan, but my daughter visited it earlier this year in a light aeroplane. I am glad to say that she left just two days before her airfield was fought over and became out of bounds, as my noble friend Lady Cox mentioned. Unlike some other people who have suffered as a result, my daughter left before that happened.

I pick up two different sets of vibes from the Sudanese Government. In one voice they are saying that they would like to have a united south with which they could negotiate, instead of a warring south, but I understand that another part of the government is feeding ammunition to one of the warring factions and is encouraging the south to fight against themselves and wear themselves out without involving too much trouble for the government in the north.

I believe that, although a peace was negotiated between the two southern factions, it has broken down and attacks have been made. It is a great pity that the peace conference of many democratic Sudanese representatives which took place in Nairobi in early October did not have the benefit of representatives from the two warring factions attending it. That must have been a great loss, although it was clearly a useful occasion for spreading and sharing democratic views among the many different parties with a view to forming a united front.

I believe that our Government could be doing a lot more rather than waiting for the situation to develop. I hope that they are giving all the encouragement that they can to the democratic parties and maintaining efforts to try to stop the warring factions in the south so that there can be more sensible negotiations and perhaps peace and justice can come to prevail in that war-torn country.

11.20 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, not just for introducing the debate tonight but also for her unremitting efforts on behalf of the people of the Sudan. Every speaker in the debate has provided the House with a list of the appalling abuses that have been taking place there. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the bombardment of civilians; the use of chemical weapons in the Nuba; the enforcement of no-go areas and ensuing starvation; of widespread slavery; and, of course, of genocide. My noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe spoke of the persecution of Christians in the Sudan, as did the right reverend Prelate. My noble friend also emphasised the need for pressure from public opinion to he exerted in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the continuing detention of opponents of the Government and the support of international terrorism by the Government of Sudan. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, drew our attention to the effects of enforced Islamicisation, not only in the Sudan but also in neighbouring countries. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made reference to the many professional groups which have fallen foul of the Sudanese Government. The noble Viscount, Lord Torrington, focused on the destruction of the economy and the lack of the rule of law. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, talked of the huge displacement of people, as well as of rape and torture on a wide scale.

There is little that I want to add to this sorry catalogue of religious terror, military brutality, political corruption and contempt for anything resembling democratic ideals on the part of the Government of Sudan. Their consequences and those of the civil war, which is associated with many of the abuses, are almost too awful to contemplate. The numbers of dead are now running to well over 1 million people. Up to 5 million people have been displaced from their homes, many of them living in appalling conditions in refugee camps. There is, of course, also widespread torture, floggings and beatings and the disappearance of hundreds of political prisoners.

Our first objective must surely be to try to bring the war to an end, for it is the war which feeds so many of the human rights abuses. We must not forget that there are violations on all sides. Both factions of the armed opposition are guilty as well as the government. But any information that the Minister can give the House on the latest developments on the ground since the recent SPLA offensive would be helpful.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, implied, however dim the prospects for peace may look, clearly everything must be done to try to construct a viable peace process. The noble Viscount also said that the IGADD states' attempts to mediate have not had much success, partly because the NIF regime in Khartoum has opposed the basis for peace that the IGADD group has sought to establish. That included self-determination for the people of the south as well as secular government and democracy. Do the Government consider whether self-determination for the southerners should be insisted on in the peace process? Will the Minister indicate whether any new steps to try to achieve peace are planned?

There has been some disagreement in this debate concerning the aid programme in Sudan. Some noble Lords argue that it is a bottomless pit and we should abandon it. Others say that it should at least be maintained, if not increased.

The Labour Party supported the Government's decision in 1991 to cut off development aid, given the quite impossible task of dealing with the regime and obtaining any assurances that it would not be siphoned off. But we also support maintaining humanitarian aid and, in particular, famine relief. Will the Minister say something about the current position with respect to humanitarian aid and famine relief; and how much pillaging is taking place? Will she give an indication as to whether further support can be given to the NGOs to prevent looting?

Clearly, while the Government of Sudan argue that any food entering the Sudan is government property and then abuse their position, fewer and fewer organisations will support Operation Lifeline, which I understand has reached only 12 per cent. of its target.

Will the Minister comment also on reports that the Sudanese Government support Middle-Eastern terrorist groups, and in particular, Hamas? The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred also to the possibility that they were behind the attempted assassination of President Mubarak of Egypt. If that is true and destabilisation of Egypt is an objective of the Sudanese Government, then it is very serious indeed for the region. It appears that support for Hamas is at present at a relatively low level but if it increases, obviously the Middle East peace process would be further threatened and destabilised.

The Labour Party strongly supports the European Union arms embargo introduced last year. But it would be helpful if your Lordships' House could be told who are now the main suppliers of arms to both the Government of Sudan and the SPLA. What, if any, pressures are being put on those countries which are supplying arms to join the embargo?

Last month, the United Nations special rapporteur for the Sudan finished his report. I understand that it is now being discussed by the General Assembly. Is the Minister at all confident that this report, which sets out a deteriorating human rights situation from an already dismal base, will lead to any initiatives on the part of the UN? I repeat the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox: do the Government intend to raise the report and suggest possible action on it in the Security Council?

Finally, perhaps I may press the Minister on what assistance, if any, is being given to genuinely democratic groups and local human rights organisations in the Sudan. I believe it was the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who referred to action at grass-roots level. Surely it is vital to try to sustain all those fighting for tolerance and the right to speak without censorship and who face the possibility of being thrown into prison for doing nothing more than expressing views in opposition to those of the government. While so many opponents of that stinking regime are locked up, can we find ways in which to help those still at liberty to promote that liberty which we and they hold so dear?

11.29 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Cox and all those who have spoken in this debate. I join others in paying a very real tribute to her for the courageous way in which she travels into the most inhospitable lands. She always brings to your Lordships' House and to others more information that we can sometimes gain quickly in any other way. We are totally indebted to her, but we ask her to take care when she goes on those missions.

As always when we debate Sudan, I feel extremely sad. The whole House is deeply concerned about the appalling and, I fear, worsening human rights situation there. Back in August there was some limited improvement in the situation in northern Sudan, with the release of political detainees. However, that was quickly marred by the brutal suppression of student demonstrators in mid-September, and even worse cases continue to occur in southern Sudan where the long-running civil war is continuing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was absolutely right to say that abuses are, sadly, committed by all sides to the conflict and increasingly disturbing reports continue to emerge from southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains about the bombings of civilian settlements, the results of which my noble friend Lady Cox saw on her recent visit. The massacres of civilians and the systematic rape and slavery are things that we cannot turn our eyes away from; we should be recognising them. I well understand from the report of my noble friend's latest visit just how bad the situation has become.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Dr. Biro, issued his latest report last month. He concluded that the overall human rights situation had not improved. I think that we could all have told him that. However, Dr. Biro is looking for a way to persuade the Government of Sudan—and, indeed, the other combatants in this bloody war in the south—that that is not tolerable.

Britain has been active in securing the passage of some highly critical resolutions at the UN General Assembly over the past three years. We have also supported the renewal of the mandate for the United Nations Special Rapporteur at the session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in February. We repeatedly and regularly urge the Sudanese Government to improve their human rights record. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised the matter with the Sudanese Ambassador on 13th September. We have also urged the Sudanese Government to allow access to Sudan by Dr. Biro and other human rights groups.

We were encouraged by and very grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for the visit that he made earlier this year. His views were made well known to the Sudanese during what I would describe as one of the most valuable visits made by any prelate, let alone a Primate, to the area. I know from ordinary Sudanese people how deeply his visit was appreciated.

Our actions at international level must be matched by efforts throughout all the international institutions to help the poorest and the most vulnerable groups survive. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, we rightly no longer run a bilateral government-to-government development assistance programme. However, we continue our long-term development efforts through assistance to those British and international NGOs which are able to work in Sudan. So far this year we have committed about £1.5 million to local initiatives, including basic education and water supply. We are very prepared to do more. If the NGOs will outline to us what they want to do, we shall do our very best to help. But obviously our ability to help will be governed by the extent to which we can persuade the government in Khartoum and the SPLA to allow external agencies to work freely; and that is where we have had great difficulties.

My noble friend Lord Brentford expressed anxiety about the ability of our most excellent ambassador in Khartoum, Alan Goulty, to get out and about. I must say that under Mr. Goulty's leadership not only he but also other members of the embassy are travelling quite widely throughout Sudan. They are giving us much more information than was possible in the interregnum when we had no ambassador in the region, the last one having been dismissed by the Government of Sudan.

However, even though Mr. Goulty has recently been to the Nuba Mountains—as, indeed, has my noble friend Lady Cox—we cannot just by visiting places make the Government of Sudan change. There have been years of donor pressure, especially on the question of the Nuba Mountains, but the only concession gained has been some limited access by the UN to the government-held areas. Two Members of another place were also denied access during their visit to Sudan recently. Our deep concern with the Government of Sudan's intransigence does not make us give up but it makes us look for new ways of trying to press the case. We will continue to press both bilaterally and through the UN for access to relief for all those in need.

We have made it clear to the government in Khartoum that we cannot consider a greater aid relationship—I know the House would not wish it— unless and until there is political liberalisation; until there is a much improved human rights record; until they have adopted a positive approach to ending the civil war; and until they have reached agreement with the international financial institutions. But all these things are a long way off. Nevertheless we go on helping and although we have been concerned by the recent refusal—as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said—of the Sudanese to allow relief air flights into southern Sudan, we will continue to press for this opportunity to be reopened. I was much relieved to hear that the daughter of the noble Viscount got out safely but, as many speakers have said, there are many who are still in the area because they literally cannot move out of it. We are told by OLS that the Government of Sudan declare the ban to be temporary and say that it will be lifted in a few days. Those few days seem to be extending into many. We are certainly going to seek further EC action in order to put even more pressure on the Government of Sudan.

We continue to help Operation Lifeline Sudan as we have been doing now for some six years with over 27,000 tonnes of food aid and over £28 million of bilateral assistance. Undoubtedly the OLS operations have saved many lives but from what my noble friend said, and from what we know from our own embassy, there is much more to be done if the aid agencies could reach the people concerned. That is why I joined other aid donors pressing for more use of surface routes where security, weather and timescales allow. It is exceedingly expensive to deliver by air but at the moment the continuing military activity makes it extremely difficult to secure the trust of the forces on the ground and agreement to allow aid deliveries across front lines. Both those elements are needed for an expanded surface network of delivery of assistance.

More can be done. We shall continue to press for more efficient use of all those willing to contribute. We continue also to encourage—as both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned—the peace process sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority for Drought and Development (IGADD) and initiated last year. We are one of the friends of IGADD but I am afraid that at a recent meeting of the Global Coalition for Africa most of the presidents of the region told me they felt that no progress was being made with IGADD at the moment. We are doing our best to encourage it to get moving again but there certainly has not been any action over the past two to three months that I can see, certainly not action resulting in any useful outcome.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I hope she can answer my question on the IGADD condition with respect to self-determination for the people of the south.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the whole point of the IGADD conditions is that if the people in the south were to be given the chance to vote democratically and voted to separate there is little that could be done to prevent them so doing. However, at present there is no hope whatever of their being given the democratic option. Therefore, it is very difficult to see whether that condition is valid.

The noble Baroness and my noble friends Lady Cox and Lady Park of Monmouth asked about the dialogue with the opposition groups, which we value greatly. We have contact both in London and through our missions in Khartoum, Cairo and Nairobi. Those groups include the political parties which the Sudanese regime dissolved in 1989. We are supporting the re-establishment of a fully democratic system in Sudan, and we shall be interested to hear the detailed outcome of the conference on peace and democracy in Sudan which Christian Solidarity International is hosting and at which Sudanese opposition figures will be present.

The attitude of the Government of Sudan to all that outsiders are trying to do to help in a humanitarian way is not acceptable. They do not seem to value human life at all. They regularly prohibit aid deliveries to sensitive locations. They use agreed aid delivery routes for military purposes, opening aid workers to attack and preventing aid workers from using the routes. There are enormous problems in obtaining visas and permits to work. At the moment, even if the NGOs are able to start work they are often vulnerable to the unlawful requisitioning of their equipment and supplies. So in the midst of all they are seeking to do they are stopped completely in their tracks.

Once again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, the complaints are not restricted to the government. It is quite clear that some of the SPLA factions in the south are equally guilty. Therefore, we not only raise our concerns with the government but also with the SPLA.

I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about the offensive recently launched by the SPLA south of Juba. It is too early to assess the effect on the military situation, but it has undoubtedly had a highly disruptive effect.

Time is marching on, but I want to assure your Lordships that we will continue to raise with the Government of Sudan our concern at their harbouring of extremist organisations. We are deeply concerned at the allegations made by Sudan's neighbours that she is undermining regional stability by supporting extremist organisations. The allegations of official Sudanese complicity in the assassination attempt against President Mubarak of Egypt in Addis Ababa in June are taken very seriously, and we have been in close touch throughout with the Ethiopian and Egyptian authorities about that.

We believe that, if this matter is raised in the Security Council, the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, concerning the appointment of a special rapporteur to investigate the allegations of Sudanese support for terrorism should be considered and the report published. At present, work is going on to try to establish the facts, and that might be achieved more easily outside the Security Council than within it.

The human rights situation is atrocious, as we have heard from speaker after speaker tonight. We recognised at the February session of the Commission on Human Rights the importance of the action and of renewing Dr. Biro's mandate for another year. The resolution, which we co-sponsored, also recommended that Dr. Biro should begin consultations with the UN Secretary-General about the possibility of positioning human rights monitors in Sudan. We have urged the Sudanese Government to provide full access to such monitors, including the special rapporteur himself, but, as we all know, so far there has been no progress whatever.

It is quite clear from the many contributions in this debate and from all that we hear from those who are able to visit parts of Sudan that the situation is continuing to deteriorate. It is totally unacceptable in the 1990s that systematic slavery should still exist.

It is unacceptable that the long-suffering civilians in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains should continue to be the victims of the appalling atrocities committed by all sides in the conflict. It is unacceptable that the Khartoum regime is unwilling to live up to its international obligations and continues to refuse access to the special rapporteur.It is important and very valuable that your Lordships, through the noble Baroness's debate tonight, should have continued to shine a searching spotlight on Sudan so that we can publicise the tragic situation there. Britain is actively pressing the regime to mend its ways through our bilateral contacts, in concert with our European Union partners and through the United Nations. I can assure your Lordships that I will not let up on these efforts; and I hope that your Lordships will not either.

House adjourned at a quarter before midnight.