§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
asked Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude towards the recent moves to end the civil war in the Sudan, the historic links between the United Kingdom and the Sudan, and the case for an end to sanctions.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to speak on the subject of Sudan and to bring some of the recent developments within that country to the attention of the House. I declare an interest in this debate. I have visited Sudan on a number of occasions as a guest of either the Sudanese Government or the Sudanese Parliament.
Britain and Sudan have a long history of association. That history includes the fact that Sudan is one of the few countries to have defeated the British Army in battle. As a result, there has been mutual respect over a number of years. My Question covers three distinct points: peace, historic links and sanctions. Before I discuss these points perhaps I may point out that I have one pleasure and one sadness in introducing this debate. The pleasure, and indeed honour, is that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford has chosen to make his maiden speech in my debate. I welcome his contribution and the measured views that I am sure he will express. My sadness is that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has chosen not to speak in this debate. No debate on Sudan would be complete without a contribution from the noble Baroness, but I am sure her point of view will be ably expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks.
I believe that there are four contentious issues that emerge from any discussion of Sudan: political repression, religious persecution, slavery, and the training and harbouring of terrorists and the allegation that Sudan is exporting terrorism. I should like to touch on each of these matters because it is possible that noble Lords who follow me in this debate may try to undermine what I believe to be the most important matter that we should discuss—the call to progress the peace process. Indeed, I have organised a seminar which will take place tomorrow. Various people, including people in opposition, will attend to discuss the peace process.
I shall deal first with the issue of political repression. One index of a country's state of political health is the number of political prisoners. Despite the fact that Sudan has been involved in a civil war for almost 40 years, the US State Department, in its latest report on the Sudan, stated that although the Sudanese Government denied having any political prisoners it believed that there were several. I believe that, after 40 years of civil war and a coup eight years ago, compared with many other countries in a similar state of political and economic development Sudan has a good record.
I am particularly sensitive to issues relating to religious tolerance. I have therefore been interested to visit Christian churches and to speak with Christians wherever and whenever I have travelled in Sudan. While there is undoubtedly competition between the two major 1215 religions in Sudan—the Christian and Islamic faiths—in the parts of the country I visited I heard or saw nothing to substantiate the claims of religious oppression. I recently visited north and south Kordofan.
I found it interesting that in 1995 the Roman Catholic Church recorded with some pleasure that 6,000 adults were baptised at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Khartoum on Easter night alone. That is quite a throughput. I also note that between 1989 and 1993 500 new churches were built in Khartoum State. Many consist of only one room, hut they serve their Christian communities among the millions of southern Sudanese who have flocked to the capital. Anyone who has visited the refugee and squatter camps which surround much of Khartoum will see dozens of such small chapels scattered around the settlements. That is all in the heart of northern Sudan.
Furthermore, 4 per cent. of the Sudanese population is Christian. Christians make up 15 per cent. of the population of southern Sudan, with a similar percentage being Moslem and the majority being animist. Christians are disproportionately prominent in Sudanese affairs. The Vice-President of Sudan and several federal Ministers are Christians. One of those Ministers is also an Anglican bishop, Bishop Gabriel Rorich. There are scores of Christian members of the federal parliament. Christians are prominent throughout the administration and the army. Those are simple facts.
I turn to the issue of slavery. I wish to touch on it as an example of the misrepresentation of the human rights issue in Sudan. I refer to the allegations, heard on a regular basis in this Chamber, that the Government of Sudan are either sponsoring or conducting the taking of slaves and are party to some kind of slave trade in Sudan. Those are strong allegations. In October I travelled 1,500 kilometres in central and western Sudan, within Kordofan and the Nuba mountains, in the course of investigating allegations of slavery and slavery-like practices. I was a guest of the human rights committee of the Sudanese parliament and I was accompanied by a southern Sudanese Pentecostal minister. I found no evidence whatever of the allegations of slavery.
It is ironic that the very conditions that have seen a resurgence of abductions and ransoming are brought about by the very gunmen who some in this House unconditionally support. In any instance, these conflicts and this behaviour is unacceptable, but it does not constitute slavery. Many in this House would appear to have accepted at face value views and statements by groups such as Christian Solidarity International which have subsequently been dismissed by professional human rights activists as misinformed. Mr. Alex de Waal, the director of African Rights, has, for example, described the claim of Christian Solidarity International in respect of slavery as "over eager" or "misinformed". He has further added that such claims have played upon lazy assumptions to raise public outrage. For the record, Alex De Waal has clearly stated that there is no evidence for centrally organised, government-directed slave raiding or slave trade.
Perhaps the oldest human rights organisation in the world, Anti-Slavery International, in its 1997 report on Sudan, stated that the charge that government troops 1216 engage in raids for the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence. The Anti-Slavery International report also stated that a rigorous inquiry into claims that the Khartoum government were engaged in a slave trade would not be able to demonstrate a policy of slave trading.
Perhaps I should also touch on the Baltimore Sun expedition. It related to a visit to Sudan to areas not controlled by the government which was organised by Christian Solidarity International. Journalists from the Baltimore Sun claim to have bought two slaves out of captivity. That received coverage around the world. Both African Rights and Anti-Slavery International have been critical of such claims. De Waal stated that the journalists were in fact paying a ransom to a go-between in a scheme where families pay, through a middleman, for their hostage children to be redeemed. They were not in a slave market. It is a horrible practice, but it is not slavery. De Waal accused the activities of such American newspapers of supporting sensationalist stereotypes.
Both Anti-Slavery International and African Rights warned that such sensationalist expeditions run the risk of inflating the ransom for kidnap victims beyond what local Sudanese families can afford and may even create an incentive for further raiding and abductions. Anti-Slavery International quoted a southern Sudanese closely involved in retrieving hostages and kidnap victims as saying that such outside intervention with big sums of money may make matters worse and can encourage others to capture and facilitate the retrieval of more children for economic motives. That is what the Sudanese would call a harmful traditional practice. This member of the Dinka retrieval committee was saying that westerners were making the situation worse. That is one example of how Sudan's human rights record has been grossly distorted by groups and individuals outside Sudan.
The present United Kingdom Government have said that the observance of human rights is to be the key element of British foreign policy. I welcome that, but in Sudan human rights is a very complex issue. The biggest need of most of the population is for a just end to the civil war. Attention to human rights, although correct in itself, must not be allowed to absolve the Government of the need to think clearly in the search for a political way forward to stop the war.
That leads me to the issue of peace. I must again declare an interest. I am unreservedly committed to the cause of peace in Sudan and I will do everything that I can to help to bring peace and justice to that country. The political and constitutional problems that have beset the people of Sudan, and which lie at the heart of the civil conflict that has blighted Sudan since before independence in 1956, are in a large measure the result of British colonial policy when the British Government ruled Sudan as two separate countries and then tried to stitch the two together at independence.
Every government since independence have been caught up in the civil war in the south. From 1972 to 1983, there was peace in Sudan. The peace resulted from the granting of autonomy to the south. which is in 1217 fact very similar to the measures proposed under the general peace agreement signed in April 1987. The peace ended when Nimeri revoked the arrangement for various internal political reasons. It was that act and not the subsequent imposition of Sharia law which caused the civil war to start up again. That war has cost probably a million Sudanese lives.
My Lords, I apologise, but I was told by the Government Whips' Office that I should have 15 minutes in which to speak. However, it seems that that is not the case and I must wind up. I feel very strongly that the position which Her Majesty's Government are taking on the issue of sanctions is rather transparent and unhelpful. If one looks at what happened in relation to the attempted assassination of President Mubarak and the subsequent events, any clear-sighted examination of that issue will indicate that the British Government and the United Nations are asking the Sudanese to do something which is quite impossible; namely, they are asking them to extradite people who are not in their country. It seems to me that the British Government, possibly following the American Government, simply do not wish to see an end to the war in Sudan and an end to the problems in that country.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Bradford
My Lords, I am profoundly grateful that this opportunity has arisen to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House. My first wish is to thank very sincerely all those—not least the Officers of your Lordships' House—who have offered extremely necessary and welcome encouragement and support.
I too have had the privilege of visiting Sudan and I work in a diocese with very strong links with Sudan. I am among those deeply concerned about the agonising situation for the whole country and not least for the Christian community and the people living in the south of Sudan.
It is almost impossible for most people in this country to imagine the suffering inflicted in a civil war which lasted from 1955 to 1972 and in the renewed warfare of the past 15 years. I believe that that is the longest running war this century. It is in a country which is the size of a continent; which borders on nine other African countries; and thus having considerable implications for the regional stability of the Horn of Africa and East Africa.
It is difficult to obtain reliable data on the number of deaths due to three decades of war. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, may have been slightly on the conservative side in his estimates. I have seen estimates ranging between 1.5 million to 2 million. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are about 2.5 million displaced people of whom about 1.8 million live in or around Khartoum. Like the noble Lord, I too have visited many of those townships—Jebel Aulia and others—and have seen the suffering and also the attempts to provide aid in those townships. There are also 450,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.
1218 At a meeting on 13th November, the New Sudan Council of Churches stated:Our heart-felt distress is that the escalation of fighting. hostility and war continues to cause death on an immense scale, massive social displacement, famine and hunger and devastating psychological, social and material damage. We express concern that the war may escalate to unimagined levels of killing and violence.That is a chilling prospect for a country which already has had so much suffering and warfare.
As always, it is the children and women who have borne the brunt of that suffering. It is little wonder that when I journeyed both in the Khartoum area and in the Nuba mountains, in towns and villages alike, the universal prayer of everyone I met was for peace. To be wholly dependent on others for food and drink, for shelter and medicine and to have to place your life wholly in the hands of other people is to be vulnerable indeed. Stories of appalling violence abounded and accusations were made against both the government forces and those of the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
Church leaders who have visited the Sudan, including the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury twice in recent years and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and others, would not normally impress your Lordships' House as being military strategists, political analysts or diplomatic specialists. I make no claim whatever in any of those fields. Nevertheless, the Churches and development and mission agencies in that and other countries have a long-term commitment to all the people of Sudan and we can articulate some of the anxieties of the people in between—that is a phrase worth pondering, "the people in between"—the fighting whose main concern, indeed, whose whole concern, is simply that of survival.
It is a long-standing and complex conflict. As the noble Lord, Lord McNair, indicated, it is most certainly not a war between Christians and Moslems for there are people of each faith fighting on both sides. There will be no speedy resolution and certainly not from outside. The situation, however, cannot continue; it cannot wait until the killing ceases. The people, particularly of southern Sudan, need development aid from governments such as our Government have provided within the framework of Operation Lifeline Sudan. They need the continued support of the aid agencies, the Churches and other people with good will.
Debt relief is also needed. Sudan carries a heavy burden of debt but I believe that must be done in a way which does not mean that more funds are available for the purchase of arms. There is, I suggest, a need for a fully water-tight international arms embargo going beyond the European Union arms embargo which the Government rightly support.
The people in Sudan want peace but not peace at any price. The great fear which was articulated time and time again in tiny villages in the Nuba mountains and in Khartoum itself is that they will be forgotten by governments and people in the rest of the world. After all, there is so much suffering. It is my wish, in all honesty, to be able to say to people in Sudan when I hope to meet them next month, "You are not forgotten". Today I look for assurance that I can say that, and say it in good faith.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford for injecting a note of good sense, sincerity and wisdom into our debate. I hope that we shall hear from him many times in the future. It was indeed a wonderful speech. I must mention the fact that the right reverend Prelate started out as a messenger boy with Unilever. I hope that he will not mind me singling that out because he was obviously at a cornerstone of the Empire, as it was in those days, and had much to do with the Sudanese economy.
I am especially pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate because he has been concerned with the ecumenical world for so many years. For 14 years he was the diocesan ecumenical officer and bishop's adviser in ecumenical affairs in the Newcastle diocese—a post which he held until 1978. He was Bishop of Maidstone in 1987 and worked closely with the then Archbishop of Canterbury in that diocese. I hope that we shall hear again from the right reverend Prelate on this and many other subjects related to ecumenism and overseas aid.
Sudan deserves a better response from Britain and the European Community. This great country, sprawled along the Nile with many different peoples and thousands of miles of semi-arid bush, is obscured by as much prejudice and negative image as it is by natural geography. It also furnishes many instant experts like myself who, from one unforgettable visit, are able to spin a one-day web of profound experience.
The country seems to attract much expertise and to have two debates on the subject in one fortnight may be some small compensation for our neglect of a country with which we have had many associations. We owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for introducing this debate. I am sorry, too, that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is not present here to share in our discussions. In fact, I registered my disappointment with the Whips' Office on Friday that two debates on the subject had been tabled. If we cannot gather two or three of our prominent speakers on the same subject in the Chamber, how can we expect the two sides of the Sudanese civil war to come together in one room in Nairobi?
There is a great deal of wishful thinking about the imminent fall of President al-Bashir along the Laurent Kabila model. Over the past few years peace and war have succeeded each other like yo-yos across the battle lines of the southern south-eastern and eastern frontiers. As we speak, the SPLA commanders are threatening to attack Juba. Moreover, as we speak, the Ugandans are preparing to contain the Lords Resistance Army and the northern coalition is bracing itself for further government bombing in the Nuba mountains and along the Eritrean border. On the face of it, there is nothing really new. Yet I accept that there has been a shift in government policy and that there are elements in the April peace agreement which hold out hope for the thousands of citizens who have 1220 already suffered the loss of their families in violent massacres and human rights violations perpetrated by both sides over many years.
I must declare an interest in that I was on the staff of Christian Aid from 1974 to 1986, and later worked with Save the Children and CARE International. I am also a new council member of Anti Slavery International, but I do not see the word "slavery" on the Order Paper. I shall, therefore, pass on that one today.
When I fist joined Christian Aid there was a strong sense of optimism after the Addis Ababa agreement in which the Churches played a prominent role: would that the same conditions prevailed today! A few years later I travelled the whole length of the country and saw for myself some of the effects of the war in areas of the south which were potentially rich.
In the Upper Nile I was especially impressed by a health programme. Ironically, this was at Bentiu, the very spot on which Chevron was expecting to turn the semi-desert into the South's greatest asset—but that has been one of Sudan's longest and cruellest mirages. I there learned not to write off communities which were so poor that it seemed impossible for them to survive on their own. This is still the case in many parts of Sudan, where a lot of positive work is being done despite the civil war. That is often because of the resilience which comes with sheer survival.
It is nearly seven years since we, the United Kingdom, suspended our development aid programme early in 1991. I do not have any quarrel with our Government's renewed support for sanctions under the most recent Security Council resolutions on terrorism. Sudan's diplomatic isolation, albeit under considerable American pressure, is understandable as long as President al-Bashir maintains his unholy alliance with Iran, Iraq, Libya or whoever will pay for his crippling civil war and debts to the IMF. Nevertheless, in such a hostile environment it now seems that there is a difficulty in funding the most basic kind of development aid. That is the dilemma with which I take issue: the dilemma between the securing of real aid to the poorest people and the safeguarding of human rights as presented by the new White Paper.
I do not suggest that we put more money into giant agricultural schemes and plantations. However, given our historic role, we ought at least to be able to do better than the French and find ways to promote trade at the right level and cultural exchanges such as those which the British Council continues to organise. I hope that the Minister will refer to some of those more practical forms of private aid and investment—that is, aid for appropriate technology, for example, which benefits the local economy and the poorest people at the same time. I am thinking of things like water pumps, agricultural tools and stoves.
However, I understand that there has been a more serious move away from that kind of development aid. Until recently the non-governmental organisations believed that this Government were committed to humanitarian aid in Sudan. But it appears from my conversations with at least two agencies that the European Community has begun to hold up food aid allocations
1221 even to the non-governmental organisations on the grounds of sanctions. I shall quote from a letter received by an NGO from Brussels only last week, dated 24th November. It states:The situation in Sudan, in particular the position taken by [a] Government which is not conducive to resolve issues relating to the food security in the country, does not provide the proper frame for meaningful food aid interventions by the European Commission".I am sure that the authors of the White Paper would not want to discourage aid through our most experienced NGOs to people who desperately need it. In fact, my information from the dozen or so agencies in the Sudan, both British and international, is that, on the whole, they are operating well and have enjoyed good working relations with the Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner and with the regional.governments where they work. The difficulties are in Europe and the United States, not in Sudan.
Apparently, this year even the world food programme only had 1,000 tonnes of grain to spare for western Darfur, an area of particular need, and the EU has been unable to make up the shortfall. There is even some uncertainty as to whether ECHO or DG8 has responsibility for it. In one case there was near farce when an early warning system received funding to ascertain that there were acute shortages but not the actual food. This is a critical situation, given the fact that next year we may see Sudan on the danger list.
There are also some wider but related concerns. Support for the NGOs in the past few years has fallen drastically as official donors have squeezed them towards the emergency end of the spectrum. One agency, Care International, had to cut its programme by nearly two-thirds in 1994-1996. This not only hit some of its best work but it threatened the viability of the entire programme which goes under the heading of humanitarian assistance. This is the work which I believe is described in the White Paper and is part of the Government's central objective.
NGOs with DFID support have been able to carry out highly imaginative schemes almost in spite of the civil war, such as guaranteeing water supplies through rain catchment and hand-dug ponds, offering small business credit and even healthcare in areas where there are already food security and emergency food distribution projects. All I ask of the Minister is that she gives an undertaking that, in principle, those programmes should not suffer and that the DFID staff continue to apply flexibility wherever possible. The workers in the field are best placed to decide whether a programme is benefiting the people. Strange as it may seem, even in the midst of civil war and demonstrable human rights violations, the NGOs are often the only means of meeting human need.
I declare one more interest as a member of the Anglican Church in Salisbury Diocese, which next year celebrates a 25 year link with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The link is essentially Christian but it shows no prejudice towards traditional Islam. In my experience, there is a particular effort among the Churches to build bridges with Moslems who reject Sharia law and respect Christian traditions too. The Churches have close relations with 1222 leaders on both sides of the conflict, north and south, and any final settlement is likely to benefit from their close personal ties which transcend religion and politics.
There is no way that we can know about all the various emergencies which occur in Sudan, but where we know about them and can help it is surely important to keep people alive. I should be grateful to hear from the Minister that Britain also supports Sudanese refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia and ensures that help arrives in time. The best hope, as we all know, is a long-term solution to the civil war through the IGAD process, but in the meantime we must encourage the existing efforts of our non-governmental organisations and aid agencies who bring direct aid to those who most need it.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for introducing this subject today. I propose to concentrate on the peace issue and not branch off on to slavery. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his fascinating speech. We appreciate that he speaks from personal experience, having visited the country. He made an interesting speech. I look forward to hearing from him again on many occasions. Reference has been made to the absence of my noble friend Lady Cox. I believe that I read that she had to be in Russia at the present juncture as she had a commitment that she could not break and she was sorry not to be able to participate in this debate. She is not absent for any reasons of churlishness. As I said, she has to be abroad.
I believe that I am the first speaker in this debate who has never visited Sudan. I confess that grievous sin to the right reverend Prelate. However. I have a great many connections with East Africa. I have discussed the Sudanese situation with people who travel in and out of Sudan from time to time. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord McNair, quite rightly said; namely. that this is in no sense a religious war. There are many Moslems fighting against the government forces. It would be much more apt, or nearer to the mark, to suggest that this is a genocide by the Arabs of black Africans. However, that is a gross over-simplification of the situation. Certainly, Moslem leaders who are not supporters of the government plead with Moslems not to fight for the government forces against the southern Sudanese and others with whom the GOS is fighting.
It was a pleasure to have the presence of His Excellency the Sudanese Ambassador at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. That is undoubtedly a Christian prayer event. However, he is a charming Moslem and his support of the breakfast was welcome. The April peace agreement, to which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred, is, I believe, pretty ineffective. The war has continued irrespective of that because, as the government admitted, the SPLA was not a party to the agreement.
I wish to mention three key concerns of the Christian Churches at the present time. First, there is the question of human rights. The Churches are active in checking and publicising any breaches of human rights whether by the government forces or by the SPLA. The Churches do this in an even-handed fashion. The Churches will publicise the actions of anyone who breaches human rights. This 1223 step is effective with regard to the SPLA. Certainly, Mr. Garang has made great efforts to try to discipline his people as he does not wish to incur the bad publicity which would arise if the Churches publicised breaches of human rights by his people.
Secondly, there is much concern about intimidation of and pressure on the Churches and the Sudan Council of Churches in Khartoum in the wake of the American sanctions. The government appear to be venting their anger at these sanctions on the Churches. I shall return to the question of sanctions later. A third concern is the repeated reports of the production of poison gas and the possibility of its being deployed by the government. There have been reports of this in the Sunday Times. The Churches fear that possibility at the present time.
I turn now to three recommendations. First, the IGAD process is the only viable peace move at present in the eyes of the Churches. IGAD is the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development. A round of talks took place last month. Cannot they be resumed before April, the date given by the noble Baroness in a Written Answer to my noble friend Lady Cox of 24th November? Is there no way in which our Government can bring influence to bear for the resumption of talks at an earlier date than April? If a date were given for early in the new year, that would surely be an encouragement to people who are working for peace. A regional solution is required, not the limited "peace from within" of the GOS policy. Certainly the British Government have authority and influence to bring to bear. I hope that they will continue to do so.
Secondly, I return to the question of sanctions. Although the Churches are suffering because of the sanctions they believe that the sanctions are positive in that they maintain pressure on GOS and encourage more flexibility in negotiations. Therefore at the present juncture the Churches do not want the American sanctions to be eased. "Please let us talk" is what they are saying. Thirdly, I make a plea for strengthening the role of the Churches in the peace negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord McNair, rightly pointed out, the Churches are flourishing in these difficult times. The Anglican Church, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, is growing both in numbers and spiritual maturity, despite the appalling difficulties that are faced at present. Do the Government consider that the Churches are being used adequately in the peace process?
East Timor is another country with a difficult human rights situation. Bishop Belo has played a prominent part in peace negotiations in East Timor. I quote from Timor Link:What is needed is a mechanism for consulting far greater numbers of ordinary East Timorese people, particularly women. A peacebuilding initiative that works from below, complementing the top-down approach, would be timely and could have a lasting effect. although no one should underestimate the difficulties".There could be great support for the peace process if those working for peace through the IGAD principles were able to consult people at the bottom so that there could be a growing consensus to work for peace upwards from people at the grassroots as well as those working from the top down. I hope that the Churches, Christian people and 1224 Moslem people from the ground upwards could be more involved so as to bring about the peace and justice for which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, rightly asks.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, about the way these debates have been arranged, because the more we debate situations such as those in Sudan, the better it is. To have two debates so quickly is not at all a bad thing, because the situation is serious.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, said that I might he speaking on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I liaise closely with the noble Baroness. whose work I greatly admire, but I am speaking for myself tonight, and I know that he will accept that. I join in the congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, whose speech I greatly welcomed. The participation of the Bishop's Bench in debates of this nature is extremely welcome, because only today I came across the information that a report published in July revealed that the persecution of Christians is thriving around the globe. That report was produced by the US State Department.
An author, Paul Marshall, stated that maltreatment was widespread:I would say in the last five years there has been persecution of Christians in 40 countries. By persecution I mean there may be physical beatings, imprisonment, church burnings, maybe death, I don't just mean discrimination".He went on to say that the persecution of Christians was most common in Islamic countries and countries that remain under strict communist rule. The report was prepared on behalf of the US Congress, which demanded a detailed summary of US policies in that field. I understand that the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has instructed her delegations and embassies throughout the world to be especially vigilant on this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned allegations in this Chamber with regard to slavery. He was not terribly flattering about Christian Solidarity International. Let us therefore go to other authorities which might carry a little more weight with him. Dr. Gaspar Biro, the UN rapporteur on human rights in the Sudan said in February 1996:There has been an alarming increase in the number of reports…of slavery, servitude, the slave trade and forced labour. I regret the total lack of interest shown by the competent Sudanese authorities".More recently, in November this year, the UN Human Rights Committee lambasted six nations, two of them in Africa, for their poor human rights records. One of them was the Sudan. The committee held sittings for some three weeks. It produced its report, and the abuses in the Sudan which it listed included the crucifixion of convicts, slavery and the press-ganging of children into the army. The committee's chairwoman, Christine Chanet, said:Sudan's failure to respect international human rights agreements 'cannot be excused by custom or domestic laws—.She was speaking after 18 experts had examined Sudan's record of respecting civil and political rights. She singled out extreme cases of abuse such as corporal 1225 punishment, the crucifixion of some convicts sentenced to death, abductions, disappearances, torture, slavery and the forced call-up of children into the army. She said that she welcomed the resumption this week of the peace negotiations between the Islamic military junta ruling Sudan and the Southern rebels waging the 14 year-old civil war in the country.
That is a question of the human rights of individuals. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, mentioned the report in The Sunday Times of 16th November. This matter is so serious that it merits a little more detail than he gave the House. The article is headed:Behind women and children Iraq making lethal gas in covert Sudan pact".Earlier this afternoon, in relation to a question about the Middle East, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to the Israeli people living under the threat of chemical and biological warfare. We are all aware of the recent inspection crisis with regard to sites in Iraq, and how that now appears to have been resolved. If the report is correct, Iraq is apparently moving into the Sudan. The article states:Iraq is manufacturing poisonous gas at a secret location in Sudan. Bypassing the ban on weapons of mass destructions which the United Nations imposed on Baghdad after its defeat in the Gulf War …The report gives the location of where mustard gas is being stockpiled, production having been said to have begun in 1995 under a clandestine deal between the Khartoum and Baghdad Governments to circumvent the UN's military and trade embargo on Iraq.
If that is true, the situation is appalling. It should be brought to the attention of the international authorities. The article concludes:Sudan is internationally isolated for dabbling in terrorism and for human rights abuses—those already referred to—and in particular it is a rogue state in the Middle East because it harbours terrorist movements and was involved in the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak. That is a serious situation, and one which should have detailed and urgent attention.
Early this morning, quite by chance, I was watching the estimable BBC 24-hour news service. As the vice-chairman of the BBC, I have to say that, but the programme is actually extremely good. I saw an interview and report on the recent visit to Egypt of Colonel John Garang. He is the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army. He was invited to go to Egypt to see the president—it was his first visit—because President Mubarak wished to find out more from Colonel Garang about his attitude towards the situation in Sudan. He reported that he talked of his commitment to the unity of Sudan: that there was no wish to create two separate countries: that there should be unity, but that it should be a unity which included all citizens on the basis of the incorporation of their various diversities and creeds. He explained that the real threat the country faced was the insistence by its Islamic rulers that there should be no tolerance of other ethnic groups and religions. I believe it is helpful that Colonel Garang 1226 has now had this meeting. He said that the president and officials showed great understanding of the position that he had outlined.
It is my hope that the situation can be resolved. Sudan is an enormous country in physical area. I believe that it is some 20 times the size of this country, although the population is only about half ours. If there is more effort and more goodwill, I believe that conditions may become more tolerable. I hope that our small contributions in this House will give encouragement and hope to people outside the House when they read and consider them.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I endorse the congratulations already expressed to the right reverend Prelate on his remarkable maiden speech, and on the way he painted in such vivid colours the agony of the people of Sudan in what he described as the longest running war of the century. I wish also to express my warmest appreciation of the positive recommendations he made. The first was that the embargo on arms supplies to Sudan should be made universal. Secondly, the right reverend Prelate said that we did not want peace at any price. I shall come to that point later, if I may. The contribution that the right reverend Prelate made to our debate was significant. We hope very much to hear from him again, not only on Sudan but on other matters relating to human rights in Africa and other parts of the world.
We are also grateful to my noble friend Lord McNair for having initiated the debate. It gives us the opportunity to look at those human rights situations and the peace process in Sudan. We have more than enough to do in discussing one or the other. As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, said, it is no bad thing that we shall have another debate later when we can perhaps discuss in a little more detail some of the human rights issues on which my noble friend touched.
My noble friend was good enough to send me a copy of the report he made on a visit he paid to North and South Kordofan as the guest of the Sudanese Parliament. He is right to emphasise that that body is not independent. It is an organ of the state, whose primary concern, I believe, is to deceive the international community about human rights in Sudan.
My noble friend described the meetings he had with people in North and South Kordofan and his review of the literature from which he concludes that there is no slavery in those areas. He misses out some important sources, in particular the report of the special rapporteur on Sudan, Dr. Gaspar Binó whose most recent report was presented to the third committee of the General Assembly in October. The special rapporteur takes note of the denials of slavery in the Nuba mountains area but points out that in previous years the reports of these practices were mostly from the south, in particular from areas under government control to which neither my noble friend nor the special rapporteur have gained access, such as Al Dein and Gogrial. The special rapporteur states that for the past eight years international NGOs have been forbidden to go into these 1227 areas. He quotes the Special Committee of the Government as saying that it, too, was unable to gain access to these places, or to Nyamlell and Aweil. Those places are all in the province of Bahr El Ghazal in the south-west of the country, bordering on the Central African Republic.
The special rapporteur makes a number of recommendations in relation to the activities of the Special Committee on Slavery in Sudan, but says that none of them has been implemented. He promises that he will report on the issue in detail to the Human Rights Commission next spring, but that in the meanwhile there is enough evidence to show that slavery and slavery-like practices are alive and flourishing in parts of Sudan, as the United Nations General Assembly found. The UN Human Rights Commission, too, said that it was,deeply concerned about continued reports of slavery, servitude, the slave trade and forced labour, the sale and trafficking of children and their abduction and forced internment, often at undisclosed locations".However, in the time that remains for the debate, we should concentrate perhaps on the peace process. Not being part of the Government, my noble friend and I are at liberty to offer some observations on the dispute. Once again, on this subject I am afraid that we shall have to disagree. I believe that our support for the peace process does not mean that we have to endorse the formula that has been presented by the regime and embodied in an agreement between the Government of Sudan and some of the smaller factions in the south, in particular the South Sudan Independence Movement of Commander Riek Machar. Last year I asked Riek Machar's organisation whether he and others were allowed to form political parties. I also asked the ambassador whether those people would have offices in Khartoum or parts of the south-east. I asked also about the co-ordinating council which was to be established according to the declaration of April 1996. Would it have a secretariat? Where would it be located? The new agreement again provides for a co-ordinating council consisting of a president, 13 ministers and 10 Southern Sudan governors, but there is nothing in the agreement about how those people are to be elected or selected, and what their powers are to be.
The agreement says that there is to be an internationally monitored referendum in four years which will give the people of the south the choice between federation and independence. "The south" is not defined, and wherever the boundary may be drawn the agreement does not give people on either side of the boundary any separate right to choose whether they would prefer to be part of the north or south. That could be of material importance if the south decides in the end that it will secede.
The agreement is also silent on how the south will be administered in the four years leading up to the referendum. If the SPLA lays down arms and submits to the NIF in the regions it now controls, how can it be sure that there will be freedom of expression and of assembly during the transitional period so that the arguments for the two constitutional proposals can be thoroughly explored? To make this part of the agreement work, should there not be a neutral 1228 administration in the south for those next four years? The co-ordination council, to judge from its name, will not have power to regulate law enforcement or to determine the limits of political freedom. That was one of the sticking points in the IGAD talks because the SPLA wants the NIF regime to stand aside and to yield to a government of national unity in Khartoum.
I understand that at the very last moment in Nairobi the regime offered a federal system during the period of transition, but the SPLA held to the confederal proposals which they had agreed, and from which they cannot depart because it is part of their pact with the northern parties in the NDA. Either way, the co-ordination council would have to be replaced by an elected authority for the south, but to make free elections possible it means that the NIF forces would have to withdraw. Given the political will, they could be replaced by peacekeeping forces supplied by IGAD just as ECOWAS provided peacekeeping forces in Liberia, for example, leading up to its peace process. Though some bad mistakes were made in that process it led in the end to free democratic elections.
Ultimately, according to the Khartoum agreement, freedoms of movement, assembly, organisation, free speech and the press are guaranteed in accordance with the laws in force in the country and with "relevant international treaties". Formally, that is already the case throughout the country, but in practice there are no remedies for detention without trial, torture and many other violations of fundamental human rights, in the north as well as in the south. Mention has already been made of the latest phenomenon: the press-ganging of school leavers. No fewer than 65,000 of them were conscripted into the army, according to the Foreign Minister of Sudan. He makes the excuse that only 1 per cent. of them complained. That is 650 children who were conscripted violently into the army against their will. I take a serious view of that. It led to large demonstrations in October in Khartoum which were viciously repressed by the state.
Sudan is prepared to engage in dialogue with the international human rights agencies, and an extension of this transparency so as to allow unrestricted access of NGOs and reporters to the whole country would be very welcome as a further contribution towards peace. There is still some distance to go but I hope that the difficulties which stand in the way of a genuine peace will be resolved through the continuation of the IGAD process, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, mentioned, and through careful attention by the government to the advice given by the Special Rapporteur, the General Assembly, the Human Rights Commission and all the thematic rapporteurs.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for initiating this debate. I congratulate too the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Bradford on his maiden speech, a moving, sincere and eloquently expressed contribution that appeared spontaneous whatever text he may have 1229 had in front of him. It was, if I may say so, deeply sensitive in respect of all the people caught up in the Sudanese crisis.
From the contributions we have heard today it is apparent that we are talking more about a tragedy than about a country. The heart of the tragedy is a state which promised prosperity to its people when it was founded but is now racked by civil war, natural disasters and both political and economic failure. The two most recent events to affect Sudan are the failure of the recent peace talks to secure an end to the civil war in the south and the decision by the United States to impose sanctions on the government. If I may, I shall come to those issues later.
I am pleased that today's debate asks us to take note of Sudanese history and Britain's contribution to it. Many of the geostrategic decisions taken in the past have a continuing validity today. In many respects, for the United Kingdom then you could substitute the United States and the United Nations now. Britain was drawn to the Sudan because of our relationship with Egypt. The stability and well being of Egypt is as important to the western world now as it was when Britain first ventured there to defeat Napoleon. In 1821 all the northern and central districts of the Sudan were taken under Egyptian control and the country, as we know it today, took shape.
When British interests were threatened by a nationalist coup in Egypt the government bombarded Alexandria, defeated the Egyptian army at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882 and effectively took over the running of the country. With the government of Egypt came responsibility for the Sudan, and in the Sudan there was a popular religious-based uprising against the Egyptian government led by the Mahdi. The first British response was one which we have all heard before: depart and leave them to get on with it. The Liberal Government of the day dithered—today we would say that they were carrying out a review of their Sudanese policy—and as a result British forces embarked too late on one of those heroic but futile campaigns for which politicians rightly receive the blame.
However, Sudan's strategic position means that the country cannot and must not be ignored, let alone the humanitarian consequences, which should come first. The actions then of the Mahdist government, which included attempted invasions of both Ethiopia and Egypt, brought home this fact. So too did the scramble for African colonies and the widespread belief that France was going to seize control of the Nile waters, holding Egypt to ransom. These were the spurs for the Anglo-Egyptian invasion and indeed the conquest of Sudan, which culminated in the battle of Omdurman, so vividly described by Sir Winston Churchill in his book The River War.
The theme then, as in today's debate, is that the combination of instability and tyranny in the Sudan is not in anyone's interest. I hope the Minister will agree with this analysis and renew the pledge of the previous government to work for a settlement between Sudan and its neighbours and indeed within the country itself. One of the key problems for the Sudan is that the vast 1230 cultural differences between the north and the south seem unbridgeable. The predominantly Arab-Moslem north and the primarily black non-Moslem south had been carefully isolated from one another, not least by the British, but are now expected to work together in the new state. It is an academic question to ask whether the task to find an acceptable constitutional compromise would have been easier if the Sudan had stuck to a democratic system of government and the rule of law. However, the succession of military governments and authoritarian regimes has deprived the people of the Sudan of the opportunity to test the theory. The tragically divisive decision by Nimeri in 1983 to introduce the Sharia—Moslem law—was another example to the southerners of perceived northern arrogance and this, alongside regional and tribal grievances, re-ignited the civil war.
What has come through this debate to me is the fact that the civil war is a complicated mosaic of competing interests and personalities. One good omen is that the Government of the Sudan and the rebels have both indicated that they are unlikely to achieve a military solution. However, as the recent negotiations show, that does not mean that they can break the military stalemate with a political settlement which suits all sides. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the rebels themselves are divided. There are those who support a unified secular Sudan and those whose aim is secession. It becomes even more bizarre to me when leading secessionists are now allied with the Khartoum Government to pursue a vendetta against rival southern factions.
The key division is between those who believe that the Sudanese Government is sincere in offering a federal constitution and guarantees for the participation of southerners in federal institutions and security arrangements and those who do not. No fewer than six factions signed up to a peace agreement with the government earlier this year; but two of the most influential, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the umbrella National Democratic Alliance have reportedly not. I would be grateful if the Minister could give more details of the recent talks in Kenya between the SPLA and the government. Can she confirm that the stumbling block was not the Sharia but the Khartoum Government's opposition to a confederal constitution for Sudan, and can she give the Government's view of the sincerity of the Khartoum Government's proposals?
The next complication is international. When the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the National Democratic Alliance launched their offensives this year they did so from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda. They did so with support from those countries. In return, the Ugandans allege that the Sudanese Government is backing the somewhat inappropriately named Lords Resistance Army. Wars by proxy are unpleasant and destabilising and they make the resolution of what was a civil war even more difficult. In Sudan the opposition is certainly divided—to the point that some opposition leaders talk of the complete disintegration of the Sudan, following in the wake of Somalia. That would be a 1231 major disaster for Africa as a whole. It is not in our interests or those of the continent to create new fault-lines for potential conflict and instability.
However, the sad experience of Somalia is still fresh in people's minds and there is no appetite for intervention. That is probably for the good, and I am sure the Minister will agree that the United Nations should not intervene because it does not have the consent of the warring factions and because straightforward intervention under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter would be untenable in logistical terms.
So what should the United Kingdom's role be in all this? As was pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, the previous government championed the 1994 European Union arms embargo and tried to help the peace process by using the Intergovernmental Authority on Development's Partners Forum. One of the problems of IGAD is that it contains many of the countries which the Government of Sudan complain of invading it. Therefore does the Minister agree that confidence-building measures should be the first steps and, once they are agreed and implemented, that a complete ceasefire in the region should be the next?
The humanitarian crisis has dominated your Lordships' debate, and it is right that it has. It will not have escaped the House's notice in the context that the political initiative is based on IGAD, which is a development authority. This shows how desperate the economic situation in the Sudan is and how long it has gone on. The economic infrastructure of southern Sudan is in ruins because of the civil war, while the northern part of the country is ravaged by inflation and commodity shortages. Millions of people are dependent on aid as their lives are disrupted by the war. Some have livestock stolen and crops destroyed, while others are forced to flee the fighting and live as refugees. All of this is on top of the challenges of farming in a region which is prone to drought and desertification.
The previous government suspended all but emergency aid for the Sudan in 1991. I very much hope that the Government will continue this policy and will ensure that the aid is disbursed by NGOs and the United Nations' "Operation Lifeline Sudan". Can the Minister say whether the Government have any plans to increase the current levels of humanitarian assistance to this region? Can the Minister also say what steps are being taken to ensure that aid is not used as a tool of war by the different factions as they manipulate the flow of aid to complement their military strategies?
Even if an end to the war can be achieved, there remains much to be done before the Government of the Sudan can shake off their pariah status. Everyone agrees that freedom of speech and religion is seriously restricted in Sudan. Amnesty International is rightly outspoken in its condemnation of the Khartoum Government, which it says runs a policy of,detention without charge or trial and the ill treatment of political prisoners in the North—Can the Minister confirm that hundreds of political opponents of the government have been imprisoned in this way, with the most recent mass detentions taking 1232 place at the beginning of this year? Will the Minister also take advantage of the debate today to join me in praising the work of organisations such as Amnesty International which campaign for the release of these prisoners?
The Sudanese Government's actions should remind the House of the real nature of the regime. The presidential and parliamentary elections held in 1996 were not free or fair. Does the Minister agree that the most serious abuses of human rights are related to the civil war and that there is overwhelming evidence that both the government and rebel forces are using brutal methods to achieve their aims?
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, a special rapporteur from the UN Commission on Human Rights investigated reported abuses and recently reached some conclusions. I will not rehearse the rapporteur's recommendations, which were so ably and competently outlined to the House by the noble Lord this evening. Can the Minister tell us the Government's position on those conclusions and update the House on the rapporteur's most recent work?
The question of terrorism and United States sanctions is very important and well known to the House. British trade with the Sudan is small, but has the Minister received representations from British firms doing business in the Sudan? Can she confirm that they will not be penalised at a later stage by the US Government should those firms conduct business in the United States?
I believe that this debate has served a useful purpose. It has enabled many Members of this House to show their deep commitment to the Sudan and its people. I pay tribute, for example, to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who has worked tirelessly to bring the world's attention to the country and its sufferings.
I remind the Minister that the UN General Assembly resolution sponsored by Britain and condemning the Sudan has not, to my knowledge, been tabled. It would be a strange turn of events for a government who inform the world of their foreign policy with an ethical dimension at its centre to forget to condemn the Khartoum Government in the way that their predecessors did.
Finally, we all hope that one day we shall be able to send messages of congratulations to a democratic, peaceful and stable country. In the meantime it is incumbent on the Government to continue to work with international partners to bring relief to those who are suffering, to help pave the way towards the resolution of the civil war and to let the Khartoum Government know that we shall keep up the pressure until it accepts democracy and respects human rights.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I too add my thanks to those of other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for introducing the debate this evening. I also add my congratulations to those extended to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford on his very fine maiden speech. I thought it was clear-sighted and compassionate—two highly 1233 prized virtues in speeches in your Lordships' House. I am sure that we all look forward to many more such powerful and impressive contributions from the right reverend Prelate in the future.
The current situation in Sudan is tragic and complex, but regrettably not new. Nor is the suffering in that country new. The revolt by much of the south of the country, Christian, Muslim and Animist, against the north has, in its latest incarnation, lasted now for 14 years. Today, the main southern rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, control much of the south. There is a general expectation that they will soon try to capture Juba, the principal city of the south. That may well unleash further human suffering in a region which has already seen too much of it.
The revolt in the south was sparked by Nimeri's abolition of the south's regional government and the imposition of Sharia law, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. But its roots lay in the persistent refusal of the north of Sudan to treat the south of the country fairly, going back to the time of independence.
The conflict has been complicated, first, by tribal and other divisions between southerners, and also by the coup which brought the current regime to power. The parties of the previous democratically elected government have formed, with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the National Democratic Alliance, of which your Lordships' House has often heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The National Democratic Alliance has undertaken military operations against the current Sudanese Government in eastern Sudan. The conflict has thus become more than simply north versus south, although it was never really that.
There have, of course, been a number of attempts to stop the war. The most recent initiatives have been on two tracks. The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, as it is now called, launched an initiative in September 1993 to mediate an end to the civil war in southern Sudan. Five meetings with the parties were held in 1994 and two in 1995. In May 1994 IGAD adopted a Declaration of Principles for the settlement of the conflict, including the right of self-determination for all Sudanese and separation between religion and state. The Government of Sudan rejected the Declaration of Principles. The previous administration, along with the governments of the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and the United States, formed the Friends of IGAD to support IGAD's efforts.
The IGAD process ground to a halt in May 1995 in the face of the Sudanese Government's rejection of the Declaration of Principles. The Friends of IGAD, and latterly the IGAD Partners Forum, has continued to encourage the IGAD process but has not attempted to replace it. The IGAD Partners Forum has repeated the offers of material assistance to the IGAD secretariat.
The Government of Sudan has meanwhile pursued a separate track of "peace from within". In April 1996 it signed a political charter with a number of the smaller southern armed groups. It followed this with the Khartoum Peace Agreement of April 1997 to which the 1234 noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred. That agreement promises respect for human rights and a referendum on self-determination after an interim period of four years.
Under military and diplomatic pressure, in July of this year the Government of Sudan agreed to renewed IGAD talks on the basis of the IGAD Declaration of Principles. The first round of such talks was held in Kenya from 29th October to 11th November. A further session is scheduled for next April, with contacts continuing in the meantime. I was asked during the course of the debate whether we had to wait until April next year. I assure your Lordships that the contacts are continuing between November and April.
We believe that the regional approach offers the best chance of a comprehensive settlement to the conflict in Sudan that the people of Sudan need so much. I say "a comprehensive settlement" because the conflict in Sudan is about more than north versus south. A number of ethnic groups, including the Nuba and Beja, have joined the struggle against Khartoum. A settlement that did not take into account their position and that of the other parties in the National Democratic Alliance would be unsatisfactory. The Government therefore continue to support firmly the IGAD process.
My honourable friend the Minister of State made clear our welcome for the renewed talks in the IGAD framework on 30th September. We were a party to the EU statement of welcome and encouragement at the start of the talks. We have been in touch with the parties to those talks, urging that they approach the talks constructively and in good faith. We applaud the renewed engagement of President Moi and the Kenyan Government in the search for peace in the Sudan.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, said that he is a supporter of the peace agreement signed in Khartoum in April. Indeed, he has organised, as he said, a seminar to promote that agreement, to be held tomorrow. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked for the Government's views.
I agree that the April peace agreement contains some positive language. Those southerners who have signed it believe that it offers a good settlement, with a referendum on independence after four years, as the noble Lord indicated. But it is not yet an agreement with the Government's main opponent. The SPLA prefer to negotiate through the IGAD process. That caution is perhaps understandable in the light of the history of disappointed hopes from other peace initiatives.
The British Government and the international community viewed the April agreement with interest. But we have yet to be sufficiently convinced by the April agreement to advocate it warmly. The Government made it clear to the Government of Sudan that the parties to that agreement must implement its provisions on human rights and improve its treatment of southerners if they wish to convince the international community that their intentions are genuine rather than tactical. Unfortunately, we remain to be convinced.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, asks also about the historic links between the United Kingdom and the Sudan. There remains, an abiding affection in Sudan for the UK and concern about our opinion; continuing links 1235 of history and language that should make us natural partners. In the United Kingdom there is a continuing interest and concern for the Sudanese people, as your Lordships' contributions this evening have evidenced. That can be seen in the activities of the many Church groups interested in the Sudan; in the continuing efforts of the Sudan Pensioners Association to raise funds for the Sudan over 40 years after independence; and in the large mailbag about human rights and the civil war in Sudan which my department receives in spite of limited media coverage on the subject.
But such relationships, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us, are primarily about peoples, not necessarily about governments. We would be betraying the trust of the majority of the Sudanese people, who have not chosen their government, if our relationship with the government of Sudan was uncritical. I must say frankly to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that to do so we would have to ignore our grave concerns and those of many noble Lords who have spoken in our debate this evening about the human rights abuses in Sudan, north and south, and about the Sudanese Government's refusal to countenance multi-party democracy; about that government's involvement with terrorist groups and regional insurgencies that threaten its neighbours; and about the aggressive way that the government of Sudan has pursued the civil war.
We cannot do that. We have made clear our concern about those issues and our need to see real improvements if bilateral relations are to improve. Our concerns are shared by our EU partners: there is an EU arms embargo on Sudan and EU partners have joined us in co-sponsoring resolutions on human rights in Sudan at the United Nations.
But there is no question that we have in any sense abandoned Sudan. We maintain an Embassy in Khartoum where our Ambassador works hard to maintain links and also to report and lobby on human rights issues. There is a British Council office and library in Khartoum. There is a Department for International Development providing relief assistance to those in greatest need in Sudan, north or south.
Indeed, the United Kingdom is one of the biggest donors, giving £135 million to Sudan and Sudanese refugees through Operation Lifeline since 1991. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked whether we intended to increase that aid. We are willing to consider increases, should they be necessary, and are supporting the interventions through a number of NGOs mentioned in your Lordships' House this evening, particularly Oxfam, Care, the British Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. We will continue to keep that under review.
Moreover, a senior official from my department visited Sudan in July for discussions with the Sudanese both for and against the government. We keep open links also with the Sudanese opposition. My honourable friend the Minister of State has, in the past seven months, met former Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi and NDA leader Muhammed Osman al Mirghani as well as the Sudanese Ambassador. And we maintain links with NGOs with an interest in Sudan and with the UN Commission for Human Rights about the proposal to establish a UN human rights monitors in Sudan.
1236 The United Nations Security Council last year introduced visa restrictions on members and officials of the Sudanese Government and of its armed forces. We have abided conscientiously by those restrictions. We of course make exceptions for humanitarian and compassionate reasons; and to facilitate contacts designed to bring about an end to the civil war. The historical relationship means that those targeted by the sanctions are sometimes particularly anxious to travel to London. Our implementation of the UN restrictions means that they cannot. That is not a negation of the historical relationship. Rather it is both an example of the importance we attach to the Security Council and a mark of the seriousness with which we take state involvement with terrorism.
Many noble Lords mentioned sanctions. The UN sanctions on Sudan are diplomatic and visa sanctions. There is no humanitarian impact. The case for an end to the sanctions rides solely on the issue of compliance. The Government of Sudan have complied neither with the demands to hand over three suspects nor, substantively, with demands that they cease support to terrorism.
We heard conflicting views from the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on the one hand, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, among others, on the other in relation to persecution of Christians and the possibilities of the Government of Sudan being involved with slavery. There is perhaps a way that we will get a little closer to the truth where we might all be able to use the same text. We remain concerned about the repeated refusal of the Government of Sudan to allow access to a number of locations in Sudan. The UK strongly supports the efforts of the UN to continue to press the Government of Sudan to lift their restrictions and allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to all people in Sudan who are in urgent need. That would have the added merit of ensuring that we were able to see first hand what is really going on in relation to some of the points where your Lordships' House has not been able to agree.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked a number of questions. I am afraid the clock is against me and perhaps I may reply to the noble Earl in writing on the important points he raised on Kenya and the effect of sanctions on humanitarian aid, though I believe I was able to cover some of those in my reply so far.
The noble Lord's Question is wide-ranging, but in essence he would like Her Majesty's Government to be more sympathetic to the Sudanese Government. We would certainly like to have political relations with Khartoum commensurate with the historical relationship between our two countries; but that is very difficult while the authorities in Khartoum pursue policies that are so much at odds with our legitimate concerns.
I stress that the Islamic nature of the government in Khartoum is not a problem: the Government are keen to build understanding between the West and the Islamic world. But the policies of the government of Khartoum towards their own citizens, and towards neighbouring countries, make it very difficult for us to build that stronger relationship.
House adjourned at twelve minutes before seven o'clock.