HL Deb 10 February 1997 vol 578 cc1-5

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in relation to the Government of Sudan's failure to comply with United Nations resolutions concerning human rights.

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

My Lords, we remain gravely concerned at Sudan's human rights record and failure to comply with successive United Nations resolutions on human rights. We shall continue to press for an improvement both in our bilateral contacts with the Government of Sudan and in international fora.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer which will provide some encouragement to those who are concerned about violations of human rights. Is my noble friend aware that I have just returned from southern Sudan—the eastern Upper Nile—where I was able to observe at first hand the devastating effects of the aerial bombardment and scorched earth policy carried out by the Government of Sudan against innocent civilians? At least 50,000 people have been displaced; many are dying from starvation. Can my noble friend indicate what measure the Government may be able to take in response to this further escalation of human rights violations by the regime in Khartoum?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we are most grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for her sterling work in trying to bring peace to this very troubled land. Yesterday evening I spoke to the leader of the SPLA in Nairobi to see what might be done to bring about some kind of ceasefire. But, as my noble friend knows well, it takes two sides to bring about a ceasefire. We want a negotiated end to the civil war. We regularly express our concern to the Sudanese Government, as my Permanent Secretary did only two weeks ago. We will keep on trying. We will meet all the leaders of Sudanese society as they come to London. But until there is willingness on the part of the Government of Sudan to cease this behaviour I am afraid that we will continue to help the ordinary Sudanese people who are so imperilled by this action.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many thousands of civilians are suffering complete lack of humanitarian aid in parts of the country designated by the Government of Sudan as no-go areas? What measures can Her Majesty's Government take to try to gain access to those people, particularly to ensure that they receive urgently needed food and medical supplies?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the Government are very well aware of the tremendous suffering. My noble friend Lady Cox leaves no stone unturned to tell me even more about the situation than may come through official channels. We have been a major donor of humanitarian assistance both through the United Nations and non-governmental organisations. Over the past six years we have spent more than £100 million helping the very people to whom the right reverend Prelate refers. But until change can be brought about in the war zones and for displaced persons in Khartoum I am afraid that the work will have to continue to be carried out by the international community.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend inform the House whether there is any step that the Commonwealth collectively can take?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the action that the Commonwealth and all those who wish to see an end to the fighting can take is to put pressure on the Sudanese Government, but it is not a straightforward matter. At present the IGADD process, which was started most successfully by President Moi, seems to have stalled largely because of Sudan's poor relations with two Commonwealth members, Kenya and Uganda, and also Ethiopia and Eritrea. We shall go on asking for more to be done, but there is a total unwillingness on the part of the Government of Sudan. That is the problem we face every time we try to find another route to achieve a ceasefire.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the argument put by the former Prime Minister, Sadiq Al Mahdi, during his important tour of Arab countries, that the only way out of the Sudanese dilemma is to allow the people of the south a free choice on their constitutional future? Does the noble Baroness also agree that apart from the devastating violations of human rights that are being committed by the regime in the south in the Nuba Mountains and in the west Nile—which the noble Baroness has just visited—there have also been mass arrests in Khartoum resulting in the detention of at least 118 people since the beginning of this year? Will the noble Baroness raise that matter and other violations of human rights at the forthcoming meeting of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the answer to the third question of the noble Lord is yes. The embassy has constantly raised cases of detained opposition activists with the Government and others. The worse abuses occur in southern Sudan. I regret to say that the abuses are being committed by all sides. We shall continue to make representations and to join our partners both in Europe and the Commonwealth in trying to improve the human rights situation. Referring to the first question posed by the noble Lord, I am not sure that even if the southerners were given a free choice it would be respected by the NIF. I regret that in Sudan there is a major problem. Everything will depend on how long the NIF in Khartoum lasts.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, two years ago the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made a highly effective visit to Sudan. Will the Minister approach the Churches to give further massive public support in this country for our Christian brothers and sisters in both north and south Sudan?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the Churches have always been tremendously supportive of efforts to try to bring an end to the human rights abuses and the fighting in Sudan. The noble Lord is right. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury did indeed do valuable work there. I met him on his return and he told me—I believe that the same situation applies—that it is extremely difficult to achieve change when the Government of the country are determined not to see that change through.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield

My Lords, since it is often said, perhaps rightly, that African problems are frequently best solved by African leadership—I saw something of that while teaching Sudanese for the priesthood during my work in Uganda—can the Minister give any hope that even if President Moi were unwilling, President Museveni and those closely associated with him—Museveni sharing a border with Sudan—are likely to be a force for justice and peace with regard to human rights both in the area of the Great Lakes and Sudan?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, President Moi is not unwilling to pursue the IGADD process. That is, of course, the African context in which we have been trying to pursue a negotiated end to the civil war. It is more difficult for President Museveni to take action because of the altercations between the Government of Sudan and the Government of Uganda. Although the Government of Sudan have made some moves towards addressing international concerns about human rights, there is just so much more that needs to be done, particularly in the treatment of the southerners, both in the war zones and among the displaced in Khartoum. All neighbouring countries and African leaders need to help. Perhaps we can leave the Great Lakes to the next Question.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister accept that on this side of the House we associate ourselves fully with what she said about the courage and consistent concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in this matter? Has the Minister had an opportunity to study the interview recently given by President Museveni to the Financial Times in which, in his exasperation and concern about the situation, he suggested that this war should be declared a colonial war, which would enable other African states to intervene with personnel, equipment and other materials in support of the liberation forces in the south?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I regret that due to my travels I have not yet read the article concerned. I do not believe that becoming involved in colonial wars or action across borders will solve this or any of the other neighbouring problems.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, has any effort been made to approach the Arab states, because this is largely an Arab and Islamic problem? Secondly, what have we done to stop the import of chemical weapons? Thirdly, is the appalling practice of letting the Government of Sudan distribute aid and force people to change to Islam continuing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the moderate Islamic states are as concerned about Sudan as we are. Some of them are trying hard to help. I shall reply to my noble friend in writing on the other three questions.