HL Deb 15 November 2004 vol 666 cc1193-5

3 p.m.

Baroness Northover asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in the light of attacks by the Sudanese police force on refugee camps in Sudan.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we have strongly condemned these forced relocations, and we have repeatedly made it clear that all returns must be voluntary and carried out after full international consultation. Our ambassador immediately protested about the relocations on 3 and 10 November. We have pressed both sides to uphold their security and humanitarian obligations. We have funded and expanded the African Union monitoring mission. We are pressing for a strong United Nations Security Council resolution to restrain violence and to maintain the threat of sanctions as set out in earlier resolutions. The Prime Minister has announced £100 million in aid next year, subject to a comprehensive peace agreement.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, and for what the Government have done thus far. However, in the light of last night's "Panorama" programme, does she now feel that the term "genocide" can be appropriately applied to Darfur? Colin Powell, who is reported to have resigned, has used the term. Will she also expand on what action the Government will take at the UN Security Council meeting in Nairobi this week to try to extend the mandate of the peacekeeping force so that it is better able to protect in particular women and children who at the moment are the targets of rape and killings?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the Government take very seriously the conflict in Darfur and I fully understand the depth of her concerns. There is no doubt that huge crimes against humanity are being committed in Darfur which may indeed amount to genocide. That is why we welcome the establishment of the international commission of inquiry announced by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as called for by Security Council Resolution 1564. That commission has begun its work and we should now see what conclusions it comes to over the difficult question of genocide.

On the question about monitors and peacekeeping, it is of course the responsibility of the Government of Sudan to provide the security necessary in the region. We have provided some £12 million for the expanded mission of the African Union monitors. Experience elsewhere in Sudan has shown that monitors can have a real impact on the security situation. But in saying that I return to the point: Government Ministers are taking this very seriously and are keeping a close watch on what is happening.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, if the AU force has a mandate which allows it to provide a visible military presence at the internally displaced refugee camps, and to protect the inhabitants of those camps when they are obviously under threat, will the noble Baroness ensure that at the meeting in Nairobi we give the AU force however many troops it thinks are necessary to conduct this task? Does she agree that 3,300 people, of whom only 2,300 are military, are woefully inadequate to conduct these operations in such an enormous territory?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the discussions in Nairobi will be conducted on the north/south conflict, while in Darfur the AU has expanded its monitoring force from 500 to some 3,000 plus, as the noble Lord indicated. We have done a great deal to help with the financing of that monitoring presence. The noble Lord asked whether this is adequate. We have alas seen what has happened over recent days. Monitors are not necessarily able to intervene in the sort of difficulties described by the noble Lord. I am bound to say to him that the key to this is not AU monitoring; rather it is that the Government of Sudan and the rebel forces really must live up to the protocols in relation to security and humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering that they signed on 9 November.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, mentioned the UN Security Council meeting in Nairobi. Will Her Majesty's Government also press for targeted sanctions, including a total arms embargo, the freezing of assets and a travel ban on the regime's leaders?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we rigorously enforce an EU arms embargo which has been in place since 1994. The UK-sponsored UN Resolution 1564 threatened measures which included but certainly were not limited to sanctions against the Government of Sudan should they fail to fulfil their commitments. The UN will decide the next steps in the light of the Secretary-General's monthly report to the Security Council.

However, it is vital that we keep up the pressure on both sides. The last of the reports from the Secretary-General on the situation in Darfur noted increased activity and violence on the rebel side, although I do not excuse for a single moment anything going on on the government side. Therefore it is enormously important that both government and rebel activity are kept under constant surveillance.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the Minister accept that where there is "genocide", as distinct from bad behaviour on the part of a government, it then moves from being the responsibility of that government to being the responsibility of the international community to bring it to an end? Members on these Benches are well aware of how hard the Minister has worked on this issue, but is it not now crucial to look again at the mandate of the AU troops, as well as encouraging them to increase their numbers, and to support them in that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can certainly tell the noble Baroness that my honourable friend Mr Mullin has been working extraordinarily hard on this issue, together with my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister himself, who visited Sudan only a matter of weeks ago. Under Article 1 of the genocide convention, states undertake to "prevent and to punish" the crime of genocide. That includes a requirement to grant extradition for genocide. In addition the convention provides that states may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations—obviously the Security Council—to take appropriate action to prevent and suppress genocide. However, the problem is that there is no obligation on states to do so. I have to say to the noble Baroness that until I read again these points about the genocide convention, I thought that there was an obligation. However, that is not the case. Nor is there an obligation on any of the competent organs to act. So even if genocide were declared, we would still have the problem of trying to persuade others who, as I am sure the noble Baroness is well aware, have been very reluctant to take action on Sudan so to do.

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