HL Deb 18 October 2004 vol 665 cc523-6

2.55 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their latest assessment of the number of people who have died or been displaced in Darfur, Sudan.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the UN estimates that 1.45 million people have been displace within Darfur and a further 200,000 have fled to Chad. The World Health Organisation estimates on the basis of surveys that the number of displaced who have died in Darfur from disease, malnutrition and violence since March is between 35,000 and 70,000.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, has the Minister had a chance to reflect on the harrowing first-hand accounts of ethnically motivated killings, rape, burnings and lootings that I handed her last week after I returned from Darfur?

Notwithstanding the welcome intervention of the Prime Minister, does she agree that the abject failure of the international community to enforce two chapter seven resolutions, one of which requires the disarming of the Janjaweed militia by the end of August, and the failure to galvanise a calibrated and coherent response to a regime that believes it can act with impunity—such as targeted oil sanctions, an enforced no-fly zone, a clear mandate and logistical support for the African Union presence—are at the heart of the unfolding genocide and human catastrophe in Darfur?

Since we last discussed this matter four weeks ago, a further 20,000 people have died according to the World Health Organisation. What has to happen before the world community acts decisively?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I have had a chance to look at the report that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave me and I thank him for giving me early sight of it. The whole House would want to thank the noble Lord for his work in this area.

However, I cannot agree with the noble Lord's conclusions. I entirely agree that grave crimes against humanity have been committed in Sudan. The amount of attention that has been given to Sudan by this Government, the United States and the UN is an indication of the seriousness with which we view the unfolding crisis there.

The noble Lord knows that the UN Secretary-General has established a commission to look at whether or not the crisis in Darfur should be labelled a genocide. But I repeat what I said before in this House: the labelling makes no difference to the action that is being taken by the UK Government. We are the second largest bilateral donor, we have been engaged in Sudan over many years, we have worked with the Sudanese and those in the south to bring long-term peace to Sudan and we have worked with the United Nations and the AU to ensure that what the Sudanese have committed to is put in place so that the security environment is such that the aid agencies can effectively operate in Darfur.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

Mr Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his very full report. I would like to pursue a little further what the Minister has said.

Given that there is a willingness on the part of Nigeria in particular and also of Rwanda to provide some additional African Union troops in the Darfur region of Sudan and that the problem for the Sudanese is finding the money for equipment—in particular, for heavy lift equipment—that they do not have, would Her Majesty's Government consider calling upon the other wealthy members of the international community to fund a much more substantial African Union force in Darfur? Can the Minister also respond on the question of the rules of engagement, which currently limit the small number of forces there to protecting only monitors and not civilians?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, an expanded AU mission is scheduled to take four months. The deployment of approximately 800 AU personnel—including monitors, force protection and some police—has been brought forward as an emergency deployment for the last week of October and the beginning of November.

However, the noble Baroness was right to criticise the overall response of the international community. She may be aware that the UN appeal for Sudan has been only half met and we have been pressing our EU and other colleagues to contribute to that. The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that the United States has offered assistance with heavy lifting and other equipment which the AU force may require.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the UN envoy to Sudan that, the security situation in Darfur has not seen improvement since the beginning of October", as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton? What additional pressure are the Government putting on the Sudanese Government to prevent the obstruction of humanitarian assistance? As a result of the dire situation and the fact that Mr Jan Pronk said that he has 16 more days to submit his monthly report to the UN Security Council which will decide whether to impose sanctions, do Her Majesty's Government support the imposition of sanctions?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree that the security situation is dire. That is one of the reasons why when my night honourable friend the Prime Minister visited Sudan he agreed with the Sudanese Government a five-point plan. That included the Government of Sudan notifying the AU of the location of their forces, including their aligned militias; confining the forces in defined locations; and a rapid conclusion to the longer term comprehensive peace agreement.

With respect to sanctions, the noble Baroness will know that four countries abstained on the most recent UN Security Council resolution on Sudan because of their concerns about the use of sanctions. The noble Baroness will also know that we were one of the countries which sponsored that resolution.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, the noble Baroness spoke of the African Union. Does she agree that the passivity of the Arab League in the face of the wholesale massacre of African Muslims by Arab Muslims is a scandal? What exactly are Her Majesty's Government doing to bring pressure to bear on the Arab League and its member countries to treat these horrors seriously?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in saying that the AU has sought to play a substantial role in Sudan. We must remember that some of the difficulties being experienced by the AU force result from the fact that this is the first time it has done anything similar. We, European Union members and others are giving it considerable support.

The noble Lord may be aware that there was a meeting of the Arab League in Libya yesterday which included Egypt. With respect to the Arab League taking a more overall approach, we would like to see that encouraged. It would go side by side with the role that the African Union as a whole is playing in Sudan.

Lord Williamson of Horton

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there has been some intimidation and imprisonment of staff of non-governmental organisations in this area and that they do not have freedom of movement because they must first obtain travel permits? Can the British Government put particular emphasis on this point, which seems quite unjustified?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, perhaps I may first express my condolences to the families of the two aid workers who were tragically killed in Darfur last weekend. Yes, there has been intimidation of NGO staff and it is one of the issues about which we were concerned in obtaining greater access for staff of NGOs. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development picked up this issue on his visit to Sudan and secured greater humanitarian access and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary secured greater access for human rights agencies. It is an issue that we continue to press in our bilateral relations with Sudan and also through the EU and Sudan.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the figures put forward by the noble Lord at the beginning of the debate made us feel that we are watching a huge disaster in slow motion, inevitably unfolding before our eyes. Can the noble Baroness tell us what pressure is being put on those powers which refuse to support oil sanctions to apply the same criteria to this country as have been applied to Iraq in the recent past? Furthermore, what is being done to increase our support for the AU intervention on the lines suggested by the noble Baroness on the Liberal Front Bench?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is right. Different countries take different positions on their negotiating line depending on the country that is being discussed within the UN Security Council. That is one of the reasons why a great deal of frustration is being expressed not only in this House but elsewhere on the slowness of progress. It is not because the international community has not committed to taking the necessary action in Sudan; it is about applying the pressure in the right places to ensure that the decisions taken are implemented.

We continue to work with those countries which take a view different from ours and we continue to try to persuade them to see things as we do. However, it is most important that at this time the channels we have with the Government of Sudan remain open. Noble Lords may wish to consider what might happen if those channels were closed, which may be even more disastrous than what is happening now.

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