HL Deb 15 September 2004 vol 664 cc1171-5

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of Sudan with regard to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Government are constantly pressing the Government of Sudan to take action on Darfur. Since June, there have been three ministerial visits to Sudan. The Minister with responsibility for Africa is in Sudan today, pressing the Government to restore security. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has written to the Sudanese President and we pressed the Sudanese Foreign Minister during his visit in May. In addition, our ambassador in Khartoum is in daily contact with the Sudanese Government and the United Nations.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, but I think that it is a little disturbing in view of recent events. Is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House aware that the Government of Sudan have been supporting the Janjaweed with aerial bombardments? Is she also aware of very recent credible reports that they have been using chemical weapons with the support of Syrian experts? Therefore, will Her Majesty's Government take a more robust approach to the National Islamic Front regime and call it to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity before many more thousands die in the genocide that is being carried out?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware of allegations about the use of chemical weapons. We take those reports very seriously and we are currently looking into the allegations. The noble Baroness referred to a more robust approach. She may be aware that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made it absolutely clear that the evidence that we have suggests that international crimes against humanity have been committed. The Secretary-General of the United Nations is keeping this matter under review—in particular, the question of whether it should be called genocide—and we are doing exactly what the UN is doing.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of reports that, even in the agreed safe areas and the IDP camps, the police who are there to protect the refugees are themselves committing atrocities? Has she seen the Amnesty report which states that people are being arrested for reporting the atrocities to the ceasefire monitors? Have the Sudanese Government been confronted with this evidence and, if so, what was their reaction?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I have not seen the reports of allegations relating to events inside the camps. There have been many reports of atrocities from NGOs and from the African Union monitors in Darfur. My noble and learned friend may be aware that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was instrumental in persuading the Government of Sudan to raise their visa restrictions to ensure that human rights organisations could enter Sudan to monitor the situation there. We take all of these allegations very seriously indeed. My noble and learned friend Lord Archer may be aware that we have been calling for some time for an international commission to inquire into these allegations.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that British troops could achieve much more by bringing peace in the Sudan than by being left with uncertain responsibilities in Iraq?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there have been many calls for different kinds of action in Sudan. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, will know that we have made a clear decision that we need to work through the UN to persuade the Government of Sudan to take their responsibilities very seriously indeed. We are hopeful that a further UN Security Council resolution will be passed later this week.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, should not the US Secretary of State's use of the term "genocide" have galvanised the international community into taking more immediate action on behalf of the 1.5 million victims of the Sudanese Government and the Janjaweed? Will the noble Baroness explain to the House what the difficulties are in getting a UN Security Council resolution and whether the Sudanese Government have been obstructing the appointment of the 2,000-strong African Union force to protect the humanitarian workers in Darfur?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will be aware that there are discussions going on at the moment in the Security Council with respect to the elements and the key points of a new resolution. We hope that this will include enlarging the AU monitoring mission, calling on member states to support the AU and asking all sides to engage in the peace talks in Abuja—the noble Lord, Lord Avebury may be aware that there is a proposal that those talks adjourn. There are also the longer-term peace talks, which are ongoing, and there is the issue of an international commission to examine allegations of crimes against humanity.

One effect of designating the events as genocide would be to galvanise the international community. However, having considered the action that is already being taken by the Government and in the Security Council, I think that we should get away from being hung up on the use of a particular term and actually push the international community to take the action that it can take now.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, on 9 September the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, officially declared that genocide had occurred, as the noble Baroness mentioned. What she did not quite say was whether the Government agree with this statement of their closest ally. Also, do the Government support the suggested no-fly zone, which is to be internationally policed, and if so what resources will the Government provide for this duty?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, no decisions have been made with respect to the issue of a no-fly zone. A proposal has been made. There are clear difficulties associated with that, including the size of the Darfur region and the way that any no-fly zone would be monitored, so no decision has been made on that.

On the issue of genocide, I will repeat what I said in an earlier answer. There is evidence that clearly suggests that international crimes against humanity have been committed. The Secretary-General of the UN is keeping the question of whether what has happened is genocide under very close review and so are we. If there were a declaration of genocide, there would be a call on the international community to take action. We can take that action now, and we have been pressing for that for many months.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, given that it has now been three months since the United Nations said that this is the world's greatest humanitarian disaster, and that in August alone, it was said on Monday, 10,000 people died in Darfur, making a total of 50,000 in total so far, can the noble Baroness tell us what has to happen before we follow the United States in declaring this to be genocide? To do so would lay a duty on us to take preventive action and to punish those responsible under Article 8 of the genocide convention. That is why Colin Powell chose that word at the weekend and why we should do likewise.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have made it absolutely clear that we take the situation very seriously. The declaration that what is happening in Sudan is genocide would make a difference to the action being taken by other countries. It would not make a difference to the action being taken by this Government. We were the first to have Ministers go into Sudan and there have been five ministerial visits since 2002. We are the second-largest bilateral donor, we have put enormous resources into humanitarian assistance and we have supported the long-term peace talks, which have been going on in Sudan over many years and which the international community as a whole has forgotten. We have also been supporting the Abuja talks, which have focused on resolving the situation in Darfur.

A declaration would be a call on the international community to take greater action. We would support that action if it were taken by the UN. We have called for an international commission to investigate the allegations that have been made, but the action being taken by this Government would be no different if there were a declaration that genocide is happening in Sudan.

Lord Lawson of Blaby

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that while the case for taking action is very strong indeed, that action should not be the cop-out of economic sanctions, which all history has shown to damage not the regimes where they are applied but ordinary people?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, at this point I would not want to rule out any action that the international community might wish to take in the future were the Government of Sudan not to take its responsibilities seriously. However, I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. He will be aware that with economic sanctions the situation in the particular country must be looked at very carefully indeed. We have done that with respect to that decision in other countries and we would do that with respect to Sudan.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that while all the moral outrage seems to be outside Sudan, there are in fact in Sudan many specialised human rights agencies? Are the Government supporting a possible partnership between those organisations and the Government of Sudan, as happened in the case of Bahr al-Ghazal?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware of the range of agencies operating in Sudan—a number of international agencies are also giving support. We have supported the NGOs and we would have very little information about what is happening on the ground without the work of those organisations. Forging a partnership between the Government of Sudan and NGOs would have to be a two-way process. We would want to facilitate that, but the Government of Sudan would have to wish to enter into that kind of partnership.