HL Deb 08 February 2005 vol 669 cc662-4

3 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are in favour of referring potential war crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, our preference is for the ICC to be used in respect of the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry into the crimes in Darfur. However, the ICC statute provides that when a state is not a state party to the ICC statute, and Sudan is not, a referral of that state to the International Criminal Court can be made only by a decision of the Security Council. That will require consensus in the council. We are discussing the way forward with Security Council partners.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that cautious and delicately phrased Answer. We understand that it is the United States and China which represent potential problems on the UN Security Council. We also understand that a small number of right-wing think tanks in Washington have built up the International Criminal Court into a threat to American sovereignty. Cannot Her Majesty's Government, as America's closest and most loyal ally, with a Prime Minister who is listened to better in Washington than any other, persuade the Bush Administration that on this occasion the International Criminal Court is, as the British ambassador to the UN has been widely quoted as saying, tailor-made for that and that the substitution of another expensive and inefficient ad hoc tribunal, as some in the United States wish, would be not just a second best but a fifth best?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord knows how much we have tried to persuade the United States to sign up to the ICC. It is not only the United States, but also a number of other countries, which have deemed it in their own national interest not to do so. The noble Lord was right when he said that it is not only the United States which has difficulty with this as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council; there are others in that position too.

The United States has brought forward proposals for prosecutions based on expanding the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. That is one of the options likely to be discussed at the Security Council. We are open to a number of different options. This matter has to be pursued. I have been clear on where we would favour taking the issue, but we have to proceed on the basis of trying to persuade others to our point of view. The United States is not the only country that we have to persuade.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, whether the issue is referred to the International Criminal Court or to a local African tribunal, is not the real problem the attitude of the Sudanese Government? Did the noble Baroness note the defiant speech made at the weekend in Darfur at El Fasher by the Sudanese Vice-President, Ali Osman Taha? He said: The Government will not accept any official to go to any (legal) organ outside this country". Can the Minister confirm that last week in the sealed letter sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, more than 50 names were included of officials of the Sudanese Government, local officials or members of the Janjaweed who have been involved in the deaths of 70,000 people, the displacement of 1.7 million others and the razing to the ground of between 700 and 800 villages in Darfur? Now there is the staggering potential of catastrophe for 2.2 million people who are reliant on food aid. The crops have failed yet again and they are now in danger of being literally starved to death.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, there is no difference between the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and myself on the gravity of the situation in Darfur. I repeat that there is no difference at all. However, the question being addressed here is the right way to proceed in dealing with those very people who the noble Lord mentions as having been complicit in some extremely serious crimes in Darfur.

How can we take that forward? The noble Lord is right: the Government of Sudan will not refer themselves to the ICC. Under the statute of the ICC they cannot be forced to go there. The only way is for us to proceed by agreement in the United Nations Security Council on trying to bring to justice those who have been responsible for the worst crimes on the ground. The argument is not about the gravity of the situation. It is about the instruments available to us to try to deal with the issue.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the Sudanese Government do not block African Union monitors from investigating ceasefire violations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we have been engaged very heavily in trying to ensure that not only African Union monitors but also African Union troops on the ground are able to do their jobs properly. I understand that as of today there are 1,850 African Union troops on the ground. More are expected to be placed there within the next few weeks.

I fully acknowledge that that is not a huge number. But we have to look at the way in which we can try to bring the parties together. The Abuja talks must continue. We hope that they will continue at the end of this month. I understand that, currently, the African Union is talking to the parties concerned and that the United Nations is also very actively engaged on the ground. Our special representative, Alistair McPhail, is there. I assure your Lordships that we are very heavily engaged on that issue.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, did not the International Commission of Inquiry recommend that the sealed indictment be handed over immediately to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court? Would it not be possible for the Security Council to so decide without prejudice to the question of which court would ultimately try those indicted? The prosecutor of the ICC would then be able to prepare the cases. If in its wisdom the Security Council decided to set up an ad hoc tribunal on the lines of the Abuja International Criminal Tribunal, the preparation could already have been done by the chief prosecutor for the ICC.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, yes. Of course it is possible for the Security Council to decide. But individual members of the Security Council have said that they will not; it is members who hold the veto. Everything that the noble Lord says may be true, in exactly the same way that everything that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, may be true. Indeed, the Government agree with much of what has been said.

But that is not the issue. The issue is what instruments are legally available to the international community to refer those names. It is not a question of whether it would be possible to do that without prejudice. It is a question of the political will to do so.