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House of Lords

Wednesday, 2nd July 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Lord Patten

The Right Honourable John Haggitt Charles Patten, having been created Baron Patten, of Wincanton in the County of Somerset, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Quinton and the Lord Harris of Peckham.

Several Lords--Took the Oath.


2.47 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy towards the Government of Sudan, with particular reference to the human rights of its people and its continuing military action against civilians.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, for the second time in 24 hours, it falls to me to pay tribute to the noble Baroness's efforts on behalf of the victims of human rights abuses. In line with our overall priority on human rights in our foreign policy, the Government are very concerned about the situation in Sudan, in particular the widespread lack of respect for human rights and the continuing civil war. We would press the Government of Sudan to comply with the UN resolutions on human rights in Sudan. We are strongly behind the EU embargo on arms sales. We are pressing the Government of Sudan and all parties to the civil war to end human rights abuses, and for a negotiated settlement of their differences.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which will give encouragement to those who are suffering in Sudan.

Is the Minister aware that during four visits to Sudan this year I have witnessed and can testify to the atrocities the Government of Sudan are perpetrating although they deny those atrocities, including the encouragement of slavery in Bahr El-Ghazal, the massacre of civilians in the Nuba Mountains, the scorched earth policy in Southern Blue Nile, and the deportation of the Beja people from their homelands in north-eastern Sudan? Will the Government step up their pressure on the Government of Sudan to allow access to all parts of Sudan by human rights monitors, and perhaps put increasing pressure for United Nations Security Council sanctions?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I accept that those kinds of atrocities are going on within Sudan. We are very

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concerned about the repeated refusal of the Government of Sudan to allow access to a number of locations in Sudan. The UK has strongly supported the efforts of the UN to press the Government of Sudan to lift their restrictions and to allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to all people in urgent need. We have also taken the view that the best way to secure the broadest access to people in Sudan is to continue to operate under the Operation Lifeline Sudan umbrella. We have also given over £135 million in humanitarian aid to Sudan in recent years. So far as the UN Security Council is concerned, we will examine the situation. However, it depends on the support of others. We have acted through the EU and we will examine the UN situation.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that everybody in this House admires enormously the work that is done by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and particularly her work in the Sudan? It has brought to light so many of the evils inflicted by the NIF regime on civilians throughout the whole country, not merely in the south.

In the particular case of the Security Council which the Minister mentioned, is he aware that the Sudanese authorities themselves allege that military attacks on their territory were made by forces from Ethiopia? Is that not a reason for having the matter dealt with by the Security Council, and asking the Government of Sudan to agree to international observers in any areas where they allege military action has been taken on their territory by neighbours?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of a number of allegations of border incursions in both directions. I agree with the noble Lord that that is the best way of dealing with the matter. However, it requires agreement at the United Nations Security Council; and it would require the agreement of the Government of Sudan, who have hitherto been fairly obdurate in their response to allowing independent observers in those areas.

Lord Robertson of Oakridge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any long-term solution to the problems of Sudan will have to take into account the fact that the people of northern and southern Sudan have very little in common?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are certainly different cultures and religions between the south and the north of Sudan. We believe, however, that negotiated settlements are possible within the international boundaries of Sudan. We will use our best efforts to ensure that such negotiations start taking place. I believe there has been some minor progress in that direction, although as yet all the parties to the resistance in the south of the country are not yet involved.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government consider establishing alternative mechanisms for the evacuation of wounded from Sudan, where the suspension by the NIF regime of the operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross since last November has caused needless death and suffering for

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thousands; and, in particular, will the Government consider providing financial assistance for non-governmental organisations which can reach those areas of the Sudan which are designated by the Sudanese Government as "no go" areas to rescue the wounded, who will otherwise suffer and die without treatment?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the organisation I have already mentioned, Operation Lifeline Sudan, which consists of a large number of NGOs, gives us the best prospect of reaching areas that are otherwise inaccessible to relief operations. So far as the International Red Cross is concerned, I regret the break-off. As I understand it, the International Committee of the Red Cross is now negotiating again with the Government of Sudan to re-establish its operations. In the meantime, Operation Lifeline Sudan is undertaking air evacuations of war wounded under the green light criteria. Previous ICRC operations were still subject to flight restrictions imposed by the Government of Sudan. The International Committee of the Red Cross continues to operate the hospital and provide support to hospitals in Juba through the Sudanese Red Crescent.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether it is the case that the Sudanese Government discriminate between different tribes, largely on account of their religion? Is it not also the case that there is a desperate lack of medical supplies, not least for those who cross the southern Sudan desert by camel and for whom there is sometimes no medical help within reach?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Earl has a detailed knowledge of southern Sudan which I cannot hope to match. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly true that there are certain communities within southern Sudan for whom access to medical supplies and other forms of relief is very difficult indeed, and the Sudanese Government are making it no easier.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, given the extremely fruitful mediation in the conflict in Zaire by President Mandela--whereby, I understand, Kinshasa fell without extensive bloodshed--and given the principle that African conflicts may sometimes be best helped by African leadership, does the Minister believe that help might also be given from this direction to Sudan's deadlocked agony, as I understand may also happen in the troubled area of the Great Lakes?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development, which consists of several African states within that area, is already actively involved in seeking a peaceful solution in Sudan. Like the previous Government, this Government support its endeavours in that direction. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. The best solution is one that is achieved by African countries acting together themselves to end this terrible conflict.

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Lord Chesham: My Lords, will the Minister kindly indicate whether the presence of two Sudanese ambassadors in the United Kingdom is consistent with Britain's obligation to decrease the numbers and activities of Sudanese diplomats in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, following the United Nations sanctions that followed the apparent involvement of the Sudanese Government in the assassination attempt on President Mubarak, the British Government cut back Sudanese representation in London. The alleged second ambassador is not on the Diplomatic List; and we have therefore cut the number of diplomatic representatives in the Sudanese embassy as substantially as any other country.


2.57 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the introduction of a national screening programme for diabetes.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the Chief Medical Officer now chairs a national screening committee for the Department of Health which prioritises existing or possible future screening programmes against criteria that have been internationally established. The committee will consider national screening for diabetes as part of its developing work programme. Any future decision on implementing a national programme will be made in the light of those considerations.

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