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Written Statements

Wednesday 5 May 2004

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Sudan: Darfur

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Hilary Benn) has made the following Statement.

The Government are gravely concerned about the situation in Darfur, western Sudan. The UN estimates that the fighting has led to the internal displacement of over 750,000 people, with about 130,000 refugees sheltering in Chad. The civilian population is in a precarious state. Humanitarian requirements for food, water and shelter are enormous, but access remains limited. Civilian protection is a major concern with reports of systematic attacks on civilians, including killings, rape, pillage and destruction of livelihoods. The approaching rainy season, due to start in mid-May, will add to the problems, increasing the risk of epidemics and hindering the movement of relief supplies.

The humanitarian ceasefire agreement, signed on 8 April, is a welcome step forward in resolving the crisis in Darfur. The parties must now live up to those commitments and allow international monitoring with full access to the areas and people affected.

James Morris, head of the World Food Programme, has just returned from a mission to Sudan. I met him on 4 May and discussed the grave humanitarian situation and the need for the international community to do more.

I have therefore today agreed an additional £10 million from our contingency reserve for the continuing and severe humanitarian needs in Darfur. This will bring total UK commitments for Darfur to £19.5 million. The UK is the second biggest donor to the Darfur crisis, after the US. Additional information on the UK response to date is set out below.

October to December 2003

Early assistance for organisations with some access (albeit very limited and variable) to Darfur:

    Save the Children UK (for north Darfur) £0.5million

    World Food Programme £2 million

    International Committee of the Red Cross £1 million

Assistance to refugees in eastern Chad:

    UN High Commission for Refugees £1 million

Total financial assistance October to December 2003: £4.5 million

Continuing pressure on the Sudanese Government to allow humanitarian agencies unimpeded access to affected populations and security to operate, and to stop the fighting.

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January to March 2004

Following partial opening up of Darfur for humanitarian agencies, support to meet basic needs of affected population:

    UN Children's Fund £1 million

    Médecins Sans Frontières (for south Darfur) £1.15 million

    GOAL (for north Darfur) £0.58 million

    Action Contre la Faim (for north Darfur) £0.25 million

Additional assistance to refugees in eastern Chad:

    World Food Programme £1 million

    UN High Commission for Refugees £1 million

Total financial assistance October 2003 to March 2004: £9.5 million

Support to UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs to improve its co-ordination and assessment capacity in response to the crisis:

    Senior humanitarian adviser based in Khartoum for three months (extended to six months)

    Three humanitarian affairs officers based in Geneina, El Fasher and Nyala for three months

    One support staff for one month through International Humanitarian Partnership

    One focal point for UN co-ordination and logistics for one month through UN disaster assessment and co-ordination team

Continuing pressure on the Sudanese Government to allow humanitarian agencies unimpeded access, protect civilians from attack and agree a ceasefire with international monitoring.

Involvement in ceasefire talks between SLM/JEM and the Government of Sudan in N'Djamena.

April 2004 onwards

    Oxfam (for north and south Darfur) £2.2 million

    Planned further contributions to UN and other international organisations.

Total financial assistance to date: £1.7 million.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Baroness Amos: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Northern Ireland has made the following Ministerial Statement:

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a key institution of the Belfast agreement. We in government want it to succeed and are committed to helping it to do so. It is in all our interests that we have a strong, independent and self-confident commission, which draws support from all parts of the community. It is from this position that we are approaching the coming year.

We have listened to the criticism of the Human Rights Commission. We have also listened to the other side, those who see the commission doing the best job it can in difficult circumstances. We have thought carefully about the issues and how to address them.

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We will shortly begin a process to recruit a new chief commissioner and a full set of commissioners to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. We expect the process to take some months, with the new chief commissioner and commissioners being announced in the autumn. We propose to invite a number of those commissioners to take office soon after appointment. We will do this after discussion with the chief commissioner-designate, who will also be invited to join early. He or she will not become chief commissioner until the end of Brice Dickson's appointment. The remainder of the incoming commissioners will take office on 28 February 2005, at which point those who have served two terms will leave.

We will begin this process shortly. In the mean time we will be working on the details of the process. We will use search consultants. An independent assessor will be involved throughout and there will be a human rights expert, alongside the independent assessor, on the panel which interviews candidates.

This does not mean that the current commission is winding down—far from it. They have a great deal still to achieve.

From the outset, each commissioner has played an important role in promoting a culture of rights in Northern Ireland. They will leave behind an impressive body of work which I believe history will judge kindly. They have served in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, at times under great pressure. For this, they deserve our gratitude and our support in their ongoing work.

For our part, the Government remain committed to establishing a broadly based forum on the Bill of Rights. We will engage the political parties in a renewed effort to build consensus to this end.

We understand there is much detail behind these proposals which people will want to discuss. I will be inviting the parties to put forward their views. I am clear that these discussions must respect the terms of the Belfast agreement and the independence of the commission. In this context, we will also conclude the review of the commission's powers.

I would urge all parts of the community to work with us over the coming year. There are significant opportunities ahead to build on the great progress we have seen since in the field of rights since the Belfast agreement was reached in 1998. It is imperative that all parts of the community take those opportunities and everyone receives the same benefits.

Infant Death Convictions

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): My Statements of 19 January and 5 February gave details of a review process established following the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of Angela Cannings. I wish to inform the House of progress.

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The review process is now well advanced. A thorough search to identify all potentially relevant cases has been undertaken, and the process has been extended to include cases involving carers. These measures have resulted in an increase in the total number of cases subject to review from 258 to 298.

To ensure thorough and independent scrutiny of all cases, a three-stage review process has been established. Every case file is subject to a preliminary review by a Crown Prosecution Service area to ascertain its key characteristics. Cases are then passed to a central review team comprising prosecutors who are highly experienced in complex criminal casework. A smaller number of cases are then referred to an interdepartmental group, for a final decision on whether the legal representatives of the convicted persons should be notified that there may be features in a case that warrant further consideration by the Court of Appeal or the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The interdepartmental group works under my direction, and includes representatives from the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Reviews have been completed in 97 cases. In 38 of these the person convicted is still serving a custodial sentence.

A significant further number of cases are at an advanced stage of review.

Letters have been sent to the legal representatives of five convicted persons, notifying them that it may be appropriate for the safety of their clients' convictions to be considered further by the Court of Appeal or, if appropriate, the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Two of those convicted are sentenced to life imprisonment and remain in custody. Two have already unsuccessfully sought to appeal their convictions.

I have made the Court of Appeal aware of the action I am taking and have liaised closely with the chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission to ensure that any cases referred to these bodies will be treated expeditiously. My office stands ready to refer appropriate case files to the CCRC.

The fact that a case has been referred to legal representatives of the convicted person does not amount to a positive determination that their conviction is unsafe. Should any appeals result from this review, it will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide independently whether to contest the appeal.

Sixteen live cases were identified by the CPS as potentially affected by the Cannings judgment. Fifteen have been reviewed. Two cases have been discontinued: a Hampshire case discontinued before trial and a Coventry case discontinued before retrial.

It would not be appropriate to place in the public domain the names of defendants or convicted persons in these cases. This will be a decision for them, following advice from their legal representatives.

CPS areas, the central review team and the interdepartmental group continue to accord this work the highest priority. I am determined that the review

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should be completed as soon as possible, to bring to an end this period of uncertainty for all those involved. I shall keep the House informed of further progress.

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