Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Last August, following al-Bashir’s refusal to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, the Security Council decided to strengthen the existing AU force by adding to it 17,300 military, 3,300 police and 16 formed police units. No timetable was laid down for the deployment of these reinforcements, but three months went by and the only sign of movement was an agreement to set up a tripartite mechanism between the UN, the AU and Sudan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1706 but in practice allowing Sudan a veto on the injection of any further international peacekeeping forces into Darfur. President al-Bashir wrote to the UN Secretary-General on 23 December reiterating his agreement to the first two stages of the UN proposal, but even the first stage of the proposal, the light support package, has yet to be completed because of Sudanese obstruction. It is expected that by tomorrow only 47 UN military, 30 police and 10 civilians will have arrived, with another 20 scheduled to arrive by the end of January, which is about half the total numbers projected in the first phase of the operation.

On 24 January, the UN Secretary-General wrote to President al-Bashir setting out the proposals for phase 2, which had been previously agreed by the UN and AU. At every stage, permission has to be sought from Khartoum. Even then, the arrangements for the transit of people and goods have to be accepted by Khartoum one at a time. At the tripartite meeting on 24 January, the discussion focused entirely on the implementation of the LSP, and when the Secretary-General met President al-Bashir last Sunday, he received no answer concerning the phase 2 proposals. The next chance to discuss that will not be until 7 February, and it would be useful to have the Minister's assessment of the way forward. Are we going to have this perpetual postponement for weeks at a time of the arrangements for each of these phases?

If the Sudanese continue to insist that the troops for the hybrid force must only be Africans, I suggest that the African states which have provided contingents to UNMIL, UNOCI and MONUC might be able to help, as those operations prepare to wind down; though in the near future, it will be very hard to expand the Darfur operation while at the same time getting a new peacekeeping operation

30 Jan 2007 : Column 213

under way in Somalia. President al-Bashir has insisted also, in his letter to the Secretary-General of 23 December, that the finalisation of the plans for the hybrid operation have still to be negotiated, including the size of the force. One obstacle has been cleared out of the way, as your Lordships have already heard in the debate, in that President al-Bashir will not become president of the AU for the next year; but it looks as though he is playing for time until the AMIS mandate runs out at the end of June.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the United Nations must take a robust line against the killers and the bullies who are holding a whole people to ransom. A few Apache ground attack helicopters would do wonders against the Janjaweed. If only a non-African state could provide such munitions, they could nevertheless be operated under the AU/UN memorandum of understanding of 25 November 2006. Experience shows clearly that when the hybrid force goes in, it needs a mandate that allows far more active military protection of civilians.

Over the past three and a half years, as the crisis has escalated, it has been considered necessary to use kid gloves with the Sudanese Government over Darfur—first, to get their co-operation on signing the CPA, and, latterly, on implementing it. The time has come when the UN cannot allow Khartoum to block effective means of stopping mass murder and ethnic cleansing.

8.02 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, my noble friend has again done us and Sudan a service in drawing the acute humanitarian crisis in Darfur to our attention. He did so in Questions last week and has done so again today. The crisis afflicts not only refugees and displaced people but also humanitarian workers. It is of a different quality. UN agency appeals are coming out of Africa all the time, but it is rare to see a distress call such as we saw from 13 UN agencies on 17 January. They said that repeated military attacks, shifting front lines and the fragmentation of armed groups had compromised safe humanitarian access to the victims of the crisis, and that the,

This war appears to be beyond anyone’s control.

My noble friend has already given the House the figures that show the appalling scale of suffering. Last week it was reported that another 5,000 people had fled their homes in west Darfur to seek refuge in two camps around El Geneina, adding to the millions displaced. Several violent incidents were reported in Darfur during the weekend following the UN appeal. According to the United Nations mission, an Antonov plane bombed Ein Siro, near Kutum, killing two civilians and livestock. The same day a UN contractor and an international NGO staff member were abducted. Earlier that weekend Sudanese government police officers had attacked staff from the United Nations, from the African Union mission and seven NGOs in south Darfur. The attack on 20 staff and the subsequent arrests of some of them occurred in the state capital of Nyala, where they were apparently attending a social gathering.

30 Jan 2007 : Column 214

I spoke to an aid worker this evening who said that there was no respite from banditry, theft and attacks on NGO vehicles and other property; indeed these attacks are worsening. I hesitate to use the word “routine” but these routine attacks, especially continued aerial bombardment, which others have mentioned, once again call into question the Government of Sudan’s ability to govern and their good faith in assisting the international community with humanitarian work in Darfur, including the return to peace talks.

As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, 12 relief workers have been killed in the past six months, more than in the previous two years combined. Their loss has directly hit humanitarian operations. The killing of three government water engineers in west Darfur in July 2006, for example, meant an immediate if temporary suspension of water and sanitation activities in the camps. Nine workers from the same government department were abducted in November, and five are still missing. The proportion of the affected population of Darfur judged “accessible” according to UN security standards has dropped to just 64 per cent, which apparently is the lowest access rate since 2004.

The UN agencies say quite plainly that they cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population. That is a stern warning. They, like the rest of us, are looking for immediate concrete steps from the signatories, and the non-signatories, of the Darfur peace agreement towards a peaceful settlement and the respect of international humanitarian law. I join my noble friend in asking the Government whether they will say to NATO that a no-fly zone could be an effective sanction if the Government of Sudan continue to resist the deployment of the strong phase 3 AU/UN hybrid peacekeeping force.

I do not believe that the time has come for us to pull out of Sudan. We still have a lot of important British interests in Khartoum and our influence has been notable in helping to achieve the comprehensive peace agreement in the south, which is gradually bringing back hope to the people.

As treasurer of the All-Party Group on Sudan, I am concerned that the Sudanese people and their Government should know that they have friends in this Parliament, and that the British public should be informed as soon as possible of events and opportunities coming up in Sudan. But the Government of Sudan’s failure to assist humanitarian agencies and their recent hostility towards some of them—notably the suspension by the Humanitarian Aid Commission last year of the well respected Sudan Social Development Organization—make it hard for the friends of Sudan to speak positively about developments in the country as we would like to do.

This is not the time to make new suggestions about the intractable peace process, and I hope that the Minister will use every possible minute remaining to describe his recent experience. We should recognise that behind the scenes there are many experts from the embassies, the African Union and the UN working to get the talks going again, and it is no easy task. I will confine myself to a few questions. Can the

30 Jan 2007 : Column 215

Minister confirm that the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation (DDDC) is a process towards a new peace agreement and must not be associated too closely with the old DPA, which is now discredited? Does he also agree that to avoid the mistakes of the last time there must be a greater effort not just to inform people but to ensure the fullest participation of local people through tribal leaders, mosques and local organisations? That was one of the failures of the last round which caused everything to fall apart.

Can the Minister tell us which European countries are now actively engaged in the process, whether China has been approached and is included, and whether the dialogue process of the African Union is adequately funded? Finally, can the UK do anything to protest against the restrictions by the Humanitarian Aid Commission—which seem to contradict its terminology—on access to Darfur and its latest refusal even to issue or renew visas to development agencies working there?

8.10 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on launching this debate, with his remarkable sense of timing, in the week when the African Union is meeting in Ethiopia. This is the first time that I have had a chance to participate in a debate on Sudan. It is very impressive to see the knowledge, passion and concern shown by noble Lords.

My interest goes back as far as 1947, when, at the age of 11, I flew out to Sudan in the school holidays to join my father, who served there for 25 years and helped to pull down the flag on 1 January 1956, on the independence of Sudan. Later, as a Minister of State, I had the privilege of visiting that country two or three times. Anyone who has had any dealings with the Sudanese, north or south, has great affection and respect for them.

The people of Sudan have suffered too much devastation and loss of life in the past several decades. If the Sudanese Government can have been persuaded, after a great deal of pressure, agony and loss of life, eventually to settle in the south, they must be persuaded to settle in Darfur as well. As so many of my noble friends have said, it is right that we—and the Sudanese, above all—should expect the international community to continue to press vigorously, first, to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, but secondly and equally importantly, to find a longer-term solution and a greater, better framework for stability in Darfur.

The conflict stems from a lethal mixture of problems. First, there is the long-term problem: the rivalry for land and water between the settled farmers and the riverine tribes against the pressure, moving southwards, of the nomadic people. At a young age, I had experience of that as the last British district officer to join the Kenya Administration in the northern province of Kenya, with the Somali nomads pushing south and pressing for water and land, often creating violence. It is the job of any Government in those circumstances to hold the ring and to keep the peace. That is not happening in Darfur.

30 Jan 2007 : Column 216

An additional problem is that this area has been marginalised for a long time, lacks water and has been treated as a backwater, with no proper participation in regional or national government, a problem fuelled during the past 10 or 15 years by the pressure from theocratic Islamic ideology—in the 1990s in particular—and now with the subjugation of the people by the Sudanese Government, using the Janjaweed as their weapon. The consequence, as we all know, is the disaster that we see in front of us, another shameful human disaster. Two thousand villages have been destroyed, at least 2.5 million people have been displaced, at least 200,000 refugees have gone across the border to Chad, and at least 200,000 people—probably many more—have been killed.

In this post-imperial age, what is required in such crises is the vigorous mobilisation of international influence and support, both to deal with the humanitarian crisis and to provide a longer-term framework for the people to live in peace. I am sure that my noble friends are right to have stressed in this debate that we must look to the regional powers—the region itself—to take the lead. For that reason, I join everyone else in saying that it is good that they have taken the decision that President al-Bashir should not be the chairman of the African Union. Then the regional powers need the support of the United Nations. It is good that in Ethiopia the new UN Secretary-General said that he wanted to take the lead in that area. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister on that.

Beyond all that, we need all the time to analyse what the rest of the international community can do, using what influence it has. I ask myself and the Minister what moderate Arab Governments are doing and saying, because it should cause Arab leaders deep embarrassment and shame when they see what Arab people are doing to each other and to African people in Darfur.

By contrast, I ask the Minister also to say something about China, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned and which has growing influence in Sudan. As we know, it is the biggest investor in oil; it has built the pipeline to the Red Sea; it has invested US$8 billion in the oil exploration contracts. Sudan imports products from China on an enormous scale: 14 per cent of all imports to the country come from China. China therefore has growing influence; it can bring benefits to Africa and Sudan, but it can also do harm. We see the evidence that it has propped up corrupt dictators—I cite Zimbabwe as the best example—and it is today propping up President al-Bashir.

The great country of China is becoming a great power. We are entitled to look to it to show more statesmanship and leadership. I hope that the Government are being vigorous in embarking on a dialogue with the Chinese Government—I hope that the Minister can say something about that—to influence them to play a constructive role. The people of Sudan deserve a better deal than they have.

30 Jan 2007 : Column 217

8.17 pm

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on bringing this debate before us tonight and on the most eloquent and forceful way in which he made the points to which we all listened and to which so many noble Lords have responded with equal concern.

This is an ongoing debate. Only recently, on 26 January, the Secretary of State for International Development, Mr Hilary Benn MP, issued a statement in response to the arrest of 20 UN, NGO and AU staff by the Sudanese police and national security on 19 January. He commented on their subsequent verbal and physical abuse, including sexual assault:

On 23 January, in your Lordships’ House, my noble friend Lady Northover asked a Question about the response of the UK Government to the UN’s warning that its agencies were having difficulty holding the line on Darfur. The Lord President of the Council, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replied:

She also said:

One cannot but agree absolutely with that condemnation and those sentiments, but we must press for action to match that condemnation. We need to be seen to be doing more than joining in the collective wringing of hands. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, called for all sides to provide safe and unhindered access throughout Darfur. She also noted that movement was slow in consolidating a ceasefire in a renewed political process and on the hybrid AU/UN peacekeeping force to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred.

Will the Minister tell your Lordships’ House whether there have been any signs in the past seven or 10 days of the Government of Sudan recognising any of their obligations, and any signs of a quickening of the movement on the issues to which the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, drew attention in your Lordships’ House? I ask this in the light of two important events in relation to Darfur and Sudan in those seven to 10 days. First, and in particular, the African Union has again bypassed Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in his bid to become chairman of the African Union because of the conflict in Darfur, as a result of enormous pressure from other African countries, the international community, aid agencies and so forth against the president’s campaign.

Secondly, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, made a speech at the AU summit in Addis Ababa—the Minister attended that summit and may well have heard him in person—in which he called for the African Union to show a unity of purpose in

30 Jan 2007 : Column 218

bringing peace to Darfur. As war-torn Darfur is now considered to be the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, there is an urgent call for Africa’s leaders to show the same unity of purpose and partnership with the UN that brought peace to Burundi and Sierra Leone. Mr Ban went on to say:

Will the Minister tell us whether he agrees that if, as the UN says, Darfur is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, it is a touchstone to achieving the unity and commitment for which Mr Ban is calling? By the same token, should it not be the focus of additional UN resources that strengthening the organisation must imply? Does he also agree that the UK Government could, and I suggest should, address the effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council? Is the Minister aware that the effectiveness of that council has been at issue since the rift developed between western members and African and Islamic states? Does he think that the council carries less weight now on this issue, particularly given its new composition? Does he therefore agree that the UK Government could be pressing the council to do more, outside as well as inside Darfur? Should the United Kingdom be pressing the council to use its special procedures mechanisms to do more than simply appoint its country-specific rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses in-country in Sudan after receiving an invitation to do so, in due course reporting internally to the council? Should not the United Kingdom press the Human Rights Council to act now, without waiting for an invitation, by appointing a thematic rapporteur to investigate the wealth of evidence already in existence outside Darfur on extra-judicial killings and the violation of women, which continues to be rampant in Darfur?

Most importantly, should not the United Kingdom Government emphasise that the benefits of having a thematic rapporteur who reports independently on the council’s investigations and publishes its reports to the international community—not just internally reporting to the Human Rights Council, from whence it may never emerge—is a far more effective way of keeping the issues of Darfur on the centre of the international stage?

8.24 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important topic. I also echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in praising the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless work in trying to secure peace in Darfur. Much has been written and said in the media about the crimes of humanity occurring every day in the region of Darfur and the surrounding areas, but very little has been said on how these are to be stopped.

As we have heard in this debate, the Sudanese Government must take a great deal of the responsibility for allowing the crisis to get to this state

30 Jan 2007 : Column 219

and for preventing the international community from taking steps to resolve it. It is very sad that more than 12 years after the genocide in Rwanda and more than 15 years after the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, international institutions are still not able to mobilise quickly and effectively to prevent similar crimes occurring in Sudan. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, opened this debate with a graphic description of the Sudanese Government’s contempt and defiance, as he described it, of the international community.

The militias, which are armed and given air support by the Sudanese Government, have perpetuated much of the violence towards civilians in Darfur and have led to the mass exodus of people from the area to overcrowded and ill-equipped refugee camps. The wilful obstruction and even expulsion of aid agencies operating there by the Government ensures that even these places of refuge are unable to offer much protection. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was right to describe this as one of the greatest humanitarian manmade crises facing the international community.

Last year, there was a glimmer of hope when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1706. This provided a clear duty on the international community to protect civilians under Chapter VII and authorised the deployment of UN troops into Darfur to stem the violence. It is doubly disappointing that this resolution has achieved so little, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out. If all it takes to prevent the UN enforcing Security Council resolutions is for the president of the culpable country to say “No, I don't want to let you in”, we will never achieve anything. So what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to enforce this resolution? How are those responsible for the violence ever to be held to account before the International Criminal Court if the UN has so little power? The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who is just back from two weeks in southern Sudan, in a very eloquent speech, gave the House some shocking examples of what this brutal regime is doing there.

The consultation between the UN and the Sudanese Government, with the involvement of the African Union, was intended to find a way through the impasse. It was to decide how UN troops could support and reinforce African Union troops on the ground. Instead, it seems to have resulted in the effective dismissal of the resolution. Certainly it does not look as if UN troops will be on the ground in meaningful numbers or with any command independence any time soon.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page