Sudan - Statement

– in the House of Lords am 6:00 pm ar 26 Ebrill 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 24 April.

“With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make this further Statement to the House about the situation in Sudan on behalf of the Government and the Foreign Secretary, who is attending the funeral of a close family member.

Ten days ago, fierce fighting broke out in Khartoum. It has since spread to Omdurman, Darfur and other Sudanese cities. As Members of the House will know, a violent power struggle is ongoing between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The situation in Sudan is extremely grave. More than 427 people have been killed, including five aid workers, and over 3,700 people have been injured. Before this violence began, the humanitarian situation in Sudan was already deteriorating. We now estimate that approximately 16 million people—a third of the Sudanese population—are in need of humanitarian assistance. These numbers, I regret to inform the House, are likely to rise significantly.

Although the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces announced a 72-hour ceasefire from 0500 hours London time on 21 April to mark the holy festival of Eid, it did not hold. Given the rapidly deteriorating security situation, the Government took the difficult decision to evacuate all British embassy staff and their dependants to fulfil our duty as their employer to protect our staff. This highly complex operation was completed yesterday. The operation involved more than 1,200 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force. I know the House will join me in commending the brilliant work of our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, as well as the bravery of our service men and women for completing the operation successfully, in extremely dangerous circumstances.

I also pay tribute to our international partners for their ongoing co-operation in aligning our rescue responses, and I express my admiration for the work of the crisis centre in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, where more than 200 officials are working 24/7 and seamlessly across government to co-ordinate the UK response.

The safety and security of British nationals continues to be our utmost priority. Our ability to support British nationals has not been impacted by the relocation of British embassy staff. The evacuated team will continue to operate from a neighbouring country, alongside the Foreign Office in London, which is working throughout the day and night to support British nationals and push for a ceasefire in Sudan.

We are asking all British nationals in Sudan to register their presence with us. The roughly 2,000 British nationals registered with us already are being sent, sometimes with great difficulty, at least daily updates by text and email. This step helps enable us to remain in contact with them while we find a safe passage from Sudan. Movement around the capital remains extremely dangerous and no evacuation option comes without grave risk to life. Khartoum airport is out of action. Energy supplies are disrupted. Food and water are becoming increasingly scarce. Internet and telephone networks are becoming difficult to access. We continue to advise all British nationals in Sudan to stay indoors wherever possible. We recognise that circumstances will vary in different locations across Sudan, so we are now asking British nationals to exercise their own judgment about their circumstances, including whether to relocate, but they do so at their own risk.

Ending the violence is the single most important action we can take to guarantee the safety of British nationals and everyone in Sudan. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and I have been in continuous contact with allies and key regional partners since the outbreak of violence to agree a joint approach to both evacuation and de-escalation of violence. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister spoke to his counterparts, including Egyptian President Sisi and the President of Djibouti. The Foreign Secretary was in contact with the Kenyan President, the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Sweden, Turkey, Cyprus and the European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. The Defence Secretary engaged with counterparts in Djibouti, the United States, France and Egypt. I have spoken to the African Union and the Prime Minister in exile of Sudan, upon whom so many hopes rested. Further escalation of this conflict, particularly if it spills over into neighbouring countries, would be disastrous. As we continue to make clear, there must be a genuine and lasting ceasefire.

We undertake to keep the House informed as the situation develops. Today, all MPs will receive a second ‘Dear colleague’ letter from the Foreign Secretary and me. This will hopefully help to answer a number of frequently asked questions to assist right honourable and honourable Members in supporting their constituents.

I will continue to be in close contact with the House and provide updates where possible in the coming days. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 6:21, 26 Ebrill 2023

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces, who have been involved in the operation, first, to evacuate our British diplomats and, now, to start to evacuate British citizens from Sudan. In supporting our nationals in escaping the violence, we should remember that this conflict is not of the Sudanese people’s making. The responsibility for it lies squarely with a few generals, who are putting personal interests and ambition above the lives of fellow citizens. In those circumstances, it is important that the international community, including our partners, sends a clear and united message that the generals cannot secure any future through the continuation of violence. They need to understand the importance of stopping—and stopping now.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. I appreciate that, tomorrow, there will be an update report presented to the other place, and I hope that next week we will have an opportunity to review that. In the meantime, I ask what support is being offered to the African Union mediators—has the AU made any specific requests to us? How are UN efforts towards a ceasefire being collated and joined up so as to facilitate progress on the African Union IGAD plan for mediation? It is vital that we focus on that.

There are issues around the numbers evacuated, the numbers remaining and the timescales for the remainder of evacuation flights. In particular, is there a time when the Government expect that control over Wadi Seidna airbase will end? Certainly, working with other partners is their responsibility. Will the responsibility be transferred to other nations that seek to evacuate their own citizens? If the ceasefire deteriorates, how will we prevent people being left behind who are so desperate to escape?

After reading the reports on the ground and listening to the radio, it would be good to hear from the Minister what we are able to do to support the British nationals who remain there at the moment. Are there any reports of British nationals being attacked on their way to the airport following the escape routes recommended to the FCDO? What is the most up-to-date number of those registered with the FCDO as British nationals and dependents? We heard in the Statement originally that the minimum number was 2,000 but, from my informal discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, it looks as if the number could be more than 4,000. At the rate so far of eight flights with 75 people per flight —so 600 people per day—it would take two more full days to get 2,000 out. If the number is 4,000, it means a much more extended period.

Does the department recognise that any errors have been made in its communication over the last few days? We have seen reports of people hearing the message with no concrete plan for further evacuations on Monday and then making their own plans for the dangerous and very lengthy journeys to Port Sudan or the Egyptian border. It seems now that, with the clear plan for flights, that might be resolved, but it would be good to hear the Minister’s assessment.

There have been reports in the media of sexual violence. What steps are we taking to support survivors and, in particular, to support evidence gathering by specialists to make sure that the accountability that is so necessary is maintained? We are also having to think about the humanitarian response and what will be possible. Water, food and all the basic essentials for the people of Sudan are being affected—and they were badly affected before. This will add huge pressure. I hope that we are thinking about how, working with our partners, we can address this.

I conclude with a couple of points about external players’ involvement in the conflict. As I mentioned in a previous debate on this, we have had reports of the Wagner brigade being involved in facilitating RSF activities, which have been increasing. When I raised this matter before, I asked what we were doing to step up investigations into corrupt and illegal activity around arms smuggling and, particularly, illicit finance resulting from gold mining, which may well have fuelled the conflict and helped with the supply of arms. Are the Government actively considering any potential use of sanctions, perhaps on mid-level figures linked to atrocities or illegal activity in the run-up to the conflict? The UK’s role as a penholder makes our engagement in working with others on this question very important. I appreciate that there will be updates tomorrow, and I hope we can have further discussions when we return next week.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I reiterate my entry in the register of interests and declare my interest, in having visited Sudan on a number of occasions, most recently during the Easter Recess and in March, when I met Generals Burhan and Hemedti separately. I thank officials and the UK special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan for being open to engaging with me and responding in a personal way. I also commend the officials and staff, as well as our military and Armed Forces, who have worked very hard to ensure the safety of British nationals, as well as of our diplomatic staff, who are now re-establishing diplomatic channels from outside Sudan.

What is the Government’s estimate of the capacity of the current means by which we are evacuating British nationals? Are we both sharing other countries’ resources and co-ordinating that? There has been a number of differing figures from partnering countries as to how many nationals have been evacuated for seeking refuge. How are we co-ordinating that number? Having been to Sudan on a number of occasions, and having asked our embassy during previous visits how many nationals and joint nationals there are in Sudan, I understand the complexity. It has been, in a way, a positive in the past that we have never counted people in and out. I have a degree of understanding of the complexity of the operations, but what is the estimate, and for how long do we anticipate the ability to have evacuations? I will return to the need for expanding the 72-hour temporary cessation of hostilities to a longer term in a moment.

Will the Minister provide the House with an update on British Council staff? British Council staff had to shelter in place within the British Council offices. Are all British Council staff accounted for? What is the status of local Sudanese staff who worked in our embassy and in the British Council? What is the status of the local staff who supported the work of the UK Government there, who also require our support and assistance? What is the Minister’s assessment of where they are?

The need to extend the 72-hour cessation is now of paramount importance. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, with regards to IGAD and those working for it. I know the IGAD representative, the former Foreign Minister of Somaliland, who had been doing good work there. I believe that there is an opportunity to try to refocus some of the work, if we can secure a further humanitarian window. What is now the Government’s primary aim with regards to securing the extension of the 72 hours which has been brokered by the United States and the Saudis? I believe it is now vital that the 72 hours becomes a further 72 hours, and that we focus not only on bringing people out but on getting humanitarian assistance in. There is little point in sending empty planes to Sudan to bring out foreign nationals if we have an opportunity to get medical assistance in. That means that any extension of the ceasefire should be monitorable, and that there should be warnings that there is no impunity for those who would break such a humanitarian corridor, should it be established.

I believe very strongly that such an extension would aid the worry for British nationals; if there is no reliable safe route to the area from which they might be evacuated, they have to take their own risk to get there. What is the UK doing with our partners to ensure a whole network of safe routes that can become reliable and trustworthy? There is real fear from people in Omdurman and Khartoum who have contacted me just today that the two combating forces are reassessing their strength and waiting until the end of a humanitarian window in order to recommence work. We must prevent this happening. If the Minister can update us on initiatives for that, I would be very grateful.

Can the Minister say what advice and support we are providing to the immediate relatives of British nationals, as well as to those who have sought access to the UK through existing visa applications? Are we working with the UN on humanitarian papers and access for those categories of people?

What is the Government’s advice to those in the UK, both from the diaspora community and elsewhere, who wish to donate or provide medicine or other equipment? How can they do that and get it to the people who need it? Equally, we need to ensure that the warring parties cannot replenish their munitions and supplies, so what work are we doing with our international partners to ensure that those forces, whether governmental or non-governmental, that have offered assistance for replenishment of arms are warned in the strongest possible terms that they may be contributing to war crimes?

Finally, I am travelling to Nairobi tomorrow, where I will engage with former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to try to scope where there may be an opportunity for some form of civilian dialogue that can offer reassurance or hope for the people of Sudan that, in the medium and long term, there will be a civilian and then democratic Administration in that country. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that this is not the Sudanese people’s war, nor their fault. Some hope should be provided at this time of great horror. I am grateful for the Government’s support for that initiative. If the Minister can respond to my other points, it would provide some reassurance to people to whom we owe a great debt of support.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for this opportunity to respond to questions and provide an update on the increasingly troubling situation in Sudan.

Ten days ago, fierce fighting broke out in Khartoum. It has since spread to Omdurman, Darfur and other Sudanese cities. As noble Lords will know, a violent power struggle is ongoing between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. The UK unequivocally condemns that violence and welcomes the 72-hour ceasefire agreed on Monday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and everyone else in this Chamber, we would welcome an extension of it, but it would be risky to base our plans on the assumption that those discussions would succeed. We call on the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces to ensure that this ceasefire holds—the previous one did not.

The situation is grave. More than 427 people have been killed, including five aid workers, and over 3,700 people have been injured. Before this violence began, the humanitarian situation in Sudan was already deteriorating. We now estimate that approximately 15.6 million people—a third of the Sudanese population —are in need of humanitarian assistance. These numbers, I am sorry to say, will continue to rise.

Given the rapidly deteriorating security situation, the Government took the difficult decision to evacuate all British embassy staff and their dependants to fulfil our duty as their employer to protect our staff. This highly complex operation was completed on Sunday. It involved more than 1,200 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the Royal Marines and the RAF. I am sure noble Lords will join me, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, did earlier, in commending the brilliant work of our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and the bravery of our service men and women in completing the operation successfully, in enormously complex and dangerous circumstances. I also pay tribute to our international partners for their ongoing co-operation in aligning our rescue responses and to the crisis centre in the FCDO, where more than 200 officials are working tirelessly and seamlessly across government to co-ordinate the UK response.

The safety and security of British nationals continues to be our utmost priority. We began supported departures on Monday, prioritising British passport holders and their families. Our support for British nationals has not been impacted by the relocation of British embassy staff, who continue to operate around the clock from a neighbouring country alongside staff here in London working 24/7 to support British nationals and promote a peaceful resolution. We are asking all British nationals in Sudan to register their presence with us. In response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I say that our latest figures are that 2,500 people are already registered and now receiving at least daily updates by text and email. That helps enable us to remain in contact and monitor their well-being while we find a safe passage from Sudan in highly complex circumstances.

Despite the ceasefire, the situation remains highly volatile, and movement around the capital is extremely dangerous. No evacuation options come without risk to life and, in most cases, serious risk to life. Khartoum Airport is out of action, energy supplies are disrupted, food and water are becoming increasingly scarce, and internet and telephone networks are becoming difficult to access, with levels of 2% in some parts. We continue to advise all British nationals in Sudan who do not have departure plans to remain indoors where possible. We recognise that circumstances will vary in different locations, so we are asking people to exercise their own judgment about whether to relocate as we initiate an evacuation plan during this unpredictable ceasefire.

We are following closely reports of independent convoys departing Khartoum for Port Sudan. The British embassy has no involvement in those convoys so I emphasise that joining them would be at British nationals’ own risk. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked how many British nationals, other than those working for the Government, had been evacuated; as of 6 am today, that number was 231.

Ending the violence is the single most important thing we can do to guarantee the safety of British nationals and, of course, everyone in Sudan. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have all been in continuous contact with international allies and key regional partners since this outbreak of violence, to agree a joint approach to both evacuation and de-escalation of violence. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister spoke to his counterparts, including Egypt’s President Sisi. The Foreign Secretary was in contact with the Kenyan President, the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Sweden, Turkey and Cyprus, and the EU high representative for foreign and security policy. The Defence Secretary has engaged with counterparts in Djibouti, as well as in the US, France and Egypt. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the Minister of State for Africa has spoken to the African Union and the Prime Minister in exile of Sudan, upon whom so many hopes had rested. Further escalation of this conflict, particularly if it spills into neighbouring countries, would clearly be disastrous. As we continue to make clear, this must a be a genuine and lasting ceasefire.

To conclude, the Government are working round the clock to ensure the safety of our nationals, and to support and encourage all parties to maintain this current ceasefire. A peaceful political transition to democracy and civilian governance is still possible in Sudan, but while the fighting continues, we expect those casualty numbers that I cited earlier to rise. Government departments and military personnel are working hand in glove to initiate a safe evacuation for our nationals in incredibly complex and challenging circumstances. The Government undertake to keep the House informed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, there will be an update tomorrow.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Ceidwadwyr 6:42, 26 Ebrill 2023

My Lords, given the background that my noble friend has described, I add my congratulations to all those involved in the evacuation. My noble friend has set out the challenges of communication, given the circumstances. How would he advise British citizens to best communicate with the Foreign Office to get an update, if communications are as challenging as he says?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

There is no perfect answer to that question because the communications infrastructure is so patchy. We are doing our best to encourage as many—ideally, all—British nationals to register with us so that we can keep them informed as much as is practically possible. As I said earlier, 2,500 British nationals have registered but we need that number to grow.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, does my noble friend have anything in his brief he could share with us on the presence and role of the Russians in this situation? He has confirmed that it is already having major international repercussions and he will recall that the Russians were negotiating with the then Government, a few months ago, for a major port development in the Red Sea. There is no doubt that they are probably playing a thoroughly unconstructive role. I do not know whether we have any record of it, or could raise it with the Russians, but if the Minister has anything, can he share it with us?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have anything that I am able to share with the House on that point—it is key. I think the question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Wagner Group, who have been incredibly disruptive across the continent. But I am afraid there is nothing specific that I can add to that. It may be possible for the Minister for Africa to elaborate more on this point tomorrow in the update—I hope that is the case.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister will already know that this is not a new situation. He will also know that this morning a report from the All-Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan was published, examining progressive genocide over 20 years in Darfur and elsewhere.

I do not minimise the importance of evacuation— it is very important to evacuate all your friends and relations in these crises—but the Sudanese themselves tend to get overlooked in the media. I will put one thought in the Minister’s mind: NGOs are still working through this crisis. I know that the FCDO has a strong connection with many of these NGOs, but more relationships could be developed over the coming weeks. I will give him an example. We know that there is a great shortage of food and water, but for all sorts of obvious reasons we do not know so well how communications have suffered and whether people are communicating with each other on mobiles. Is that an area that can be explored? We also have an opportunity in the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans’s debate next week to amplify this.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble Earl for his intervention, his suggestion and his question. He is right to identify the often extraordinary work done by NGOs in incredibly dangerous circumstances, to pay tribute to them and to suggest that the FCDO should work very closely with them. That is unavoidable. As I said earlier, it is now estimated that 15.5 million people are in a position where they are becoming, or have already become, dependent on humanitarian assistance. We know that Governments cannot always deliver that level of assistance without the help and support of the networks created and nurtured by those NGOs, so we will have to work very closely with them.

In relation to the point on evacuation, it has to be a priority for any Government to evacuate their nationals when the conditions determine that it should happen. This has been and remains a top priority for us, in addition to those people who are working for us and to whom we have legal obligations.

Photo of Lord Sentamu Lord Sentamu Crossbench

My Lords, what are the Government doing with our international allies on the situation that has arisen whereby people who were waiting to face an international war crimes court have escaped from prison—in particular, the guy who led most of the massacre in Kordofan? The prison has been overrun and they were seen rejoicing that they were going to escape justice. What are we doing with our international allies on the ground to address this?

I support the noble Lord on his point about NGOs. I am chair of Christian Aid, which has already been working hard in South Sudan—there are now a lot of refugees coming out of Sudan into South Sudan—and it is handicapped because the Government’s reduction of international aid has left it without the necessary tools. Is this the moment at which the Government are going to revisit their reduction of international aid?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his comments in relation to Christian Aid, and I agree with him. I hope that when the dust begins to settle and the immediate crisis begins to be alleviated, we will be able to work together and co-operate internationally to ensure that those responsible for undoubtably grotesque crimes are held to account. I cannot tell him more than that, unfortunately, because it is such early days. It would represent a failure of global systems that we have in place were that not to occur, so I very much hope that becomes a priority at the appropriate time.

I also agree with the noble and right reverend Lord’s comments about the need to restore our aid budget as soon as possible; I have made the point many times in response to comments by people across the House.

Finally, our priority has to be to pursue now, not just in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of violence involving evacuation, every single diplomatic avenue to end the violence and to de-escalate tensions. We are working with our friends and allies across the world, including across the continent of Africa, to try to help facilitate the environment and conditions in which peace will be possible. But at this stage it is incredibly difficult because, as the noble and right reverend Lord knows, we are in the heat of the violence as we speak.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Llafur

My Lords, I, too, feel grateful for the opportunity to ask some of the questions which have been highlighted by this extraordinary extraction operation we have been involved in over the last two weeks. On the whole, it has been very successful, which I think is largely due to the extraordinary qualities of our service men and women, who are prepared to show cool courage in the face of adversity. They do not let us down, and their existence is a great national asset, in my view.

The Government say—the Minister said it just now—that they are working with friends around the world to try to solve some of these problems. Anybody who looks at this operation from a relatively objective point of view, trying to ensure that lessons are learned for the future, would be above all struck by the fact that we have been attempting to do all this entirely on our own. However, it is quite obvious that there are other countries which are willing to take on some of the risks and costs involved in the extraction operation, and which can in some cases supply useful bases, such as Djibouti—of course, we could supply Akrotiri—or a lot of materiel, aircrafts and so forth, which are necessary for this purpose.

So it is a rather sad fact that we are not collaborating with our partners and allies around the world on this particular matter; we are trying to do it all ourselves. I think that is characteristic of the post-Brexit mentality and the feeling of the Government that we do not want to become associated too much with other people, multinational organisations of different kinds and, above all, any operation that has called itself European at some point. That is a great mistake. I hope it will be corrected, because it is quite clear that other extractions of this delicate nature will be required from time to time, and we must be in a position to make the contribution that we need for the sake of people’s lives and for the sake of world peace.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

First, I echo the noble Lord’s remarks on the bravery of our service men and women. I made that point in my opening remarks, but it is absolutely right that it should be amplified. I extend that to staff in the FCDO who have been working around the clock for the staggering commitment they have shown in recent days and weeks.

I do not recognise the approach that the noble Lord has just conveyed. Our post-Brexit position in the world does not translate, and has never translated, into isolationism in the way that he implies. We recognise that challenges such as this cannot be solved by the UK working alone. We have been working across the board, with allies across the European Union and beyond, and will continue to do so.

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

What discussions are the Minister and his colleagues having with colleagues in the Home Office regarding the issuing of visas to immediate family members of British nationals? We hear reports that British nationals are unable to leave because very close relatives, such as mothers, are being refused visas by the Home Office. Could he urge his colleagues in the Home Office to take a compassionate approach and to act urgently, given the urgency of the situation?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I personally have not had discussions with the Home Office. Undoubtedly, the Minister for Africa will have done so, but I will make sure that the noble Lord’s message is fed back to the Home Office. He makes a valid point.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I return to the first question asked by the noble and right reverend Lord. I think he was referring to Ahmed Haroun, who was among those being held in Kobar prison and facing charges from the International Criminal Court. He was indicted in 2007 for his alleged role in the atrocities in Darfur, including 20 counts of crimes against humanity and 22 counts of war crimes, with charges that include murder, rape, persecution and torture. There are, I believe, clearly correct reports that Mr Haroun is now out of prison, free and appearing in the local Sudanese media.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to the issue of impunity in the current circumstances. Clearly, we have a huge problem around the world, in Sudan and elsewhere, in that people have got away with, and continue to get away with, hideous crimes. Will the Government look to do whatever they can to support the work of the International Criminal Court to continue to pursue people facing charges such as this in Sudan? Will that be part of the ongoing work?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as it stand today, our priority has to be to continue with the programme of evacuations of British nationals. We completed an operation for those working for government, but there are more people to be saved from this situation. We are committed, as a priority, to trying to extend the 72-hour ceasefire, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, identified very clearly in his remarks. We may not succeed in that but it is our duty to try to extend it, and ideally even to turn it into something more lasting. The circumstances today are incredibly difficult, and it is unlikely that the kinds of concerns that the noble Baroness identified would be top of the list in these circumstances. However, there can be no doubt about the UK Government’s support for the ICC, or of our commitment to ensuring that people who engage in what are unarguably crimes against humanity are held to justice. We will do whatever we can to support that process but we have to maintain our sight on the clear priorities of today.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the Minister suggested that communications on the ground in Sudan were difficult. That is obviously right. However, one of the issues with the evacuation of people from Afghanistan two years ago was that family members in the UK and their MPs—and indeed Peers—could not connect with the Foreign Office; it was impossible to find out what was happening on the ground. Could the Minister reassure us that, this time round, the Foreign Office is better equipped to be able to respond at least to MPs talking about their constituents? Surely we ought to be able to do that.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The noble Baroness makes an important point, and of course we have learned lessons from Afghanistan, as we strive to from every event that involves the UK and the FCDO, including on things such as evacuation planning, consular assistance, and so on. However, this is a very different situation, in the UK’s capabilities and the overall context, as well as the risk to British nationals. That is not to say that comparisons are invalid—they are absolutely valid—but it is a very different situation.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, the Minister may be aware that two dioceses in this country, Salisbury and Leeds, have strong links with Sudan and South Sudan. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds has regular contact, particularly with the Primate in Sudan. The people in those two dioceses absolutely understand the total focus on bringing British citizens out but they are also concerned for the Sudanese on the ground, particularly those in the churches; the Church there is quite fragile and relies quite a lot on the support that comes from western diplomats, and so forth. They are asking what they can do to support their Sudanese friends in churches and in other communities who are not going to be rescued. There may not be an immediate answer, but perhaps the Minister would consider what advice might be given to people who want to support the Sudanese in the coming weeks and months.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I have no doubt that people not just in Salisbury and Leeds but across the country will want to provide support where they can—particularly those people with links and connections, but even those who do not. I do not believe there is yet an agreed and accepted pathway for that support—such things tend not to happen in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of violence—but I will certainly convey that message to the FCDO and the Africa Minister. I imagine we will see the same sort of generosity as we have on so many other occasions in the past few years.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, following on from the intervention of the right reverend Prelate reflecting the concerns of British-Sudanese communities, the Guardian quotes Nadir Bhanda, a British-Sudanese community organiser, who said that people in Sudan felt “frightened” and “abandoned” by the international community. Irfan Nour said:

“Historically, Sudan is a former British colony and the British government has got a big influence in Sudan. But we feel as though the British government has let us down—there has been no major effort to stop the war and the human situation in Sudan looks very scary”.

I acknowledge the Minister’s earlier comments, but what would he say to Mr Bhanda and the broader community, who are so fearful for their friends and relatives and the communities from which they emerged, about what the British Government are doing?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I certainly would not want to dismiss, disparage or devalue those sentiments, because people in Sudan are, unfortunately, right to be afraid. It is a very unstable and dangerous time for everyone, no matter where they come from, who is caught up in this conflict. But I do not accept those remarks about the UK. We have been at the forefront of international diplomatic efforts: first, to help try to create the conditions in which peace has a chance; and, secondly, to evacuate those people for whom we have a particular responsibility. There is no doubt that, as one of the most generous donors in the global context, notwithstanding the cut from 0.7% to 0.5%, we will be committing ourselves to helping the process of rebuilding lives when circumstances allow.

House adjourned at 7.01 pm.