Conflict in Sudan: El Fasher - Commons Urgent Question

– in the House of Lords am 12:00 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 12:00, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given in the other place by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Indo-Pacific on the situation in Sudan. The Statement is as follows:

“Yesterday, we published a Written Ministerial Statement outlining our grave concern at reports of devastating violence in and around El Fasher, with civilians caught in the crossfire. In April, the United Kingdom led negotiations at the UN Security Council, alongside Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Algeria, to deliver a press statement, urging the warring parties to de-escalate in El Fasher and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law. We also called for a closed UN Security Council consultation on the situation.

On 15 May, Minister Mitchell publicly called upon the RSF and the SAF

“to protect civilians and spare Sudan from their wilful destruction and carnage

We continue to pursue all diplomatic avenues to achieve a permanent ceasefire, and we welcome plans to restart the talks in Jeddah. We urge the region to refrain from actions that prolong the conflict and to engage positively with peace talks. We have used exchanges with the warring parties to condemn strongly atrocities that have been perpetrated, and to demand that their leadership make every effort to prevent further atrocities in territories they have captured or threatened to capture, as well as to press for the need for improved humanitarian access.

On 15 April, the Deputy Foreign Secretary announced a package of sanctions designations, freezing the assets of three commercial entities linked to the warring parties. We will continue to explore other levers to disrupt and constrain the sources of funding that both warring parties are using to sustain themselves. We continue to support the Centre for Information Resilience, which documents, preserves and shares evidence of reported atrocities so that their perpetrators can be brought to justice. There shall be no impunity for human rights abusers.

Finally, we will keep working to ensure that the voices of Sudanese civilians are heard, whether they be survivors and witnesses of human rights abuses, Sudanese NGOs, women’s rights organisations, activists helping their communities, or those trying to develop a political vision for Sudan’s future. UK technical and diplomatic support has been instrumental in the establishment of the anti-war pro-democracy Taqaddum coalition led by former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and we will continue to support the Taqaddum’s development”.

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 12:02, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I welcome all the actions outlined in today’s response and in Andrew Mitchell’s Written Statement yesterday. This morning, Anne-Marie Trevelyan did not respond to my honourable friend Lyn Brown’s question on how the UK will back up the US red line promising direct and immediate consequences for those responsible for the offensive on El Fasher. Will the Minister do so now?

This morning, Anne-Marie Trevelyan also accepted the risk to millions of Sudanese if Elon Musk shut down his vital Starlink satellite internet service there. She undertook to raise it with the Deputy Foreign Secretary. Can the Minister reassure the House that Ministers will take urgent steps, with allies, to ensure the continuation of this service during this desperate time for the Sudanese people?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s second point. As I said in the original response, I assure him that we are taking all necessary steps, working with multilateral agencies and all key partners to ensure that vital services are sustained. The point he makes about the satellite link communication is key, as we know from conflicts around the world. It is a very valid issue to raise.

On ensuring that there are consequences and penalties for those warring parties, we have made this very clear through the sanctions process. I am aware that the US took further actions yesterday, I believe, in issuing further sanctions. The noble Lord will know that I cannot speculate on future issues, but I assure him that we keep this very much at the forefront of the levers that we currently have. We are also engaging extensively in the diplomatic efforts with those who have influence over both sides.

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 restate my registered interests on this topic. There are 800,000 civilians who are, in effect, now trapped in El Fasher. I agree with all of what the Minister stated and what the Government are doing. My understanding is that, over the last five months, only 34 trucks’ worth of humanitarian assistance has been able to get to a community of 800,000. My understanding today is that there is no child healthcare provision in the entire state of Darfur. There is also starvation and the routine burning of homes.

Will the Minister reassure me that there will be no immunity from prosecution for those who are perpetrating these breaches of international humanitarian law and war crimes? Given that there are now 4 million people in Sudan facing famine, with the rains approaching, what assurance can the Minister give that the international community will be getting more humanitarian support through to the civilian population?

Finally, will the Minister agree with me that there is now a very considerable concern over the break-up, in effect, of Sudan? The only way that there will be one Sudan is with extra support for the civilian and democratic groups, especially for women and young women, who have been so resilient and brave through the previous Bashir regime, then through the coup, and now with conflict. What support are the UK Government giving to ensure that there will be one Sudan, governed in a democratic and civilian way?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s last point, of course I agree with him. That is why only yesterday the noble Lord and I were outside your Lordships’ Chamber discussing the situation and the importance of supporting the Taqaddum coalition and the efforts of former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, whom both the noble Lord and I know well.

On El Fasher specifically, the noble Lord is right. If El Fasher was to fall, Sudan would split in two. We need to have the unity of Sudan, and that is a primary purpose of the United Kingdom’s efforts. We are very much focused on that. There are key countries. That is why we want the Jeddah talks to be resumed as soon as possible. Coming into the Chamber, I still had not received a date. I had a very productive call with the UN special envoy, whom I know extremely well from his former position as the Foreign Minister of Algeria. He has been engaging with both sides.

On the noble Lord’s point about humanitarian support, only yesterday, Minister Mitchell met the new head of the WFP, which is one of the many agencies we are working with. He will be aware of the donor conference that was held in April, where the United Kingdom pledged another £89 million to Sudan, with most of this going towards humanitarian aid.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, I note that I will be in Port Sudan in a couple of weeks’ time. Yesterday, I was at a round table on Sudan with NGOs and expatriates. The Raoul Wallenberg Centre made it clear in its research that there is genocidal intent behind much of what is going on in Darfur. The plea there was: how do we get international protection? We cannot say that we do not know this is coming. There is the perfect storm of famine as well as the massive artillery bombardment around El Fasher going on at the moment.

What can the Government do to protect civilians by any international intervention—as happened in the Balkans fairly recently—and to ensure that not just humanitarian aid but fertilisers get through, which are not getting through at the moment? Even in places where people want to grow their own food to avert a famine, they cannot; it is a double hit. I wonder how the Minister might respond.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

First, of course I appreciate the role of the right reverend Prelate with regard to the situation in Sudan. If I may say also, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, often raises this, and I know the right reverend Prelate is focused on this. We need to ensure that civil society and particularly the religious communities of Sudan also play a very active role in that regard. I look forward to hearing back from the right reverend Prelate if he does travel, with all the necessary caveats because of the situation in Sudan.

On security and the international force, the right reverend Prelate will be aware that the Government of Sudan previously ended the mandate of the Security Council on the UN mission. The current challenges within the Security Council are pretty polarised positions on a range of different conflicts. However, there is an active discussion taking place at the UN, and I believe there is another meeting taking place tomorrow. A return to the negotiating table with both the SAF and the RSF is required. That is what we are pressing for, and those who have influence, including the new special envoy, are focused on that. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, we are focused on getting the Jeddah talks resumed.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, what conversations are the Minister and the Government having with external actors, particularly the UAE, which are supporting the different sides? There are reports that a large amount of gold from the region is now being sold in Dubai and that the UAE is providing active support for the RSF. Are we making it very clear to the UAE that this does not help the situation and that it instead fuels conflict and potential genocide, as the right reverend Prelate suggested?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as I already alluded to, we need all regional partners and those with influence over the two warring parties to focus on the importance of ending the conflict with immediate effect. The humanitarian consequences are dire. We have already heard references to Sudan being at the brink of famine. I previously went to Darfur in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and was taken by the very dire situation then—and yet they were better times than what we currently confront.

On the influence of other partners, the UAE and a number of other countries have played a valid and vital role in the humanitarian effort, and the pledging conference was testament to that. Those who have influence over both sides need to ensure—as I said before; I cannot reiterate this enough—the importance of diplomacy. For any conflict around the world, the key element is to get the fighting to stop, the conflict to end and the political discussions under way.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise to the House that I was not here at the beginning, but I have come straight from a plane from Addis Ababa, where I heard about the effects of conflict on undermining and turning back the achievements made in health. That is nothing compared with what is going on Sudan. I also met refugees from Sudan there, who are unable to do the work that they want to do to support their communities. There is a sense of despair in the region over the situation there. Does the Minister acknowledge that some of that despair comes from the international community simply not having the bandwidth at the moment to give this the attention that it deserves? I want to make clear the sense of urgency and desperation on the ground.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, first, I sympathise with the noble Baroness about having to get off a plane and come straight to the House. I know how that feels; I have had to go through that recently. Secondly, I totally agree with her on the conflict itself. After the imposition of sanctions, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary said that this is a conflict that we cannot forget. We need to ensure that it is on the front burner and that it continues to be discussed. The UN plays an important part in hosting those discussions, and we take our responsibilities as penholder very seriously; I assure her that we are focused on that. The pledging conference in Paris on 15 April underlined that the humanitarian elements are very much regarded as priorities, not just by the United Kingdom but by key partners in Europe, the US and the region.