Debate on The Queen’s Speech, November 24th 2004
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Independent Crossbencher): My Lords, there have been many rich themes in today’s debate on the gracious Speech. In reflecting perhaps one of the Government’s own priorities in the gracious Speech, many of those who have contributed to the debate today have chosen to speak about the challenges facing Africa. I should like to do the same.
Six weeks ago on behalf of the human rights organisation, the Jubilee Campaign, I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester spoke so eloquently earlier on, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan, to which the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have referred. The reports I wrote following those visits are on the Jubilee Campaign’s website, and I have made them available to the Minister.
In all three countries I was struck by the sheer scale of the fatalities. In 20 years some 2 million people have died in the Sudan; 800,000 in the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago; and since 1998 some 3 million people are estimated to have died in the DRC—a staggering 2,000 every day. These are casualties and deaths on a par with Europe’s great war. Violence and conflict have of course rendered development a near impossibility.
In Africa, weapons of mass destruction are often small arms and munitions shamelessly sold by western business interests. The Government’s determination to bring the Export Control Act 2002 into force is commendable, but there are still loopholes. Earlier this week the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who is in her place, answered a Written Question [HL4414] that I tabled about the sale of arms to Sudan by a British businessman John Knight and his associate Brian Foster.
In an interview with the Scotsman on 18 November, the arms dealer said that as weapons had been supplied to Hitler he saw no issue in selling arms to Khartoum. He had been asked to supply 130-mm field guns, T72 main battle tanks, multiple rocket launchers and semi-automatic pistols, and although these weapons were ultimately caught by the Export Control Act he did supply Antonov AN26 transport planes. He said that he believed they would be used to drop aid. These planes of course can be fitted with bomb racks, and the United Nations has highlighted how they have been used to bomb many people in the south of the country.
When I went to rebel-held areas in southern Sudan I saw the damage reeked by the Antonovs. The Bishop of Torit told me how 72 bombs had been dropped on his compound, including a school that had been obliterated. Children told me how they had learnt to tell the difference between the drone of the Antonov engines and those of the UN aid planes. I hope the Government will consider further how such transactions can be forestalled and loopholes, including third party deals brokered by UK nationals in third countries, can be thwarted.
In the long term, the consequences of raging conflict in Africa are appalling. I know that the noble Baroness who will answer the debate tonight agrees because of the speech she made on this subject herself just a couple of weeks ago.
In Rwanda, for instance, they include a staggering 260,000 orphans, of whom 65,000 are HIV positive. At a genocide site at Murambi I saw the disinterred corpses of pregnant women and children—some of the 58,000 people slaughtered as so-called peace keepers simply looked on because it was not part of their mandate to intervene.
We are rightly proud of our record in providing food and aid in countries like Rwanda and Sudan. But an aid worker in Darfur put it to me like this. He said:
“What is the point busting a gut to get in humanitarian aid if then you are simply going to let the people you feed be shot dead by the Janjaweed?”.
It was emphasised to me again and again by people in Darfur that it is not aid that they want but the weapons taken away from their attackers, and their land returned.
In Darfur I took first-hand accounts from people who have seen loved ones killed and raped, from people driven off their land, and from terrorised people whose villages have been razed to the ground.
Two weeks ago the Sudanese ambassador to London, Dr Hassan Abdin, at a meeting here in the Moses Room, disputed the veracity of the accounts collected by the journalist, Rebecca Tinsley and myself. He told an aid worker who had just flown in from Darfur that it was not true that aid workers were also now at risk. Moments later a UNICEF representative told the same meeting that only the previous day 88 aid workers had been evacuated from west Darfur because their safety could no longer be guaranteed. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, this week the situation has deteriorated further, with representatives of Save the Children having their own lives endangered when they were caught in the crossfire.
The Sudanese army has been moving into the camps under the pretext of searching for “rebels”. The BBC’s Fergal Keane said,
“to watch the officials and police of a state like Sudan—which has just signed a peace agreement—demolishing people’s shacks under the eyes of international observers and breaching international law is quite extraodrinary and unique”.
He said that he had never seen anything like it in 21 years of covering African affairs. He said:
“The population is bewildered and terrorised”.
Sudan’s Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, said that it was the act of a responsible government to move the occupants to a better location. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, called the action a violation of humanitarian law. BBC’s “Panorama”, just two weeks ago, broadcast harrowing and graphic footage, which, no doubt, many noble Lords saw. The decaying remains of men, women and children, murdered during genocidal attacks, were shown. At El Geer camp 250 families were moved on to police trucks; they were later reported to be trying to shelter from the scorching sun outside another camp, at El Suaref. A total of 1.7 million people have now been displaced in Darfur and at least 70,000 have been killed. The community leader at El Geer said that they now fear being forcibly sent back to their village, which they fled after attacks by Janjaweed militia. A senior African Union official in Sudan says:
“The ceasefire has been violated every single day”.
The United Nations has called Darfur,
“the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe”
The United States and now Canada, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have formally declared this to be genocide.
In a letter that I received today from the Prime Minister, he says:
“You say that what is going on in Darfur is genocide. You may be right but the international community can only take such a decision based on sound evidence”.
I am unclear how much evidence is required or why the United States, and now Canada, was able to reach that view two months ago on the basis of the same evidence available to us all.
I have no doubt that what I saw in Darfur is genocide in a technical sense as well as in reality. The US was right to declare it to be so, and I agree with Colin Powell. What mystifies me is why we are in denial. Two years ago, the Prime Minister rightly said:
“I tell you, if Rwanda happened today, we would have a moral duty to act”.
We are one of 135 signatories to the 1949 Genocide Convention, which requires us to protect, prevent and punish those responsible. It does not say that our moral duty ends by passing the responsibility to a few African Union soldiers who have inadequate resources and a wholly inadequate mandate. It does not say that we simply have a moral duty to provide greater access for humanitarian aid to feed people while leaving them to be raped or murdered by genocidal forces.
Using Chapter 7 powers, the Security Council gave the government of Sudan until the end of August to disarm the Janjaweed militia. As on so many previous occasions, they failed to comply, and our collective failure to respond has left the Sudanese Government with the belief that they can do as they have done over the past 20 years with sheer impunity.
Last week, in advance of the Nairobi meeting of the UN Security Council, the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, and a senior Labour Member of the European Parliament, Mrs Glenys Kinnock, wrote to the Prime Minister. They said:
“It is time to get tough with the Sudan Government, the architect of this slaughter, ethnic cleansing, rape and racism. The British Government must not equate the actions of the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan, working in concert, with the comparatively small scale attacks by the Darfur rebels, nor must we fail to hold the Sudan Government to account for fear of upsetting the Khartoum regime”.
“Sudan is already a failed state, and its Government must be forced to negotiate for a genuine peace and a federal solution to the grievances of all its regions”.
They called for three immediate things: first, the enforcement of a no-fly zone; secondly, increased resources and an enhanced mandate for the African Union soldiers; and, thirdly, targeted sanctions against the government of Sudan, including a total arms embargo, the freezing of assets and a travel ban on the regime’s leaders. That is undoubtedly the right way to proceed.
To date, we have been deterred from pressing for oil and other sanctions against Sudan by countries such as China, which has extensive Sudanese oil interests. But, there are moments when a country has what the Prime Minister calls “a moral duty to act”—and this is one of those moments.
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