Baroness Cox raises a question on Sudan in the House of Lords

15 July 2014

On Monday 14th July, Baroness Cox raised a short question on Sudan for debate in the House of Lords. She asked Her Majesty’s Government “what is their assessment of human rights in the Republic of Sudan”, then moved into a short speech in which she spoke with “a heavy heart from first-hand evidence”. 

Baroness Cox began her speech by highlighting the ongoing situation in Darfur, with President al-Bashir’s continued assaults and support of the notorious Janjaweed militia

She then turned to the Government of Sudan’s suppression of freedom of speech, the press and civil society, before raising concerns over the denial of freedom of religious and belief. She reminded peers that the “notorious barbaric sentences and treatment meted out to Meriam Ibrahim, with the death penalty for alleged apostasy, 100 lashes for adultery and her treatment in prison, where she gave birth in shackles, may be heralding more widespread persecution of non-Muslims that does not hit the headlines and may be carried out with impunity.” She asked Her Majesty’s Government what representations have been made to the Government of Sudan concerning this case and other gross contraventions of the right of freedom of religion and belief.

Baroness Cox proceeded to highlight the atrocious situation in South Kordofan, especially the Nuba mountains, and Blue Nile State. She described her recent visit to these areas, having witnessed “Antonov aircraft targeting schools, clinics, markets and people working on their crops and we saw the terror that drove them to hide in deadly snake-infested caves in the Nuba mountains or desperately to seek shelter in river beds and under trees in Blue Nile. We visited villages where hundreds of people had died of starvation. They are now deserted because of recent bombings. We saw the fresh craters.”

Reminding peers of the legal obligations for the United Kingdom to act, she emphasised the SRRA’s appeal for the UN Security Council and the international community to “declare the situation in the two areas a humanitarian emergency requiring an urgent response from all actors; demand that SAF immediately halts its aerial bombardment and air strikes against civilians; require the Government of Sudan to lift restrictions on the delivery of food and other humanitarian items and to permit UN agencies and other independent international organisations immediate free and unhindered access to needy civilians to stave off mass starvation and provide medical care; to press the Government of Sudan to agree a cessation of hostilities with regional and international monitoring mechanisms; to consider the most effective means, including air drops, to access those civilians trapped by ground attacks and lack of roads; and to urge national and international authorities to conduct independent investigations into allegations of summary executions, detentions and torture inflicted on the basis of ethnic and political affiliations of individuals in the two areas.”

Whilst acknowledging the importance of international dialogue, she raised the concern that “al-Bashir’s Government are very happy to talk—and to continue killing while they talk” and pointed to the “historical responsibility” of the United Kingdom to help.

A number of peers including Lord Cope of Berkeley, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, and The Lord Bishop of Carlisle joined the discussion to address concerns about the serious human rights issues in Sudan. 

In a comprehensive response to  peers, Baroness Warsi said, “The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of sanctions. We would not rule anything out. The suggestion of sanctions is of course interesting, and I will certainly read Hansard as to the specific suggestions that she made, but a number of international mechanisms are in place that we should focus on: UNAMID and the strategic review ensuring that it is efficient and working is one; Sudan at the Human Rights Council is another; the African Union high-level implementation panel calling on both sides to engage in serious mediation over the two areas is another. So there are various levers that we can use.”

Baroness Warsi thanked Baroness Cox for raising the important issue for debate, and concluded with a statement on the need to change the fundamental attitudes of the Sudanese authorities, so that they reach the point when their “Government have come to understand that respect for human rights is vital for their own good governance.”

The full text of the debate can be found online here.

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