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Harriett Baldwin leads debate on UK’s support for Sudan’s transition to democracy

15th October 2020

Harriett Baldwin leads a Westminster Hall debate on the June massacres of peaceful protestors in Sudan and the UK’s support for Sudan’s democratic transition.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the June massacres in Sudan and the UK’s support for Sudan’s democratic transition.

Thank you, Mr McCabe—I shall try to observe that departure time. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have this as one of the first debates in Westminster Hall since it reopened. In a world full of bad news, Sudan’s transition to civilian rule is a beacon of good news. We must make every effort to ensure that this transition to democracy is peaceful and successful. We all remember the years of brutal conflict in Darfur, and that underlines how important it is that Sudan makes a successful transition to freedom, peace and justice.

Last year the people of Sudan rose up and ousted former President Omar al-Bashir, who was in power for 30 years, and who was the first sitting President to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killings, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur. After he was deposed by the Sudanese people last year, he was imprisoned, tried and convicted on multiple corruption charges.

However, on 3 June 2019, after the Sudanese had forcibly removed President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, but still during the uprising calling for freedom, peace and justice, some military units stormed the protestors sit-in site, leading to the death of perhaps as many as 100 protestors. So my first question to the Minister this afternoon is, what can our ambassador to Khartoum, the excellent Irfan Siddiq, tell us about the progress of the inquiry into this massacre? It has been over 15 months, and the inquiry is under we are, but the world will not forget the victims and wishes to see justice. Is there more that the UK Government could do to help the inquiry and the search for justice?

The transition to democracy, with a Transitional Legislative Council led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, is civilian-led. The all-party parliamentary group for Sudan and South Sudan, which I chair, gives the Prime Minister and the process of transition its full backing. Some of the legislative changes brought in so far to end the oppressive legislation of the Bashir era are world class in their scope. I particularly welcome the fact that female genital mutilation has been criminalised. I remember seeing in Khartoum how the UK was funding programmes to help women speak out against this practice on behalf of their daughters. I seek reassurance from the Minister that that type of work continues. What else can the UK do to support the Transitional Legislative Council build democratic institutions and prepare for the elections in 2022? We are funding a range of programmes aimed at building democratic institutions, and I would be grateful for an update from the Minister on his thinking on that.​

The all-party group also welcomes the recent historic peace deal. Comprehensive and inclusive security sector reform is vital, but it will be challenging. The key test of a civilian democracy is that the armed forces are under civilian control, and can intervene in domestic matters only at the request of civilian authorities that are accountable to the people. With the joint African Union and UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur ending, pending an update provided to the Security Council this month, I would be grateful for an update from the Minister on how he will reassure himself that the new joint force is trained and able to protect civilians peacefully. What is the UK doing to assure itself that the peace deal is effectively implemented on the ground, and how can we encourage non-signatory groups to sign the peace agreement?

Every country in the world is having a tough time economically at the moment, but poor people in Sudan are having a particularly tough time. Unlike most places in the world, which often attract global investment when there is regime change of this nature, Sudan is hampered by being on the United States state sponsor of terrorism list. The former regime was, of course, a state sponsor of terrorism, so that was appropriate. However, the transitional Government have taken steps to agree reparations.

I welcome the announcement at the Berlin partnership conference in June of the UK’s pledge of £150 million to help the economy, including £75 million of bilateral support and £80 million for the World Bank and IMF’s work on economic reforms. The bilateral support covers not only vital humanitarian assistance but vital funding for health, clean water and media freedom. The UK has also helped the UN Sudan Humanitarian Fund to help the victims of this year’s exceptional floods. In addition, through our funding of the Global Partnership for Education, the UK is helping to educate children in Darfur and elsewhere.

However, no economy can truly recover without being able to attract global inward investment. That is why I believe that now is the time for the US to lift Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. I understand that it is a bilateral issue between the United States and Sudan. I also understand that President Trump had the paperwork near his desk this summer, but that, at the last minute, the US Secretary of State made an additional request to Sudan that it normalise relations with Israel. No one would be more delighted than I if Sudan’s transitional Government chose to take that step, but it is a big ask of a transitional Government that has not been installed in any democratic exercise.

If the Prime Minister of Sudan feels that now is the right time, and that this is the right move for Sudan, I am sure such a move would have the UK Government’s whole-hearted support. It would certainly have the support of the all-party group. We have warmly welcomed normalisation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and between Israel and Bahrain, and it would be historic progress. However, I would understand if that step were thought too great a leap for the transitional Government right now. I certainly do not think the United States should make it a prerequisite for lifting the state sponsor of terrorism designation.

I ask the Minister to reach out to his US counterpart—and to ask his boss, the Foreign Secretary, to reach out to his US counterpart—to urge the Administration to ​act within the next few weeks. Whatever the outcome of the US elections, now would be a good time to celebrate one of the foreign policy achievements of President Trump’s Administration, reward the historic progress made in Sudan and enable the economic benefits of inward investment to flow into the country. My final question is, if that happens, will the Minister recommend that the Prime Minister appoint a UK trade envoy to Sudan, so that our two countries can increase their economic links?

Thank you again, Mr McCabe, and thanks again to the Backbench Business Committee for timetabling this important debate.



At the conclusion of the debate

Harriett Baldwin

Thank you very much, Dr Huq. It is wonderful to see you in the Chair.

This has been a well-informed and wide-ranging debate, and we have covered most of the salient issues. On the Minister’s assertion about the increased engagement that he and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are putting in place, as parliamentarians who are interested in Sudan, we always welcome being kept updated on the detail of those programmes. We also want to understand how much work the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are able to do without having the “state sponsors of terrorism” designation lifted, and how much depends on that designation being lifted.

We have a window in the next two to three weeks to reiterate these points, which colleagues around the Chamber echoed, to President Trump’s Administration and emphasise that the time is now right. From an economic point of view, this could not be more important to the development of the welfare opportunities of the Sudanese people and their ability to grow their economy and help themselves out of the terrible legacy that they have been left with as a result of that designation. I want to put that point on the record. I thank the Minister and colleagues who participated in the debate for highlighting what an important time this is for UK-Sudan relations.


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