All of us who love of Sudan and its people want an absolute end to the man-made violence which disfigures that wonderful country, By Lord Alton

There is poignant African proverb of the Kikuyu people that “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.’

Few places illustrate the power of that proverb better than Sudan, it being axiomatic that when powerful forces go to war, it’s their people who are trampled and who suffer. Those who never asked for the conflict in the first place are the ones who are caught, and killed, in the crossfire.

I first travelled in Sudan during the Khartoum driven civil war which lasted from 1983 to 2005. Around two million people died as a result of war, famine and disease caused by the conflict. The civilian death toll is one of the highest since World War Two. The conflict was infamous for shocking human rights violations including enslavement and mass killings. As the elephants fought, even the country itself died with partition and in 2011 two separated countries were created.

In southern Sudan during the conflict 4 million people were displaced at least once and often repeatedly during the war. Such displacement continues to play directly into our small boats’ crisis and only last week the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, heard oral evidence from a young Sudanese refugee who fled to save his life.

From 2003 a separate conflict centred on the Darfur region in western Sudan.
Rebels launched an insurrection to protest against what they contended was the Sudanese government’s disregard for the western region and its non-Arab population. During the war which followed Khartoum equipped and supported Arab militias—which came to be known as Janjaweed —to fight against the rebels in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of people died and another two million people were displaced. Many were subjected to a litany of abuses, including rape and sexual violence.

In 2004, with my friend Rebecca Tinsley, we visited Darfur, and took first hand statements in Ardamata refugee camp in Geneina. The Independent newspaper devoted their front page to our findings under the banner “If this isn’t genocide, what is?”

I reported our findings to Parliament and to All-Party Group on Sudan, of which I was a member, and told the House of Lords ‘We heard first-hand accounts of the rape of girls as young as 10 and women as old as 80. Men wept as they recounted the humiliations and killings. We joined a group of 17 women. Most were widows, and most had also lost fathers, brothers and sons. They need firewood for cooking and grass for their animals and are thus forced to go beyond the camp. They had all, without exception, been the victims of attack and rape by the Janjaweed. Although they are clearly traumatised by the daily risks they run, they speak philosophically about it: “If our men go out, they die. If we go, we are raped. That’s the choice.”’

In July 2008, Luis Morino Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court – and who last month gave evidence to this Inquiry – had requested an arrest warrant against Sudan’s President, Field Marshall Omar Al Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide

The Darfur genocide of 20 years ago was met with startling impunity – an impunity which is now among the many factors causing and driving further atrocities and further displacement. Without justice there can’t be peace, without peace there can’t be meaningful development on hope filled lives.

Last year in the first six months almost half a million more people in Darfur joined the ranks of the 100 million people displaced globally. This continuing violence in Darfur has gone largely unreported.

An African friend emailed me from the region this morning to ask “why is a life lost here worth so little in international news value?”

Our new report points to the direct link to the flow of refugees, to the evisceration of development projects because of manmade violence, the concomitant escalation of hunger – with 60 million people now estimated to be going hungry. It points to the links between militias and the plundering of resources, the role of Putin’s mercenaries in Wagner, and much more besides.

The APPG’s concern about this rising tide led, several months ago, to our decision to mark the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the Genocide in Darfur and I was asked to chair a new Inquiry. Our Report is the outcome.

The Report is about the failure to learn from the past, it’s about the present shocking events and it’s about the future of Sudan.

There did appear for a tantalising moment, to be a glimpse of hope in Sudan, a possibility that the warlords would retreat to the barracks and allow young technocrats, doctors, engineers, and others to help democracy flourish in the country.

But earlier this month the Rapid Support Force’s attempted coup put paid to that.

With violence spreading across Khartoum, including explosions and gunfire raging through the city, signif numbers of civilians have been killed. And in Darfur, intensive fighting has led to the deaths with three Sudanese UN staffers killed and the South Sudan hospital saying it simply cannot cope with the numbers of casualties.
The Army is fighting against the RSF, but it too has been contaminated in the past by support for a radical ideology and which led them to play a very significant part in the killing of millions of civilians. Note too that there are links between RSF militias directly linked to Putin and atrocities taking place in Europe and our Report reflects on the role of Wagner.

What happens in Sudan does not stay there – it has been a leading source of refugees into Chad, Libya, and beyond that into the wider Mediterranean and Europe.

We are clear that ‘The problems of Darfur cannot be resolved unless there is a change at the centre. Because addressing the root causes of the conflict, and bringing peace dividends to the people of Darfur, really require essentially a restoration of the democratic transition, and political leadership with a reform-minded, credible civilian government.’

Among our detailed recommendations we say: The UK, its partners, and international actors should continue to call for an immediate ceasefire. The UK, and its partners, should pay more attention to Darfur and Sudan’s other conflict-affected areas and work with partners to promote solutions that address the different types of violence.

For example, the UK should proscribe the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation and impose targeted sanctions and that the UK should call upon the UN Security Council to visit Sudan and Darfur, as it did in 2007.

Our report goes on to list recommendation on justice and accountability: including concrete steps towards establishing the accountability mechanisms laid out in the Darfur peace agreement that includes cooperation with the ICC and the setting up of a special court for Darfur and we call for Magnitsky-style penalties for proven instances of transnational coercion.

And we go further setting out how to assisting survivors, protect communities, awareness raising, the building of civil society, the role of women, and on the prioritisation of tackling sexual and gender-based violence in Darfur, and other conflict areas of Sudan, in the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative’

The Report’s recommendations have not been overtaken by the tragic events of the past few days. If anything, they have been given greater definition and made more urgent.

All of us who have taken part have a love of Sudan and its people and we want an absolute end to the man-made violence which disfigures that wonderful country, condemning the Sudanese people to endless cycles of violence. Its people deserve so much better than this.

Lord David Alton

David Patrick Paul Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, KCSG, KCMCO is a British politician. He is a former Liberal Party and later Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who has sat as a crossbench member of the House of Lords since 1997 when he was made a life peer.