Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Questions (53)

Seán Crowe


53. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to recent anti-Government protests in Sudan (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17562/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I tabled this question before Omar al-Bashir was removed as President of Sudan. I was moved by seeing the huge crowds of citizens that had gathered to protest his continued autocratic rule and demand civilian government. Things have moved quickly in the past week and we can all state our support for the end of military rule in Sudan and that a democratic civilian Government needs to be put in place. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's comments on this.

On 11 April, it was announced that a transitional military council had assumed control in Sudan and that Omar al-Bashir, who had held the office of President for three decades, was being held in a safe place.  The transitional military council has said it will govern Sudan for a two-year transitional period after which it promises presidential elections.  Sudan’s constitution has been suspended, its parliament has been dissolved, and a three-month state of emergency has been declared.

Despite al-Bashir's removal, the Sudanese Professionals Association, which is one of the main organisers of the protests, has called for a continued sit-in outside the Defence Ministry. This is to demand a return to constitutional and civilian Government.  In an attempt to placate the protestors, the initial appointment of the Minister of Defence as head of the transitional military council was withdrawn over the weekend, replaced by another senior military figure. Negotiations between protestors and the military are continuing and the situation on the ground remains dynamic.

Events continue to evolve and my officials are monitoring developments, through the Irish Embassy in Nairobi, which has responsibility for Sudan, and through our membership of the European Union.  Officials from my Department visited Sudan earlier this month on a UN organised visit, a key element of Ireland's chairing of the donor group supporting the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.

The political changes of the past week follow five months of demonstrations, triggered initially by spiralling costs of living. These protests took on renewed emphasis earlier this month, coinciding with the 34th anniversary of a bloodless coup against a former President, Jaafar Nimeiri.

In attempts over the past months to suppress and disperse protests, Sudanese security forces have used tear gas, stun grenades and live bullets. The use of violence against demonstrators has been widely condemned.

On 11 April, European Union High Representative, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement complementing a statement by the chairperson of the African Union Commission which highlighted that a military council does not provide the answers and breached the principles of the African Union Charter.  High Representative Mogherini said that only a credible and inclusive political process can meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people and lead to the political and economic reforms Sudan needs.  That can only be achieved through a swift handover to a civilian transitional government.  In that process, she called on all concerned to exercise calm and the utmost restraint.  I fully endorse her statement.

Omar al-Bashir was an autocratic leader of Sudan for just under 30 years. He came to power in a military coup and ruled Sudan with an iron fist and a strict, conservative, Islamic legal system. His ousting came after months of protests against the Government. Protesters accused the Government of mismanaging the economy, as the Minister of State indicated, and some peaceful protests have been attacked by security services. Last week, the military in Sudan stated that it had arrested Omar al-Bashir and would oversee a two-year transitional period. However, as events continue to unfold, I do not think that position will hold. People do not want to be controlled by a military council made up of army personnel who ruled and supported Omar al-Bashir over the years. Protesters remain outside the army and military headquarters in Khartoum demanding a civilian Administration and that the military immediately and unconditionally hand over power to a civilian Government. Will the Minister of State call on the protesters to ensure that protests remain peaceful and on the army to ensure that it does not forcibly remove or attack protest groups?

We call on all involved to ensure that the protests remain peaceful and that the response to them remains proportionate. The Irish Embassy in Nairobi, which is accredited to Sudan, continues to monitor the political situation closely in co-operation with a delegation of the European Union in Khartoum. Senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade met with the Sudanese ambassador to Ireland earlier this year to discuss the situation in Sudan.

Ireland is also responding effectively to the ongoing humanitarian needs in Sudan with almost €29 million in direct humanitarian assistance provided through our UN, NGO and Red Cross partners since 2012. In conjunction with our EU partners, we have urged that peaceful demonstrations be permitted, that political prisoners be released and that the call for change prompts a commitment to a peaceful, credible, legitimate and inclusive process that will allow Sudan the breathing space to carry out essential reforms.

In another development, 13 people were reportedly killed in an armed attack on protestors in the troubled region of south Darfur over the weekend. Gunmen attacked the anti-Government protests at a camp for displaced people, according to local reports.

Omar al-Bashir has been indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur by the International Criminal Court and a warrant is out for his arrest. The military council has said it will not extradite Omar al-Bashir to face accusations in the International Criminal Court although he could well be put on trial in Sudan. What is the Government's view on that and will it be pushing for his extradition to face these charges in the International Criminal Court in The Hague?

The Government's position is that it should, and will, continue to monitor the situation closely, particularly in conjunction with our EU partners and the United Nations. Any actions that would be considered inflammatory in the context of an unstable political situation in Sudan should be avoided at all costs.