Parliament in gross human rights violations: the case of Darfur

Abstract

Based on a study of three European parliaments, the article analyses parliamentary oversight on government policy towards gross human rights violations in third countries using the case of Darfur in Sudan (2003–2005). We find that parliaments with greater constitutional rights in foreign policy are more active in the scrutiny of executive action. Scrutiny is stronger in parliaments with developed and strong foreign affairs committees. Media and public awareness correlate with greater oversight activities in all the three chambers considered. In their oversight, MPs do not deter governments to consider the use of armed forces. Rather than revealing party differences, conflicts involving gross human rights violations such as Darfur are venues for the manifestation of division between the executive and legislature.

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Fig. 1

Source Own data collected from the official reports of parliaments

Notes

  1. 1.

    Norway could be another country to study. It was a major donor to Sudan and had strong involvement in the North–South peace talks like the UK. Its constitutional system resembles most that of the Netherlands. The US Congress is a different institutional context and has been covered by Uscinski et al. (2009) and Hamilton (2011a, b).

  2. 2.

    See Palmer et al (2004) and Reitar and Tillman (2002) for alternative findings.

  3. 3.

    Darfur resembles situations in Somalia and Bosnia (both 1992–1995), and Kosovo (1998–1999), where the basis for the deployment of armed forces were violations of human rights. The use of armed forces in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo shows that the norm on the use of force for the protection of human rights has been legitimised under what is known as humanitarian intervention and the principle of the responsibility to protect. However, the genocide in Rwanda (1994) demonstrates that humanitarian intervention is not consistently applied and that it competes with the norm of sovereignty.

  4. 4.

    The Dutch and British ministers for development visited Sudan in December 2003. Another Dutch ministerial visit to Sudan, including ministers in foreign affairs, development, and defence, took place in January 2004 (Tweede Kamer, 2003–2004, 29,237 and 29,234, nr. 4, 9; nr. 7, 27 February 2004). The French Foreign Minister also visited Sudan during this time, but his trip went through Chad, while the French President may have discussed the situation with his Sudanese counterpart during an Africa–France summit in February.

  5. 5.

    For example, in the House of Commons debate 4 May 2004 (Hansard, Col 417WH- 423WH), two MPs debated over Sudan with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, but did not ask any question.

  6. 6.

    We searched for Darfur and the name of the respective parliamentary chamber. A time filter was applied to retrieve news articles in France, the UK, and the Netherlands between March 2003 and April 2005. We obtained 258 news articles, including 58 hits for the Assemblée Nationale, 85 for the Tweede Kamer, and 115 for the House of Commons.

  7. 7.

    The foreign minister gave evidence on Darfur for the first time on 16 June 2004, while Darfur had appeared on the plenary agenda on 29 April 2004.

  8. 8.

    The Dutch government must respond in 3 weeks (6 weeks maximum) (Andeweg and Irwin 2014, p. 173). There are no formal deadlines in the House of Commons.

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Pegan, A., Vermeulen, W.N. Parliament in gross human rights violations: the case of Darfur. Acta Polit 53, 448–468 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-017-0063-z

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Keywords

  • Parliament
  • Oversight
  • Foreign affairs
  • Darfur
  • Human rights