Sudan, Kordofan, Chenguangchen, North Korea – riased in Queens Speech Debate and Parliamentary Questions
Sudan and South Sudan: May 17th 2012
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the humanitarian crisis in the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan.
My Lords, we are deeply concerned at the serious humanitarian impact of conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan, and within both countries. We are closely engaged with the UN and other humanitarian agencies to ensure an effective response to the needs of affected people, and are pressing both Governments to enter into political processes to resolve conflicts.
I thank the Minister for her sympathetic reply. Is she aware that I recently returned from a visit to four camps on the Sudan/South Sudan border, where 250,000 refugees have fled from sustained aerial bombardment by Khartoum or been expelled by President al-Bashir’s commitment to turn Sudan into a unified Arabic Islamic state? Conditions in those camps were dire then; they are now becoming catastrophic, with a rapidly rising death toll. Will Her Majesty’s Government make strong, urgent representations to Khartoum to cease aerial bombardment of its own civilians, and across the border in South Sudan? It is in no way justified by President al-Bashir’s allegation of military action by South Sudan, which bears no comparison with his massive, sustained slaughter of his own people?
My Lords, I am aware of the noble Baroness’s visit, and I thank her for giving me a copy of her draft report. I am aware, as the House is, of all her work in this area. She reports some terrible stories within it.
Continued aerial bombardments by the Sudanese armed forces are absolutely unacceptable, and we condemn them. Ministers and officials at our embassy have pressed this point during meetings with Sudanese counterparts. We worked very hard with Security Council partners to achieve unanimous support for UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which saw the Security Council demand under Chapter 7 of the UN charter a political resolution to conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as addressing wider issues in both countries. We are also very actively monitoring the humanitarian situation and getting supplies in place.
Is my noble friend aware that the UN Security Council passed that resolution on 2 May, and that within it was a two-week period for conflict to stop and negotiations to begin? That was on 16 May. There have been no negotiations starting; instead, the fighting has started again. What do the Government propose to suggest that the UN Security Council should do now?
Yesterday, the special envoy to the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on compliance by Sudan, South Sudan and the SPLM-North with Security Council Resolution 2046. He is keeping a close watch on the extent to which the ceasefire is not being adhered to. He identified a small window for restarting negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. President Mbeke is travelling to Khartoum and Juba to engage with the parties and convene a meeting between them as soon as possible. We, the US and France have confirmed our readiness to consider sanctions if necessary.
Lord Alton of Liverpool:
My Lords, does the Minister concur with the view of Dr Mukesh Kapila, who was the high representative of this country and the United Nations in Sudan, that the second genocide of the 21st century is unfolding in South Kordofan? How can the Government continue to do business as usual with a regime that is led by someone who has been indicted for war crimes—crimes against humanity—by the International Criminal Court? How can we simply sustain diplomatic relations as though it is business as usual?
My Lords, it is not business as usual but, as the noble Lord knows, the UK Government engage with all Governments in the hope of bringing about the changes that the noble Lord would wish to see. In embassy involvement, the only countries from which officials have been withdrawn are Syria and Iran, which was necessary for the protection of staff. In all other areas, including North Korea, there is engagement, but it is not business as usual. With regard to the crimes to which the noble Lord referred, it is clear that there have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians and war crimes. Indeed, President al-Bashir is indicted by the International Criminal Court. It is worth bearing in mind, too, that the case of Charles Taylor shows that international criminal justice is not time-limited.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead:
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that DfID has suspended long-term development aid to South Sudan in response to the Government’s decision to turn off the oil pipeline. However, does the noble Baroness recognise the tragic effects of such action for the people of a country that has such desperate needs at this time? Will the Government reconsider that decision in the light of the fact that two major donors, the United States and Norway, have not taken such action and will maintain all development assistance, while at the same time focusing on dialogue between South Sudan and Sudan?
The noble Baroness rightly points to the implications of South Sudan cutting off its oil supplies, which constitute 98% of its revenue. It is extremely important to bring home to the Government of South Sudan the implications of that and that the international community will not simply bail them out. DfID is very much focused on humanitarian relief, which is extremely important, but the important issue here is to get the Governments in question to negotiate and take forward some of their responsibilities to their citizens.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:
My Lords, to pick up the point about humanitarian aid, given that children make up half the population of South Sudan, and that the malnutrition rate for children under five in the border areas averages between 15% and 22%, will the Minister please ensure that any UK humanitarian aid specifically supports the health and happiness of the children caught up in this tragedy?
The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point on what is, I think, his birthday—many happy returns to him. The UK has contributed £10 million to the World Food Programme for general food distribution and £15 million to the Common Humanitarian Fund. We are acutely aware that it is children who will be particularly vulnerable in this situation. Therefore, the provision that the international community is trying to make is very much focused on their needs.
My Lords, are there plans in place to maintain the integrity of the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people who are intended to receive it at a time in the future when the application of sanctions may make Governments very anxious to acquire it for themselves?
All these issues are extremely complex and the noble Lord rightly points to the potential impact of sanctions. As for humanitarian relief, a huge logistical effort is going on at the moment to get food and other supplies in place, particularly with the onset of the rains coming down the track and the potential of mass migration that may result, as noble Lords may be aware. We are monitoring this very closely and my colleague, Stephen O’Brien, is watching all the time what is happening.
Debate on the Queens Speech – Foreign Affairs – Thursday May 17th 2012.
Lord Alton of Liverpool:
My Lords, my brief remarks today will urge Her Majesty’s Government to do all they possibly can to engage with China, especially in Africa, on the Korean peninsula and on questions of human rights.
Yesterday, with my noble friend Lady Cox, I met Bishop Macram Gassis, whose whole life has been spent working with the Dinka and Nuba people in Sudan. I subsequently spoke by telephone with the Minister for Africa, Mr Henry Bellingham MP, and relayed Bishop Gassis’s description of the murder and mutilation of children and the rape of women in South Kordofan.
Earlier today, along with my noble friend, I drew the attention of the House to the recent assessment of Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE that the second genocide of the 21st century is now unfolding. More than 1 million people have been affected as a regime, led by a president indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, systematically kills its own people. In parenthesis, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who responded to the Question earlier today, that what makes Sudan unique is that President Omar al-Bashir is the only head of state anywhere in the world to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. To have business as usual, including the visits of parliamentarians and business leaders to Sudan promoting business interests in Sudan, cannot be right when in Darfur 200,000 people were killed, in South Sudan 2 million people were killed and now, today, the second genocide of the 21st century is being played out in South Kordofan.
On 26 March I described the paralysis of the international community in addressing this issue, and nothing has changed. It is now a year since I told the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about the situation there. He said in response:
“Reports of such atrocities will have to be investigated and, if they prove to be true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]
Nine months later, he said that,
“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]
However, no one has been brought to justice, the bombs continue to rain down, a genocide is unfolding, an aid plane last tried to take in November last and was pursued for 50 miles by Sudanese war planes.
So what can we do? Seventy per cent of Sudan’s oil is in the south and most of it is bought by China. While the killing continues, the oil will not flow. More than any other country, China is in a position to insist that the bombing stops, that humanitarian relief is allowed in, and that all sides participate in peace talks, which China should broker.
North Sudan is also considerably indebted to China. It has external debts of around $38 billion. Both China and the United Kingdom should use the leverage of debt relief to insist on an end to aerial bombardment and access for humanitarian aid. It is unconscionable that Britain should write off Sudanese debt while it kills with impunity, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will tell us that he concurs with that view.
China is in Africa because it has a scarcity of oil, minerals and food. Africa provides a solution. The big question will be: can China avoid the age-old temptation to exercise hegemony and, instead, use its statecraft to resolve conflict? Short of the arms trade treaty, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, a few moments ago, it would make a dramatic difference if China and the United Kingdom stopped the flow of arms—many made in China—into Africa. However, if we need to engage with China in Africa, we must also encourage it to use its diplomacy and genius elsewhere too.
Last night, at a meeting of the North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group, which I chair, we heard from Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Mrs Sun-young Park, a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. I have sent the Minister a copy of their papers. Three million people died in the last Korean War, including an estimated 400,000 Chinese soldiers and, I might add, 1,000 British servicemen, more than in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands combined. We need to engage with China to encourage the United States formally to end the state of war with North Korea. This does not imply appeasement—quite the reverse. It is what we did with great effect during the Helsinki process. There are some welcome harbingers.
China’s recent decision to repatriate North Koreans to Seoul is to be welcomed; so is their admonition to North Korea to look after the welfare of their own citizens rather than to promote nuclear ambitions; China’s decision not to obstruct the recent United Nations Human Rights Council’s statement on human rights issues in North Korea; and the Security Council statement on the recent rocket launch. What is really needed is a Beijing peace conference where old hatreds are set aside and constructive, but critical, engagement seeks ways to achieve a lasting peace, prosperity, reconciliation and the reunification of the Korean peninsula.
In addition to China’s role in the world, I want to mention one other question concerning human rights. The world’s attention has recently been focused on the plight of Chen Guangcheng, the blind civil and human rights activist, jailed for four years after challenging China’s one-child policy. I have raised this case in your Lordships’ House many times. Having taken sanctuary in the US Embassy in Beijing, Chen is now held in a hospital unit. The Economist, in its editorial last week, said:
“At rare moments, the future of a nation, even one teeming with 1.3 billion souls, can be bound up in the fate of a single person”.
It said that what happened to Chen,
“matters enormously to China’s future”.
It also matters to the United States. If they have removed Chen from safety but failed to secure safe passage for him and his family, it will cast serious doubts on American diplomacy. Have they let a brave man down? Have they been taken for fools? If Chen is punished and the US humiliated it will signal a troubling shift in super power relations.
Chen’s case also matters to countries like our own. We have aided and abetted the very policies that led to Chen’s imprisonment in the first place. It has taken a blind man to see that to which we have shamefully closed our eyes. This remarkable Shawshank has caught the public imagination and blown open a policy of coercion and eugenics, a policy which I sought to outlaw the last time we had a Bill on development aid before your Lordships’ House. Over three decades, British aid given to UNFPA and IPPF has gone to the China Population Association. The CPA, in turn, has implemented a one-child policy that makes it a criminal offence to be pregnant and illegal to have a brother or a sister. It is a policy which has led to an estimated 400 million babies being aborted or killed through infanticide; a gendercide policy which favours the birth of male children so that one out of every six girls is aborted or abandoned. China is a country where 500 women take their own lives every single day. China has the highest suicide rate for women anywhere in the world.
China is a great nation, but it does itself no credit with something like the one-child policy. Clearly, we must engage with China both on human rights questions and on its role in the world, not least on the Korean peninsula and in countries like Sudan.
My Lords, I will focus on recent developments in Sudan and South Sudan and in Burma. I return to the former having already raised it in Oral Questions today because a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent, the statistics should be compelling and the need for a response is so urgent.
First, in Sudan, half a million people are displaced from Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile by Khartoum’s ground and aerial offensives, with many sheltering in caves with deadly snakes or in forests, many dying from hunger as they cannot harvest crops and many killed and injured by bombs. In Blue Nile, on 11 May, Sudan Armed Forces—SAF—bombed a mountainous area crowded with internally displaced people near Baw, with missiles fired from east and west of the county. Last week, over 3,000 IDPs fled from south-west Baw county and were trapped at the border without transport or food. More than 240 IDPs had already died in the first week of May, including Chief Haj Jabir Dafalla and his family. Many more lives will soon be lost unless humanitarian assistance reaches the area within days, but the Khartoum Government have denied access by aid organisations to those in need.
Secondly, 250,000 refugees have been forced to flee into South Sudan by Khartoum’s offensives. I recently visited Yida camp, where there are now at least 30,000 refugees, with 700 arriving in a single day, many ill, having walked for seven days without adequate food or water. With the imminent rainy season, there will be no access for food supplies. In Jamam camp, with nearly 37,000 refugees from Blue Nile, Oxfam’s director of emergency response calls the situation desperate, saying:
“There is simply not enough water and we are running out of options and we are running out of time”.
We have also met refugees from Abyei who fled last year’s fighting. Khartoum’s forces have defied a UN Security Council requirement to withdraw, thereby preventing people from returning home for fear of atrocities perpetrated by SAF last year, including murder, rape and torture. We visited camps in Bahr el Ghazal without clean water, food or other essential supplies.
Thirdly, tens of thousands of people are suffering from al Bashir’s commitment to turn Sudan into an Arabic, Islamic state and to evict those deemed “southerners”. The BBC estimates that there are more than 500,000 ethnic South Sudanese in the north. Following an 8 April deadline from Khartoum to formalise their status or leave the country, many fled to South Sudan. Some 15,000 were stranded in Kosti, unable to take boats to South Sudan because of restrictions from Khartoum. They are now being airlifted to Juba, to an unknown fate. Others who have previously fled include thousands in camps near Renk. When we visited them last month, they were living in makeshift shelters, which will never withstand the imminent rains.
Fourthly, Khartoum is also bombing targets across the border in South Sudan. On 23 April, while we were still there, two MiGs bombed a market in Bentiu. On 7 and 8 May, locations in Unity, Upper Nile, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states were bombed.
When independence was achieved in South Sudan, the war had left a dire humanitarian situation. Now this new nation also has to cope with the massive influx of refugees and forced returnees and the aerial bombardment of people by its northern neighbour. I ask the Minister whether a more robust response to Khartoum’s aerial bombardment is not now needed, such as targeted sanctions, including, for example, the refusal of diplomatic visas to government members. At the moment, they are carrying on their policies with impunity.
Too often there is a response that implies moral equivalence between the policies of the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan. There is no such equivalence. As my noble friend Lord Alton has highlighted, Sudan’s President is indicted by the ICC. He has dismissed the elected governor of South Kordofan and replaced him with another ICC-indicted war criminal. As has been highlighted time and again, he is also carrying out constant aerial bombardment of civilians in his own country and transgressing an international border to bomb civilians in South Sudan. He is pursuing a ruthless racist policy of intimidation, with the expulsion of citizens deemed to be “southerners”.
In contrast, the Government of South Sudan have many problems and inevitable weaknesses but they are not guilty of any such abhorrent policies. South Sudan was fiercely criticised for taking the town of Heglig. However, it was being used by Khartoum as a base for attacks on the South. President Salva Kiir has withdrawn his troops, unlike Khartoum, which has refused to withdraw its troops from Abyei. South Sudan has also been criticised for closing the oil pipeline, but this can be seen as a desperate response to Khartoum’s imposition of extortionate prices. This morning the Minister confirmed that DfID has withdrawn or reduced its development aid for South Sudan in response to the closure of the pipeline. Will the Government rethink this harsh policy? The humanitarian needs of South Sudan are legion and have been detailed in previous debates, so I will not repeat them. However, it cannot be acceptable for DfID to reduce development aid to a nation that is trying, albeit with many problems and fallibilities, to develop democracy and civil society in face of massive challenges, many inflicted by its northern neighbour with impunity.
I turn briefly to Burma, and especially to the plight of ethnic nationals, whom I have visited twice this year. There is much to commend and celebrate in today’s Burma, including the freedom and political engagement of the heroic Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of hundreds of political prisoners. However, the plight of ethnic national peoples, such as the Shan, Kachin and Rohingya, is still cause for great concern. We were in Shan state when the brief ceasefire was broken by intense fighting, and Kachin state is experiencing some of the most intense conflict and violations of human rights in Burma’s recent history. The oppression of the Rohingya people remains as brutal as ever.
Deep concern was graphically expressed by one of the leaders of Shan state, who said that when the light went on in Rangoon, everyone ran to the spotlight and did not wait to see them hiding in the darkness. The ethnic national peoples fear that, as the Burmese Government gain credibility, the country will be open to massive aid and investment, which may be used to exploit further the ethnic national people’s resource-rich lands. For example, the plans for 25 new dams could force tens of thousands from their previous homes with no compensation and destroy the environment. Many voices express caution about premature optimism and lifting of sanctions—rightly so.
Therefore, I ask the Minister whether the Government will reassure the ethnic national peoples that they will be fully included in all discussions about the future of Burma, so that they no longer feel marginalised, vulnerable to exploitation and left in the darkness. Only then will we all be able to celebrate with genuine joy and integrity the new-found freedoms of the beautiful, but in many places still tragic, land of Burma.
My Lords, towards the end of the gracious Speech there are the somewhat opaque words:
“My Government will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers”.
I would have liked that to refer specifically to our friends in the Commonwealth, but I was very heartened by what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, had to say in his excellent opening speech. To me it is particularly relevant in the face of the likely impending break-up of the eurozone and the impact that that is likely to have on European economies and our relations. The immediate and most important foreign affairs issue is what is happening on the continent. There is the obvious fight to the death between economic and market forces and political commitment, where the lessons of history tell us that major economic forces tend to prevail. There is the obvious point that many have made before—that for disparate economies to share a currency is extremely difficult at the best of times. Indeed, I was surprised to see an article arguing that the Commonwealth was likely to be a more successful group of economies to share a currency than the EU countries.
Everyone knows that if you are going to share a currency you have to have transfer payments from the more successful to the less successful. It boils to whether Germany is willing to make the necessary transfer payments on a regular basis to the uncompetitive economies, which would amount to some 35% per annum of German GDP. That seems pretty unlikely. We live at present with the likely impending default and exit from the euro of Greece. I expect that a firewall will probably prevail in the near term to protect Spain, Portugal and Italy, but that does not address the fundamental problem of lack of competitiveness. These economies cannot recover and grow, and they cannot put their public finances right, if they are 35% uncompetitive against the successful parts of Europe. The issue is whether the break-up will be chaotic or orderly. We all hope that it will be orderly but, whatever, there would be economic pain in the short term, although once the necessary devaluations have occurred and these currencies are competitive again, do not understate their ability to bounce back within two or three years.
What British foreign policy needs to focus on right now is what our attitude is towards the EU in the wake of these likely events. What will be happening is centrifugal forces. The nation states of Europe with their own currencies and central banks returned will need to follow economic policies appropriate to their circumstances. Some may even need to impose capital controls. The EU, which has been centralising for 40 years and trying to move towards a single political unit, is suddenly going to be pulled in the other direction. What is our view towards this? What would be our view if there were an attempt to leap towards political union? I very much doubt it, but that obviously could be one reaction.
What the UK has always wanted to see is an area of free trade and co-operation, achieving consensus, not enforcing policies but moulding more and more European co-operation together over time—but naturally and not coming by command from the centre. It will also need a much cheaper EU. I checked with the Treasury, because I could not believe a report in the newspapers that in 2013-14 Britain’s net contributions to the EU would be £31.3 billion. The Treasury confirmed that figure to me. I thought that it was still only £12 billion or £13 billion. It is not a sum of money that this country can afford. But, more than that, I cannot see that Italy and Spain, the countries that are going to be experiencing problems with the euro, will be willing to make large financial contributions to a massive EU structure. We may not necessarily say it in public, but this country needs to think about the political implications of the euro imploding and what policies it will adopt in that event.
For some time the EU clearly has not been the engine of growth that people thought it would be when we first applied to join it way back in the 1960s and 1970s. It has turned out to be a relatively failed economic region. I go back to where I started. We need quickly to develop effective commercial and investment relations with the emerging BRIC economies, in particular with the Commonwealth economies. As I have pointed out before, my particular plea is for a much closer relationship between this country and India—politically, economically and potentially even defence-wise. The University of Cambridge will tell you that the only two countries that matter in terms of our universities and their quality of students are America and India. The Prime Minister of India has virtually indicated that he would like to see a special relationship being established for top postgraduate students coming to this country, which would enable a lot of the hassle of the visa process to be handled in a friendlier fashion.
I can think of other areas where there is considerable scope for special relationships between this country and India. We are all aware that certain problems need to be resolved but I do not think that they are insoluble. The Indian community is a successful and dynamic part of this country and there is a great deal of sympathy between the people of India and the people of Britain. It is time to galvanise that while not ignoring the other members of the Commonwealth. Important things are going on in Africa and in the older members of the Commonwealth, particularly Canada, where there is much scope for this country to find commercial partners.
There is a nice commitment in the gracious Speech. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Green, is travelling the world doing his best to generate trade deals on the ground, but more needs to be done in terms of political initiatives. We need to face up to the fact that the Europe that will emerge on the back of what is likely to happen to the euro will not be a great economic engine for this country.