Sudan


Thursday January 7th 2010

12.40 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: It gives me great pleasure to join others in congratulating my noble friend Baroness Cox for once again raising the long-standing suffering of the people of Sudan in your Lordships’ House. I will speak on two issues—the situation in southern Sudan, following the speeches of others who have contributed to the debate today, and the situation in Darfur. I remind the House of my non-financial interest as Honorary Secretary of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan.

This debate is a particularly timely curtain-raiser, as that committee will next week begin a series of hearings that will provide an opportunity to examine the fragile comprehensive peace agreement. There will be written and oral evidence from all the major players, including the Governments of north and south Sudan, international agencies and the Department for International Development, whose biggest programme in the world is in Sudan. A report will subsequently be published, focusing on the key challenges facing Sudan. I know that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has welcomed this initiative, and it will reinforce the distinctive British policy in Sudan. We should never underestimate—as my noble friend has said to the House—the crucial role that Britain plays in Sudan, or the high regard in which Sudanese people hold the United Kingdom. The Minister has herself taken a long-standing interest in these issues—we collaborated while she was a member of the European Parliament in highlighting the unfolding tragedy in Darfur. She and her predecessor as Africa Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, have shown tireless commitment to the continent.

Sudan has the largest landmass in Africa. I first visited southern Sudan during the civil war, when John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement took me to see some of the ravaged areas, devastated by 21 years of aerial bombardment, and which led to 2 million deaths and 4 million displaced people. I visited the Ilemi triangle and southern Sudan again last year. Following the January 2005 CPA and Garang’s death, the SPLM has been led by Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of southern Sudan, and vice-president of Sudan. He has had to face the massive legacy of that war, with acute needs for most basic services, including, as we have heard, healthcare, agricultural production and education.

He has also had to face the complexities of a society comprised of a population of around 15 million people, with more than 200 ethnic groups. The challenges—as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has reminded us—are daunting. Last year the south’s immunisation programme reached just one in five, while there are a mere twenty secondary schools serving the whole region. Less than half the population has access to safe drinking water, and, as my noble friend has told the House, pregnant women in southern Sudan have a greater chance of dying from pregnancy-related complications than a woman almost anywhere else in the world. One in seven children will die before their fifth birthday. Close to 90 per cent of southern Sudanese women cannot read or write. Humanitarian agencies lack the capacity to reach people in need. In a region that is around the size of France, there are less than 50 kilometres of tarmac roads, and those centre on the capital, Juba. In the long rainy seasons, many rural locations are unreachable by road or air for weeks at a time.

In addressing these considerable needs, southern Sudan has been relying not just on aid from countries such as our own—and I join with others in welcoming the support Her Majesty’s Government gives—but has also been relying on oil revenues to assist in its efforts to build its infrastructure. However, in a report last September, Fuelling Mistrust, Global Witness found that oil figures published by the Khartoum Government do not match those from other sources, and concluded that there is insufficient oversight of oil revenues. Another report suggested that $266m of oil arrears were outstanding. Perhaps today the Minister can tell us the current position in respect of these desperately needed resources.

The House may be aware that earlier today 10 major non-governmental organisations—including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Caritas, World Vision, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee—issued a briefing paper entitled Rescuing the Peace in Southern Sudan. The House will look forward to hearing from the Minister as to the Government’s response to the recommendations and conclusions of those NGOs. They describe the situation in the south as “fragile”, and they warn that:

“The next 12 months will be critical for the future of Sudan … With landmark elections and a referendum on the horizon, the peace deal is fragile and the violence likely to escalate even further unless there is urgent international engagement”.

Already there are worrying signs that Khartoum will seek to deny Sudanese people a chance to take part in fair and free elections. Only yesterday the political secretary of the National Congress, Professor Ibrahim Ghandour, said that the United Nations have “no right”—no right— to observe the coming elections. It would be helpful if the Minister would say something about independent monitoring of the elections and the provision of facilities such as the mobile election units that my noble friend referred to earlier on, and maybe the provision of a United Nations-sponsored radio station, broadcasting to the whole of Sudan during the run-up to the elections, disseminating much-needed information.

Despite the enormous challenges that Sudan faces, the political leadership in the south must be commended for their efforts to safeguard autonomy, to develop models of good governance and particularly for the improvements made in the treatment of minorities. This is all in stark contrast with the persecution and systemic abuses of human rights that characterise the policies of the Government of Omar al-Bashir in the north. Earlier this week, the Open Society Institute raised the cases of Sudanese human rights campaigners forced to flee Khartoum. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government is satisfied that it is meeting its own obligations to implement the 2008 EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders

Despite all of these significant issues, it is worth noting that the ten NGOs that I mentioned suggest that although:

“Sudan faces many interlocking challenges … if the international community acts now, they are surmountable”.

Surely the greatest of those challenges remains, as so many of your Lordships have said, the problem of conflict and insecurity. Instability and violence in the south has been fuelled by a number of contributory factors. The promised peace dividends have been slow to materialise and this is breeding disillusionment, which has replaced the initial post-war euphoria. In this climate, warlords and sectarian leaders have emerged. This inflammatory situation—in which 2,500 people have been killed and 350,000 displaced during 2009—has been ruthlessly exploited by Khartoum and its agents.

In a briefing for today’s debate, the international agency, Saferworld, says that the Government of southern Sudan,

“continues to be driven by the belief that a renewed confrontation with the north is likely; this perception dominates its security thinking”.

Saferworld points to the other danger to Sudan’s peace process: escalating violence and insecurity among the south’s diverse inhabitants. When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps she could say what is being done to develop southern Sudan’s security and civil institutions.

Khartoum’s hand is frequently found stirring tension and rivalry and inciting violence via its proxies. The north’s belligerence and in particular its collaboration with the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, about which we have heard so much, and which has been turned into a significant actor within the region, has continued to result in horrific violence in Sudan, northern Uganda and other neighbouring countries. This notoriously vicious rebel group continues to wreak havoc—since the end of 2008 alone, the LRA has displaced close to 70,000 southern Sudanese in Western and Central Equatoria states and led to an influx of some 18,000 refugees from the neighbouring DRC.

Within the last few weeks the LRA have carried out gruesome attacks in Ezo, Nzara, Yambio, Tambura, Nagero and Ibba Counties. The attacks are always characterised by abductions, killings and looting. Let me refer to an extract from the joint NGO report published today:

“The unpredictable nature and brutality of the LRA attacks has sent waves of fear through Western Equatoria, the most badly hit area. With its fertile soils and relatively educated population, this should have been one of the first states in southern Sudan to thrive after the CPA. Instead, some communities are too frightened to stay in their villages or venture into the fields to cultivate. As a result, rural school enrolment has declined, and normally productive farming families are going hungry. To defend themselves against LRA attacks, communities have formed voluntary youth militia armed with traditional weapons. According to community accounts, the presence of these ‘Arrow Boys’ has provided a sense of security. But the reliance on a militia, which includes children among its ranks, is extremely worrying and is a sign of the inability of the GoSS security forces and the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) to protect civilians”.

In a letter that I, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, along with Mr Eric Joyce, MP, sent to the noble Baroness on 4 November, we argued:

“LRA attacks exacerbate underlying political and ethnic tensions and have the potential to destroy advances made in the development of democratic government—and it neutralises the considerable investment of UK aid”.

In her reply of 8 December, the Minister admitted:

“The LRA continue to undermine efforts to provide humanitarian and other assistance in parts of South-Sudan … The insecurity they create also risks hampering local level preparations and conduct of the 2010 elections and the Referendum in 2011”.

The Minister told us that Ban Ki-Moon,

“is also considering establishing a regional office to focus on the LRA”.

Perhaps the noble Baroness can today tell us where we have reached in this process. Are we raising within the Security Council the proxy role of the LRA, which has a clear and deadly intent to sabotage any stability or progress in southern Sudan? Will she also propose that the Security Council strengthen the civilian protection mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan by increasing its operational presence, establishing a comprehensive civilian protection and conflict monitoring system, and creating rapid response capabilities for conflict-prone zones?

In her letter, the Minister cited the potentially positive impact of Senator Russ Feingold’s Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament Bill. Perhaps she can tell us what progress this is making and what is being done to create a coherent regional strategy to deal with the LRA. Her Majesty’s Government could do worse than to appoint a special envoy—perhaps someone of the calibre of the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown—to spearhead our policy in a region which has seen the loss of more than 7 million lives in the past couple of decades: Africa’s World War One.

We should never forget that the indictments against Omar al-Bashir and Joseph Kony are against war criminals responsible for crimes against humanity. Louis-Moreno Ocampo and the International Criminal Court deserve much more robust support from the world’s political leaders than they have received thus far. The intelligence community should spare no effort to apprehend the leaders of the LRA.

We also ought to be doing more to ensure not just that we bring about disarmament, but that we stop the flow of arms into this deadly region. The weapons of mass destruction in Sudan are the hundreds of thousands of foreign-made deadly small arms. In a report issued last month, it was claimed that “transport and brokering actors” come,

“from a range of other states, including European ones, despite the EU embargo, which prohibits ‘brokering services, financing and other related services’”.

It points to European actors, including British companies and citizens, which have been involved in that. What are the Government doing about this? What are we doing to encourage China to stop supplying arms to Sudan? The acquisition of arms by Khartoum, which already has 470,000 weapons in its security forces and 2 million in the hands of civilians around the country, grievously adds to arms proliferation and insecurity. Millions have been killed in this part of Africa. If ever there is to be long-term peace and reconciliation, there must be a determination to secure justice and security.

In Darfur, 400,000 people have been killed, 2 million have been displaced and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground. There is no timetable or mechanism equivalent to the CPA. There is no durable peace agreement with Chad. The UN’s proclaimed doctrine of a “duty to protect” has frequently been made a mockery of. We must concentrate our efforts on all these issues.

In our generation, conflict has led to 7 million deaths in Sudan, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. We should be indebted to my noble friend for ensuring that we never lose sight of this appalling carnage. It is without parallel anywhere in the world.

12.53 pm