Sudan and South Sudan: EUC Report
The EU: Sudan and South Sudan-follow-up report
Motion to Take Note
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to her new ministerial responsibilities, as others have done. I couple with that my thanks and, I am sure, those of many other noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who dealt with these issues over such a long period and with patience and diligence, and always with great kindness in the way in which he responded to the vexed inquiries that many of us made to him. The noble Baroness, of course, has personal knowledge of Sudan, having travelled there to negotiate the release of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher who was arrested after a pupil in her class named a teddy bear after the Prophet Muhammad. I know that the noble Baroness is deeply committed to religious tolerance, to co-existence, and to finding ways of resolving the kinds of conflicts that your Lordships have been discussing today. We should all be extremely pleased that she has these new ministerial responsibilities, and we all, I am sure, wish her well.
Earlier we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jay, about how Darfur has often been swept to one side in the concerns about north-south relationships. That is true, and I want to return to that issue shortly in my remarks. I begin by referring to the situation in South Kordofan, as the most reverend Primate, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, have done. On innumerable occasions I have raised this issue on the Floor of the House with my noble friend Lady Cox, who I am sure will expend a lot of her remarks on that question when she comes to speak.
A meeting was held earlier today with members of the All-Party Group on Sudan, of which I am an officer, along with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and others who are here. I was struck during that meeting with senior officials from the Foreign Office by how immediate and contemporary these concerns are. As a result of a reference that they made to an article that appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, I took the trouble to obtain a copy of that article. I have not seen the YouTube video that apparently has been placed on the internet to which the article refers, but it says:
“Dramatic video footage and satellite images have revealed Sudanese security forces are waging a violent campaign in the Nuba mountains comparable to war crimes in Darfur … The Satellite Sentinel Project … shows the terrifying ordeal of a teenager being tied up and interrogated at gunpoint as a village goes up in flames”.
It goes on to say:
“The SSP said a joint unit of Sudanese army, militia and police forces burned and looted Gardud al Badry”.
John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, a partner in the SSP, was quoted in the Guardian report yesterday as saying:
“‘We are seeing a repeat of Darfur without the international witnesses’ … He added, ‘Through this campaign of targeted violence, which amounts to crimes against humanity, and its denial of humanitarian access, the government of Sudan is displacing thousands of civilians and contributing to insecurity in the region'”.
Four days ago, an AFP report stated:
“Tanks, artillery and helicopters staged a show of force in the capital of Sudan’s South Kordofan state on Friday, official media said, after unprecedented and deadly rebel shelling of the town”.
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The military parade of force was led by Ahmed Haroun, who, along with Field-Marshal Omar al-Bashir, referred to earlier in our debate, the president of Sudan, is the governor of Kordofan, and like Bashir is indicted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court. As I raised with officials earlier today, I hope that we will hear from the Minister what we are doing to ensure that we are taking witness statements from those who have been driven into South Sudan from South Kordofan. Many are in refugee camps. It is perfectly possible, therefore, to take first-hand witness statements of the depredations that have occurred in Kordofan. Aerial bombardment continues even while we are meeting.
I turn specifically to Darfur because we are about to reach the 10th anniversary of that conflict, and I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take the opportunity, when we reach the anniversary in February next year, to mark it with a series of events, as the all-party group intends to do. Today is a good day to ask the Minister what has happened to Darfur, as did my noble friend Lord Jay and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in their remarks. Why is Darfur forgotten while violence is not only continuing, but when one report earlier this month stated that this is,
“the bloodiest year yet in the region”?
Why is the international community so supine in demanding an end to the violence? Since my visit to Darfur in 2004, and the report which I then published then, entitled If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is? 2 million people have been displaced. About 200,000 to 300,000 people have been killed and 90% of the villages have been razed to the ground; and the situation continues to be bleak. Just this week, the acting head of Darfur’s peacekeeping mission, Ms Aichatou Mindjaouldou, highlighted the recent alarming rise in violence with high civilian casualties, calling the trend an “alarming development”. Between 25 and 27 September, more than 70 civilians were killed in Hashaba with reports of aerial bombardments there as well as in South Kordofan. Further west, four Nigerian peacekeepers were killed on 2 October in an ambush near El-Geneina in west Darfur, the area I visited eight years ago.
In the context of the EU sub-committee’s remit-at paragraph 6 the report refers briefly to the “extremely serious” situation in the region, the EU is a member of the Joint Commission which is one of two ceasefire monitoring and implementation mechanisms provided for in the July 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. It was tasked with resolving disputes referred to it by the Ceasefire Commission, the other mechanism. Perhaps in the sub-committee’s future work, it might be interested to find out why we have failed to put those instruments into operation.
The failure to create peace has left approximately 3.2 million people in Darfur currently receiving food aid, including some 1.7 million IDPs registered in camps. As I said, Darfur is a dangerous and lawless region. There are fears that the operations of the NGOs and humanitarian agencies that deliver this aid will face increasing difficulty due not only to increasing violence, but also to deliberate attempts by the Government of Sudan to restrict access and impede operations. We have already seen the expulsion of numerous NGOs from Sudan over the past few years,
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13 in 2009 and four this year from east Sudan. The situation that is developing there is extremely ominous as well. If the space for humanitarian operations in Darfur continues to narrow, what will be the implications for the millions of people dependent on aid? If the remaining NGOs are made to leave, how will the gap be filled?
Let me mention one of those NGOs. Earlier in the year, with my noble friend Lord Sandwich, I attended a meeting in your Lordships’ House which was addressed by the remarkable Patricia Parker MBE, who is the chief executive officer and chairman of trustees of Kids for Kids, a charity that works in Darfur and whose patrons include the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, and the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Mrs Parker believes, as I do, that Darfur is has become out of sight and out of mind as the juggernaut of the world media and campaigning activism has simply decided to move on. At the Conservative Party Conference, the Foreign Secretary William Hague specifically highlighted the use of rape as a weapon of war and rightly cited Syria, Rwanda and Bosnia, but not Darfur, where there continue to be almost weekly reports of rape. Why was there this omission and why has it gone out of mind?
In Darfur, rape has led to HIV becoming a major issue. I was sent a photograph last week of a dying little boy in El Fasher hospital who had already seen both his parents die of HIV. Before the conflict erupted in Darfur 10 years ago, HIV was unknown. Since then, year by year, rape has been used as a weapon of war with horrifying consequences. This conflict has been fuelled by a regime whose leaders are indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. The Sudanese air force continues to bomb its own people weekly and a recent report from the organisation Waging Peace shows that government-sponsored attacks are increasing in their regularity as the regime continues to work through its local proxies.
It would be good to hear from the Minister what she is doing to ensure that Field Marshall Omar al-Bashir is brought to justice. Have we supported the suggestion made on 5 June by the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Merino Ocampo, as he relinquished his post? He argued that the UN Security Council should consider asking member states and regional organisations to conduct operations to arrest Sudanese officials indicted by the ICC. Is that something which Her Majesty’s Government would be prepared to support?
As the conflict has raged it has led not only to systematic rape, it has decimated the ability of the people to feed themselves and their children. We heard a very pertinent contribution by my noble friend Lord Cameron on the issue of agriculture and the importance of sustainability in terms of people being able to feed themselves. Let me give an illustration of the scale of the problem. Last year, Hilat Ibrahim, a village of 1,500 people, lost 37 children to malnutrition. One in every 12 families has lost a child, and Kids for Kids reports that the majority of families in the villages have not been able to save enough seed to plant this season. Children are facing horrendous conditions in the villages of Darfur, yet again the international media is sadly silent.
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In February 2011, Henry Bellingham, then the Minister for Africa, said that,
“we will not be taking our eye off Darfur, as we work tirelessly to establish a lasting peace in that troubled province”.-[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/11; col. 724.]
Yet whatever the words, the violence is increasing, HIV is rampant, children are malnourished and the world has moved on. Even at the height of the violence and when Darfur was in the headlines, aid did not reach two-thirds of the population. The international community claimed that its aid programme was a success because the aim was to help those people who had fled to the camps. But what of the families struggling to survive in the villages in rural areas? The months ahead are set to be the hardest ever.
Over half the population of Darfur has no water source. Almost a quarter of the population, including children, walk more than six miles to reach water in winter. In the summer “hungry” months, many walk more than 20 miles. Walking for water continues to be dangerous, with frequent reports of attacks. UNAMID has at times provided escorts to groups of women from the camps, but not for the women in the villages. With failed crops, women have to scavenge not just for water, but for wood and wild food such as mukheit, which is toxic, but anything is better than nothing if you are trying to survive. It is harder to find scarce food in a group, and still they are attacked. Healthcare in villages has collapsed.
UNAMID is the world’s most expensive peacekeeping force, yet it is regarded by most Darfuris as siding with their oppressors in Khartoum, so ineffective have been its operations. Moreover, its capacity is about to be cut. On 31 July, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2063, renewing the mandate of UNAMID for a year. The resolution authorised a reconfiguration of UNAMID to include 16,200 military personnel, 2,310 police personnel and 17 formed police units of a maximum of 140 personnel each. Prior to the adoption, the council was briefed by the joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari. Mr Gambari said that implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur was behind schedule and that a new implementation timeline had been created. UNAMID, the world’s largest peacekeeping force, has received a lot of criticism for its failure to protect civilians, a lack of clarity in its protection mandate, and some suspicions from Darfuris that UNAMID is too close to the Government. However, as with the humanitarian agencies, UNAMID has been a victim of the number of restrictions and bureaucratic impediments to its operations by the Government of Sudan. Darfur, as I have said in every respect, is difficult terrain. Its new iteration consists of a number of cuts to troop numbers to reflect the contested suggestion that there had been a “drastic decrease” in the number of people killed in clashes and to enable it to react more rapidly. This does not accord with the description of 2012 as the “bloodiest year yet” in the region.
I would like to hear from the Minister about the renewal of the UNAMID mandate and whether Her Majesty’s Government supported the reductions in the number of peacekeepers in Darfur. What steps have been taken to implement the Doha Document for
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Peace in Darfur, to which I have already referred? Can she tell us how the UK has highlighted other critical issues, including the escalation in violence that I have mentioned-the attacks against civilians and the use of sexual or gender-based violence? What of the failure of other rebel movements to sign the Doha document? What of the deaths of 10 UNAMID peacekeepers in the past year and the prevention of humanitarian agencies from assessing those most in need?
Given that Khartoum has expelled most international humanitarian groups, whose presence is desperately needed, what representations are we making to the Government of Sudan, the rebel groups and the international partners to urge greater access for the humanitarian organisations? What has been the result of those representations? What assistance might we consider extending beyond our current programmes to communities struggling to survive in rural villages in Darfur? Will we commit to adjusting the balance of spend on bilateral assistance in Darfur towards greater funding for sustainable development projects in rural villages, and encourage other donors to do likewise?
What support will we give to IDP families to enable them to settle in host villages, enabling them to be assimilated in the community through integrated projects? Kids for Kids has a unique “welcome home” package that is sustainable and does that, and I hope that the Minister will agree to meet Mrs Parker to discuss that important work. Can the Minister tell us, either today or through correspondence, what we are doing to promote civil society in Darfur? Finally, what is the Minister’s assessment of the current state of this continuing conflict?
The situation in Darfur, and more broadly in Sudan and South Sudan, requires sustained high-level political action by the European Union and Her Majesty’s Government for years to come. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, we must also remember that this area of the country has been consistently and intentionally marginalised for decades. It will take decades to build peace and stability, and a long-term view of development is essential. Now is most certainly not the time to take our eyes off Darfur.