Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan
Question for Short Debate: November 11th 2013
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the situation in Sudan, and the implications for citizens of the Republic of South Sudan.
My Lords, I am very grateful to every noble Lord contributing to the debate as the grave situation in Sudan and South Sudan is largely off the radar screen of the media and a forgotten crisis.
The republic of Sudan is still in the grip of President al-Bashir, who continues to perpetrate crimes for which he was indicted by the International Criminal Court. He has declared his intention to turn Sudan into a “unified, Arabic, Islamic nation” and is putting it into practice with an attempted ethnic and religious cleansing of the predominantly African peoples in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile state.
I have visited these states and seen the horrendous suffering inflicted by ruthless aerial bombardment and attacks by long-range missiles on civilians and targets such as schools, clinics and markets. Half a million civilians are hiding in caves with deadly snakes, in river banks or under trees. A quarter of a million have fled into exile in overcrowded camps in South Sudan or Ethiopia. With constant aerial bombardment, people cannot plant or harvest crops and are scavenging for roots and leaves—anything to quell the pangs of hunger. Many hundreds have died of starvation or malnutrition-related illnesses.
We visited a village in Blue Nile state where 450 people had already died of starvation. The remnant had fled their homes because they had been bombed recently. We saw the fresh bomb craters. We followed the sound of voices and found survivors hiding under the trees.
My small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, works with courageous partners who risk their lives to take life-saving aid to victims of oppression trapped behind closed borders. We managed to raise funds for food aid in Blue Nile and the money reached these people, enabling them to survive. Poignantly grateful, they said that they now had food and would not have to flee into exile to refugee camps in South Sudan. They said:
“We prefer to stay in our own land, even if we die from bombs. Now we have food, we don’t have to flee from our own homes”.
The people in these states are in desperate need of food and medical aid. SPLM-N has agreed to allow access to international aid organisations, but the regime in Khartoum continues to deny this. What more can Her Majesty’s Government do to put pressure on Khartoum to stop this genocide and allow access for life-saving food and medical supplies? How much longer will the international community allow Khartoum to continue its brutal policies with impunity?
In Khartoum itself, the Government have been ruthlessly suppressing legitimate protest and freedom of speech. Journalists have been arrested and reputable NGOs have been expelled. Therefore, brutality has gone largely unreported. More than 200 protesters were killed by security forces and, in some cases, relatives were forced to sign forged death certificates reporting that their relatives had died from natural causes instead of live munitions.
Turning briefly to the problems of Abyei, earlier this year the Ngok Dinka paramount chief was murdered by Khartoum’s forces while travelling with UN officials—again with impunity. Having given up on the referendum promised by the African Union, the Ngok Dinka conducted their own referendum in spite of intimidation and boycott by the Khartoum Government, which attempted to bomb bridges to prevent people from returning home to vote. Despite these attempts to sabotage the referendum, it took place with an overwhelming mandate for unification with South Sudan.
The republic of South Sudan, just two years after achieving independence, faces many inevitable problems. As president Salva Kiir said at the time of the birth of a new nation, his people were not rebuilding: there had been nothing left to rebuild. Many problems need to be addressed urgently, including provision of essential services such as immunisation—a critical issue reflected in the return of polio, which had been virtually eradicated.
Of course, there have been serious and well reported problems including corruption and inefficiency. The radical changes in government were undertaken to address some of these issues. However, the situation is clearly not helped by the aggressive and subversive policies of the Government in Khartoum, including exacerbation of intertribal conflicts, especially in Jonglei region. There is evidence that Iran-made, Sudan-origin weapons and ammunition have been made available to David Yau Yau’s and other insurgent forces.
Now, there are very disturbing reports of a massive Sudanese military build-up with sophisticated equipment, including strike aircraft, helicopter gunships, tanks and heavy artillery, in the southern parts of Sudan, particularly in the El Obeid complex and along the border with South Sudan, leading to fears that this is preparation for a new, large-scale dry season offensive that might escalate into a major clash with South Sudan over Abyei.
The Government of Sudan’s continuing aerial bombardment of their own people has forced a quarter of a million to flee into refugee camps in South Sudan and many thousands to flee from Abyei, where the local Ngok Dinka have been subjected to killings, torture and loss of homes and property. Thousands of those poured into Bahr el Ghazal, where they faced hunger and homelessness. Many died.
The suffering inflicted on the innocent civilians in these lands has been allowed to continue for far too long. Again and again, I and many others have urged Her Majesty’s Government to initiate action to end the impunity with which al-Bashir and his Government continue to kill their own people. Again and again, we receive the same answer: “We must continue to talk to Khartoum”. But Khartoum continues to kill while it talks, and has been doing so for more than 20 years. Alternatively, we are told that it is for the UN to act, in the knowledge that it will be highly improbable to attain consensus to do anything effective. This is not good enough. The UK has a special responsibility as one of the three nations mandated to support the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement.
Therefore, I ask the Minister—again—if Her Majesty’s Government will consider the imposition of targeted sanctions on the Government of Sudan, such as denial of visas, which would at least end the culture of impunity. People in Sudan and South Sudan frequently say to me: “The British Government intervened in Libya, where the suffering was nowhere on the same scale as here. Why do they not intervene to help us? Is it because we are black and African?”. They fear we are being racist. Can the Minister advise me on how to answer my Sudanese friends?
I hope that the Minister is not going to imply moral equivalence between the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan. We all recognise the widely reported fallibilities of the leaders of South Sudan. But the Government of South Sudan do not attack and kill their own people, whereas the Government of Sudan continue to engage in genocidal warfare against their own people in Darfur and the southern states.
I conclude with two requests, reflecting the passionate wishes of the citizens of Sudan and South Sudan. First, local people are pleading for the African Union or UN to send fact-finding missions to investigate and report on the situation in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and to Khartoum to investigate human rights abuses there.
Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government engage constructively with democratic opposition parties in Sudan? During the Cold War, western nations helped opposition groups behind the Iron Curtain, both to resist totalitarian oppression and to prepare for the day when freedom and democracy would come. There are respected opposition parties in Sudan that are working to promote human rights and develop the essentials of civil society. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider some support for democratic initiatives; for example, those promoted by the opposition movement led by Yasir Arman and Malik Agar, who have demonstrated genuine democratic political leadership? Malik Agar was the democratically elected Governor of Blue Nile State before he was ruthlessly deposed by al-Bashir. Any analysis of the writings and policies of these opposition leaders demonstrates their genuine commitment to democratic reform.
I hope that the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan who will read this debate will be reassured that, at last, Her Majesty’s Government will take a lead in calling the Government of Sudan to account and in promoting initiatives to bring justice and genuine peace to all the citizens of these two nations, who currently see the United Kingdom apparently condoning oppression instead of fulfilling our historic and contemporary obligation to call a halt to aggression, bring perpetrators to account and promote justice for all the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan.
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her commitment and dedication to the people of Sudan and South Sudan, for initiating this debate and for her excellent speech, which covered all the ground that I think we need to hear.
Ten years ago, few of us imagined we would still be discussing the suffering of the people of Sudan. Yet the misery of Darfur has once again intensified, Khartoum’s campaign of aerial bombardment and systematic ethnic cleansing has spread to Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and after last week’s referendum it is clear that the permanent residents of Abyei wish to be free of a regime that is hostile to their very existence.
Despite all that, the international community has chosen to focus on the low-level conflict that rumbles on between Sudan and South Sudan. That has always been the intention of the Sudanese Government. They know that the world lacks the knowledge and the vigilance needed to see what Bashir is up to in Sudan. There is now no UN special representative after the departure of Robin Gwynn, and the capacity of the FCO’s Sudan unit has been diminished by the exit of staff who have not been replaced. Also, as the excellent Rosalind Marsden departs from her EU role, her replacement, Alexander Rondos, is expected to take on responsibility for the whole of the Horn of Africa. The message that all that conveys to those in power in Khartoum is that the world community is unable or unwilling to focus on Sudan while Syria and Somalia preoccupy security interest. The need for concerted international action to deal with the crisis continues, but international engagement shrinks.
For years, there have been calls for Khartoum to give unhindered humanitarian access to the starving and displaced people sheltering from the Sudanese bombing raids in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Khartoum knows that it can carry on killing its own citizens with impunity because there is absolutely no response other than media statements and ministerial condemnation. For years, we have expressed concern about Khartoum’s brutal repression of free speech, the disappearance and torture of intellectuals and the sexual abuse of thousands of young women guilty of no greater sin than wanting to go to school or to college.
Symptomatic of the failure to grasp the reality on the ground has been the dogged attempt to impose the Doha peace agreement on Darfur. Officials continue to negotiate debt relief with the very governing regime whose leaders have been indicted on counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC. Meanwhile, assistance is given to British trade missions and British links when we should be warning British companies that Sudan is rated among the worst in the world for corruption, high inflation, opaque banking and dubious overseas payment systems. In addition, DfID still channels aid through a Government run by those indicted war criminals, surely knowing that it reaches only projects and people acceptable to them.
We should be turning the tap off and challenging Khartoum on every occasion when an aid agency travel permit is withheld, an aid shipment delayed due to some fatuous new regulation, a new restriction is invented to stop humanitarian aid reaching needy people or a patrol of peacekeepers is attacked or intimidated by the regime or its proxies.
Can the Minister comment on an analysis that has suggested that our security services and Washington’s apparently count as their partners in the war on terror this regime that has such a terrible, criminal reputation? Does he agree that in view of the evidence against the current regime in Sudan, current debt relief negotiations should immediately be cancelled until such time as the regime, first, abides by its multiple promises under the CPA, and secondly, stops the aerial bombardment of its civilians and allows unfettered access for international humanitarian aid groups in areas of Sudanese aggression? Anything less will, tragically, guarantee that we will be debating the misery of Sudanese suffering in another 10 years.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox and Lady Kinnock, pointed out, Sudan is governed by an alleged war criminal charged at the International Criminal Court on five counts of crimes against humanity, two of war crimes and three of genocide. He and the Sudanese armed forces, of which he is supreme commander, continue to commit war crimes in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Satellite Sentinel project reported last week on the repositioning of SAF military units threatening new attacks on the civilian populations of Abeyi and South Kordofan, which has been subjected to more than two years of relentless bombardment.
Might the UN ask member states with satellites that pass over the conflict areas in Sudan to make their own images and analyses available to the Security Council to reinforce the excellent work being done by the Satellite Sentinel Project?
Has my noble friend seen the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition assessment published by the Enough project on South Kordofan? It concludes that the bombardment of civilians, together with the bar on international humanitarian aid has resulted in severe malnutrition and dire food security outlooks. The authors say that the condition of refugees from Blue Nile state indicates that the conditions there may be comparable with those in South Kordofan. These are further war crimes and the Minister may want to say something about the possibility of further indictments at the ICC.
Another group of victims in a desperate state are the 40,000 South Sudanese who were left behind in Khartoum at the time of independence three years ago. Their camp was flooded and latrines are overflowing, spreading disease to these homeless and stateless people, weakened by malnutrition. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $5.5 million for emergency shelter, healthcare, education and public health initiatives for the victims of flooding, including the South Sudanese, but for the latter it is a short-term solution only. The International Organisation for Migration has a plan to airlift 20,000 of the most vulnerable to South Sudan at a cost of $20 million. Can this plan be expanded so that the IOM repatriated all the people to their homeland with the help of donors such as the UN Central Emergency Response Fund?
Meanwhile, UNHCR is already having to cope with 220,000 refugees in South Sudan and another 40,000 in Ethiopia. Can my noble friend say what the budget for these operations in 2013 is and whether it is being met? These people were mostly bombed out of their homes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and their plight is the direct result of Bashir’s military campaigns against civilians. Now the ground attack is being reinforced by the acquisition of Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft and Mi-24 ground attack helicopters. My noble friend says that these breaches of the UN sanctions will be dealt with by the panel of experts’ report in January 2014, but surely where there is credible evidence, such as we have from Radio Dubanga—a reliable witness in the past—and from the Satellite Sentinel project already mentioned, the Security Council should take prompt action to call Khartoum to account over its breaches of its international obligations.
At the same time, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights should investigate the wave of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions as proposed by 11 international and African organisations last week. At least 170 people have been killed and more than 800 detained following widespread protests against the ending of fuel subsidies. Newspapers and broadcasters have been shut down, editors have been told what they are to say about the protests and the head of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union was detained when he spoke on BBC Arabic about the number of casualties admitted to his hospital. The UN rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and the working party on arbitrary detention should collect evidence and report on those events, preferably after visiting Sudan, but in the absence of an invitation, based on witness statements collected in response to a public appeal. I know that that is not the normal method of working by UN special procedures, but their hesitant approach accounts for their lack of effectiveness in stopping these human rights abuses.
How can the international community secure an improvement in Khartoum’s behaviour? The IMF persuaded the regime to cancel fuel subsidies in an attempt to control its rocketing external debt, scheduled to reach $46 billion this year. But the US special envoy to South Sudan and Sudan, Donald Booth, said last month that Khartoum is spending the same on military operations in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile as it did on the fuel subsidies. If the IMF made the ending of these conflicts and of purchases of sophisticated foreign military equipment a condition of debt relief, there would be a double benefit to the Sudanese economy and to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Khartoum’s aggression.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Cox for once again focusing our attention on the suffering peoples of Sudan. I begin by expressing sadness and some shock that, despite all the debates and all the attempts to create a climate for peaceful development, the suffering in that war-torn country continues unabated. My first visit to South Sudan was during the civil war, which claimed 2 million lives, and, in 2004, I went to Darfur and saw first hand a conflict which had claimed between 200,000 and 300,000 lives. While the world looked on, 90% of Darfur’s villages were razed to the ground. At the time, I published a report entitled, If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is? Throughout 2011 and 2012, I tabled questions and spoke in your Lordships’ House about the new genocide unravelling, as we have heard, in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and which was described by Dr Mukesh Kapila, a former high-ranking British and United Nations official, as,
“the second genocide of the 21st century”— Darfur being the first.
Those who unleashed this torrent of unconscionable violence on their own people are undoubtedly mass murderers and fugitives from justice, having been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, more than 1 million are now displaced, and the perpetrators are attempting to repeat what happened in Darfur, but this time by closing borders and refusing access, a genocide without witnesses.
Two years ago, Ministers told me that they were urgently seeking access to the affected areas:
“Reports of such atrocities will be investigated and, if they prove true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]
Three months later, Ministers said that,
“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]
However, we have lamentably failed to do either, failing both systematically to collect evidence from fleeing refugees and to gain access to the areas on which bombs have been raining down. I hope that the Minister will update us on both of those questions.
Yesterday I attended a briefing of the Associate Parliamentary Group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, of which I am an officer, as are the noble Baronesses, Lady Kinnock and Lady Cox. What I heard did not just leave me saddened and shocked, it also left me angry.
We heard that in Darfur, where 2.3 million people are already displaced, is that “another 350,000 people have been displaced since January” and “1.3 million people are now in temporary camps”; that “aerial bombardment is a regular occurrence”; that “there is a climate of fear and terrorisation” and “a rapid downward trend in security”; and that “the situation is getting worse.” We heard that there may be another 50,000 people displaced in Adela but no one, including a UNAMID force of more than 20,000 personnel, has access, so no one really knows. For INGOs, the situation is fraught with danger following the killing of two of World Vision’s staff in July. There is now virtually no humanitarian access to areas that are not held by the Government.
Yesterday we were told that it is five years since DfID officials have been able to get beyond the state capitals in Darfur to visit projects run by NGOs. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that our commitment to Darfur and the rest of Sudan remains a priority for the UK, that DfID staff are fully informed of the situation, and that we are finally getting to grips with the fact that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, the Doha document for peace in Darfur is on its last legs. I hope that the Minister will tell us when we last raised the Darfur and the situation in South Kordofan in the Security Council. The Security Council resolutions banning military flights over Darfur are, we heard yesterday, regularly being broken and those who issue their genocidal orders do so with total impunity.
As I prepared for today’s debate, it was with a genuine sense of sadness. It is more than 10 years ago that, on the eve of a breakthrough in negotiations between the Government of Sudan and SPLA rebels, I welcomed the new atmosphere of hope, but also warned that a ceasefire would be no guarantee of democracy or justice for all. More than 10 years later, it is clear that the CPA that followed has failed to bring change, democracy, or justice to the Sudanese peoples of Sudan or South Sudan. That remains today a distant dream in many of those places. I also feel shock because, despite the ongoing and mounting tragedy of a further decade of war, the attention of the world appears to have turned away from the region.
It is not only Darfur and South Kordofan; consider for a moment the peoples of central and northern Sudan, who flocked to the streets in September of this year and were brutally massacred by the Government of Sudan’s security services. More than 200 protesters were shot dead. The awfulness speaks for itself. Consider also the situation in Jonglei, where it is thought that militias loyal to the Government in Khartoum have also been trying to destabilise the situation in the South.
More than 10 years ago, I said to the House that Sudan’s modern history is littered with temporary peace agreements which were eventually broken. The CPA has been broken for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and it has been broken for the people of Abyei. The various Darfur peace processes were flawed and have not been honoured. The eastern Sudan peace agreement does not work for the eastern Sudanese.
It is past time to think strategically. Are we prepared simply to sit back and watch protestors be killed on the streets of Khartoum, or will we get behind calls for fundamental change in Sudan? What is Her Majesty’s Government doing to help the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan? The panel is tasked with mediating Sudan’s internal conflicts and its conflict with South Sudan, but can it really have the necessary capacity required for all the immense tasks which it has been given?
Finally, I wonder if the Minister has seen the report, “Persecuted and Forgotten”, launched by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, just two weeks ago on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need http://www.acnuk.org/persecuted-and-forgotten-our-religious-freedom-report The report details the specific persecution of Christians in many parts of the Republic of the Sudan. This is a really troubling phenomenon which is now occurring on a systematic basis. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on all of these deeply troubling questions..
The Lord Bishop of Guildford:
My Lords, I completely endorse what has been said so far in this discussion. I want to raise a rather different point, but equally I want to express my distress—and, indeed, my shared anger—about the humanitarian, agrarian and political disaster about which we have been speaking.
My rather different point is a question about the implications of further destabilisation of Sudan for the country’s international neighbours. I think that that is an important point. I visit Nigeria regularly, and I am due to fly out to Abuja on Sunday. Four years ago, I was able to go to the province of Maiduguri up in the north-east. I cannot go there now, at the moment anyway, because of the political situation. Maiduguri is a long, long way from Sudan—many miles away. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a connection.
When I was there four years ago I visited some of the townships on Lake Chad itself, and was asked by a small Christian community to go on the lake in a little fishing boat with an outboard motor. I heard of the troubles and the difficulties there—not least the difficult political jurisdictions around Lake Chad, on which I will not elaborate—and of the problem of a receding lake and what that will do to those communities. When I got back I was told that the relationship between the small minority Christian communities in one of those townships and the majority Muslim population was very good until people came from Sudan through Chad, over Lake Chad. Then the trouble started.
There is a real question about the escalation of ethnic and religious violence, and its spread from east Africa to west Africa. That is anecdotal, but my intuition is that it is probably right, although at the moment in relatively small scale. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, could say more about that, as she is very aware of the situation in Nigeria. I therefore ask the Minister perhaps to touch on the risk of a more general destabilisation of east and west Africa spreading from Sudan, as the situation there continues seriously to deteriorate.
Lord Hussain (LD):
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate. Her hard work in that region is always appreciated by the House, and by me as well. I have had the opportunity to visit both South Sudan and Sudan in the past year or two, but what I am going to say today is largely not part of my findings or experience.
Many of us around the world thought that the conflict in Sudan would be resolved once the partition of Sudan took place and South Sudan became an independent country. Unfortunately, even after two years of South Sudan’s independence, the conflict does not seem to be coming to an end. There are many reasons for that. I am glad that the African Union is taking more interest in helping to resolve the outstanding issues between Khartoum and Juba, and the presidents of both countries have met and are talking to each other, which is a good sign. Sitting around and resolving issues by negotiation rather than by taking up arms is good.
However, today I want to concentrate on something that is not helping the population and that is the role of the new country’s armed forces, which have not yet adapted to their new role and are still acting very much like a militant organisation. According to the latest report of Human Rights Watch, dated September 2013, since December 2012 the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—the SPLA, South Sudan’s army—locked in conflict with the ethnic Murle rebels from the South Sudan Democratic Movement, has committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. SPLA soldiers have unlawfully killed at least 96 people, mostly civilians, from the Murle ethnic group during the conflict, and they have engaged in the widespread looting of homes, clinics, schools and churches. The abuses by SPLA soldiers have had a devastating and potentially long-lasting impact on this marginalised minority ethnic group from Pibor county and have caused widespread fear and displacement, contributing to a strongly held perception of persecution among the Murle civilian population.
The abuses have taken place against a background of ethnic conflict. Dinka Bor, Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups, all in Jonglei State, have been locked in a cycle of cattle-raiding attacks and increasingly brutal revenge attacks for several years. The rebellion and the SPLA counter-offensive have further aggravated pre-existing ethnic tensions in the area, which, in the case of anti-Murle sentiments, may have played into the extent of the abuses and slow government response. The potential for further grave violations and violence is very high, in part because the SPLA, an army still in transition, faces significant command, control and discipline challenges and also because ethnic tensions are so high in Jonglei, especially anti-Murle sentiment.
Inter-ethnic violence between the Lou Nuer, Dinka and Murle communities has killed thousands of people in recent years. The Government of South Sudan have failed to prevent this violence, despite frequent warnings of impending attacks, to protect civilians or to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks. In early July 2013, according to the report, thousands of Lou Nuer fighters massed and attacked Murle areas. The full extent of the attack is still not known. Murle who were displaced by the conflict and by SPLA abuses may have been especially vulnerable to the attack. Allegations of government support, including the provision of ammunition to the Lou Nuer, reported by credible sources heard by Human Rights Watch, have further deepened Murle perceptions of government persecution.
The Government’s failure meaningfully to redress the abuses by the SPLA during the disarmament paved the way for further abuses by soldiers in late 2012 and 2013. This report documents the extent of the SPLA’s violations against Murle civilians between December 2012 and July 2013, causing the majority of the Murle population to flee to remote areas of the bush, many of them believed to be cut off from access to emergency food and medical aid. Tens of thousands of Murle are now displaced and too frightened to return, including most of the civilians from all six main population areas in Pibor county, which is now little more than barracks.
SPLA soldiers approached a group of civilians in a village where men were playing a traditional board game. They demanded that the men hand over their guns. The men gave the SPLA two rifles. The SPLA then tied up the men into two groups of seven. The soldiers executed the men in one group at the site and took the men in the other group some distance away and shot them. One man who was shot in the shoulder and left for dead survived the shooting and was later found by other community members.
In conclusion, has the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with his South Sudanese counterpart and will he consider reporting South Sudan to the International Court of Justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the South Sudanese army against its own people?
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, not least on her tenacity, and other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I hope that they will forgive me if I wince and say, “Yet another debate on Sudan”. Those of us who have been there often will feel it the most acutely. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, used the word “anger”, to which I subscribe. There have been more years of conflict and more than 1 million additional people have been affected in the past two years. There are 190,000 more Sudanese refugees in South Sudan. There is further conflict and differences between different groups on political objectives, including between the herders and other farmers. There is, I suppose, conflict between settled communities and those who see very little relevance in being settled because they move with their herds and because borders are not particularly relevant to them.
Two months ago, mass demonstrations about the cost of living and the economy of the country were met by a brutal regime with live ammunition and tear gas, and with mass imprisonment. Negotiations on the safe demilitarised border zone have gone into reverse. Nothing is safe. Nothing is demilitarised. No border zone has been agreed. An African Union peace initiative, through the African Union Peace and Security Council, was twice rescheduled amid sharp African Union criticism once again of the Government of Sudan, and was not responded to by that Government. There was a rather better report on the Government of South Sudan, but none of it yet is making a difference.
It has to be said that South Sudan is both a source of and a destination country for men, women and children who have been subjected in some cases to forced labour and sex trafficking, including women and girls from Uganda, Kenya and the DRC. Inter-ethnic abductions continue but at least the South Sudanese Government have recognised the issues and are trying to intervene. The economies of South Sudan and Sudan, with their high level of interdependency, are continuously disrupted by border disputes and oil transmission fees. I understand that oil reserves are set to halve within 10 years if no new fields come on stream. Exploration of new fields is of course almost impossible amid the military clashes.
War crimes are committed with virtual impunity. There has been no action to enforce international criminal arrest warrants. A large United Nations operation, with at least 4,000 troops in Abyei and 7,500 in South Sudan, has had far too little impact. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, instability is spreading right through the region—through the DRC, and to a lesser extent in Uganda, and the Central African Republic. Uganda’s help for South Sudan historically has been the basis for the Sudanese Government’s sponsorship of murderous groups, including the monstrous Lord’s Resistance Army and now other groups which have taken its place.
I suppose that, with a feeling of some desperation, we are tempted to ask what is new. There is little point in demanding a great deal more intervention from the UK Government, much as I would wish to. I think that the Government lack the means or the local alliances to do much, and I fear that they lack the will. Of course there will be protests and those protests are important. There will be realism about humanitarian aid. I urge the Government to find alternative routes for aid rather than those through Khartoum. That will not do any longer. Is there more that could be done? Are we destined to return to this debate again and again, to these issues with no real answers? I am one of life’s optimists but this would be a dismal prospect for all of us and I ask if there is new ground we could break. Let me make a modest attempt.
First, of course African issues will be resolved ultimately in Africa for the most part, and by Africans. That must make us focus on the African Union and its machinery and on the sub-continental regional bodies. The issue of capacity in those bodies is critical. It has been for years. The problem is not just money or a lack of outstanding individuals, because there are some outstanding individuals, and it is not just the presence of a mass murderer at the head of the Government of Sudan. Would the Government consider, as a European initiative, a joint EU-AU review of the financial and skills needs of the African Union, carried out routinely at intervals of not more than three years, with a report on the outcome of those discussions and an annual report on the milestones? Then we at least could see some machinery and assess whether it works.
Secondly, would the Government, through the Security Council, advance the case for a standing arrangement—I am not saying a standing force—that can call into existence a peacekeeping force much more rapidly, rather than with the delays during which many more people die? Will the Government through our multinational treaties, alliances and membership organisations, seek the full commitment of everyone in those bodies to act on the arrest warrants in all the jurisdictions that they cover? Al-Bashir is a wanted mass murderer. Will Her Majesty’s Government introduce targeted sanctions? The response in the Chamber to a question just a few days ago was that we had talked to the Nigerians about this without any indication of what happened next—that truly will not do now. It will not do.
Thirdly, will the Government, through its aid programme in the multi-national infrastructure initiatives, look for economic developments which would make a much greater difference? There has been a wider discovery of oil far from ports and from infrastructure. Most of it would be transformational but the countries involved need to co-operate in order to make any difference. Will we assist them to make a difference and give some economic hope?
Finally, on occasions I have heard the aspiration to join the Commonwealth expressed in Juba. I do not know whether that is a workable concept—it may not be yet—but it would certainly provide skilled resources in training, including in health and in the treatment of polio. It would provide links to trade and expertise in all Commonwealth countries. It would provide local trade links, for example in Uganda, Kenya and the region, which might be fundamentally helpful in the development of South Sudan. It would provide a secretariat able to assess the capacity needs and the choreography for the provision of greater capacity; and it would tell the enemies of democracy that they face a worldwide community of democratic nations who will not let this pass.
My Lords, it has been an impassioned debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for pursuing this issue as she has done so vigorously over many years, and I know that the work of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan also continues to do that.
The right reverend Prelate pointed out that what we see happening across the border between Sudan and South Sudan is also happening across Sudan and South Sudan’s borders with their neighbouring states. This is part of a set of regional conflicts which now sadly flow across the Sahel and central and east Africa. The Lord’s Resistance Army has just made another cross-border attack. As we know, it operates from Uganda, through South Sudan into eastern Congo. Recent events in the Central African Republic, where the Government have been overthrown, have reportedly been supported by groups from Darfur; groups in Darfur have very often obtained their weapons from Libya, Chad or the Central African Republic. Some of these groups move very easily across frontiers. We recognise that part of this is tribal, part of this is ethnic, part of this is racial, and part of this now, sadly, is also the militant Islamic ideology which attracts youths from across those countries. It brings in foreign fighters and foreign ideas of the sort that the right reverend Prelate commented on, breaking up what had been relatively peaceful relations between different communities and different faiths and raising severe problems for all of us, across Africa. I am happy that we will be debating the dreadful situation in eastern Congo in the not too distant future.
Within Sudan, neither the Government in Khartoum nor the Government in Juba control their entire territory. The Government in Khartoum have the advantage of armed forces and external arms supplies and, as we all know, are misusing them in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. There are linked conflicts across the border, with each Government claiming that the other continues to support the rebels within what they regard as their territories; and the border, as established under the comprehensive peace agreement, is not yet accepted by either side. We must recognise that the SPLM in the north refuses to recognise the borders as established.
We have heard a lot about events surrounding the demonstrations in Sudan, which Ministers have condemned both publicly and privately. We certainly want a more democratic space to open up in Sudan. We deeply regret that the Government of Sudan continue to get arms supplies from outside. We are not entirely sure which countries they are coming from, but they are clearly from the forces in what we used to call the Eastern Bloc. We have a fairly good idea where some of them come from. We meet regularly with opposition groups both within and outside the country. That includes meeting the leadership of the SPLM-North, although we do not support its stated aim of overthrowing the regime by force. We also recognise that the Sudan Revolutionary Front is itself a loose coalition of different bodies and not entirely cohesive in its operation.
I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that we do not channel aid through the Government. We are co-operating with technical preparations for debt relief, but we have made it abundantly clear that debt relief will not be possible until the conflicts are resolved and that the benefits must flow to promoting development in Sudan.
On Darfur, we continue to look with horror at what is happening, while increasingly understanding that some of the militias are not entirely under the control of the central Government in Khartoum. We regret that the Doha document has not in any sense been adopted and that the situation in many ways continues to deteriorate. The question of what we can do about it on our own is difficult.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the comparison with Libya. It is much easier to enforce a no-fly zone, or even to intervene, in a country where almost the entire population lives within 50 miles of the coast than it is to enforce a no-fly zone a very long way from the coast—across the borders between South Sudan and northern Sudan—let alone over Darfur. We continue to work with others on the situation in Darfur. We continue to ask within the UN for an effective review of the not very effective UN force in Darfur.
We are doing what we can, but we recognise that it is not enough. Restrictions on access to Darfur are part of the problem. We all understand how appalling what is going on in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is. Local organisations, with support from international partners, are gathering evidence of abuses. We do not have access to those areas to gather evidence first-hand. Noble Lords will know that the two Presidents have met on a number of occasions. We hope that the recent improvement in relations between Sudan and South Sudan will help to resolve the conflict, but we all recognise that the conflict has a dynamic of its own.
Within South Sudan, there are also problems of internal conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, talked about the conflict in Jonglei, which the South Sudanese Government claim is being supported by the Khartoum Government. We have to recognise that these have aspects of ethnic conflict between tribes. I am tempted to say that some of these are cattle raiding with AK-47s. Unfortunately, with AK-47s you can kill an awful lot more people than you could with spears. There are elements there where government as such—the idea of a settled state—has not developed. In Abyei, as we all understand, the conflict between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka has elements of Cain and Abel about it. We are talking about settled tribes versus nomadic tribes. There again, once the weapons are freely available, the challenge is very clear.
On Abyei, we do not recognise the outcome of the unilateral referendum held by the Ngok Dinka community held last week. However, we understand the frustrations that led to it taking place and the extent to which external forces and pressures imposed an extra layer on what were traditional local rivalries and conflicts. Almost three years have elapsed since the referendum should have taken place simultaneously with the wider referendum for South Sudan, but we have seen, as we all know, repeated failure to move forward by honouring existing agreements.
What are the UK Government doing about that? We are no longer an imperial power within the region. We have to work with others. We are working as closely as we can with the African Union and the high-level panel. We are certainly providing the support that we feel will help in the circumstances. We are also, of course, working through and with the United Nations. We are doing our best to make the EU a more active player than it has been. The United Kingdom and France are pushing our EU partners to be more engaged across the whole of northern, eastern and central Africa. It is not a message that all our EU partners are yet willing to hear. The British and the French continue to be by far the most actively engaged. We have to recognise that, as people like me go round other capitals, we have to try to explain to them why our interests are engaged in some of these areas because the problem of refugee migration across the Mediterranean is not entirely disengaged from what is happening across the Sahel and elsewhere.
We wish that the Arab League was more active—the Arab League of which Sudan is a member. The Doha agreement was after all moderated by the Qataris, but we would like to see stronger Arab League involvement. We would like to see more active Chinese involvement. The Chinese have real interests at stake in the supply of oil from South Sudan through Sudan. I am told that the Chinese have now become something of a moderating influence, but I think we all understand that the Chinese Government are reluctant to get too heavily involved in outside intervention.
DfID has a major commitment to South Sudan. I have not been to Juba or Khartoum but I have talked to a number of people working in the aid field in Abyei, Darfur and Juba itself. We are working to try to build the capacities of that very new and undeveloped Government. We saw the change in the Cabinet as being a positive development, and we continue to support them in every way that we can.
The two Permanent Secretaries of DfID and the Foreign Office visited the two capitals in October, and my honourable friend Mark Simmonds is going to Juba at the end of this month, so we are and remain actively engaged. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asked for a joint EU-AU review. That is a highly desirable development and I will take that back. As I said, we have to work hard to make sure that all our 27 partners in the EU are committed to this and we have to recognise that the AU has some severe limitations on its own capacities. Going towards a standing arrangement of a peacekeeping force may stretch the AU further than it is yet able to go.
We should recognise that there are AU forces in place—Ethiopian forces in Abyei and Ugandan forces in Somalia—and a brigade under UN auspices in eastern Congo. So a number of African countries are now quite heavily committed. They lack transport, intelligence and logistics. The Government in Juba are pretty dependent on UN helicopters for transport around the country.
I understand only too well the point that is being made about the AU. My suggestion was that the discussion should happen under the auspices of the Security Council because it is possible for other kinds of forces—for example, as we found with Scandinavian police forces in Darfur—to have a very significant role in peacekeeping.
I take that point and of course the UN also has to have a large role. With regard to the Nordic countries, I also recall that the three guarantors of the comprehensive peace agreement were the United Kingdom, the United States and Norway. We continue to raise these issues regularly within the UN Security Council. It is a matter of continuing discussion and we will continue to push very hard. I sincerely hope and trust, and am confident, that noble Lords here, including the noble Baroness herself, will continue to push us to maintain that pressure. Having answered, I hope, most of the points raised in this debate, I will conclude my speech.
Some further thoughts…
· Democracy and justice remains a distant dream for the peoples of South Sudan for whom the threat of war with Sudan persists. Those living at the border, for whom a Safe Demilitarised Border Zone agreed in September 2012 remains a myth and which the UN is completely failing to monitor. For those in Jonglei state, where over 100,000 have been cut off from life-saving assistance – and where southern rebels allegedly receive support from the Government of Sudan, trying to destabilize the country. Spare a thought for…
· For the peoples of South Sudan who have not yet seen their peace dividend or opportunity, basic services, education and there is embezzlement and corruption and more must be done to build a civil society which respects diversity and dissent. ..
· For those in the so called Safe Demilitarised Border Zone is supposed to prevent cross border escalations of conflict. But it is impossible to build security cooperation – at the core of the ongoing peace process – between the two countries when the UN monitoring mission has no capacity – and seemingly little will – to monitor it?…
· For the women of both countries, who suffer from being second-class citizens in their own homes. DfID is right to focus on girl’s access to education. But there is such a long way to go.
Think also about Interdependence and Implications for Citizens of South Sudan…
· Despite South Sudan’s independence, the futures of both Sudan’s people remains interlinked.
· South Sudanese citizens depend upon revenues from their oil that flows through Sudan’s pipeline to Port Sudan.
· These are essential for South Sudan to build its state from scratch, if its peoples are to access education, basic services and if its army is to continue its transition from loose coalition to become a coherent and accountable force.
· Insecurity in Sudan will also spread into South Sudan’s divided tribal politics. And there is a long history of Sudan supporting rebel movements in South Sudan.
· The future of South Sudan’s citizens lies in the situation in Sudan. Too soon and too quickly, the two countries are being analysed in isolation from each other.
· Over 10 years ago I said to this house that “Sudan’s modern history is littered with temporary peace agreements which were eventually broken”.
If there is to be an overarching transformation we need to help the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, tasked with mediating Sudan’s internal conflicts and the conflict with South Sudan. As things stand it can’t possibly have the necessary capacity required for all the immense tasks to which it is given.
· In terms of diplomatic relations and ending the piece-meal approach, I am disturbed to learn that the position of the EU Special Representative to Sudan and South Sudan has been cut. If focus is to be retained we will need to ensure that the EU Special Representative on the Horn of Africa takes up these issues as seriously as the burnt bodies and hungry mouths of Sudan’s diverse population deserve.