As South Sudan celebrates seven years of independence, its people have little to cheer. Its warring leaders must make a cease fire work – and from Nigeria to the Central African Republic Africa’s leaders should see what happens when you fail to stop a radical ideology in its tracks.
Some of South Sudan’s refugees at Bidi Camp in Uganda
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) July 4th 2018.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Curry on securing today’s timely debate. He has a long-standing interest and love of Sudan—a country that needs all the friends it can get. Among its greatest friends is the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan, of which, along with my noble friend Lord Sandwich, I am an officer.
My first visit to the south of Sudan was 20 years ago when it was part of the Republic of Sudan.
It was convulsed by a civil war that took 2 million lives. Khartoum’s systematic campaign of aerial bombardment left a country with a legacy of corpses and widows; a country devoid of infrastructure—schools, hospitals and homes were all destroyed by Khartoum’s Antonov bombers; a devastated country littered with small arms and weapons, militias and tribal conflicts.
Khartoum ruthlessly promoted a radical Islamist ideology that sought to eliminate difference, killing Muslims who refused to comply as well as Christians and followers of traditional religions. It cynically bought support by setting one group against another using the age-old tactic of divide and rule.
Countries such as Nigeria would do well to study the appalling consequences of allowing the promotion of an ideology that is still being relentlessly pursued in other parts of Sudan, such as Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
These were the prevailing circumstances when partition came in 2011 and with the emergence of South Sudan as an independent country.
Made up of the 10 southern-most states of Sudan, South Sudan is one of the most diverse countries in Africa. Born after decades of conflict, the eyes of the world watched as a brand new state was formed with the help of millions of dollars from the international community, which, as my noble friend trenchantly observed, has not been used to build a new state. I will be interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bates, when he comes to reply, what is his assessment of how much of that money has been diverted into corrupt purposes and people’s pockets rather than for the purposes it was intended.
In 2011, Barack Obama proudly said:
“Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible”.
Next Monday, 9 July, will mark the seventh anniversary of the independence of South Sudan, but in those years the people of South Sudan have known little peace, let alone a new dawn.
Humanitarian statistics, as we have heard, fail to tell the whole story of a conflict, but the latest figures coming out of South Sudan are truly staggering.
Some 1.8 million people are internally displaced, with a further 2.4 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. At various points in the conflict, the Bidi camp in Uganda was receiving over 1,000 refugees every single day, making it the largest refugee camp in the world. Over half the population in South Sudan is facing severe hunger.
Right now, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, reminded us, an adolescent girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school.
A recent study from the International Rescue Committee and the Global Women’s Institute at Georgetown University revealed that over 65% of women and girls have experienced some form of gender-based violence—an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has done so much to highlight in her various roles in your Lordships’ House.
The United Nations has found,
“massive use of rape as an instrument of terror”,
and Amnesty International has reported sexual violence as “rampant”.
South Sudan desperately needs peace.
Without it, development and progress are utterly impossible.
I would like to pay tribute to the Carter Center for its achievement, in 2016, in finally ending the blight of Guinea worm in South Sudan. But can the Minister tell us what effect the continuing conflict is having on vaccination programmes, in combating other diseases, and on issues such as child mortality, malnutrition and the fulfilment of development goals?
I would particularly like to ask the Minister about the peace process and where we go from here. As others have done I commend the commitment and skill of the Foreign Office Sudan unit, led by the UK special envoy Chris Trott. The UK is rightly at the forefront of the international effort to promote an inclusive peace in South Sudan.
Last month, as we have heard, President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar signed a permanent ceasefire in Khartoum, under the watchful eyes of Uganda’s President Museveni and Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir.
But we are also aware that there have been countless ceasefire agreements since the conflict began in 2013, which have consistently been honoured only in their breach. We would be foolish to see this as some sort of last word or to let up the pressure on South Sudan’s leaders, who have let down their own people for so long and proved unworthy of the possibilities opened up for them by John Garang and those who sacrificed so much to achieve independence.
We should be wary, too, of President Bashir’s motives, given his indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide and his continuing depredations. He is driven primarily to see oil flowing from Sudan once again.
Faced with this difficult situation, I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to the following questions.
First, does he agree that the passing of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill should pave the way for the UK to ramp up sanctions on the leaders in South Sudan? Crucially, these sanctions must be linked to the peace process and a wider UK strategy in South Sudan. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said earlier in that regard.
Secondly, does the Minister agree that unless the UK escalates its diplomacy with President Museveni, including perhaps discussions with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, he is in danger of acting solely in his own interests?
Thirdly, does he agree, as my noble friend argued, that the role of the South Sudan Council of Churches, alluded to a moment ago by the right reverend Prelate, will be crucial as it is one of the few actors left untainted by decades of inter-ethnic violence? What further help can we give to that process?
There is an old African saying that, when two elephants fight, it is the ground below that is flattened. Clearly, as Sudan’s leaders have been fighting, it is the people of Sudan who have been suffering. These wonderful people deserve much better than that, and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to give them the hope that the right reverend Prelate said it is our duty to provide.