I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Government’s role in supporting peace and development in Sudan and South Sudan.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for its decision to grant a request that I and several other hon. Members made to ensure that the House had this overdue debate on Sudan and South Sudan. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) and I went before the Committee last week, and although some of the other dozen hon. Members who had supported the petition were unable to attend because of their involvement in debates in the Chamber or in Committee business, we were successful in arranging the debate for an earlier date than we had reckoned.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on securing the debate. United Nations resolution 1591 was passed in 2005, and its intentions were clear. Is it not despicable that the international community still has not responded to them?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support in securing this debate and I absolutely accept his point. Signals given by the international community, and promises made in various peace agreements by those in Sudan and South Sudan, were not always followed through. It is important that we take time to address this issue in the Chamber.
The previous debate on Sudan and South Sudan took place in spring 2011, in the countdown to South Sudan’s independence. At that time, there was some hope about the new country’s prospects. There was hope that more of the comprehensive peace agreement would come to fruition if it had a framework or context in which to work. The hopes and goodwill of NGOs and others in the international community were tragically dashed. The effect on the lives of so many people in both countries was cruel.
We sought this debate because we are coming up to the second anniversary of South Sudan’s independence and because we recently marked the 10th anniversary of the conflict in Darfur. Hon. Members from all parties wrote to the Foreign Secretary, the US Secretary of State and the Australian Foreign Minister to raise concerns about policy drift on Darfur. Perhaps we have been remiss as parliamentarians in not addressing this issue in this Chamber, but we know why that has happened. Other events have caught our attention: the Arab spring and its complex aftermath and the situations in Mali and Syria have taken our focus. The danger is that the international community is giving a signal that what is happening in Darfur is par for the course and there is not a lot more that we can do about it beyond the commitments we have previously made.
The sadness is that this situation has been going on for so long. Some 20 years ago, my wife worked in southern Sudan for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and it was a basket case then. It is about time the world got together and sorted out this dreadful situation, so that the people there can live peacefully and bring up their children properly.
I recognise the passion of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, and that is exactly why this debate is necessary. There is a danger that because South Sudan has been established, we think it can make its merry way forward, but it is a fragile state—the world’s youngest. It lacks serious governmental and administrative infrastructure, and there is a gross disparity in the position of women and girls in its society. For decades now, these people have suffered from the effects of conflict, and they are still suffering. Even now, seven of the 10 states in South Sudan display features of conflict and the depredations that come with it.
I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says—of course there is a humanitarian crisis, as I think many other hon. Members will also emphasise.
Since the fact of this debate was published, I have been struck by how many of us have been contacted by non-governmental organisations, which have provided urgent briefings and said how glad they are that we are having this debate. It is particularly telling that some of them said, “You cannot give out the locality-specific information that we are giving to you, because it could be traced back to us and compromise NGO operatives and associates in particular regions.” Their nervousness about being named and about their briefings being traced speaks volumes about the situation and their bravery and good work.
These NGOs do not take the side of particular political interests; theirs is purely a humanitarian effort, and like the Government—I know that we will hear from the Minister later—they welcome and encourage any positive steps, whether in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan or towards improving conditions in the two countries. They are also clear about the risks and about the trespasses against human rights and humanitarian standards that take place all too frequently and are seemingly met with indifference. In Darfur, for instance, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur has recently seemed to be saying, “Well, because there has been statistical easement in some features of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, we should treat that as though the crisis is ending,” but clearly it is not ending. Even when there are statistical easements, factors and circumstances change, whether it is factors of conflict or seasonal factors or other trepidations that interfere with the situation, and as a result, people find themselves in an ever graver plight, so we cannot act like this is done and dusted on the basis of comprehensive peace agreements that are given only faltering acknowledgment.
I hope that the Minister will explain not only how engaged the British Government are with the political interests in both countries, but how much support they are giving to, and how engaged they are with, the various NGOs. I hope that he will also indicate how well the UK engagement effort works with that of the EU, given that the EU is the single biggest donor in the area, and respond to questions about the UN’s role. Given the misgivings about the UN’s action and the lack of reportage and serious monitoring in Sri Lanka, fundamental questions remain about UNAMID’s competence and sense of purpose in Darfur, where it does not report every transgression with equal seriousness.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. When he refers to agencies, including the United Nations agencies, does he agree that UNAMID falls short of its mandate of civilian protection and that many people have suffered because of that?
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have all heard UNAMID described as the most expensive and least effective peacekeeping operation in the history of the world. UNAMID stands indicted, but if we do not seek to address and ameliorate that in some way, we, too, will stand indicted as parliamentarians.
The range of issues that can be addressed in this debate, and certainly the range of issues that have reached us in briefings from non-governmental organisations, is wide, but those issues also run deep. I do not intend to rehearse them all in opening this debate; the main point is to allow other Members to reflect those points and concerns, as well as the fact that, from time to time, there are indications of hope from these regions. That happens not just when we see flickering developments—all too often cancelled out later—in political engagement, dialogue, talks, deals on oil flows, and so on, but in relation to the potential to build and improve capacity in both countries. However, the key to that is overcoming the difficulties of conflict and all the preoccupations, the distractions and the depletion of resources and potential that conflict represents. That is why the international community owes more than just humanitarian support to the people of these two countries.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which we can diminish the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan is to implement in full the oil agreement signed last September? Is he aware that last year, when the rest of sub-Saharan Africa was seeing annual GDP growth of between 5% and 6%, GDP fell by 55% in South Sudan and by nearly 1% in Sudan? Is that not what is driving the continued problems between both states and leading to some of the health and education indicators we are seeing?
The hon. Gentleman is right. He has great insight into both countries, given that he so ably chairs the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. He rightly points to some of the declining profiles for South Sudan. I have many statistics on the social experience in Sudan and economic conditions. I do not intend to turn my opening speech into a presentation of the grave statistics on both countries, but some useful contributions can be made in this debate by a number of hon. Members.
When we look at both countries, it is important not only to look at them together in their historical and regional context, given some of the issues of conflict, but to look at them in their own right and, in particular, at the people of each country in their own right. I have referred to Darfur, but it is not the only place in Sudan where we see violence waged by the Government of Sudan against their own citizens. Only last week—I am sure other hon. Members will refer to this—we had a chilling report from Amnesty International entitled “We had no time to bury them”, which highlighted war crimes in Sudan’s Blue Nile state. That report, based on extensive interviews—where Amnesty International could conduct them—satellite images and the examination of various records, mounts a devastating critique of what the Sudanese Government have been able to do against their own people. That follows the pattern we saw in Darfur, although it is not confined to the Blue Nile state, but can be found in South Kordofan as well.
That gives rise to the obvious question that many people ask: how is it that we appear to be maintaining lines of engagement and agreeing aid packages, as part of multilateral rounds, with the Government in Sudan—because we want to help the people of Darfur—in ways that do not chime with our attitude to the behaviour of the former Libyan regime or the current Syrian regime or our attitude in other similar circumstances? I understand why the Government make their commitment alongside others, for instance, in the context of the Doha conference earlier this year. I know, however, that this House has heard from Darfurians who basically say that this is rewarding ethnic cleansing and doing nothing for victims. They fear that some of those moneys could end up being used by that same Government to further their violence against their own civilians. I am not saying that that is absolutely so or that there are no guarantees or measures to prevent or proof against that risk, but it is a risk that is genuinely felt. We have heard it genuinely expressed here within the precincts of this House, so I hope that the Minister will, as well as responding to questions from hon. Members, address those questions that come naturally from concerned citizens in Sudan and South Sudan.
I want to allow other hon. Members to speak. I am sure that they will cover the other points I would have made, and I look forward to hearing them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on securing the debate and also on the good points that he made. I heard another Member saying that this was a political debate; it is a political debate, but I say as a Conservative Member that I agreed with everything the hon. Gentleman said. He is quite right: it is two years since we last debated Sudan, when we held a Westminster Hall debate in the spring of 2011. At that time, the comprehensive peace agreement was being implemented. We were seeing the end of a 22-year civil war that had killed 2 million people, with 4 million people having left their homes. January 2011 saw a successful referendum in South Sudan, with 98.8% of the population voting in favour of independence.
Some concerns were expressed in our debate—over the future of Abyei, for example, where the referendum had been cancelled and postponed. There were concerns over South Kordofan and the Blue Nile state, as public consultations on the future of those two states were meant to take place, but had not happened. Then, too, the ongoing conflict in Darfur was at the forefront of our minds. On the whole, however, hope and optimism for the future were expressed in that debate. There was a belief that the independence of South Sudan would mean a new beginning for both north and South Sudan at that time.
I saw that myself when I visited Khartoum in June 2011. At this point, I should mention my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which records my visit. This was a few weeks before South Sudan gained independence, and while we were there, we met Government Ministers, people from the National Congress party, embassy staff, Department for International Development staff, local businesses and representatives of the local Coptic church. When we met those people, we noted a huge amount of hope for the future. It was believed that 9 July 2011 would mean a new beginning for both Sudan and South Sudan.
One thing we picked up while we were there, and which is particularly relevant to this Parliament, was the high regard many people had for the United Kingdom. We were shocked to hear that the majority of cabinet members in Sudan were, despite all the problems, either educated in the UK or held British passports. There was an immense well of good will towards the UK and a huge desire among all the people we spoke to to increase links, trade and investment with us. There was a big will for Britain to get more involved in Sudan.
It is now, of course, two years since South Sudan got its independence, but I am afraid to say that many of the hopes we had two years ago have been dashed. Both Sudan and South Sudan are considered to be fragile states. Both countries face terrible humanitarian and development challenges, and the indicators are some of the worst in the world. It is 10 years since the start of the conflict in Darfur, and there is still no end in sight. Concerns remain about the Khartoum Government and their refusal to negotiate, comply with international law, and cease violence.
When I was preparing for the debate over the weekend, I read some newspaper articles about Sudan. Three of them jumped out at me immediately. I want to tell the House about them, because they give an impression of what is happening out there at the moment.
It was a tweet from the Minister that drew my attention to the first item. It concerned the shelling of a United Nations base which killed an Ethiopian peacekeeper and injured two more. It took place in Kadugli, in South Kordofan, and is thought to have been the work of fighters from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North—SPLM-N—supported by South Sudan. The UN does not have a mission in South Kordofan, but it has one in Abyei, and the base was being used as a supply depot for that.
The article suggested that the rebels were targeting a football ground, as a football tournament was due to begin there today, but, as always in Sudan, it is not clear who was responsible. The UN Security Council and the Secretary General have condemned the attack and called on Sudan to bring the perpetrators to justice, but we do not know who those perpetrators are. It is assumed that they are members of SPLM-N, but we do not know for certain.
The second news item was about an oil pipeline that had been attacked in Abyei. In this case, the Sudan Government blame the South Sudan-backed rebels, but both the rebels and South Sudan deny responsibility. The attack came just days after Sudan had announced a further blockade of South Sudanese oil, which is due to begin in six weeks’ time. We heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) that an agreement had been reached last autumn to allow oil to flow through the pipeline in Sudan, but that agreement now seems to have broken down, and within six weeks the embargo will be reinstated.
The hon. Gentleman is presenting a powerful and convincing argument. Does he agree that both states will be harmed by the shutting down of oil production, and that the hardship will be felt not just in Juba but in Khartoum? Does he also agree that we need a comprehensive agreement in relation to the disputed territories, and, in particular, a final resolution, through a referendum, of the future status of Abyei?
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that the importance of oil in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan is clear to all of us. Approximately 75% of the oil reserves are in South Sudan, and approximately 25% are in north Sudan. The South Sudanese Government are particularly dependent on oil revenues for their taxation income—I have heard that as much as 98% of South Sudan’s income derives from oil—but any measures that impede the flow of oil affect not just South Sudan but Sudan. They affect the oilfields on the northern side of the border. We must recognise that oil has a huge part to play, and ensure that any agreements that are reached to deliver permanent peace deliver a solution to the oil problems as well.
The third news story related to Jonglei, one of the states in South Sudan. Apparently, South Sudanese Government forces were blocking aid for 120,000 people who had fled to Jonglei to escape ethnic fighting. It is estimated that seven of the 10 South Sudanese states are currently in turmoil, and that fighting is taking place there.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very well-informed and lucid speech. He has referred to events over the weekend, but is he aware that, as recently as last Sunday, an aerial attack carried out by the Sudanese air force on a village in Darfur killed a mother and her two children, aged five and seven? Sadly, the situation is ongoing.
The question of aerial bombardment features large across all the problem areas in Sudan. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) mentioned the situation in Blue Nile state, and there have been regular bombing incidents in South Kordofan and Darfur. The Sudanese Government are also laying landmines, which is another concern. Both those things are contrary to international conventions, and both of them are classified as war crimes: deliberately targeting civilians is classified as a war crime. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that four members of the Sudanese Government, including President Omar al-Bashir, are wanted by the international courts on war crime charges.
I would put South Sudan’s problems into two categories: they involve the relationship between South Sudan and north Sudan, but they also involve the internal problems facing South Sudan. There are many unresolved issues between Juba and Khartoum at present. We have talked about oil, so I will not dwell on that subject. There are also the problems over South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and the questions about their future. There was meant to be a consultation on the future of those two states, but it has not happened.
We have for years been promised a referendum in Abyei, so people in Abyei can decide whether they want to be part of the south or the north. Because many of the farmers in that area are migratory, there has been wrangling over the electoral roll for years; no decision can be reached, so there can be no agreement on a referendum. We have been promised that there will be a referendum this autumn, but we have been promised a referendum before, so we will have to wait and see whether it takes place.
There are also issues about support for rebel groups. Both the Sudanese Government and the South Sudanese Government are supporting rebel groups in each other’s territory. There are issues to do with the migration paths of pastoralists, too, who travel across the border on a seasonal basis. There are not just cross-border issues, however. South Sudan faces internal problems. There is conflict in seven of the 10 South Sudanese states. There is ethnic and tribal violence. South Sudan is not an elected democracy. Broad powers are given to the Executive, and we see high levels of corruption.
There is also a huge problem of lack of state capacity and infrastructure. South Sudan is one of the hardest places in the world to reach, and once there, it is incredibly difficult to travel about the country and reach some of the more isolated states.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. My wife was a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in South Sudan. Indeed, she was taken hostage there by rebel groups. She set up a camp from scratch for 100,000 people. She firmly believes that one of the problems now is that we have set up these camps in inhospitable places, where we have to resupply them and keep them going. By doing that, we have caused a problem in an area that cannot sustain such a large population. These camps attract people. Hard as it would have been, perhaps we should not have done so much.
I do not know that I agree with that, but my hon. Friend is right that many of the camps are very isolated and difficult to reach. There is some good news, however. A new camp has recently been completed at Ajoung Thok, and it has a very good reputation. The agencies are gradually moving people there from more isolated camps. They can supply them with food and water there, and allow them to start making the long-term decisions that will enable them to set down roots and start to develop livelihoods in those areas, because that is also a problem with humanitarian aid, and we have faced it in Sudan in the past. People are quick to supply food and emergency aid, but we are not so quick in providing more long-term solutions that allow people to survive and live on their own over time.
The hon. Member for Foyle mentioned non-governmental organisations, and while preparing for this debate we met representatives of a number of them. Normally when we speak to NGOs, we find that they are desperate for MPs to stand up in this Chamber to sing their praises and tell Members of this House about the good work they are doing. On Sudan and South Sudan the NGOs deliberately said, “No, we don’t want you to say what we’re doing. We don’t want you to say where we are doing it.” They face so many problems that they are afraid that if they highlight their situation, they may face repercussions. They have told us that they already face restrictions on visas, and the cost of permits is going through the roof. They are finding that it is becoming more restrictive to operate in both Sudan and South Sudan, and they asked us to make sure that when we talk about their situation, we talk in general terms rather than in specifics.
What we do know is that 1 million people remain displaced by the fighting, with more than 300,000 having been displaced since January—that is more than for the whole of last year. The problems in Sudan and South Sudan have not gone away; they are in a real mess. There is continued armed conflict and human rights abuse, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled and are living in camps.
This is a debate on the UK Government’s response to Sudan, so I wish briefly to mention the Sudan Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience Programme—SHARP—which the Department for International Development is running. The idea is to spend £67 million over three years, with half of that being in Darfur and the rest in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. The idea is to build household and community resilience, and to allow people to move on from aid dependence. It is a long-term project, and I congratulate the Minister and the Department on the work they are doing to ensure long-term success.
Sudan and South Sudan are not a problem that can be solved on its own by this country or by themselves; it needs all the international community to work together to help resolve the conflicts they face.
First, I congratulate the hon. Members responsible for securing today’s debate and ensuring that these issues were debated in this Chamber. I hope to take only a few minutes, because other hon. Members are experts on this area and I am most certainly not. However, I wish to put on the record my concerns and, as these have also been expressed to me by many constituents, it is good to have the opportunity to do so.
As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) pointed out, Sudan and South Sudan is very much an area of the world where because some progress appears to have been made, the problem appears to have been solved—we know it has not been—and the world’s attention has focused elsewhere; the world moves on and we pay attention to other crises. Although positive steps have clearly been taken in the establishment of South Sudan, the problem has not gone away. Nobody expected that South Sudan’s independence would suddenly solve the problems overnight, but all of us would probably not have expected such a deterioration in the situation since independence. Plenty of fighting is going on. We recognise that a full-scale war is not—we hope—on the agenda, but the deterioration of the situation is such that all sorts of crises will develop or get worse. Perhaps this has been a classic example of how it is always easy to start wars in different parts of the world but very hard to end them and solve the underlying difficulties.
Hon. Members have given examples of the problems. One is clearly the failure to ensure that the peace agreement reached in Ethiopia was implemented. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) pointed out, another is that the income levels of people in South Sudan have dropped, whereas those in the rest of Africa are increasing. That reflects the failure to resolve the issues concerning oil, which, as he pointed out, affect both South Sudan and Sudan. South Sudan could be one of the richest countries in Africa if the oil was being allowed to flow. So a resolution of that problem is important for all sides.
We have heard about the fighting, not just on both sides of, and across, the border between Sudan and South Sudan but within South Sudan, as well about the conflict and, to put it bluntly, repression continuing in Darfur. There are the issues with refugees and displaced persons to which the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) referred, as well as problems with the lack of free media and with the ability of NGOs to operate, which occur on both sides of the border. There are also issues with weaknesses in civil governance and, in many respects, worse than weaknesses as regards freedom in both countries. Food shortages are increasingly a problem in many parts of both countries. The ongoing problem persists in Darfur and we have not solved it 10 years on—in many ways, we have not moved forward. We continue to see repression and fighting. The responsibility does not lie in only one place, but clearly we know where the main responsibility lies.
I want to highlight, in keeping with the theme of the debate, what the UK can do to try to move matters in a more positive direction and I want to ask the Minister a number of questions about how the UK will continue to play a role. Many Members have mentioned the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. Clearly, its weaknesses are extreme and its mandate needs to be strengthened. We need more than that and I would be interested to know the UK Government’s view on how it can be taken forward.
The weaknesses of UNAMID also reflect the weaknesses in capacity of the UN and the African Union in the area. Much is made of the AU and of its weaknesses, but we should not forget that we increasingly expect it to play a major role in a number of different areas of conflict in Africa. It is involved in Mali, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Crises are developing in other areas. The situation is increasingly worrying in sub-Saharan Africa and, as the Minister will be aware, in the Central African Republic.
Donor fatigue is also an issue. Countries are not pledging the money that is needed or that has been promised. The UK has been good in that respect, but other countries have not, and I would be interested to know the Minister’s perspective on that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which the UK Government could continue to have a positive impact on both states would be to retain the Sudan unit? It was founded by our right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and it brings together the development, humanitarian and diplomatic functions of the UK Government in relation to both states. Would it not be a good idea in terms of aims such as expanding smallholder agriculture and empowering women in both states if we were able to retain the Sudan unit well into the future?
Absolutely. That brings me to my final point: although it is important to deal with the immediate, pressing crisis, we need to try to consider ways of establishing security for the long term. One important way of providing security as well as peace settlements that stand the test of time is to ensure that there is food security. That tackles some of the immediate crises affecting the community and, by removing some of them, relieves some of the pressure on Government.
The UK Government have taken the lead in many areas. They cannot solve all the problems themselves—no one ever suggested they should—but I would certainly like to know what the UK Government intend to do to take the situation forward, given the increasingly serious situation in many parts of Sudan and South Sudan.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on securing the debate, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley). South Sudan and Sudan are very important areas in Africa and when South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, the hopes of the world were there. Everybody thought it would work, albeit with many difficulties, including having to build a nation from scratch. Unfortunately, they are in a desperate situation. I visited the region with the Select Committee on International Development and our report shows a lot of the problems that there are.
As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester said, one cannot get about in South Sudan. One has to fly from one place to another, which is fine for us westerners going in, but impossible for the local population. There are about 15 km of made-up road in the whole country, which makes nonsense of local people trying to get anywhere.
So many people have been sent back from Khartoum even though they have lived there for generations. Because their origins are in South Sudan, they have been told that they are South Sudanese and they must return to their own country. However, the people who came from Khartoum and the surrounding areas spoke only Arabic. They may be well qualified—for example, as doctors or engineers. They had a wealth of western-style qualifications, but when they got back to South Sudan—they had never been there, neither had their parents or, in some cases, their grandparents, but they were classified as South Sudanese—they could not converse with the local people, who speak English as well as their own local language. So there was no way that those people, who were well qualified, could get jobs.
Those arriving in South Sudan had no homes to go to. They were put into camps, where there were no latrines. In the camp that we visited, there was open defecation, which is appalling, given that the area that we went to is often flooded. All the open defecation would then flood through the camp. The worry for the mothers of the children—some of the children had travelled with them and some had been born in the camp since they arrived—was that as there were no latrines, they had to go out quite a long way from the camp to be able to go to the toilet, which meant that they were frightened for their safety.
We, the UN and all the international agencies have a responsibility, when building camps, to provide latrines where children and women in particular can feel safe to go. None of that has happened in South Sudan. It must happen there and everywhere that camps are built; otherwise there will be rape and violence against women, girls and children, which is totally unacceptable.
There was no education going on for the people who had come back, so they could not even learn the local languages. They had no jobs to go to. Some of the people we met had been in the camp for nine months and had not even seen a doctor. One girl I spoke to had some form of chest infection. She was coughing badly, but she had had no access to any medical professional of any sort since she had been there. She had caught the chest infection or whatever it was on the march back, because the people had had to walk much of the way back to South Sudan. I keep saying “back” but of course it is not their home: they were born and brought up in Khartoum, but they had had to go to their place of origin.
It seemed to me that these people were being totally disadvantaged because the Sudanese Government had said, “We want everybody out.” It is still happening. We saw areas where the troops were and where there had been problems. We had to be very careful. The civil war that has been going on for generations in what had originally been Sudan has not stopped. We have heard today that there is no cessation to the civil war.
The humanitarian and development challenges in South Sudan remain and will continue for some time to come. We went there last year, but this year there are still people stranded at railway stations. Some 40,000 people remain stranded in open areas around Khartoum because they cannot get to South Sudan. A further 3,500 people have been stranded at Kosti railway station in White Nile state for more than 15 months. GDP is rising in other African countries by between 5% and 7%, but here it is bound to go down when such numbers cannot contribute to the country’s economic well-being.
My hon. Friend is a great advocate for international development. Far too often these trips are talked down, but clearly it is incredibly valuable to go there and speak from the heart and about the reality of what has happened. Much to my shame, I have not read the detail of the report. I would be interested in an analysis of its recommendations and to what degree the Government have already been able to respond and take action.
The Government are doing a lot of hard work and are working on the report’s recommendations. I do not have the report with me so I cannot go into the detail of each individual recommendation, but the coalition Government are working hard to alleviate the problems in South Sudan, and DFID is doing a lot of work in the Blue Nile area and South Kordofan. DFID is doing a huge amount of work with women and girls to make their lives much better. DFID is keen to promote the well-being and safety of women and girls, which have not been priorities for the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments. The previous Secretary of State for International Development sent a huge number of textbooks to the schools, but when we returned from South Sudan we met its Education Minister, who said that it was great to get the textbooks, but it does not have the buildings or teachers to put them to use. Not just the children but the adults coming from the north into South Sudan need education so that they can get jobs and be economically active. Often they are skilled people, having lived a western lifestyle, but they cannot function if they cannot speak the language. As we all know, the older one gets, the longer it takes to learn a language, although being immersed in it makes it much easier.
I strongly believe that South Sudan could still be a success if the fighting stopped. I do not believe that the UN is doing as good a job as it could. It could work much harder to reduce the conflict and to work with the people in the area to make sure that they are safe and feel safe. It is important that the oil flow continues, because with the oil will come prosperity. Both the north and the south can be prosperous. They need that income to be able to build South Sudan, which is a beautiful country and needs investment for people to survive. It needs roads, schools, and hospitals and medical care. The standard of the very few there are is very poor. The north of the country, as it was when it was united, has starved South Sudan of resources. In Khartoum and in the north it is great, but in the south no one has anything. Our Government are working hard to help and mediation work is going on, but we need to ensure that the south can build and renew itself and become a proper functioning country. Until then, and until the violence and war end, it will never succeed. It could succeed, but we will need to work very hard to provide all those services. Our Government are providing a lot, as are other Governments, but that needs to continue for some time to come.
It is an absolute pleasure to contribute to the debate. I congratulate the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing it and the Backbench Business Committee on giving the House an opportunity to state its commitment to the democratic process in Sudan and South Sudan. Like the other Members who have spoken, I am very interested in peace and development in both countries. It is essential that the British Government do everything in their power to apply diplomatic pressure and to offer practical help in order to see true peace and development in both countries.
Those Members who have heard me speak about Sudan before will know of my concern—it remains—about the persecution of Christians and how that relates to the development of those countries. Members have spoken about many issues relating to the conflict, such as the need for education, health, schooling, hospitals, better roads, jobs and so on, and the humanitarian needs. Those are all important, but we must also consider the persecution of Christians. Last month I read an interesting report, and I have been waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to Members’ attention. Now is that time.
Oil is the critical factor, as other Members have said. We are well aware of the impact oil can have and what it can lead to, so we know how important it is for Sudan and South Sudan. Last February I had the opportunity to visit Kenya with the armed forces parliamentary scheme and to meet some of those involved in eastern Africa and to hear the political overtures being made there. Many thought that the way to address the issue might be to take an oil pipeline through Kenya, but it was apparent from the discussions we had, and from the political point of view and that of the army, that Kenya seemed reluctant to do that.
The defeat of the Sudanese army in a battle with rebel forces last month prompted concerns that the Government will retaliate by increasing their already intense pressure on the country’s minority Christians. That cannot be allowed to happen. Sudan’s Minister for guidance and endowments, Al-Fatih Taj El-sir, announced in April that no new licences for building churches would be issued—I hope that we never have to appoint a Minister for guidance and endowments in this place, because it would be a sad day if we came to that. The Minister explained the decision by claiming that no new churches had been established since South Sudan’s secession in July 2011. That was due, in his opinion, to a lack of worshippers and a growth in the number of abandoned church buildings. The reason was that most of those people were being repatriated to South Sudan. He said that there was no need for any new churches. He also said that freedom to worship is guaranteed in Sudan, but quite clearly it is not.
Missionaries from my constituency are working in Sudan, and I have been made aware, through their church, of some of the things happening there. There is a real need for the Government to address the issue. I hope that the Minister will be able to do that in his winding-up speech. Days before that announcement, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reported that a senior South Sudanese Catholic priest, Father Maurino, and two expatriate missionaries had been deported on 12 April. The two missionaries, one from France and the other from Egypt, work with children in Khartoum. According to Father Maurino, no reason was given for the deportations. He added that Christians were in trouble in Sudan as the Government were seeking to Islamise the country and eliminate the Christian presence. That makes the humanitarian crisis even greater.
In a published briefing, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has stated that since December it
“has noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians and of those suspected of having links to them, particularly in Khartoum and Omdurman, Sudan’s largest cities. There has also been a systematic targeting of members of African ethnic groups, particularly the Nuba, lending apparent credence to the notion of the resurgence of an official agenda of Islamisation and Arabisation…The campaign of repression continued into 2013, with foreign Christians being arrested and deported at short notice, and those from Sudan facing arrest, detention and questioning by the security services, as well as the confiscation of property such as mobile phones, identity cards and laptops. In addition to the arrests and deportations, local reports cite a media campaign warning against ‘Christianisation’.”
Those cases have been backed up not only by Christian Solidarity but by Release International, Open Doors and many other missionary organisations and Churches.
William Stark, an Africa specialist for International Christian Concern, told WorldNetDaily that President Bashir had attempted to paint the rebels as Christian troublemakers. Let us put it clearly on record that that they are not. How dare Bashir blame those with Christian beliefs for what is taking place? His Government have been fighting insurgents, whom he has labelled “Christian troublemakers”. Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra has said that, despite the flimsy connection with Christianity, the Sudanese Government are calling for a war against those who do not believe in Islam or in jihad, and turning the teeth of their attacks on Christians.
I ask the Department for International Development or the Foreign Office to intervene and ascertain the intentions of Bashir and his Government. As things stand, Christian organisations representing missionaries and Churches are reporting that Churches have been closed and that foreign workers accused of proselytising have been expelled. Are the Government aware of this? What is being done to help those in that situation? To put it simply, there can be no peace and development in Sudan until there is an end to persecution. I ask the Minister to respond to these points and also to the points that have been made on humanitarian aid, health, education, roads and jobs, and on the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Sudan and South Sudan.
I join others in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for securing this debate, and to the extraordinary resilience of the people of Sudan and South Sudan, who have undergone what, for most of us, are unimaginable levels of suffering over the years. I also want to pay tribute to the international members of the non-governmental organisations, including the many British aid workers involved, and to their local partners. My former parliamentary researcher, Anna Harvey, was working in Sudan before she came to work for me in this place. She spoke of a beautiful country and of lovely, welcoming people, but the area in which she worked was engulfed in violence some years later.
What has happened to those beautiful countries is a great tragedy. We are talking about 500,000 people having died in Darfur province alone, and 2.5 million people still being dependent on food aid there. The hon. Member for Foyle was right to point out that the aid agencies pleaded with us for years not to ignore the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, but the international community was collectively very late in acting in a concerted way. He was also right to say that we must not let Darfur, Sudan and South Sudan slip off the political agenda again.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) pointed out the contrast between the two Sudanese countries and the rest of Africa, parts of which are now seeing phenomenal economic, political and democratic progress. Sudan and South Sudan are noticeably divergent in their failure to achieve development objectives or to make progress on human rights and democracy. People often say that war is development in reverse, and that is true. It is the continuing conflicts besetting those two countries that are responsible for this state of affairs.
I do not suppose many people thought that independence in 2011 would provide a magical cure to those conflicts, but many were more hopeful that some of the issues might be resolved after the Addis Ababa deal in 2012. However, we still have the unresolved issue of the border around Abyei, where the continuing lack of a referendum is inciting violence and encouraging attempts to displace people. There are also continued interruptions to oil supplies and a lack of oil flow, both of which are damaging the prosperity in the north and the south—and both sides are clearly supporting military rebels, in breach of the Addis Ababa agreement.
Another problem is that of regional terrorism, whereby support is sometimes given by, for example, groups in Yemen to groups in Sudan that want to undermine what is happening there. A lot of evidence suggests that there are dealings between the two groups of terrorists, who seek to undermine both countries.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge and I am sure he is right. One of the risks that we have seen time and again in the middle east and north Africa region is that instability and violence invite in even less desirable elements—if that is possible to imagine—who want to destabilise further the situation in their own interests.
I am happy to pay tribute to the British Government for being fully aware of the issues. In January, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development visited projects funded by the Department for International Development in Sudan, some of which address basic human rights. I gather that the water programme supported by DFID—this was probably the case under the previous Government, too—has now helped to provide access to clean drinking water for 800,000 people. I say to those who question whether it is right to spend 0.7% of our national income on international development that it is difficult to imagine money being spent more cost-effectively to provide such a huge number of people with such a basic thing as clean drinking water.
Another of the DFID projects that my hon. Friend visited promotes access to justice. This debate needs to address human rights and the rule of law, and many hon. Members have done so.
The Government’s most recent “Human Rights and Democracy” report discusses, as it has done for many years, Sudan, where human rights and democracy are, if anything, deteriorating. Political parties do exist, but there are frequent instances of harassment and imprisonment. Elections have taken place, but they are deeply flawed. Human rights defenders are detained and torture takes place. Other hon. Members have discussed instances of war crimes and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the persecution of Christians. Above all, there is continuing violence in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. It is sometimes difficult to escape the conclusion that the Bashir Government are almost using violence and interference in the oil supply for their own political ends in destabilising things and preventing democratic progress.
As the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) has said, the most recent report states that an Ethiopian peacekeeper who was part of the United Nations peacekeeping force was killed and others injured in a shelling incident. It is an even more worrying development if UN troops are not safe from artillery fire. The situation is deteriorating and I would be interested to hear the Minister say what has happened as a result of that incident.
The hon. Member for Foyle slightly criticised the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei. Although they may not be doing a perfect job, we have to acknowledge the courage of the UN peacekeepers and the difficult situation in which they have been placed.
It is difficult for us to influence the Government of Sudan directly, but there are countries with whom they are friendly. China plays a significant role and has traditionally been identified as a friend and economic partner of Sudan. What pressure could we put on China? It would be difficult to ask the Chinese to address human rights issues in Sudan when they are no angels themselves in that respect, but they could at the very least stress the economic importance of maintaining the oil flows and the need to achieve stability in order to allow prosperity to develop. I would have thought that the Chinese would see the benefit in doing that. Will the Minister address the possibility of discussions with China about the situation in north Sudan?
I think that many of us shared in the good will towards South Sudan on its independence. It is very sad to see its security forces also implicated in rape, torture and extrajudicial killing. The Government of South Sudan face a difficult situation, particularly given the crisis in oil revenues. If we think that we have difficulties with cuts, we should consider the idea of losing half our GDP. That would cause a complete financial crisis that any Government would struggle to cope with, let alone one in such a fragile and developing situation. The Government of South Sudan also face multiple instances of violent instability across the country. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) spoke well about the additional problem of forced displacements from the north.
We must try to understand the almost unimaginable problems faced by the Government of South Sudan. At the same time, they must receive the message loud and clear from the British Government that the good will that they had on independence will evaporate quite quickly if they do not try to address the human rights issues. If the abuses continue and if a culture of impunity is allowed to develop in South Sudan, as it clearly did in the north, that will be a worrying development.
It is to the credit of the South Sudanese Government that the terrible abuses in Jonglei state were followed by the arrest and charging of members of the state security forces who were involved. I would be interested to hear the latest news on that, but I have not heard of any prosecutions. It involved only a small number of people, so it would be good to hear whether progress is being made. However, there are also cases such as that of Deng Athuai Mawiir—excuse my pronunciation—the anti-corruption activist who was arrested. There is also the continuation of the death penalty. Even if we count only the official executions, there have been eight since independence.
Other Members have talked about the position of women. The south does have quite a good record. Some 26% of National Legislative Assembly seats are held by women and 12% of heads of Ministries, Departments and agencies are women. However, the overall position of women is not good and violence against women is widespread. It is part of the Government’s strategy to counter that.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s stated priorities are to support UN peacekeeping, to support the African Union high-level implementation panel, to give financial and technical support to UN agencies and others, and to support capacity building in institutions in the south. Those seem to be exactly the right priorities. That is the right strategy in an intensely difficult situation. The only thing that we can ask in this Chamber and in this debate is that, if it is humanly possible, we raise our game even further and encourage our international partners to do likewise. If we can do that, we might thereby offer a positive message and hope to the people of this pretty unhappy region.
May I, too, preface my remarks by congratulating the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on the way in which they introduced the debate? Their contributions were powerful and set out clearly the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of the problems.
It is right to celebrate the fact that South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, but it has had a troubled birth. There is an imperative on us, as a nation that cares, to demonstrate that we care through how we address the situation. This House is slowly but surely being sucked into a debate about and probably an action in another part of the world—Syria. I believe that this Government and this Parliament ought to have, if not more, then certainly equal concern about South Sudan and Sudan.
Since 2010-11, there has been utter silence about the situation in Sudan. That is a worrying trend, because the level of fighting has continued to rise and the humanitarian situation is again deteriorating. That conflict is being waged, but it is being met by total silence. That silence is a condemnation not of this House, but of the international community, who should be speaking out powerfully about the situation. It is a tribute to this House and to the Backbench Business Committee that this matter is the subject of debate today. This year alone, 300,000 people have been displaced in Sudan—another indictment of what is actually happening. If it were happening anywhere else, including parts of the middle east, it would be a matter for urgent questions and all sorts of other activities. I have some questions for the Minister, who I know will do his best to answer them, and I will reiterate some points that have been briefly touched on by other Members, as it is important to address them.
The Government of Sudan continue indiscriminately to target civilians with aerial bombardments. Such attacks are a clear violation of the UN Security Council’s resolution 1591, dated March 2005, which demands an end to such violence. What is the UN is going to do about resolution 1591? Will it insist that action is taken to protect citizens? Hon. Members have mentioned the atrocious attacks on civilians in the village of Jebel Marra, where there are already 500 orphans. The murder of a woman there on 16 June this year meant that two more children have been left without a mother. The Government of Sudan continue to obstruct aid agencies from operating freely within the region, and many of those agencies are struggling to cope with the 1.4 million people living in displaced persons camps with very little amenity—indeed, in many instances, with nothing. New arrivals are arriving practically every day to be faced with the opportunity to live under a tarpaulin shelter and scratch a living from the land.
That has been going on not for months or years but for more than a decade, which again is an indictment. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) was right to say that the UN is doing quite a lot—indeed, I think he said it is doing a good job—but if it has been paid $765 million by this Government and country since 2007, we would expect it to do a good job. The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur budget has cost an estimated $9.3 billion since 2007; one would have expected the problem to have been solved a long time ago. We are looking at a waste of resources, and I ask the Government to conduct an immediate inquiry into that expenditure to try to paint a picture of where the money is going, so that we can understand how it is being spent. For the life of me, I cannot understand how $9 billion has left a country in such an intolerable mess.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point and it is right to question the cost of UN operations. Does he accept, however, that in some of these examples it is more important to try to build capacity and to offer training and support to improve the effectiveness of UN forces, rather than berate them about the amount of money we have agreed to spend on them?
I absolutely agree, and believe me, I am not berating. If the hon. Gentleman saw me berating, he would understand what berating actually means. I am simply asking questions, because the amount of money being spent is obscene for the amount of result. That is a fair point that is not that critical of the UN, and I think we have the right to make it.
The Government have a role to support peace, as the motion rightly states. In any country that has emerged from conflict—I speak with some personal experience—when conflict ends, stability starts to take over, and with that flows commercial activity. Capitalism is often accused of being cowardly, but if there is stability, capital and activity will start to flow. The Government must explain how they intend to encourage UK business activity to flow into that country when, as I hope it will, stability slowly but surely starts to make a foundation. What support will they give to British businesses that seek to invest and help develop the structure of that country?
It is also important to ask the Government what security support our nation can give to South Sudan, so that it can protect its people, borders and integrity, and so that we can continue to celebrate the birth of that new nation. What other assistance can our Government give? Can we encourage the UN to give money for the protection of the border, so that oil resources can be properly utilised and so that oil can properly flow, to allow the development of infrastructure and expenditure on South Sudan’s people?
I reiterate that the awful activities that in many instances are generated in Sudan against its neighbour are done not in the name of the ordinary people of Sudan, but in the name of a wrong regime. The regime must be challenged, but we must not penalise the ordinary people of Sudan because of it. As the Minister well knows, that is an incredibly difficult balance to achieve, but it is important that we spell out that principle loud and clear.
I thank the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for initiating the debate. He has done a great service in bringing the subject of Sudan and South Sudan to the House two years after it was last discussed in detail. I commend all contributors to the debate. They spoke with passion, eloquence and authority on the dreadful situation that prevails in Sudan.
I pay tribute to the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan. All-party groups have, sadly, had a bit of a bad press of late, but this debate is a strong and powerful answer to those who criticise them. We have heard the personal testimony of those who have been to Sudan and South Sudan; they have been able to inform the debate with their personal recollections, which makes all hon. Members do our jobs better. So well done to the all-party group and all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate.
The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) spoke with great insight, authority and passion about the situation on the ground, the difficulties people face, and how the hopes we had when South Sudan separated have unfortunately not been realised. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) highlighted an important aspect of the debate, namely that there are UN resolutions in place. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) was right to question where the money has gone, because it is important that we hold all institutions to account, including the Government—that is the job of all hon. Members—the UN and those bodies that are established by it. If the job is not being done, it is our obligation to hold those institutions to account, and I am sure the Minister will do so.
The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) spoke of her personal experience of Sudan as a member of the International Development Committee, and particularly of women’s issues, the refugee camps and the inadequacies of the sanitation systems, which we need to improve. An important part of any new state is governance. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of the importance of religious freedom. The suppression of Christianity is not acceptable anywhere, including Sudan. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) spoke with his usual eloquence. He brought to the Chamber the experience of colleagues from his office who have worked in Sudan, and of the difficult situation that prevails.
The hon. Member for North Antrim spoke with great authority and presented the dilemma of what an international policy can achieve. The previous Government pursued an international policy, which the coalition Government continued with real commitment. Frankly, it is not working. It is now more than 10 years since the Sudanese Government launched military action against armed groups in Darfur, leading to the deaths of more than 300,000 Darfuris and the displacement of 3 million people. We heard from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) that the problems in Sudan go back even further than that. The various examples cited in the debate show that the fundamental causes of the conflict remain. One can only feel for the people of Sudan and we must stand with them in sympathy and solidarity. The central fact is this: the appalling crisis that happened before is happening again. I listened to all the contributions to the debate, and I am sure the Minister did too. We need to work collectively to make progress and support the Government in holding international institutions to account.
We heard about the work carried out by NGOs and charitable organisations. They have provided us with examples of the difficulties on the ground and make a profound contribution to the day-to-day lives of individuals who have to live in a very difficult situation. Without their support, that situation would be worse. The security situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate. The Government of Sudan appear to continue to target civilians. Violence, insecurity and civilian displacement have increased since 2010, and rape and sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war. UN Security Council resolutions continue to be flouted.
International and media attention focuses on South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the conflict between the Sudanese Government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army continues. There is a danger that the situation in Blue Nile and South Kordofan will turn into a longstanding conflict like that in Darfur. That must be averted at all costs. Recent figures from the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs state that, just since January, more than 300,000 people have been displaced by inter-tribal fighting or conflict between armed movements in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. According to figures from the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission for government-controlled areas and from the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency for SPLM-N areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, more than 1 million people remain displaced or are severely affected by fighting. There are more displaced people this year so far than there were in the whole of last year. The situation is truly desperate, and addressing the conflict in these two areas is fundamental to finding a lasting peace between Sudan and South Sudan.
I was struck that Sudan was not mentioned once in Foreign Office questions today. That is why we need to thank the hon. Member for Foyle. There are so many other pressing issues at the moment, but the scale and breadth of the challenge in Sudan is profound. We ask the Government to press the UN Security Council to support and protect people across Sudan, particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. The UK must continue to press the Sudanese Government and rebel movements to work towards peace. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. Recently, the UN’s Valerie Amos said:
“We cannot let Darfur slip off the radar of the international community”.
Unfortunately, that appears to have happened. In Blue Nile state—an area held by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army—there have been multiple scorched earth offensives. The humanitarian situation for those remaining there is dire, with civilians unable to tend their crops for fear of being bombed and food supplies scarce. The Sudanese Government continue to block humanitarian relief to civilians in rebel-held areas. We must ensure that access is given to UNAMID, humanitarian organisations and NGOs.
We hope that recent signs of co-operation and progress between the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments continue. If it has been happening, it is probably due to international pressure, including from the UK and US Governments. We need to keep the pressure on. What are the Government doing to engage with the international community and to put pressure on the Sudanese Government and rebels to cease fighting? What recent engagements has the Minister had with international counterparts to help improve the prospects of a solution to the conflict in Sudan? Were Sudan and South Sudan an item for discussion at the G8 summit, and what steps were taken at the summit to address these issues? What discussions has the Minister had with the African Union high-level implementation panel to try to agree a transition to peace in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states? Will he update the House on progress with Qatar on the implementation of the 2011 Doha document for peace in Darfur?
This has been a harrowing debate. We have heard from all Members about the dreadful state of affairs that continues in Sudan and South Sudan. This is an issue on which the House needs to come together and work with the Government and international institutions to try to remedy the international community’s failure in Sudan and South Sudan over the past decade. It is important that we work together, and I am certain that the Minister will do his utmost to take the work forward in the days, weeks and months ahead.
I begin by congratulating all hon. Members who have participated in this important debate. Their knowledge was exemplified by and built on the visits that people have clearly made to this important and challenging part of Africa. I agree with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on the importance of the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan and its significant contribution to highlighting the importance of this issue in the House. He was right to mention that this subject was not raised in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions this morning, but to be fair to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), he certainly managed to raise it in the previous FCO questions, and I have no doubt that he and other hon. Members will do so again.
I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle not only on securing this debate but on the detailed and passionate way in which he introduced the topic, highlighting the significant problems that exist. He was absolutely right to raise the challenges that exist, particularly the humanitarian crisis. If I have time later, I will say a little more about what we and the Department for International Development are doing about that. I join him and other hon. Members in putting on the record our recognition of the bravery and commitment of many non-governmental organisations in the work they do on the ground, albeit without being specific, as they request. He also raised the significant role of UNAMID, which is a joint UN-African Union force. It also needs to be put on record that Robin Gwynn, who is a senior FCO official and the United Kingdom’s special envoy to Sudan, is in Darfur today to discuss exactly how to reinvigorate the peace process and how we can support UNAMID and give it a greater focus.
The hon. Gentleman was also right to highlight the terrible suffering in Blue Nile state and South Kordofan—suffering that is sadly stretching and expanding into North Kordofan—and the importance of trying to ensure that the international community gets humanitarian access into those parts of Sudan when it is safe to do so. I can give the hon. Member for Wrexham an assurance that we are co-operating and discussing with multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union, as well as through the troika—the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, which work together closely on these issues—and with other organisations, such as the Arab League, which also has an important role to play.
The hon. Member for Foyle was absolutely right to highlight the current deterioration of the situation in Darfur and the attacks on UNAMID, which have continued. We have also seen tribal clashes over land, which means that this is not a simple matter of the South Sudanese forces attacking those tribal groups. Things are much more complicated than that, but that does not take away from the suffering that is occurring. More than 300,000 people have been displaced this year—more than in the last two years—and 1.4 million internally displaced people are already in camps in Darfur. We are doing what we can to alleviate the human suffering and the humanitarian situation, and we certainly press the Government of Sudan very strongly to honour their commitment under the Doha peace agreement and allow unhindered humanitarian access.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the risk that aid for Darfur will be used by the Government. I can give him an assurance that UK assistance in Darfur is delivered through UN agencies and NGOs and is carefully targeted specifically to benefit ordinary Darfuris, not Government institutions. Indeed, after the Doha conference there were significant and detailed strategic talks to ensure that all donor assistance is targeted in that way.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) made an informed and knowledgeable speech. He was absolutely right to say how highly regarded the United Kingdom still is in Sudan and to talk about the significant educational links that exist. He also raised the importance of the humanitarian challenges, quite rightly highlighting the excellent work of the NGOs. If I may build on the sad point he made about the Ethiopian peacekeeper who was killed, we utterly condemn the attack. Indeed, last night I had the sad task of writing to the Ethiopian Foreign Minister to express our condolences at the loss of a young female Ethiopian peacekeeper.
My hon. Friend was also right to highlight the importance of oil to both economies and to acknowledge and congratulate those officials in the Foreign Office and DFID who work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering and do what they can to find lasting solutions to the problems that have dogged Sudan and South Sudan for far too many years. I can confirm to him that their focus on DFID, in addition to alleviating humanitarian suffering, is about building accountable, capable and responsive government, public financial management through the anti-corruption commission and supporting civil society.
I am grateful for that intervention. The Department for International Development does that sort of project, and the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of putting in place sustainable economic policies to give people a stake in the community and to be able to provide for themselves and their families in a sustainable way. Ultimately, that is the only way we are going to break the cycle of conflict.
Another key point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester was the prevention of humanitarian access in Jonglei. I can give him an assurance that we consistently raise our concerns with the Minister for humanitarian affairs and did so only yesterday. Additional officials in the FCO and DFID Sudan unit are today meeting the South Sudanese foreign affairs ministry to make that point very forcefully again.
We then heard from the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), who was absolutely right to reiterate and highlight the powerful point about the suffering of refugees. He was right to highlight, too, weak civil governance and food shortages. He made a very important point about the effectiveness of UNAMID. I share his concerns and those of his right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) about the performance of UNAMID in respect of its core mandate to protect civilians. I can give him an assurance that the UK is working with the UN and the troop-contributing countries to improve the performance of troops and that we regularly raise with the Government of Sudan the restrictions placed on the mission by the Sudanese authorities, which are completely unacceptable. Officials are in regular touch with Mr Chambas, the new head of UNAMID, about more effective management of the mission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) was absolutely right to highlight the lack of infrastructure in South Sudan, and the importance of roads for economic development and economic growth. She further emphasised the point that other hon. Members made about the importance of oil revenues and keeping the oil flowing to build up infrastructure and capacity. She also highlighted, with great articulation, the practical problems of flooding, lack of jobs and language difficulties, not to mention the significant economic challenges. We share those concerns about the situation of those of southern origin, who have been required to leave Sudan following the independence of South Sudan. DFID has provided financial support specifically to respond to the humanitarian and resettlement needs of the returnees.
Let me deal now with the important contribution of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who focused his remarks on problems with religious freedom and the persecution of Christians. We are very concerned about the increase in the number of reports in recent months of intimidation and threats to Christians and to church premises—from other groups and, significantly, from parts of the Sudanese security services—as well as of the deportations of individual Christians of foreign origin. Our officials in Khartoum have, together with the EU, met members of the Sudanese Government to raise our significant concerns. In particular, we have urged them to investigate the attack on Christian individuals and properties. It is also worth emphasising that the UK embassy is providing assistance in a consular capacity to foreign Christians who have been affected by these problems.
Briefly, if I may, I would like to put on record even though I am a Minister in the Foreign Office, some of the very significant and important work being done by the Department for International Development, both in Sudan and South Sudan. The work focuses on responding to the underlying causes of conflict and its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable in Sudan—displaced people, particularly girls and women, the urban poor and the disadvantaged young. DFID will work to tackle the impact of unequal allocation of finance and unequal access to basic services.
Some of the figures are quite extraordinary, so let me quickly trot some of them out. About 800,000 people have been given access to clean drinking water; 20,000 young people have been helped to obtain education and training; 80,000 people have access to financial services; 10,000 sq km of land have been returned to productive use—the hon. Member for Strangford alluded to that—and 250,000 women and girls have improved access to security and justice. The list goes on, and it relates only to northern Sudan. In the southern part, our aid has enabled 2 million children to go through primary school, provided 750,000 people with malaria prevention and treatment, provided food security for 250,000 people, and given 470,000 people access to clean water and sanitation. Significant outcomes have been achieved, thanks to UK taxpayers’ money.
As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) made a very articulate speech. One of the key issues that he rightly raised was the influence that China can have in encouraging better behaviour on the part of the Sudanese Government, and we agree that it can play an important role in encouraging the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to resolve their problems and build stability. We have regular discussions with China about Sudan in Beijing and at the Security Council in New York, as well as through our respective embassies in the two countries. I welcome China’s clear statement last week that Sudan should not shut down oil production, but should implement all agreements on their merits.
It was, perhaps, fair for the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) to suggest that there had been “silence” in the House, but I assure him that there has not been silence in Government Departments, in the United Nations, or elsewhere in international multilateral organisations in regard to the significant challenges faced by both countries. He rightly mentioned the importance of business, and I can give him a categorical assurance that DFID is working to improve the business environment in northern Sudan. He may be interested to learn that in the autumn an international investment conference will take place in Juba, in South Sudan, with the aim of stimulating inward investment and sustainable job creation in the area. He also rightly referred to the tension and the difficult balance that sometimes exists between the regime in northern Sudan and the wish to support the long-suffering people.
The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the cost-effectiveness of the United Nations missions. I was in New York 20 days ago, discussing that very issue with key UN officials. We have supported a UN review of the military and the civilian elements of the mission over the past year. That has led to some reductions in the size of the mission, intended to improve the focus on its core mandate, and we will continue to work with the relevant UN department to improve the mission’s performance on the ground. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of security support for South Sudan, and I can tell him that we are working with the international community to assist the reform of security services there. The cross-departmental conflict pool is funding a major project to improve the leadership and accountability of the southern Sudanese armed forces.
A major challenge clearly faces the two countries in the context of their bilateral relationships and their relationships with the regional and broader international communities. There is a huge amount of work to be done before Sudan and South Sudan can finally put this regrettable chapter of their history behind them. I urge the two Governments, with the support of the international community, to focus on ensuring that any influence that they have over armed groups in each other’s territories is used to positive rather than negative effect. We must all co-operate, co-ordinate and provide assistance to ensure that the nine-point plan that was detailed at the United Nations General Assembly last September is implemented in full as quickly as possible, to the benefit of people living in both countries.
I thank all Members for their passionate contributions to the debate. Alas, although many important issues were raised, none of what we said did justice to the scale and nature of the problems faced by the people of Sudan and South Sudan, or bore adequate witness to the quality of the work and commitment of so many non-governmental organisations and others.
The issues raised have been addressed by both the Minister and the shadow Minister, and I appreciate the fact that the Minister has responded to Members’ questions, including those passed on to us by others, as we engaged in the subject through the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan and other channels.
Many useful questions were asked about UNAMID and the United Nations, and an important message was sent about the competence and value of their involvement. We cannot just casually go with yet another international agency, perhaps with a big money spend; we are talking about what is meant to be a serious international intervention in a tragic situation, and it does not seem to be delivering what it should. That may in part be because we have not held it to account or followed through on the financial commitment or on the parliamentary scrutiny to the extent that we have elsewhere. Perhaps we need to shake up our own priorities.
In my opening remarks, I did not have time to acknowledge last year’s very good report on South Sudan from the International Development Committee, so I am glad that the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) stressed its importance. She reflected in a poignant and personal way the practical implications for, and experiences of, the people in South Sudan. That report bears more reading and reflection. Perhaps another of the procedural tweaks or adjustments that we need to make is to ensure that when there is a quality report by a Committee, we give it time in the House. Members should not be left to busk a year later at the Backbench Business Committee in order to secure a debate such as this one.
I thank all the Members who contributed today. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) helped secure the debate and highlighted a number of points. He praised the thinking behind the South Sudan Health Action and Research Project, or SHARP. There are questions to be asked about that project, but I do not think any of us question the motive behind it. How it translates into practice and its budgetary resource commitment and long-term backing are what is important.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised points that were addressed by the Minister and the shadow Minister, as did the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) rightly cautioned us about the need to ensure that whatever criticisms we make of UNAMID, we do not say or do anything that negates the bravery of those serving in that difficult situation.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) made some very important points, and he was not in “berater” mode. He is certainly never in traitor mode, but the fact that he was not in “berater” mode was a novelty. He asked about UN resolution 1591; I am just glad it was not 1690.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), rightly highlighted the importance of many issues, and put salient questions to the Minister, which he, in turn, addressed well. I was also grateful for the interventions from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain)—who chairs the all-party group on Sudan and South Sudan—the hon. Member for Workington (Sir Tony Cunningham) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz).
A number of Members talked about the position of women and children in both countries. It is a salient statistic that a girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary education. South Sudan has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. That is why we need to be thinking about these countries and paying attention to last year’s Select Committee report. We also need to be addressing the question rightly asked by people such as the hon. Member for Wrexham: if Sudan and South Sudan are not being discussed at the G8 but other countries suffering conflict are, what is the difference? We can explain in all sorts of strategic and regional ways what the difference is, but we need to make sure that there is no difference as far as our sincerity, our motive and the level of our humanitarian commitment are concerned.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Government’s role in supporting peace and development in Sudan and South Sudan.