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South Sudan

Volume 729: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces in the context of the Republic of South Sudan’s independence.

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned by the continuing violence and humanitarian situation in Southern Kordofan. We call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and full humanitarian access. We fully welcome the Framework Agreement on Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, signed in Addis Ababa under African Union auspices, as a step in the right direction, but this needs to be implemented and followed up. We also welcome the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1990 which, together with the signing of an Abyei interim agreement, paves the way for a swift withdrawal of Sudanese armed forces from Abyei and the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops under a UN mandate.

My Lords, my noble friend did not mention the UNMIS report, which has not been published, on the regime’s devastating attacks on the Nuba people in these three territories and, particularly, in South Kordofan where Ahmed Haroun, the governor after a disputed election, is wanted by the ICC for war crimes. Does my noble friend agree that the UN decision to send a mere 4,200 troops to Abyei and none to South Kordofan is woefully inadequate in the face of an incipient genocide of the Nuba people in the whole region? Will the UK remind the Security Council that the responsibility to protect applies in these territories to a far greater extent than it did in Libya?

My noble friend is right to point to the reports of atrocities. I think he is referring to the report initiated by the UN Mission in South Sudan and these regions, which makes very grim reading indeed. As far as we understand its contents, it is extremely worrying. In fact, my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State, Mr Bellingham, who, incidentally, is in Sudan at this moment, was at the United Nations a few days ago and urged that the report should be put to the UN Security Council for full consideration. We are fully aware of that aspect of things. As to sending more troops, the problem at the moment is, as my noble friend knows, that the Khartoum Government are trying to veto any further extension of the UN troop mandate of the UNMIS mandate. That has to be overcome, and it is not easy for the United Nations to begin to meet the security needs through adequate troop provision by the UN over and above the Ethiopian mission I have already mentioned.

My Lords, when I was in Juba last week for the joyful celebrations of the independence of the peoples of the south, I had the opportunity to meet leaders from Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. They all expressed grave concern over President al-Bashir’s stated policy of turning the Republic of Sudan into an Arab Islamic state. What is Her Majesty's Government’s assessment of al-Bashir’s policies with regard to the ethnic and religious minorities in those areas of the Republic of Sudan and, indeed, in all the Republic of Sudan?

The assessment we have is based on the wisdom and experience of the noble Baroness and on the visit of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to Juba 10 days ago for the independence celebrations. Our assessment is not at all encouraging. There is a clear attempt to use extremely violent methods and to carry them out in South Kordofan, the Blue Nile area and the Nuba mountains where some horrific things have gone on. This is not at all encouraging. President al-Bashir has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court. The pattern that has been pursued is a mixture. At least he did turn up at the celebrations in Juba, which was a positive act, and one hopes that more positive aspects will appear, but at the moment, there is not much sign of them.

I wish to return to the leaked UN documents. The report states that 73,000 people have been displaced and that 7,000 people who were not taken into the compound have disappeared. The situation has been described as resembling Srebrenica. There are aerial photographs of mass graves. So why has the UN remained silent about such disturbing evidence? As a member of the Security Council, what exactly is the United Kingdom doing when a sovereign Government in Khartoum are refusing to allow anyone to investigate what is happening and are continuing to obstruct essential humanitarian aid to the very needy people of South Kordofan?

The noble Baroness is right and reinforces what I was saying a moment ago. This report is extremely worrying and full of evidence of really serious atrocities. She has further elaborated and underlined that. The question is what the UN agencies, UNMIS itself and the reporting authorities are going to do about it. I have to tell the noble Baroness that as far as the British Government and my honourable friend Mr Bellingham, who was at the United Nations, are concerned, our urging has been that this report should go forward to the Security Council and be fully discussed in the light of the grim and terrible reports that it contains. That is the position so far. I cannot tell the noble Baroness exactly what is going to happen next or how it will be handled, but that is HMG’s position on the matter.

My Lords, on the report that the noble Lord has referred to and which I sent him a copy of yesterday, he will recall that two weeks ago I sent him a report from Kadugli where UNMIS soldiers themselves were responsible for handing over people who were seeking refuge in the refugee camp there—“like lambs to the slaughter”, according to a witness. What does this tell us about the nature of peacekeeping in Southern Sudan and of the UNMIS force itself? Are we intending to refer these crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, not least because of the thousands of people who are trapped in the Nuba mountains and suffering from aerial bombardment?

I can only repeat what I said earlier. The noble Lord very kindly sent me a copy of this report, as did a number of other people. As I have already said twice, it makes very grim reading. The noble Lord has rightly raised the quality and behaviour of existing UN troops a number of times. Of course we are worried that there was inadequate behaviour or that troops stood aside while people were dragged from their cars and shot, and so on. We have encouraged the Under-Secretary-General at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to examine these claims very carefully and to bear them very strongly in mind when and—I regret to say—if a new mandate can be agreed and established for UN forces after independence, the original UNMIS mandate having finished. This is a very serious issue and one which we are watching very closely indeed.