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South Sudan

Volume 736: debated on Monday 26 March 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what provisions they are making to support the Government of South Sudan, with particular reference to the development of good governance and responding to the humanitarian crisis.

My Lords, I should inform the Grand Committee that if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for contributing to this debate. I will focus primarily on the humanitarian crisis aspect of the question because of the scale of suffering and because it is difficult to develop good governance for people in destitution and danger with a hostile neighbour potentially destabilising a fledging nation. President al-Bashir has stated his objective of turning the Republic of Sudan into a unified, Arabic, Islamic nation and is pursuing policies to achieve this, including targeted air bombardment of the African people of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and denial of access by aid organisations to victims of his offences.

In Abyei, after fighting erupted last May over 120,000 indigenous Ngok Dinka fled to South Sudan. Although some civilians have returned to locations near the town, many still remain in camps in Bahr-El-Ghazal. Last year, I visited one of the improvised camps with my organisation, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, where we saw acute shortages of essential supplies causing great hardship to those refugees. In South Kordofan, over 300,000 people have been displaced by Khartoum’s targeted aerial bombardment of civilians and ruthless murder of individuals. Khartoum is denying access by aid organisations to people in dire need. Refugees arriving in camps in South Sudan, such as Yida, have walked for days without food or water and Khartoum has even bombed the camps inside South Sudan. When refugees arrive there, they are so terrified of bombs their first priority is to dig a shelter to try to provide protection.

Reports from Blue Nile describe offensives and atrocities perpetrated by the Government of Sudan similar to those in South Kordofan: aerial bombardment by Antonovs and helicopter gunships, denial of access for humanitarian aid, extrajudicial killings, detentions and torture of civilians and looting of civilian properties. Eighty thousand refugees have fled from Blue Nile into Upper Nile in South Sudan, where they reported that they had also been subject to aerial bombardment by Khartoum. The UN has warned that half of the camps for refugees in Blue Nile in South Sudan will be underwater during the imminent rainy season with dire consequences.

There are also numerous reports of intimidation and assaults on Southern Sudanese living in the Republic of Sudan, including a continuation of Khartoum’s well documented policy of enslavement. It is well known that hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese were abducted and enslaved in the north during the war, and many are still missing. Now, there are reports of further abductions, especially of boys, who are forced to serve in Khartoum’s armed forces. Tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese are now fleeing from the north to a devastated South Sudan, which is already inundated with refugees from Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. For example, 86,000 returnees arrived in Unity state, which is equivalent to 15 per cent of the host population. According to Bishop Moses Deng of the Anglican diocese of Wau in Bahr-El-Ghazal:

“The returnees from northern Sudan are repatriated to South Sudan carrying nothing with them except their sleeping mats and blankets on which they put their shrunken limbs and protect their empty bellies from cold or heat”.

I had the poignant privilege of attending the independence day celebrations last July and witnessed the people’s ecstatic celebration of freedom from a Government who had killed, enslaved and oppressed them for decades. However, the new Government of South Sudan, emerging from years of war, have to try to develop democracy in the context of devastation and destitution, a destroyed infrastructure, widespread illiteracy for a generation of children unable to attend school because of constant bombardment and such a shortage of healthcare that over 85 per cent of people have no immunisation and are vulnerable to diseases such as polio, TB, diphtheria and tetanus. One in seven mothers dies in pregnancy or childbirth and one in seven children dies before the age of five.

A catastrophic food shortage is also looming. A report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme, which was published on 13 February, warns that below average harvests in 2011, insecurity and conflict in many areas, increased demand from the growing number of IDP, refugee and returnee populations and high cereal prices may result in nearly 4.7 million people in South Sudan facing hunger this year if urgent action is not taken.

It is hard to build democracy on empty stomachs, and the challenges facing the new Government of South Sudan have been massively exacerbated by its neighbour the Republic of Sudan. There is widespread concern that the people of South Sudan are perceiving Her Majesty’s Government’s responses as inadequate. Al-Bashir’s policies are so systematically ruthless that they have been described as crimes against humanity and genocide. The catalogue of violations of human rights has been chronicled over the years with devastating authority by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Satellite Sentinel Project and UN human rights investigators. There have also been numerous reports of what is increasingly seen as the racist dimension of Khartoum’s assaults against its African citizens in Darfur, Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Time allows only one typical example. A Nuba resident of Kadugli told Agence France-Presse that a member of the paramilitary Khartoum Popular Defence Forces said that they had been provided with plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order:

“He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up. He told me he saw two trucks of Nuba people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town”.

After Rwanda, the British Government famously said that they will never condone another genocide, but this is precisely what they are now perceived to be doing. The African peoples of Sudan and South Sudan, having seen Britain’s powerful intervention in Libya, are beginning to wonder whether the UK’s foreign policy is influenced by some racism. Far more people have been killed and displaced in Sudan and South Sudan than in Libya but, as they see it, the British Government merely continue to talk with Khartoum. For years, the British Government have talked while Khartoum has continued to kill. I have been making this point in your Lordships’ House for two decades and it grieves me beyond words that I have to do so again today.

There are sometimes implications in statements by Her Majesty’s Government of a kind of moral equivalence comparing Khartoum’s ruthless policy of the slaughter of its civilians with policies adopted by the Government of South Sudan, but the systematic and ruthless targeted aerial bombardment causing widespread death, injury, destruction and displacement of civilians is a policy exclusively used by Khartoum.

I shall conclude by asking the Minister five questions. First, now that the United Kingdom has assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council, will Her Majesty's Government support an initiative for an international independent committee of inquiry to be sent by the UN Security Council to Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile to investigate and report on human rights violations and abuses, and allegations of crimes against humanity? Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government also consider targeted sanctions, including a UK trade embargo and diplomatic sanctions imposed on senior politicians in Khartoum’s ruling party, and downgrading diplomatic relations with the Government of Sudan from full ambassador level?

Thirdly, will Her Majesty’s Government promote the cessation of official arms transfers and initiate action against companies which sell military equipment to Khartoum to reduce Khartoum’s capacity to wage war on its own citizens? Fourthly, will Her Majesty’s Government work with the international community to do much more to ensure arrangements for urgent delivery of aid into South Kordofan and Blue Nile before the rainy season makes delivery of aid impossible? Finally, will Her Majesty’s Government help the Government of South Sudan to meet the urgent needs for food aid, healthcare and education so massively exacerbated by the vast numbers of refugees and returnees?

If the Minister can respond positively to some of these requests, this might reassure those who are deeply disturbed by the perceived failure of Her Majesty’s Government so far to respond more appropriately to the continuing atrocities, perceived as tantamount to genocide, perpetrated by Khartoum against its own people; and also demonstrate a robust commitment to assisting the new Republic of South Sudan to emerge from decades of war and humanitarian crises into the stable democracy and freedom for which its people have paid such a high price, for which they yearn and which they deserve.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on putting forward such a powerful argument. Those of us who follow these events are very grateful. African Union mediators have reported that South Sudan and Sudan have agreed a framework to give their citizens basic freedoms in both nations allowing, “freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose of property”.

If this agreement in principle holds, unlike earlier deals, it will remove the threat hanging over at least 700,000 southerners that from 8 April, they would be treated as foreigners unless they obtained residency or work permits. Apparently the Government of South Sudan are committing some $17 million to the repatriation, with the support of the International Organization for Migration by plane, barge, road and now rail. Can the Minister say whether this framework agreement is holding? What action are our Government taking to assist the Government of South Sudan in this repatriation process, particularly in ensuring that the freedom of residency agreement materialises?

The first train to travel under the safe return process has reached South Sudan carrying 2,300 returnees. They add to the 360,000 returnees registered last year by the IOM and the 2.5 million previously. There remain huge reintegration challenges, primarily through the slow allocation of land by the Government with inadequate title complicated by the lack of basic transport, education and health infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, and a lack of economic stimulus throughout.

Will the Minister confirm that every support is being given to encourage UK VSO personnel from the state sector who are now being posted to South Sudan as trainers and that no disincentives are arising? Can she confirm they will suffer no loss of pension rights while absent from their state employment in this country, whether they are health workers, teachers, police officers or any others engaged in the state sector?

There is growing revulsion over the actions of the Sudanese Armed Forces against the civilians, women and children, living in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and other areas contested by Sudan and South Sudan. Over 400,000 people have been displaced and 300,000 people are facing severe food shortages. The architect of the violence in Darfur, indicted war criminal and current Governor of South Kordofan Ahmed Haroun, is believed to be directing the assault on the Nuba people.

Although access remains very restricted, alarming reports are surfacing of the deliberate targeting of civilians, the use of chemical weapons and the presence of mass graves. A UNMISS staff member reported seeing the bodies of some 150 Nubians in the grounds of a Sudanese Armed Forces compound, all shot dead. An UNMISS contractor witnessed the SAF filling in mass graves near Tillo. Other staff gathered evidence of more fresh mass graves near the state capital Kadugli. Meanwhile, the Sudanese continue to block access to live-saving humanitarian aid. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to member states to make available military utility helicopters. UNMISS has to overcome the critical shortage that has arisen after Russia withdrew all its helicopters and crew from the mission earlier in the year. Fighting has since broken out around Pibor in Jonglei, bordering north Sudan, due to the slow deployment of UN troops without helicopters. Do the Government intend to respond positively to the appeal from Ban Ki-moon?

Leading international human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Aegis, together with campaigners such as Dr Mukesh Kapila, the former head of the UN in Sudan, are spearheading a public campaign to end the violence towards civilians by the SAF. Do our Government agree that the failure to end indiscriminate bombing or, worse, the intentional targeting and murder of civilians requires swift and effective action by the international community? Will the UK lead the way?

My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her consistent highlighting of the issues faced by the Government of South Sudan as they attempt to establish a civil society which is robust in peace building and the provision of basic services. I am also grateful to the Department for International Development for its work in seeking to ensure a peace dividend for South Sudan and for Sudan, too. I would be grateful for comment on what more can be done to ensure that finance and funding mechanisms are in place for the medium term to support peace building, humanitarian relief and long-term development work.

The churches and faith-based organisations are among those best placed to help in the provision of aid and mediation at a local level within South Sudan. The Anglican Episcopal Church of Sudan, under the leadership of Archbishop Deng, to whom the noble Baroness has already referred, has continued to work ecumenically and with aid organisations both north and south of the border. It seems to me that one of the great advantages of the fact that the Anglican Church has not split into a Sudanese and a South Sudanese church is that it can work across the border and provide support on both sides of it. The churches have often been able to maintain unfettered access to villages at times of crisis and violence and to respond both in mediation and with humanitarian aid. Can the Minister say what progress is being made on the need to stabilise the political situation in and around Abeyi and whether she believes that the international community can do more to support local mediation efforts, including those led by the church, such as recently in Jonglei state? Humanitarian aid remains crucial. The threatened doubling of the cereal deficit in 2012 means that a new emphasis is needed on food security from the international community in support of the World Food Programme. Again, there is a major issue working with local communities so that food is able to reach those in most need of it.

I would like to focus for a moment on education, in which the churches continue to have a historic involvement both north and south of the border. The diocese of Salisbury in this country, and indeed Lambeth Palace, have had a long-established concern to support the Episcopal Church of Sudan in its provision of education, both north and south of the present border. This is crucial to literacy levels and to equality in the education of girls as well as boys. However, 80 per cent of the police force in South Sudan, for example, is currently said to be illiterate, with major implications for the establishment of the rule of law and for justice. Will the Minister comment on how education can best be enhanced both north and south of the border and on what support can be given for the churches’ provision of schools and teacher training which, when provided by the churches, is always provided on the basis of need and without reference to religious or political affiliation? One considerable possibility would be the redesignation of church-supported schools as “community” rather than “private”.

South Sudan is a country of immense promise. At the moment it suffers from the war with Sudan and from Sudanese action against it. In this very early stage of its development, it finds it hard to develop its own structures. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s strategy on how we can help the promise of South Sudan to be fulfilled in the future.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. I join in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Cox for her heroic humanitarian work over such a long, sustained time in Sudan. I will also follow her by talking entirely about South Kordofan. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE, a former senior British official and former United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Sudan. Earlier this month, he told parliamentarians from both Houses at a meeting which I attended that in South Kordofan the second genocide of the 21st century is now unfolding, with more than 1 million people affected as a regime systemically kills its own people. He also reminded us of the folly of seeking to appease the regime in Khartoum or of placing such credence in agreements about boundaries or citizenship as we have done in the past. He told us not to be fooled by the Government of Sudan and that, despite many promises on humanitarian access and civilian protection, al-Bashir’s regime has never adhered to one single agreement that it has signed.

During Oral Questions last Thursday, I asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, to reconsider the Government’s policy of maintaining full diplomatic relations with Sudan and conducting business as usual with a regime ruled over by,

“mass murderers and fugitives from justice”.—[Official Report, 22/3/12; col. 1023.]

Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir and South Kordofan’s governor Ahmed Mohammed Haroun are both wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, a region which I have visited, where more than 300,000 people were killed and some two million people were displaced. Surely, as a matter of principle, where a head of state is indicted by the ICC, we should radically review our diplomatic relations. I hope the Minister can tell us what we are doing to assist the ICC in enforcing arrest warrants in cases such as those of al-Bashir and Haroun.

I would contrast the situation with that of Syria. I hope that, at the very minimum, Her Majesty’s Government will consider at least the downgrading of our diplomatic relations, the freezing of assets and the imposition of travel and other sanctions. Either this is the second genocide of the 21st century unfolding, or it is not. Either those responsible for the first genocide, who are now responsible for the second, are the men who have just been mentioned, or they are not. Either they are indicted by the ICC or they are not. Either it is business as usual, or it is not.

During his evidence, Dr Kapila described the situation in South Kordofan. He said,

“we heard an Antonov above us. Women and children started running and going into the nooks and caves of a mountain, a small hill rather … We saw a burned-out village. As we left the border there was burned place after burned place after burned place. There was hardly a person to be seen”.

He told us that this normally food-rich state faces starvation because the attacks have forced the people from their fields, and to ward off hunger they are now eating next season’s seeds. There are an estimated 300,000 people now internally displaced, and 20,000 to 30,000 refugees.

Where are we in all this? Although the United Kingdom has just assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, the British Government and Foreign Secretary have said little or nothing about these events. I first questioned Ministers about this unfolding tragedy and the complicity of United Nations peacekeepers, who sent fleeing victims to their deaths, on 21 June last year. The Government replied,

“Reports of such atrocities will have to be investigated and, if they prove to be true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]

Needless to say, no-one has been. In July, I asked what action the United Nations was taking in South Kordofan under Resolution 1590, which requires particular attention to be given to the protection of vulnerable groups. Last September, I raised reports of aerial bombardment. In November, the Government told me,

“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]

Yet there has been no access and no referral of these depredations to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible—led by indicted war criminals—for crimes against humanity continue to enjoy full diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. That simply cannot be right.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for securing this debate. She is very much our voice for the voiceless and, along with him, provides a much needed focus and prod to Governments of all persuasions in remembering these intractable disputes. In many ways the term “curse of resources” could not more accurately describe the nature of South Sudan. It is an economy which is 99 per cent dependent on oil revenues, added to which is the little complexity that, to gain the revenue, you need to export it all across the north to Port Sudan. That is an incredible problem, and throws up all sorts of difficulties for people to focus on. Therefore the need to find an alternative route out for that oil export, perhaps through Kenya, and to diversify the economy seem absolutely essential.

In the great briefing pack which the House of Lords Library made available for this debate, I was shocked to see one particular fact: that aerial observation had suggested that only 4.5 per cent of the entire possible agricultural land is being developed at present. That may well be for the security reasons which have been mentioned, but that is a staggering waste. In that part of the world, we are used to seeing many examples where there is simply no food and people therefore need to rely on external supplies, but here is an example where there is land and cultivation available. That ought to be looked at, and it is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in his place. He has immense expertise in this area and he might get an opportunity to speak on that later.

I close my remarks by focusing on what may seem a tiny thing in the context of all this. It is the Olympic Truce. If noble Lords would bear with me, there are many areas in which the north and the south do not agree. But they agree in that they are both signatories and, indeed, co-sponsors of the Olympic Truce, which calls for initiatives for peace and reconciliation from 27 July to 9 September this year. That is a small area, but it is one which my noble friend the Minister could look at, to see whether anything can be done. The opportunity for this is further heightened by the fact that South Sudan, despite being a co-sponsor of the Olympic Truce, has not been authorised by the International Olympic Committee to send a team. The team which comes to London 2012, in which there are seven athletes, will therefore be made up of northern and southern members. That provides a little window of opportunity. Okay, I know it is not the biggest thing in the world, but sometimes focusing on small opportunities can yield great returns.

My Lords, like others I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for her constant concern about Sudan. If she will allow me to disagree with one tiny point that she and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made, I have a slight hesitation about downgrading diplomatic relations. It always seems that it is precisely when relations get bad that you need an ambassador on the spot, exerting the sort of pressure that needs to be exerted. I have no difficulty at all about taking a very tough line with Khartoum, but we may be able to do that rather better if we have an ambassador there to do it.

As others have said, the situation in South Sudan is dire. That was true before the referendum, as I know from visiting South Sudan. I declare an interest as chair of the medical aid charity Merlin, which operates in Darfur and South Sudan, and which also receives funds from DfID. The referendum provided a ray of hope, but that hope is dimming quickly with the conflict in the border areas, of which others have spoken, the failure of the north and the south to agree on the distribution of oil revenues, and the decision by the south to cut off oil to the north—thereby depriving itself of 98 per cent of its revenues. That decision is, alas, likely to hurt the south more, and earlier, than it will hurt the north.

The result of all those factors is that the prospect of a true humanitarian disaster and serious conflict between north and south, dragging in their neighbours too, is very real indeed. Perhaps I might also say that if that happens, we will find that the press will wake up again to Sudan and ask why we did nothing to stop it when the prospect was so great. So what can we do? As others have said, Britain has a real role through historical links, though an understanding of the issues and through a sizeable aid programme. That programme, focused on humanitarian aid, must continue and if necessary intensify for the south. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that that will be the case.

I fear that the old approach built around the comprehensive peace agreement has now had its day and that we need a new approach with new actors. I believe also that the UK’s role, as well as itself helping South Sudan, is to encourage others to do so. For example, the African Union has a role, if not of leadership, at least of providing a neutral forum for negotiations between north and south. The Arab world has a role. The Gulf states have money to help and will not want to see a further disaster in the Arab world. They can exert pressure on the north and I hope that the British Government can encourage them to do so. The EU has a role.

China, in particular, has a real potential influence with both north and south Sudan. Sudan presents a challenge to Chinese diplomacy because it is not quite in the Chinese way of conducting foreign policy to get involved in resolving a dispute such as that between north and south. But China could have a hugely important influence if it did, and I hope very much that the British Government will encourage it to do so and will work with it to do that.

Britain must help with humanitarian aid and must keep up pressure on both the north and the south to avoid a further disaster. But that will work only if it works with and through others, using its influence in the EU, in the UN—particularly at a time when it has the presidency of the UN Security Council—with the Gulf states and, in particular, with China. If, as I say, there is a disaster, the criticism will be that we did not do enough to prevent that disaster when the prospects of that disaster were real.

Finally, I hope very much that Sudan will remain at the top of the Government’s agenda—of their foreign policy agenda and their development agenda—and that the Minister can confirm that that will be the case.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for getting this important subject on the Order Paper at a time when it has been quite difficult to get the issues of South Sudan, in particular, heard since independence. I am privileged to chair the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy. We did a report on South Sudan at around the time of independence and we have followed it since then. It is a report which we have followed up on a number of occasions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I would say that the fact that the referendum took place, and that independence happened with both Presidents at the ceremony, is perhaps a sign that things can work. Certainly, our committee has looked at the situation and seen the dire consequences that will come if we carry on down the trajectory that we are on at the moment. It particularly concerns us that South Sudan should have taken the decision to cut off oil and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has just said, its route out through Sudan itself. I am afraid that there is no alternative and that there probably will not be even in the long term. The oil reserves are not large enough and I suspect that, after this, any investment in such a project would be equally difficult.

It is very depressing that we have this breakdown and that government revenues will be cut by a staggering 98 per cent because of that lack of agreement over the oil price. As far as I can see, that is almost equivalent to a mutually assured destruction between the two states of Sudan, although north Sudan relies a mere 30 per cent to 40 per cent on oil revenues, which needs to be sorted. I should point out that we saw very strongly in our own report that South Sudan is not necessarily that good at investing its own oil revenues when it has them. Some $11 billion of oil reserves were not accounted for but they were there and little development has actually taken place, so there are problems all around here.

I have three questions to ask the Minister. First, I understand that the South Sudan Government are now trying actively to join the Cotonou agreement, which I hope can happen quickly. There are all sorts of artificial barriers that could slow that process down but I hope that it can happen quickly and I should like to hear that reassurance from my noble friend. Secondly, there is a proposed EU CSDP mission to protect the security of Juba airport, which is really the only direct gateway into South Sudan. We all know that many European missions take a long time to source, decide on and then implement. Is that due to happen? Is the timescale satisfactory and does my noble friend see that the normal barriers that there are on such missions will be removed?

My last point comes back to one that echoes very much the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jay. China has a unique wish or motivation to sort this out. Both Sudans are an important source of oil to China and one that China greatly needs. Chinese expenditure on oil finances both those treasuries. I ask my noble friend whether the British Government, together perhaps with the European Union, are trying to persuade China to move outside what we might call its zone of comfort to ensure that it, through its unique role, can bring a solution where maybe more normal passages or channels do not work.

My Lords, the question of what happens to aid money in an impasse in a post-conflict state is intriguing, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. I hope that the Minister will bring us the answer. My own stock answer is that it is only through non-governmental organisations that you can ensure effective delivery. In truth, corruption will infect all financial transfers and private investment, which includes NGOs. We must face the fact that until the SPLM is disbanded, those who serve military interests will receive salaries well before teachers and doctors. The army will continue to rule until rebel commanders and foreign invaders are all but eliminated, and the disarmament process seems to be a long time away. Security is of paramount concern for the south and maintaining a standing army is not always irresponsible or corrupt; it is necessary.

Meanwhile, the south refuses to deal with the north. The oil has ceased to flow and, although it spells disaster for major infrastructure projects in the new nation, the upside is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, mentioned, it encourages diversity and gives greater attention to investment in agriculture in safe areas, such as Equatoria, in other minerals and, above all, in small businesses. Vice President Riek Machar has given an assurance that basic services will not suffer, even though development may be on hold. This may be wishful thinking, but aid will be urgently needed.

There is another army in South Sudan—tens of thousands of returnees from the north, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, many of whom have their own skills and capital, but who desperately need employment. The archbishop has continually made the point that they need jobs. I wonder whether we have answered his appeal. There is a lot of expectation of China at the moment because of its investment in both countries. China generally has a good reputation in Africa. I have seen examples of that, such as road building in Ethiopia. China is also credited with supporting the CPA—the peace agreement that led to the south’s independence. I hope that the Government will respond urgently to the EU Committee’s latest alarm call. Another excellent report by ActionAid, on China and conflict-affected states, includes a lot of recommendations that China should do this and China should do that, but it cannot explain the paradox that China’s doctrine of non-intervention does not fit well with its active role alongside Governments of conflict states, such as its arms supplies to Khartoum, for instance, and in other states, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, it has stayed close to government. China cannot avoid direct involvement. A month ago South Sudan expelled the Chinese head of the country's biggest oil company, the Chinese and Malaysian-owned Petrodar, for making a large payment to Khartoum after oil flows had been stopped.

Then there is Kordofan, rightly the preoccupation of my noble friends. George Clooney's short video from South Kordofan—I hope everyone has seen it—showing the Nuba people hiding in caves from aerial bombardment which has killed innocent civilians and destroyed their homes, should be enough to convince anyone of the evil of President al-Bashir’s regime. It is a crime equal to those of Bosnia or Kosovo, and yet at this distance it seems that there is nothing we can do except complain.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much for the opportunity to participate in this debate. Like others, I very much appreciate the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has tabled this subject for discussion this afternoon. I declare an interest as trustee of a charity called AID, Anglican International Development, working with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. As has been referred to by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, Archbishop Daniel Deng is a significant influence in South Sudan, and works very closely with the Government and government Ministers. I believe we ought to recognise that, and enable him to help in bringing about a peaceful solution if that is at all possible.

The position with regard to oil has been discussed in some detail this afternoon. However, the terms under which this agreement has broken down make a resolution unlikely in the short term because of the significant demands the north was making for the transportation of that oil: over $30 per barrel, which is excessive. We have a very difficult situation, which is making the dependence on aid even greater in South Sudan. This leads us to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Bates: we need to find ways to help South Sudan to diversify from oil and its dependence on aid. It is to that extent that we in AID are very keen to work with the church and the Government of South Sudan. The church is the only infrastructure in South Sudan reaching the population and local communities, whether it is to assist them in the development of better health standards through medical assistance, or through the development of food programmes, which is clearly a high priority for us.

My personal responsibility is to try to establish institutional links between universities, colleges and training centres here and in Sudan. This will enable provision of help through training and knowledge transfer to assist people to begin to feed themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has mentioned, when I was out there and met the Minister, he said that food security was the highest priority of the Government, but that currently they are only 5 per cent self-sufficient in food. South Sudan has some of the most fertile land in Africa. The Nile flows through the country and in many areas they can crop twice a year. They could be part of the bread basket of Africa. However, such is the disruption to infrastructure from the civil war that they are failing seriously to satisfy their own food needs, and will do so for some time to come.

It is critical that our Government do what they can to help; not just through the emergency and short-term provision of aid, but in the long term by developing links with the Government of South Sudan. This is an emerging democracy that is going to need significant help. We have a specific issue at the moment regarding a microfinance project which we are operating in Juba. We have failed, as yet, to receive a licence to operate the project. We have been given a letter and permission to trade, but the Bank of South Sudan does not have a licensing system in place. This is a very small example of the need to assist the Government in establishing institutions so that democracy can proceed. The UK Government can, and ought to, do a lot to help this emerging democracy.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for her absolutely tireless commitment and concern for the people of Sudan, South Sudan and many other places in our world, as others have said.

South Sudan is a country where every possible indicator, whether of health, education, social protection or income, illustrates the shocking extent of the disadvantage and vulnerability which the people of that country face. Noble Lords have identified the security challenges and the need for much more co-ordinated action. I suggest that there has to be effective government action to strengthen the security presence in potential flashpoints, peace processes have to get off the ground earlier, those responsible have to be brought to justice and there have to be programmes designed to address communities’ grievances. Also, the UN and its members, including the UK, as chair of the Security Council, need to act with much greater urgency in deploying the full strength of the UNMISS troops to South Sudan.

As post-independence Sudan experiences increasing conflict, we see major displacement, especially of women and children—children who are susceptible to abduction and abuse as they are separated from their families. With so many female-headed households in South Sudan, the insecurity disproportionately affects women and children and the activities of the militia groups that are everywhere keep them on the move and in danger of violence, including terrible sexual violence.

The conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is having a terrible effect on the humanitarian situation. Tens of thousands of people have fled across the border to camps which NGOs have said are at absolute breaking point and where basic needs cannot be met, as MSF has said today. Conflict, population, displacement, poor rains in 2011, border closures, resulting commodity price increases and cattle raiding have all combined to leave the people of South Sudan in absolutely desperate need. We know that a major contributory factor is the negative effect of the shutdown of South Sudan oil production, which is threatening the country’s ability to address food insecurity and the humanitarian emergency. My understanding is that there is not yet any clarity on what the imminent austerity measures will be. However, we already know that the Government, as a result of losing this revenue, have announced that no new personnel will be appointed. That means no new teachers or health workers—exactly the professionals which that country so desperately needs.

Many of us in this Room will have followed the essential South Sudan Development Plan. However, that is now not feasible or deliverable, and the implications for development are very serious indeed. If an oil deal is not agreed, what steps will the UK and other donors take to prepare for the huge impact of the loss of 98 per cent of the Government’s revenue? Will the UK publicly and clearly call for transparency of oil revenues? That is a fundamental governance issue. Will the UK call for any deal that is made to be monitored and properly verified?

Mention has been made of the European Union. I can confirm that last week, President Salva Kiir was in Brussels and presented the request for membership of the Cotonou treaty—that will be agreed—to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I think we can fairly say that the political benefits and the benefits for security and trade and development opportunities will be substantial. Access to committed funds from the ninth EDF and the 10th EDF is also beneficial. That is good news. South Sudan will join the ACP countries. I am sure that each one of them will very much welcome Africa’s newest country.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling today’s debate, and for her tireless work in this area. Others have paid tribute to that and we know how much we owe her. I also thank other noble Lords for their contributions and work in this area.

The people of South Sudan have been through a huge amount. I, once again, congratulate them on their momentous achievement of independence last July, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred and which she attended. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was in Juba to welcome that achievement. The UK was proud to appoint the first foreign ambassador to South Sudan. We have committed around £90 million a year in aid to South Sudan for the next four years. The challenge for South Sudan is huge. The country has some of the worst poverty indicators in the world and a generation that has known only war now needs to build the institutions of a democratic society, which is an enormous challenge.

We know how vulnerable the region is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has just indicated and why this is such a huge challenge. That is why the UK has made such a strong commitment to the people of South Sudan, focusing on five broad areas: accountable, capable and responsive government; security and access to justice; health and education; food security, jobs and wealth creation; and a response to the humanitarian crisis that many have mentioned. The total commitment at the moment is around £60 million to those five areas and I hope that that will reassure noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in particular, asked about that.

I shall highlight some of the examples of what UK funds are doing. We are helping South Sudan to fight corruption and our funds are supporting efforts to clean up the government payroll, improve budget execution and strengthen the anti-corruption commission and audit chamber. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, is pleased to hear that. We are working to improve healthcare and education, and we will support 240,000 children through primary school, help print and distribute 12 million textbooks, and enable 37,000 women to deliver their babies in the presence of a skilled birth attendant. We commend the church for what it has done to support the education of girls as well as boys. We fully recognise the importance of that. We are also helping to improve the customs service.

Our humanitarian programmes are addressing emergency needs for refugees, returnees and internally displaced people. Through its contribution to the peacekeeping budget, the UK is supporting the UN mission to South Sudan—UNMISS. The programmes that I have described are all intended to help South Sudan build the foundations for peace and development, and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we recognise that it is difficult to organise good governance when facing a humanitarian crisis. Like the right reverend Prelate, and other noble Lords, we recognise that long-term commitment is vital.

Noble Lords have noted with grave concern the failure of Sudan and South Sudan to negotiate deals on a number of areas of difference, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and others, have referred to the halt in oil production. The decision to halt oil production puts the Government of South Sudan in a precarious financial and economic position. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, was right in her figures. It will be extremely hard for it to cover essential expenditures using non-oil revenues, without entering into damaging debt obligations. Of course, long term one would wish to see the diversification of the economy, but we are a long, long way from that.

We could see the severe depreciation of the South Sudanese pound, spiralling inflation and an increase in poverty. If police and army salaries are not paid, the security situation could get worse. The UK has to assess implications for its own aid programme—the noble Lord, Lord Jay, is right. We will not falter in our commitment to the South Sudanese people but we will not fill the financial gap. We have started to refocus our programmes. We must be confident that they will still deliver basic services for the most vulnerable, even if the Government cannot pay salaries. The building of South Sudan’s institutions, and therefore the Government’s ability to govern properly, will be slowed in this situation, which will be a tragically wasted opportunity.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others will be pleased to note that the Government will continue to play a leading role in meeting humanitarian needs. We realise that these will be exacerbated by the economic crisis. A poor harvest, to which noble Lords have referred, and internal conflicts have added to the deep underlying food insecurity. More refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and more returnees from Sudan, will make things worse. In December, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development approved a two-year package of support for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Common Humanitarian Fund in South Sudan. DfID recently announced a further package of support to the World Food Programme to help it meet the needs of the 315,000 people affected by the conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. Various noble Lords, starting, of course, with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked me about that, and I hope that that helps to address it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development has raised the issue of returnees with the Sudanese authorities on both of his recent visits to Sudan, in November and February. We have urged both Governments to allow more time for these issues to be resolved beyond the 8 April deadline.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others asked about the UK’s role in the UN to address some of these issues. The Foreign Secretary called for an investigation when the conflict began in South Kordofan. There have been reports of indiscriminate tactics that target civilians, to which noble Lords referred. These tactics are likely to be violations of international humanitarian law and we agree that they deserve credible and independent investigation. The Security Council expressed its concern about the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile for the first time this month, under UK chairmanship. We will continue to press for the Security Council to put its weight behind calls to end the conflict and ensure humanitarian access.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Chidgey, and others asked about diplomatic relations and targeted sanctions. President Bashir and Defence Minister Hussein are already subject, as noble Lords know, to arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court, and a Sudan-wide EU arms embargo already exists. The contact we do maintain with the Government of Sudan is consistently used to press for a cessation of hostilities and for humanitarian access. We continue to believe that the most effective pressure on the Government of Sudan is a united international position between the UN, the AU and the Arab League. It is this that we are working to create and maintain. Although I note what other noble Lords have said, I also note the support of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for diplomatic relations, and his argument that they can in fact be of use in this very difficult situation.

As I have mentioned, there is an EU arms embargo on the whole of Sudan and South Sudan, and a UN arms embargo on Darfur. In answer to questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we continue to work in the UN sanctions committee to press for full respect by all states of these embargoes.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others asked about the ICC in relation to enforcing arrest warrants on Bashir and Haroun, and talked about extending those warrants. We strongly support the ICC and its investigation into Darfur. Should any ICC indictee travel to a country that is a signatory to the Rome statute, we would expect them to be arrested. We continue to make our expectations very clear to others on this, and call on the Government of Sudan to co-operate with the ICC.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked me a number of questions. The framework agreement, which was initialled by the two sides in Addis Ababa earlier this month, is to be signed by the two Presidents at their summit next week. We are pressing both Governments to stick to their commitments and implement the agreement in full. He also asked what was being done to assist the repatriation process. I have mentioned briefly that the UK has also contributed £2.36 million to assist the South Sudanese returning from Sudan. However, the onus is on the Government of South Sudan to provide documentation and other support to their citizens.

In terms of VSO, we encourage employers to facilitate those who wish to work through VSO, and the effect on pension rights will be a matter for employees and their employers. I was asked about Sudanese Ministers who hold British passports. We do not hold information on any such Ministers, and if there is any information that the noble Lord wishes to pass on we would be extremely interested to hear it.

We welcome what the church is doing in terms of mediation efforts. I have commented on how we are trying to build greater resilience in terms of food security. On Juba international airport, in principle we support the mission. We appreciate that this has not yet gone through scrutiny, but hope that it will be deployed in the next few months. The noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Jay, mentioned China, which is obviously a critical player in this region. I note with interest that China apparently urged restraint in relations between the north and south and did not want to let the issue of humanitarian access escalate. That is an encouraging sign.

In terms of an Olympic Truce, the UK is strongly supportive of its implementation, if only it could be seen to have some effect in this area. I welcome the noble Lord’s optimism. With regard to South Sudan signing the Cotonou agreement, the EU is providing technical and financial assistance to meet the requirements of this, and has earmarked sufficient funding for South Sudan so that it will not be disadvantaged in that process.

Our goal is to see two secure and prosperous states, drawing on their mutual ties and strengths, with their differences behind them. With our troika partners and the international community, we continue to call on them to swiftly resolve their differences on oil, on citizenship and on borders. We have invested in the process mediated by Thabo Mbeki and the AU high-level implementation panel, and will continue to do so. Noble Lords are right about the need to involve all international partners.

It is right too that, with independence, South Sudan should forge new relationships with the international community, with regional bodies and, bilaterally, with its neighbours. However, full and lasting peace with the Republic of Sudan remains vital for the security and prosperity of South Sudan.

My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this evening. The Committee therefore stands adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 7.32 pm.