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Sudan and South Sudan

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 17 May 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the humanitarian crisis in the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned at the serious humanitarian impact of conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan, and within both countries. We are closely engaged with the UN and other humanitarian agencies to ensure an effective response to the needs of affected people, and are pressing both Governments to enter into political processes to resolve conflicts.

I thank the Minister for her sympathetic reply. Is she aware that I recently returned from a visit to four camps on the Sudan/South Sudan border, where 250,000 refugees have fled from sustained aerial bombardment by Khartoum or been expelled by President al-Bashir’s commitment to turn Sudan into a unified Arabic Islamic state? Conditions in those camps were dire then; they are now becoming catastrophic, with a rapidly rising death toll. Will Her Majesty’s Government make strong, urgent representations to Khartoum to cease aerial bombardment of its own civilians, and across the border in South Sudan? It is in no way justified by President al-Bashir’s allegation of military action by South Sudan, which bears no comparison with his massive, sustained slaughter of his own people?

My Lords, I am aware of the noble Baroness’s visit, and I thank her for giving me a copy of her draft report. I am aware, as the House is, of all her work in this area. She reports some terrible stories within it.

Continued aerial bombardments by the Sudanese armed forces are absolutely unacceptable, and we condemn them. Ministers and officials at our embassy have pressed this point during meetings with Sudanese counterparts. We worked very hard with Security Council partners to achieve unanimous support for UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which saw the Security Council demand under Chapter 7 of the UN charter a political resolution to conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as addressing wider issues in both countries. We are also very actively monitoring the humanitarian situation and getting supplies in place.

Is my noble friend aware that the UN Security Council passed that resolution on 2 May, and that within it was a two-week period for conflict to stop and negotiations to begin? That was on 16 May. There have been no negotiations starting; instead, the fighting has started again. What do the Government propose to suggest that the UN Security Council should do now?

Yesterday, the special envoy to the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on compliance by Sudan, South Sudan and the SPLM-North with Security Council Resolution 2046. He is keeping a close watch on the extent to which the ceasefire is not being adhered to. He identified a small window for restarting negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. President Mbeke is travelling to Khartoum and Juba to engage with the parties and convene a meeting between them as soon as possible. We, the US and France have confirmed our readiness to consider sanctions if necessary.

My Lords, does the Minister concur with the view of Dr Mukesh Kapila, who was the high representative of this country and the United Nations in Sudan, that the second genocide of the 21st century is unfolding in South Kordofan? How can the Government continue to do business as usual with a regime that is led by someone who has been indicted for war crimes—crimes against humanity—by the International Criminal Court? How can we simply sustain diplomatic relations as though it is business as usual?

My Lords, it is not business as usual but, as the noble Lord knows, the UK Government engage with all Governments in the hope of bringing about the changes that the noble Lord would wish to see. In embassy involvement, the only countries from which officials have been withdrawn are Syria and Iran, which was necessary for the protection of staff. In all other areas, including North Korea, there is engagement, but it is not business as usual. With regard to the crimes to which the noble Lord referred, it is clear that there have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians and war crimes. Indeed, President al-Bashir is indicted by the International Criminal Court. It is worth bearing in mind, too, that the case of Charles Taylor shows that international criminal justice is not time-limited.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that DfID has suspended long-term development aid to South Sudan in response to the Government’s decision to turn off the oil pipeline. However, does the noble Baroness recognise the tragic effects of such action for the people of a country that has such desperate needs at this time? Will the Government reconsider that decision in the light of the fact that two major donors, the United States and Norway, have not taken such action and will maintain all development assistance, while at the same time focusing on dialogue between South Sudan and Sudan?

The noble Baroness rightly points to the implications of South Sudan cutting off its oil supplies, which constitute 98% of its revenue. It is extremely important to bring home to the Government of South Sudan the implications of that and that the international community will not simply bail them out. DfID is very much focused on humanitarian relief, which is extremely important, but the important issue here is to get the Governments in question to negotiate and take forward some of their responsibilities to their citizens.

My Lords, to pick up the point about humanitarian aid, given that children make up half the population of South Sudan, and that the malnutrition rate for children under five in the border areas averages between 15% and 22%, will the Minister please ensure that any UK humanitarian aid specifically supports the health and happiness of the children caught up in this tragedy?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point on what is, I think, his birthday—many happy returns to him. The UK has contributed £10 million to the World Food Programme for general food distribution and £15 million to the Common Humanitarian Fund. We are acutely aware that it is children who will be particularly vulnerable in this situation. Therefore, the provision that the international community is trying to make is very much focused on their needs.

My Lords, are there plans in place to maintain the integrity of the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people who are intended to receive it at a time in the future when the application of sanctions may make Governments very anxious to acquire it for themselves?

All these issues are extremely complex and the noble Lord rightly points to the potential impact of sanctions. As for humanitarian relief, a huge logistical effort is going on at the moment to get food and other supplies in place, particularly with the onset of the rains coming down the track and the potential of mass migration that may result, as noble Lords may be aware. We are monitoring this very closely and my colleague, Stephen O’Brien, is watching all the time what is happening.