Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to all noble Lords contributing to this debate, on the 10th anniversary of the eruption of the Government of Sudan’s ruthless assaults on the people of Darfur, resulting in the indictment by the ICC of President al-Bashir and two of his colleagues. The 10 years of conflict have left at least 300,000 dead and 1.7 million are forced to live in camps for displaced people in Darfur, and over 250,000 in Chad.
There has been a recent resurgence of fighting in North Darfur, forcing tens of thousands more people to flee their homes. United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland claims that more people have been displaced in Darfur in the past month than in all of 2012, and the United States recently called on Sudan to halt aerial bombardment of Darfur and for UN sanctions experts to be allowed to carry out wider investigations in the country. I ask the Minister if the UK has made similar representations to the Government of Sudan.
Other noble Lords will speak more on Darfur. I will focus on comparable problems in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, having recently visited both states, where I and my colleagues from HART witnessed President al-Bashir’s genocidal policies. I believe the word “genocidal” is justified.
There has been continuous fighting in Blue Nile state since 1 September 2011. Ground offensives between the Sudan Armed Forces, SAF, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North, SPLM-N, continue with relentless aerial bombardment of civilians by SAF with Antonovs, MIGs, and helicopter gunships, which have destroyed towns and villages, targeting civilians. We visited Yabus, where the market had been burnt to cinders by incendiary bombs. As a local person said:
“I was in the market when we heard the Antonov above, which began dropping bombs directly on the market. Forty-seven people died, mostly women and children. Twenty-seven were wounded”.
Many are unable to live in their villages because of constant bombardment. They are hiding in the forests and on banks of rivers. They cannot grow crops or reap harvests and are suffering from lack of food and shelter.
In one village we visited, 450 people had already died of starvation. We had been able to send in food aid which had reached survivors who had fled from the village, terrorised by aerial bombardment, shortly before we arrived. We heard their voices and found them hiding in the bush, with some of their children injured by bombs. They were poignantly grateful for the aid we had provided as they could stay in Blue Nile and not have to join the thousands already forced by lack of food to flee into South Sudan. This encounter also demonstrates successful delivery of “indirect aid” to Blue Nile.
I therefore again ask the Minister if Her Majesty’s Government will consider the provision of life-saving food and medical aid to civilians trying to survive in their own lands, who prefer to risk death from aerial bombardment rather than retreat across the border as refugees? Eighty thousand have already fled to Jamam camp, 60,000 to Doro, and approximately 100 to 200 new refugees cross the border into South Sudan every day.
President al-Bashir’s racist motivation for his intended ethnic cleansing of Blue Nile was reflected in his notorious statement at Kirmuk when he said he did not want to see a black plastic sheet in Blue Nile state—that is, he did not want to see a single African person.
In southern Kordofan, fighting began between SAF and SPLM-N on 5 June 2011. There has been persistent aerial bombardment by the Government of Sudan’s Antonovs, jets and helicopter gunships, with over 1,000 bombs again directly targeting markets, schools and people tending their crops. We saw the Antonovs flying over and visited some of the thousands of people now hiding in caves, despite lethal snakes, without access to food, water or healthcare. We saw the girls’ high school in Kauda which received a direct hit, now standing empty, despite the desperate need for girls’ education.
We were told that 302mm Chinese rockets packed with ball bearings, with a 100 kilometre range, have been identified and used. They terrorise civilians—they cannot be heard approaching, so there is no time to take cover. Over 350,000 people have been displaced since June 2011. Approximately 60,000 have fled to the main refugee camp in Yida in South Sudan, and the number is growing rapidly.
The Government of Sudan have not yet permitted any humanitarian access to non-SAF controlled areas. It has been over a year since the tripartite—UN, African Union and League of Arab States—proposal to support negotiations over humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas. The SPLM-N agreed to the proposal on 18 February 2012, but Khartoum has not yet responded. Estimates suggest that between 60% and 70% of those displaced inside the Nuba Mountains have already run out of food, and malnutrition is widespread. Aid is urgently needed because access to affected areas will be virtually impossible during the rainy season, which will also bring many diseases.
Will Her Majesty’s Government support the recommendations in a letter, to be released tomorrow, signed by many UK and Australian parliamentarians and members of the US Congress, to highlight the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, and linking the Darfur atrocities with those now being perpetrated in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile? The letter urges the UN Security Council to: demand an end to aerial bombardment and other attacks against civilians in Sudan; urgently address the humanitarian situation in southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur; ensure a comprehensive approach to ending Sudan’s conflicts, focusing on the long-standing need for peaceful and inclusive democratic transformation; and take a leadership role in ensuring that those responsible for grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are held accountable.
Will Her Majesty’s Government also support proposals that are endorsed by the peoples of Blue Nile and southern Kordofan for: an international independent committee of inquiry to be sent by the UN Security Council to investigate and report on human rights violations and abuses, and crimes against humanity, with a referral to the International Criminal Court if appropriate; targeted sanctions to prevent Khartoum from continuing to perpetrate violations of international humanitarian law with impunity, including denial of diplomatic status and visas for senior members of the NCP and freezing of financial assets held abroad; the international community to pressure Khartoum to allow urgent humanitarian assistance to all conflict-affected areas, monitored by international institutions and applied under recognised international humanitarian principles—deadlines for Khartoum’s agreement should be specified, with clear consequences if these are not met; and, in the absence of negotiated humanitarian access, the international community to explore all alternative options for delivery of assistance as a matter of urgency?
On a personal matter, I briefly mention reports issued by the Khartoum Government, and a letter to me from their ambassador, complaining about my visit to Sudan without official permission. A representative of a well respected organisation responded more aptly, perhaps, than I can:
“In the face of undeniable evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the government of Sudan’s chief objection is not that civilians are being killed indiscriminately. Nor is the chief objection that the reports from the ground are not accurate, detailed, and credible. The chief objection is that witnesses such as yourself, Nick Kristof, John Prendergast, and George Clooney failed to obtain visas before documenting and raising the alarm on the mounting evidence of mass atrocities. As if those committing war crimes would welcome witnesses who filled out visa applications first. The act of turning a blind eye to Sudan’s blood-soaked fields to focus instead on missing paperwork, as if that were the real moral outrage, is a demonstration of the banality of evil”.
Finally, I record some testimonies from local people, as their voices need to be heard and they speak more eloquently than I can ever do. They say:
“I am from the Deloka tribe in the Nuba Mountains, near to Kadugli. I have seen SAF capture and beat women and adults. There were daily attacks on my village by Antonovs, bombing people at the waterhole whenever they saw them. I witnessed a child bombed so that only his leg was left. When our village was burnt to the ground by the SAF we decided to come to Yida”.
“I am from Umm Dorain County, about 35km east of Kadugli. War reached our village in July, and until September we were bombed by Antonovs. In July, SAF came to our village and destroyed everything. They started shooting and everyone ran. I witnessed my uncle and another man being slaughtered with a knife. My younger brother was also killed. We returned to our village the next day to bury them”.
“We walked to Yida with 6 families, everyone travelling together. On the first day Antonov bombardment killed an entire family except for one child. On the next day an Antonov bomb killed the mother and father of another family. One daughter is injured and is in Yida, another girl had to have her leg amputated and later died”.
“I have come here with my children. I had to leave my Mother behind and she has been shot by SAF. The SAF ask the villagers, ‘Where are your leaders and where are the guns stored?’. If you cannot answer, they will shoot you. Our village has now been burnt down”.
“There is no one left in our village and no one can reach the bore hole. Some people have been to the village bore hole recently, but they were shot by SAF. My stepbrother had been hiding in the mountain caves with his mother. A bomb was dropped on her by an Antonov and she lost her arm. Then my stepbrother went to the bore hole at night to get water. SAF went and killed him. We are having the funeral in the camp this afternoon”.
As I finish, I must sadly emphasise the dismay expressed by the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile over what they see as the ineffectiveness of the response of the international community, particularly the United Kingdom, to the genocidal policies of the Khartoum Government. As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, let us remember that after the genocide in Rwanda it was famously stated, “Never again”—but “again” is happening now in Sudan. Until Her Majesty’s Government take effective action, they will be seen as condoning another genocide. I hope the Minister will reassure us that this will not be the case, and in so doing, bring much needed hope to the people now suffering so desperately in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on once again articulating the gross violations of human rights that are taking place in Sudan, and on the intrepid way in which she brings us first-hand accounts of the suffering of the people in these regions. It really is beyond the call of duty and she does a great service to this House—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I was in the middle of saying how wonderful the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is. I do not want to repeat everything I have said, but would add that I particularly admire the way in which she defies nasty regimes like that of al-Bashir and ignores the warnings that she must fill in paperwork before she visits the horror-stricken areas of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. We are indebted to her for bringing her first-hand accounts to your Lordships’ debates. I am also grateful to her for being a co-signatory of the letter she has mentioned—I am also a signatory—addressed to our own Secretary of State and the US Secretary of State. It is signed by Members of this Parliament and Members of the US Congress and calls on them both to move the UN Security Council to take robust action in order to halt these genocidal conflicts.
I will concentrate specifically on the aerial attacks which figure in that letter and which have so far not been dealt with satisfactorily by the UN Security Council. The Security Council last passed a resolution on Sudan a couple of weeks ago. It commended the efforts of UNAMID, the joint AU/UN mediation, the African Union high-level implementation panel and leaders in the region, and it reiterated its full support for all those authorities. But why is the panel of experts, which is mentioned in 13 out of the 18 operative paragraphs of the resolution, omitted from that list? Why has its report, which is crucial to any understanding of the reasons these conflicts are continuing indefinitely, not been published? Perhaps my noble friend can throw some light on that when she replies. Surely the world is entitled to know which members of the Security Council are objecting to publication, what in the panel’s report they do not like, and their reasons for the objections. The Security Council says that it will further study the panel’s recommendations and consider appropriate next steps, but that process will also presumably be shrouded in secrecy.
Under paragraph 6 of Security Council Resolution 1591 of March 2005, which was reaffirmed in the latest resolution, the council demanded an immediate cessation of offensive military flights over the Darfur region and asked the AU ceasefire commission to share information on this matter with the panel of experts. However, the panel was not charged with investigating the aerial attacks in Darfur, nor has it specifically been asked now to report on the bombing of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The current resolution demands in the preamble, but not in the operative paragraphs that are governed by chapter 7, that aerial bombardments should cease. Will my noble friend explain whether this means that there is no binding force on the Government of Sudan? What other explanation is there for that separation from the chapter 7 provisions?
According to Radio Dabanga on 6 February, bombing by the Sudanese Air Force Antonovs has recently intensified, destroying the villages of Kiro and Sharafa, and killing civilians in the Dalma area. Al Arabiya News reported that four civilians were killed and 37 wounded when the air force attacked Derib al Reih village in South Darfur last Thursday. The Antonovs are also busy in Blue Nile. Already, more than 200,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan, and the people who remain are demoralised into inactivity, leading to food shortage and malnutrition. The Nuba Reports website said that in South Kordofan an Antonov bombed Ngortang village on February 17, killing five civilians.
These attacks and many others are designed to spread terror and force black Africans across the frontier to join the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are destitute in the northern states of South Sudan. This is a crime against humanity that deserves a proportionate response to replace the ineffectual and repetitive expressions of concern by the UN Secretary-General, the AU and others. The expert panel’s mandate should be extended to require its report to the Security Council every 90 days to include details of every attack by the Sudanese Air Force or ground forces on civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. If the Security Council does not agree to that proposal, as seems only too probable, a coalition of the willing should provide the funding to a suitable NGO to research and publish such a report.
Again, assuming that the Security Council is unwilling to act, this coalition of the willing should seek to dissuade Ukraine from selling or leasing ostensibly civilian Antonovs to Sudan, thereby escaping the military embargo, but which are likely to be converted for military use. This same coalition might commission the NGO to carry out a survey of the origins of spares for the Antonovs and their engines. Will my noble friend confirm that those suppliers would be violating the embargo?
One suggestion made by Dr Eric Reeves of Smith College in Massachusetts is that Khartoum should be warned that every time the bombers kill civilians a drone will be sent to destroy one of the aircraft at El Obeid airbase. There is an emerging international norm of responsibility to protect, which states that when a state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and, even more so, when the state is committing crimes against humanity against its own citizens, the international community should intervene with force after peaceful measures, including sanctions, have been tried and failed. That norm assumes that the Security Council would invoke the R2P under chapter 7, as in the case of Libya.
However, the use of drones across international frontiers, without the sanction of the Security Council, is already practised against terrorist targets. The Antonovs are being used to commit acts of terrorism against civilians, and taking them out, one by one, in response would be a counterterrorist activity. Will my noble friend consider that suggestion and will the Government in any case explain how otherwise, in the absence of any significant changes either in the panel of experts’ mandate or the sanctions regime, the Government expect any let-up in the suffering of millions of people in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan over the coming year?
My Lords, I express my thanks again to my noble friend Lady Cox. She is a tireless campaigner on this issue and a voice for the voiceless. I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said earlier.
It is always difficult in these short debates to know whether to signal impatience with official delay or to express some hope of change to come. There have been so many cliff-hangers in Sudan, when agreement seems just around the corner and then drifts away from sight. Once again, here we are waiting for a final agreement on oil, Abyei, the borders and humanitarian access, most of which were foreseen in the comprehensive peace agreement. Meanwhile, as we have heard, the bombs continue to fall and people in Darfur, Kordofan and elsewhere continue to flee or to live in a state of near desperation that is difficult to convey in our environment.
I have hopes for the New Dawn Charter group which signed a document in Kampala on 5 January. It need not cause President al-Bashir any alarm. It should be seen as a positive move. It is not revolutionary and it would bring a little more sense into Sudan’s chaotic political chessboard. Al-Bashir has to see that the majority of Sudanese would prefer a new way forward that would provide a degree of stability to the economy, even if it does not satisfy the basic human rights that Tunisia and Egypt have identified, if not implemented.
Our Government, having rightly denounced the recent clampdown on civil society in Sudan, will surely encourage this process diplomatically and rigorously if there is to be any sign of a Sudanese spring. But if students, teachers, journalists and members of NGOs are going to be oppressed indefinitely, and limited press freedom further curtailed, something must snap. That may be inside the ruling junta. We have to take into account that the Sudanese temperament may not be suited to any version of the Arab spring. In my experience, the Sudanese are not like north Africans. They are an exceptionally tolerant people who have accepted a low level of freedom and have put up with an unnecessarily autocratic, bullying and often incompetent regime. It is a vast country run by about five people.
It is hardly possible to conceive of a unified state in Sudan. Instead of devolution there has been continuous warring between Khartoum and the regions. The centre’s authority depends entirely on intermittent military aggression. As we have heard, South Kordofan in particular has been the victim of constant aerial bombardment, with the Nuba people suffering untold human rights abuse and near starvation away from the eyes of the world.
In Darfur, the Government have carried on with the bombing of villages and Khartoum has made it a virtual no-go area for NGOs and humanitarian agencies. Another ceasefire was signed in Doha between the Government of Sudan and the JEM on February l0, and Qatar has announced a donors’ conference in April. But, as always, such deals are as elusive as the various parties to them and no one believes that peace is around the corner. The 10-year anniversary, though, must provide a new impetus to the long-standing campaign to persuade the Sudan Government to co-operate with repeated UN and AU resolutions, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
An urgent priority must be the border settlement, with Abyei still a flashpoint while its boundaries remain uncertain. Concordis International has been doing valuable preparatory work, as some of us heard this week, alongside the AU High Level Implementation Panel and other interested parties. Importantly, this takes account of the regular seasonal migration across the borders. This work on the disputed sections is absolutely essential. Reuters has repeated reports from South Sudan of an incursion earlier this month into Upper Nile by unknown militia and a troop build-up, again, around the Heglig oil field close to Unity State, which recalls the brief SPLA occupation of the oil field last April, which brought the two countries to the brink of war. The implementation of the various elements of the CPA has been lamentably neglected, not just by north and south but by the international community, including ourselves. Seen from the West, Sudan has remained just below the horizon of the Arab spring. To make up for this deficit of awareness, there is no doubt in my mind that the UK must maintain and not downgrade its special relationship with both Sudan and South Sudan.
Several of us in the Sudan all-party group have been impressed by the quality of the FCO’s Sudan unit, which has taken the trouble to keep us informed. However, I have been concerned lately that there could be staff changes in the unit as a result of the recession and administrative savings. I hope that the noble Baroness can reassure us that no such cuts in the unit are forthcoming and that the FCO still gives the highest possible priority to this work. It is really important that simply because the CPA has been superseded, the UK, as a member of the troika backing up the CPA, does not lose its diplomat leadership.
Finally, may I ask the Minister, who I know has particular experience of and interest in Sudan, where Sudan is on the US Government’s world map—assuming they have moved on from the “axis of evil”—although we have not heard anything to the contrary. I notice that Sudan was left out of the Foreign Secretary’s recent RUSI speech on terrorism, which covered whole swathes of north Africa, including Mali. Perhaps she could reassure us that while we need to remain alert on this issue, close intelligence co-operation with an indicted Sudanese president is not a necessary prerequisite to security in the UK or the US.
My Lords, I, too am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for once again bringing the circumstances of this deeply troubled region to our attention. Tragically, since our last debate on this subject in October, the humanitarian situation has continued to be a matter of grave concern. I am afraid that the political deliberations, which the UK Government properly continues to support, appear to be little more than a smokescreen, as the Sudanese Government clearly have absolutely no intention of providing humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile states from the north.
In particular, it seems that the vote to create the new state of Southern Sudan has led the Government of Sudan to make southerners accept the consequences of their vote: “You wanted your own country, now go and live in it”. Southerners are being asked to go south. This is, in one sense, entirely understandable—if not entirely defensible—in terms of making people accept responsibility for the choices they have made. However, the human consequences are appalling. The overall drive seems to be to create a single country with a single culture and a single religion. This process is enhanced by the drive to have a single language, Arabic—hence the problem with the marginalization of the Nuba and the continuing attrition in the Nuba mountains.
We in the church continue to hear from aid agencies and our fellow bishops in both Sudanese states of continued bombing, targeting civilian homes, markets, schools, fields and so on. Those stranded, unable or unwilling to flee their homes to the safety of South Sudan, are left to forage for food and water under cover from the bombs. It really is a desperate situation and a tragedy that the international community still appears to be taking little heed of what is looking increasingly like genocide, or at the very least, yet another major ethnic cleansing working itself out. Thousands of people have fled and the humanitarian cost is being paid for by neighbouring states which are absorbing them.
Conditions in the refugee camps remain poor but stable. There are increasing reports of disease outbreaks, and overcrowding is becoming a greater issue in most locations. During the dry season, basic service provision of food, water and healthcare is present and available to the population, but education is lacking. UNHCR will not allow education facilities to be initiated by international NGOs in, for example, Yida for fear that it will encourage refugees to stay.
In our debate in October I raised the concern that, although DflD recognises the role of the church, it is highly unfortunate that UNHCR and other NGOs do not always adopt the same policy. The churches and other religious bodies have a key role to play in both delivery and mediation, but often the UNHCR treats them as special interest groups without a general humanitarian agenda. In the present context of Sudan, the churches are doing an heroic job with limited resources. The young and fast-growing Episcopal Church of Sudan is resilient, but it is suffering from the forced departure of southerners, many of whom have exercised key leadership and responsibility in and through the church and its aid programmes. It is further the case that foreigners with connections to the churches are being told to leave. Others are being visited by the security services and feel intimidated. Each of our dioceses in Sudan is facing the need both to care for displaced and often traumatised people at the same time as losing some of its leading people to the south.
I welcome the commitment of Her Majesty’s Government to addressing these concerns, and the priorities set by DfID for the coming year are to be applauded. However, I have four specific questions and it would be helpful if we could have some clear answers to them for the record. The first question is: what pressure are Her Majesty’s Government putting on the Government of Sudan to stop the bombing and the violence in the Nuba mountains? Secondly, what humanitarian provision are Her Majesty’s Government making for displaced people and refugees, especially in a context where southerners in Sudan are being pushed out to the south? Thirdly, although it is hard to work out the specific strategy or consistency in this, are the UK Government aware of and responding to the expulsion of expatriates from Sudan after interrogation and with no reasons being given? Finally, what support are the Government giving to those being victimised by the Sudanese Government, including those whose schools and institutions have been taken over and appropriated by the security services, thus helping to make an already bad situation even worse?
My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Cox for her indomitable persistence and courage, and her determination to open the eyes of the world to things that we do not always want to see. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his remarks about the letter being sent to the United Nations Security Council to which I am also a signatory. I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, comes to reply, she will say what Her Majesty’s Government’s formal response will be to that important letter, which is being signed by representatives from jurisdictions all around the world.
I first visited South Sudan during the civil war. More than 2 million people died during that conflict. In areas like Torit which I visited, I saw at first hand the terrible carnage that was being inflicted as the result of Antonov bombers simply pounding away at communities day in and day out. As we have heard, it is now 10 years since the violence erupted in Darfur. Since my own visit to Darfur in 2004, and the report which I then published, If This Isn’t Genocide, What Is?, some 2 million people have been displaced. Between 200,000 and 300,000 people have been killed and 90% of the villages have been razed to the ground. Ten years later, the systematic genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing is continuing; those responsible have not been brought to justice; and the violence for which they are responsible has become the order of the day in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. This represents an appalling repetition of history, making these regions dangerous and lawless places. The Khartoum regime must accept the lion’s share of the responsibility for unleashing a torrent of violence on its own people.
In 2013 alone, a further 100,000 Darfuris have been displaced. HIV is rampant, children are malnourished, and even at the height of the violence, when Darfur was in the headlines, aid did not reach two-thirds of the population. The international community claimed that its aid programme was a success because the aim was to help those people who had fled to the camps. But what of the families struggling to survive in the villages in rural areas? More than half the population of Darfur has no water source. Almost a quarter of the population, including children, walk more than six miles to reach water in winter. In the summer “hungry” months, many walk more than 20 miles. Walking for water continues to be dangerous, with frequent reports of attacks.
Perhaps the Minister will comment on the report in the Guardian on 21 February that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the aid watchdog, had criticised DfID for a water supply project that it said was poorly designed and brought limited benefit to the people whom it was supposed to help. The commission said:
“DfID needs to rethink its approach to engaging in chronic emergencies”.
It criticised it for,
“neglecting the political and institutional challenges involved in improving … water supply”.
It went on to say that DfID should work with partners with a proven track record rather than use interventions that risked,
“diminishing returns and aid dependence”.
I wonder what lessons have been learnt from that experience.
Meanwhile, the killing continues unabated. At the weekend, Reuters reported that recent fighting had caused the deaths of 51 people and wounded 62 more. Simultaneously, it reported that the Sudanese Government had put out a statement claiming that their forces had killed scores of insurgents in the border areas of Kordofan and Blue Nile. Aerial bombardment there was sustained and unremitting, with up to 60 bombs a day—and 400 bombs in Blue Nile in a month.
In Kordofan and Blue Nile, it is once again civilians—mainly women and children—who are caught in the crossfire of the violence. Some have been attacked from the air and the ground and have been denied access to humanitarian assistance for more than 20 months. I raised these crimes against humanity in your Lordships’ House in June and July 2011. The then Minister told me that the Government were “very concerned” about the 11,000 internally displaced people at the time. I drew attention to UN Security Council Resolution 1590, which required,
“protection of vulnerable groups including internally displaced persons”,
“necessary action to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence”.
I asked if the resolution had been put into effect in South Kordofan. It was not worth the paper it was written on.
Through the remainder of 2011 and again in the first months of 2012, as thousands more people were displaced, I questioned Ministers about the failure of the international community and about what Dr Mukesh Kapila said about the second genocide of the 21st century unfolding—Darfur was the first. Dr Kapila is a former British and United Nations official who presumably knew what he was talking about when he said that more than 1 million people were now affected. Given that the ICC has indicted the head of state in Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, and the governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Mohammed Haroun, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, how can we justify full diplomatic relations with mass murderers and fugitives from justice? Have we not considered at least downgrading those relationships? What is being done to help the ICC enforce arrest warrants in those cases? I ask those questions again.
In 2012 I criticised the paralysis of the international community. Two years ago, Ministers stated:
“Reports of such atrocities will … 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.]
Nine months later, they stated:
“We continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]
On 17 May 2012, I asked again how it was that the second genocide of the 21st century was unfolding in South Kordofan. I asked how the Government could continue to do business as usual with a regime that was led by someone who has been indicted for war crimes. I might add, how can Germany—an ally of ours in the European Union—justify recently holding a business conference encouraging people to invest money in Sudan?
The United Nations now estimates that close to 1 million people have been displaced or severely affected by violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. How many more have to be displaced? Independent experts now warn that parts of South Kordofan and Blue Nile face the very real prospect of a man-made famine by April 2013. How many more people have to be malnourished or starve to death? On 25 January the African Union demanded an end to hostilities, the granting of humanitarian access and a commitment to adhere to a clear timeline for direct political talks. Now is not the time for combat or war weariness.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, as all noble Lords are present, we may resume.
My Lords, before the Division, I was about to end. I would like to complete my remarks by simply referring to a note I received recently from the courageous bishop of El Obeid, Bishop Macram Gassis. He wrote:
“The suffering of my flock torments me. The aerial bombardment is incessant. … I plead with the international community to save the Nuba people from extermination”.
“The barrel of the gun will never bring peace; on the contrary it will simply create more hatred and violence”.
Surely those are sentiments with which we can all agree.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her unswerving determination, and to other speakers, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Indeed, pretty much everybody has once again gone through the events of the past 10 years: the mass murders; the ethnic cleansing of black Africans and the attacks on their culture and language, which is a distinctive part of ethnic cleansing; the direct attacks, including aerial attacks, on civilians; the use of Chinese and Iranian munitions; and the displacements of very large numbers of people. The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Avebury, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and, indeed, all of us may feel—I do not mean this in any frivolous sense—a certain “Groundhog Day” sensation about parts of this debate as we have been going round these issues for a long time.
I sifted out what I thought were the important notes made on visits to Khartoum, Darfur and Juba. The notes related to the first visits that I made in November 2005 and to Juba again later that month. With the exception of one leader of South Sudan, I do not think that I ever saw the same people twice. The turnover, and hence the difficulty in dealing with anybody, was absolutely monumental.
If I may say so, the issue is not just about Sudan: it is not that limited geographically. President Bashir’s impact endangers the entire region’s security right across a swathe of Africa. John Garang tried to stabilise the south and his death was a tragedy. The referendum seemed like a valid mechanism, but we all know that the outcome was always likely to lead to a further breakdown, whatever our aspirations for it, because of the contested oil rights and oil wealth in that area.
One edge of South Darfur was always impacted, in my experience. Blue Nile was always a problem. The Ugandans had never managed to successfully deal with their northern border. The Lord’s Resistance Army and Kony, its leader, routinely went into South Sudan and many other places. I always believed that President Museveni, for all the talk about what he would do, made no real attempt to make sure that security was there either. The people of north Uganda were driven from the land, frequently by people who were moving backwards and forwards out of South Sudan. The issues spread into the west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and into the Central African Republic; it spreads across borders in as much as there are borders.
Darfur, as we have heard today, is experiencing the 10th anniversary of an appalling war, which spreads across the borders, fairly routinely, into Chad. There, the Janjaweed gangs have been assisted by the Khartoum regime and have then gone on to wreak even greater havoc. The aerial terror that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, illustrated so clearly is extremely important. I recall the offer made by Colonel Gaddafi, who said that he could understand the peoples of that region in a way in which he did not expect us to, and was perfectly prepared to intervene. I said that I thought it sounded like an offer to interfere and make things worse. Of course, there was always the prospect of things spreading across the Maghreb, through the northern borders.
The issues are in some cases realistic and need proper attention. It is not always about issues of wickedness, although goodness knows there is enough of that. However, the contestation between agriculturalists and herders for areas that are in any sense arable, as desertification becomes a problem of real economic consequence, is very important. There are many more issues in Darfur: voting rights, security, food and water have all been mentioned today.
I recall a couple of attempts by the African Union force to secure a degree of peace which were fundamentally undermined by President al-Bashir. The Canadians had provided armoured vehicles to protect the Nigerian peace force, who were in soft-sided vehicles. While I was there, six Nigerian soldiers were killed through soft-sided vehicles that were fired upon. Those armoured vehicles took ages to get into Darfur because they were in Dakkar and nobody would let them move forward. It took a special meeting in which Javier Solana, then the High Representative of the EU, took part to get them in. We got more or less no help from Russia, and occasionally just a little hint that there might be a more sympathetic response from some of the Chinese leadership.
These factors are all important, and are a very diverse set of factors to introduce at this stage of your Lordships’ debate. However, there is one constant among all of them: President al-Bashir. The issues for which he must stand trial, and for which there should be no impunity, link all the things that pretty much every noble Lord said in this evening’s debate.
I join others in asking essentially the same questions of the Minister tonight. The critical things are what we can do in these unpromising circumstances; whether it is possible to get the United Nations, through the operation of its committee of inquiry, or the Security Council to do what needs to be done—the letter should be an important stimulus to the Security Council in setting those things out; and whether we believe that we can have a greater impact in those areas.
Briefly, the role of the United Kingdom has sometimes been a little confusing. I do not know whether I should make an apology for it, but it certainly was between the FCO and DfID over a period of time. I found, quite often, that because DfID was in control of so much more of the money than the FCO ever was that DfID officials were the only people to whom anybody wanted to talk. It often meant that more standard forms of diplomatic and state intervention became more difficult. It may be that we need to rethink those things. I do not say this in a way that is at all aggressive. I just think that when we have identified things that really have not worked, it falls to us to think—as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, did when he made some other important suggestions—about how we might improve.
I conclude by saying that it seems absolutely clear that we have failed the people of this war-torn region. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made this point very eloquently as well. What we have to do is identify how we can help generate the conditions in which there is a Sudan that is peaceful, democratic and prosperous, which respects human rights and the rule of law, and whose people share equally in the nation’s wealth and development, with all Sudanese people being treated equally, regardless of their race or religion, and in which Sudan is an active and benign member of the international community. The regional security issues are far too severe for us to do anything else.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling today’s timely debate, and I thank all noble Lords for their informed contributions. I also commend the continued work of the Associate Parliamentary Group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, of which the noble Baroness is a member, as are other noble Lords who are here today.
I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for bringing his experience of the region to this debate and the tone with which he dealt with the debate. Of course, this is the second time I have had the opportunity to participate in a debate on Sudan and South Sudan, both of which remain high foreign policy priorities for this Government, but other Ministers before me have debated this topic on numerous occasions, in lengthier debates and in Oral Questions.
Our focus this evening has been on the internal conflicts within Sudan but I will also take the opportunity to update noble Lords on the broader context of the relations between the two countries. When I spoke about this subject in October last year, there was reason for cautious optimism about relations between Sudan and South Sudan. We and our international partners welcomed the signing of nine agreements on 27 September, and we made clear that we expected to see their full implementation, as well as resolution of the remaining disputes between the two countries. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has said, there have been many cliff-hangers on this journey, and this appears to be another one. It is deeply frustrating that since the signing of those agreements we have seen a lack of progress in their implementation, despite further negotiations occurring on a number of occasions thereafter.
At the start of the year hopes were raised again that we might see progress when the Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan met on 5 January and were able to recommit to making rapid progress on implementation. However, by the time the Presidents met again at the African Union summit later that month, it appeared that the good faith that had previously been shown had now gone, leaving no obvious way forward beyond the vague promise of further discussions. Like other noble Lords, I find that deeply frustrating and disappointing.
It is now crucial for both countries to take concrete and substantial steps forward on implementation of those agreements, particularly on security arrangements, demilitarisation of the border zones and allowing the export of oil. The UK Government will continue to give their full support to the African Union high-level implementation panel as it seeks to find a lasting solution to these issues.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, our concern about relations between Sudan and South Sudan should not lead us to overlook the serious conflict going on within Sudan’s borders. Ten years after the outbreak of significant violence, we remain deeply concerned by the continuing conflict in Darfur and the resulting humanitarian situation. More than 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in the past decade and approximately 2 million have been displaced, the majority of whom are still reliant on humanitarian aid.
Recent clashes in the gold-mining area in North Darfur highlight that the nature of the conflict may have changed but its effects remain as concerning as ever. Since the start of this year, more than 100 villages have been destroyed and 100,000 people displaced. That is already half the total number of people displaced in 2012. We hope to use this anniversary period in the run-up to the donor conference to make progress on the ground and ensure that Darfur remains on the international agenda, including in the UN Security Council. The UK remains committed to seeing the causes of the conflict addressed. We will continue to support Darfur by responding to humanitarian needs, fostering development opportunities and promoting a peaceful political solution.
We support the Doha document for peace in Darfur, which contains welcome provisions to address the needs of ordinary Darfuris and bring justice for the crimes committed. However, implementation of the Doha document has been disappointingly slow and has not focused sufficiently on areas that will make the most difference to the security and basic needs of communities. We are pressing the Government of Sudan to honour their commitments under the agreement, encouraging rebel groups to end their violence and obstruction of the peace process, and also working closely with Qatar, which continues to take an international lead on this issue.
We are deeply concerned by the continuing conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the impact that it is having on the communities in those areas. Some of the consequences of the conflict have been graphically described this evening. The refusal to allow independent humanitarian access to civilians in all of these areas, particularly the rebel-held areas, is of deep concern. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has told the Security Council that it believes that more than 1 million people have been displaced or severely affected by the conflict. We are working to ensure that the issue remains at the top of the international agenda, in particular within the African Union and the UN Security Council. The situation deserves the full and credible independent investigation that the Foreign Secretary called for at the start of the conflict, and for those responsible for abuses or international crimes to be held to account. This remains our position.
It is crucial that the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North comply with obligations to ensure humanitarian access and agree a full cessation of hostilities. The African Union has invited the parties to direct talks on 5 March. We are encouraging both sides to attend and to engage in serious talks without preconditions, focusing first on achieving a cessation of hostilities and full humanitarian access. Until that time, the UK teams in Juba and Khartoum will continue to work closely with the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, other donors and NGOs to ensure that assistance reaches all those in need who are accessible, and that we are ready to move rapidly to respond to a broader opening up of access.
I will respond to the specific issues that were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about the provision of life-saving food and medical aid to civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. All donors share the view that negotiated access from within Sudan is the best way of providing humanitarian assistance. Donors co-ordinate closely, and many of them are looking carefully at all options for getting aid to those in need. We currently judge that the risks of cross-border assistance mean that the UK should not pursue this approach at this stage.
The noble Baroness also asked what representations the UK had made on halting aerial bombardments in Darfur. The recent Panel of Experts report highlighted the Government of Sudan’s use of military aircraft in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1591. We condemn such actions and most recently expressed our concerns through the UN Security Council discussion adopting Resolution 2091, which extended the panel’s mandate for a further year.
My noble friend Lord Avebury asked why the Panel of Experts report had not been published. I am pleased to inform him that a decision has been taken to publish the latest report on Darfur from the Panel of Experts. It has not yet appeared on the United Nations website, but my officials will pass on a copy to the noble Lord as soon as it becomes available. He also raised the question of whether the Government should consider the use of drones against Sudanese aircraft in Darfur. We argue consistently for the strict enforcement of UN sanctions in Darfur. It has not been possible to agree measures to toughen the sanctions regime in the United Nations Security Council, and any actions that we take must be consistent with existing UN Security Council resolutions.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked for reassurance that FCO resources for Sudan would not be reduced. I can assure him that Sudan remains a high priority for the FCO. There are many competing priorities, including in Africa, but no decision has been taken to reduce FCO resources devoted to Sudan and South Sudan. The opening of an embassy in Juba has meant an increase in overall staff resources over the past two years.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the question of the views of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and its criticism of the project in Darfur. We believe that this report is outdated. The UK has already transformed our humanitarian response in Sudan to help address the root causes of conflict rather than simply relying on emergency aid. It is disappointing not to see this reflected in the ICAI’s report. Our new programme will help the poorest people become better able to cope with the impact of conflict or man-made disasters, such as being able to access local markets and regular food supplies.
The noble Lord also asked about the potential denial of diplomatic status for senior members of the NCP. As we have set out before, at this stage the UK will maintain a diplomatic relationship with Sudan. We use our diplomatic relations with Sudan to press for the Government to resolve conflicts, address humanitarian and development needs and end human rights abuses. Having a senior ambassador in Khartoum ensures that we have influence and access to the right levels of government, as well as to a full range of political opposition and civil society groups. It is not ideal, but we feel that downgrading our relations would reduce our ability to achieve our objectives—indeed, any objectives—in Sudan.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter asked some quite specific questions: what support are we providing to those being victimised by the Government of Sudan? Our embassy in Sudan monitors the situation closely and makes regular representations to the Sudanese authorities. The specific question was raised about the humanitarian situation in South Sudan. Of course we remain extremely concerned about the refugee situation in both Unity and Upper Nile states caused by the influx of almost 180,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as the wider humanitarian situation in South Sudan. My honourable friend Lynne Featherstone saw the refugee conditions for herself when she visited the camp in October.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for a response to the letter to the UN Security Council; we look forward to receiving that letter and I can assure him that it will be considered seriously and responded to. I am acutely aware of the time. I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter asked about the expulsion of expatriates from Sudan. We are aware of a number of expatriates who have been expelled, in particular those with connections to religious organisations. We have raised these concerns with the Sudan ministry responsible for religious affairs and European Union colleagues are intending to make representations to the Minister of Justice.
In conclusion, we have come tantalisingly close to a settlement of the dispute on many occasions, but it will take a serious renewed effort in good faith from both countries to properly and peacefully settle their remaining differences. The international community will do what it can to bring the parties to the various internal conflicts into peace talks, and to address the humanitarian consequences, but Sudan will not be at peace until it addresses the inequalities and marginalisation that lie behind all of these conflicts.
The AU high-level implementation panel and other countries will have a vital role to play, and we should commend their efforts so far. For our part, we stand ready to add value to the process in whatever way we can, and to work closely with our international partners. It is a priority for us to ensure that agreements are finalised and implemented and for all conflicts to be resolved. We want to have a positive and constructive bilateral relationship with both Sudan and South Sudan through our bilateral aid programme in both countries, and we remain fully committed to delivering humanitarian aid and development projects. We will continue to provide assistance to respond to the humanitarian needs of conflict affected populations, to support security and access to justice, to build basic services and to encourage a more transparent and accountable government in Sudan and South Sudan.
Committee adjourned at 7.09 pm.