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South Sudan

Volume 753: debated on Monday 24 March 2014

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the progress of peace talks between opposing armed groups in South Sudan and the influence exerted by Sudan on those developments.

My Lords, in view of the absence of my noble friend Lady Warsi, it may be for the convenience of the House to adjourn briefly. I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure for five minutes.

Sitting suspended.

My Lords, it appears that four of the 11 speakers are not in the Chamber at the moment. We could either adjourn for a further five minutes or we could start and allow them to speak.

My Lords, I wonder if it would not be more flexible to start and to allow speakers to speak when they arrive.

I do not know what the protocol is—I look to the clerk for advice on what the procedure would be. I am quite happy for speakers to speak as and when they—

In those circumstances, my Lords, shall we just adjourn for five minutes to see who else turns up, possibly until a quarter past?

Sitting suspended.

My Lords, I apologise for our timing being so far out. There are some noble Lords who have not been able to come here. If they come within the next two or three minutes, we will allow them to speak. They may well be expecting to start much later. In these circumstances, we will not enforce the six-minute rule quite as sharply as is our wont, but we might enforce the seven-minute rule quite sharply.

My Lords, I presume that the extension of time also applies to the opening speech.

While diplomats attempt to find a lasting solution to the long-standing rivalry that sparked widespread conflict in December, millions of South Sudanese are suffering an acute humanitarian crisis. Fighting spread rapidly from the capital to volatile locations in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, fuelling local political battles and inflaming old civil war grievances.

More than 1,000 people were killed during the five weeks of violence before President Salva Kiir and the former vice-president Riek Machar signed a ceasefire agreement. Terrible human rights atrocities have been documented throughout the crisis. Taban Deng Gai, the rebel chief negotiator at the peace talks in Addis, confirmed that innocent people lost their lives in Malakal, Bentu and Bor, the state capitals of Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei states. Human Rights Watch concluded that armed forces from both sides have looted extensively, destroying civilian property and desperately needed aid facilities. They have targeted civilians and carried out ethnically based extra-judicial killings.

A substantial solution to the crisis will come only through an inclusive political process that engages South Sudanese communities and deals with the underlying causes of unrest. A political agreement between leaders that does not address people’s grievances, nor clearly invite citizens across the country to play their part in finding long-term solutions, may be a first step. It will, however, prove a poor foundation in the search for sustainable peace.

On 30 December, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate abuses perpetrated during the conflict to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.

A five-member commission of inquiry was appointed on 7 March 2014, to be headed by former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo. The mandate of the commission is to,

“investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan”.

I ask my noble friend what actions the Government are taking to ensure that the commission is adequately supported and that it focuses on all its objectives— including modalities for reconciliation—as well as identifying perpetrators of human rights abuses. How are our Government working with the Security Council to press all the warring parties to allow unrestricted humanitarian access across the country, and to stress the need for UNMISS to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians more effectively?

On 30 March, east African heads of state met in Addis Ababa in the latest push for peace. Leaders from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, were called together, even as fierce fighting took place around Malakal. They authorised the prompt deployment of a regional protection and deterrent force that would operate as part of the IGAD monitoring and verification mechanism established to support the 23 January ceasefire. Riek Machar, the leader of the SPLA in opposition, immediately rejected the proposal, saying that UNMISS already had a clear mandate in the country.

The current crisis has its roots in wide-ranging failures of governance, security provision, reform, justice and reconciliation in Sudan. If the country is to move forward, there needs to be a process that is ready and willing to embrace these issues and address these drivers of the crisis. This will involve a change in political participation, not just a power-sharing deal. The peace talks must lead to a fundamental change in the way in which politics is done in Sudan, not just a political power-sharing deal between two leaders, which would be a return to the status quo. The peace process needs to deal with the roles of current leaders in any future Government, including what the appropriate role is for Salva Kiir.

South Sudanese civil society organisations are calling for robust justice mechanisms as well as reconciliation to be built into final agreements. These will need to deal with historic grievances that are not dealt with by the comprehensive peace agreement, as well as those from the newest outbreak of conflict. What are our Government doing as a matter of urgency to ensure that civil society plays an effective role in the negotiations and in the monitoring and verification mechanisms? What political and material support are we providing to help them to fulfil that role? Do our Government agree that the IGAD and international funds must quickly take steps to expand participation in the mediation process and engage representatives from South Sudanese communities, the diaspora and religious communities to ensure that the process is seen, heard and active across the states of South Sudan?

The Security Council received an advance copy of the Secretary-General’s report on South Sudan on 6 March, which it is understood was discussed on 18 March. The report apparently contains a reprioritisation of the core functions of the mission—protecting civilians, rather than capacity-building. In December, the Security Council voted to increase the mission’s military component by 5,500 to 12,500. However, UNMISS is unable to have a broader impact on the crisis and is increasingly seen as partisan by both sides of the conflict. On 13 March in Western Bahr el Ghazal, an area that has largely escaped conflict, youths demonstrated against the force, citing it as working with the rebels.

That same week, the Government of South Sudan openly accused UNMISS, or agents working with it, of channelling weapons to Riek Machar after they found mislabelled weapons in UNMISS-marked trucks travelling to Unity State. There is a strong perception that agents of armed groups have infiltrated protection areas within UNMISS bases and are monitoring who is inside. These perceptions increase fear, anxiety and tension within camps. UNMISS and UN police should expand their patrolling efforts and engage with communities to better control their perimeters and reassure populations.

Do our Government agree that the UNMISS mandate should be refocused on the protection of civilians and away from giving capacity-building support to either party? It is understood that finding additional troops for UNMISS is proving difficult. What are our Government doing to help to ensure that the reinforcements agreed in December arrive in good time?

On 14 February the UN Security Council welcomed the positive bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan. President Bashir visited Juba on 6 January and sent an envoy to the South Sudan peace talks. Sudan’s position is critical to the course of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. The split in South Sudan mirrors the division seen in the second civil war, when Riek Machar and a number of other groups split from John Garang and ultimately received support from Khartoum. The split differs in a number of ways from that of 1991. For example, the Bul Nuer of Mayom County, who comprised the core of the SSDF forces of Paulino Matip and remained allied with Khartoum until 2006, fought with Salva Kiir this time. The core of the rebellion was also from Bor, John Garang’s home territory.

Ugandan forces have been reported to have been fighting alongside the Government of South Sudan in the recent conflict. There is some argument that worse scenarios might have developed if they had not been present. The consensus at the Addis talks and among the international community, however, is that the involvement of the Ugandan army is counterproductive because it has undermined the ability of IGAD, in which Uganda is a main actor, to act as a mediator between the parties.

The 27 September 2012 agreements on outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan still lack implementation, and the situation in Abyei has deteriorated terribly. Sudan’s internal conflicts have also escalated, and the international community should make every effort to avoid its piecemeal approach of the past, of following the crisis and taking its eye off the bigger picture. I ask my noble friend what reports our Government have received, if any, of any international actor providing political or material support to the SPLA in opposition. What are our Government doing to ensure that the Government of Sudan withdraw their oil police from Diffra, and that the SPLA and South Sudan police forces withdraw from Abyei, in line with the United Nations Security Council statement of 14 February?

What representations are the Government of the UK making to Sudan about accessing the 25,000 or so refugees who fled to that country from South Sudan in the recent fighting? Finally, I ask my noble friend to confirm, given the complexity of these issues and what I am sure will be the large number of questions put by noble Lords, that she will write to me to answer the questions more fully than is possible in the time available.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on securing this very timely debate and on his comprehensive introduction of it. As I have recently returned from a visit to South Sudan with the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, I will highlight three aspects of our visit: the continuing problems and suffering resulting from the failure to secure agreement on Abyei; the escalating humanitarian crisis in Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap state; and the prerequisites for an effective peace process.

Our visit began in Agok, near to Abyei, where we met senior representatives of the Ngok Dinka community. Their situation remains cause for deep concern. Abyei town is still devastated; the continuing refusal of the Khartoum Government to remove their military forces maintains a reign of terror, so civilians cannot return to their homes; the murder with impunity last year of the paramount chief has left deep scars; and the failure of the international community to fulfil obligations for a referendum created such frustration that the local community organised their own, with an overwhelming mandate for joining South Sudan. Sadly, recent weeks have seen an increase in violent attacks, with many more civilian casualties reported. There is also a justifiable fear that the conflict which has erupted in South Sudan will deflect the attention of the international community from the urgent requirement to address the continuing needs and suffering of the people of Abyei.

We then visited Man-Angui camp, where nearly 5,000 internally displaced people are living in horrendous conditions. Warrap state and Bahr el Ghazal have been inundated with thousands of civilians fleeing from the conflict in Abyei, from Khartoum’s continuing genocidal bombardment in the Nuba mountains and in Blue Nile, and, most recently, from the tragic eruption of conflict in South Sudan. Many are without any humanitarian aid, living in flimsy cardboard shelters which will disintegrate with the imminent heavy rains; some have no shelter at all. There is such a shortage of food that people are forced to eat leaves with no nutritional value. For many, there is no health care, so pregnant women are giving birth with no midwives or access to clinical intervention if needed. The current crisis in these parts of South Sudan is becoming another catastrophe. The rains will bring even more disease, worsened sanitation, famine and severe challenges for access for humanitarian assistance as more than half the country becomes impassable. What support is being given by DfID to address this critical situation in this part of South Sudan?

The urgent need for a genuine peace process is intensified by Khartoum’s continuing genocidal policies in Darfur as well as Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where it has ruthlessly tripled aerial bombardment while the international community’s attention has been focused on the conflict in South Sudan. February saw the highest number of civilians killed or injured in South Kordofan since the current conflict began in 2011, with the number of fatalities more than double those recorded in January. The Sudanese Air Force is now employing even more sophisticated weaponry against civilians, including upgraded aircraft.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network argues that food insecurity in South Kordofan will reach emergency levels by April. In Blue Nile state there is even less humanitarian assistance. When we visited there last year, many hundreds of people had already died of hunger. What are the British Government doing to try to help humanitarian assistance reach these civilians before hunger and disease claim many more hundreds of lives in South Kordofan and Blue Nile?

The proposed peace process needs to meet the complex realities on the ground, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, emphasised so well. As the conflict erupted, myriad locally focused groups in north-eastern South Sudan—only some of them Nuer—took up arms against President Salva Kiir in order to protest localised grievances. While those groups have grievances against the president, only a small minority support Riek Machar. However, in mid-March 2014, when IGAD announced the formation of the Protection Deterrent Force—PDF—for South Sudan, Riek Machar announced that “his forces” would not co-operate with the PDF.

Therefore, for a genuine conflict resolution process to be effective, the complex reality must be recognised and addressed. First, the diverse grievances of the myriad grassroots groups must be studied, understood and resolved. That process should be conducted separately with each group, with cessation of violence as a precondition for such discussions. There is no other way to stop the fratricidal violence that currently plagues so much of South Sudan.

The second phase can come only when violence has subsided, making it possible to engage in meaningful discussions with all the key political forces in South Sudan—not just President Kiir and Riek Machar—about governance reforms and the political future of the nation. President Kiir has outlined an excellent eight-point road map for a return to peace and moving the country forward, which needs to be considered by the international community, although there is no comparable proposition from Riek Machar or any other opposition groups.

Having just returned from a heartbreaking visit where we witnessed first-hand the massive scale of suffering, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to fulfil their continuing responsibility, as a member of the troika, to support a realistic, just peace process, essential for urgent action to alleviate the current catastrophes; to prevent escalation of yet more conflict; and to ensure that the Government in Khartoum do not take advantage of the conflict in South Sudan to escalate their ruthless assaults on their own people. The United Kingdom has a responsibility to bring some hope to people in both nations, Sudan and South Sudan, who have suffered too much for far too long. I sincerely hope that the Minister will provide that hope this evening.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chidgey for initiating this short but important debate. I was born and brought up in Africa and still have many connections throughout the continent, so I feel particular resonance with this debate. I have visited Juba, as my family undertook business in that part of the world. I also declare that I am the chairman and a funder of a charity which has undertaken humanitarian work in Sudan.

There was a long struggle for independence for South Sudan, with decades of conflict, but since it was granted independence in July 2011 its problems have not been erased. In Sudan, there has been a history of problems relating to cultural differences, poverty, tribal intolerance, violence and ethnic religious prejudice. After South Sudan gained its independence, differences arose within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. It started as a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, but has escalated into a full-scale conflict, with some of the fighting along ethnic lines. The President has accused Mr Machar of launching a coup, which Mr Machar denies strongly. Following the ceasefire of 23 January there was hope that a long-term peaceful solution could be found. However, the brutality witnessed less than a month later in the city of Malakal shattered all our hopes and disturbed even the most seasoned of aid workers on the ground.

Two months on and I am now very disappointed that the second round of peace talks has been delayed. The two sides are unable to even agree on who is to attend such talks. This is extremely frustrating and illustrates the scale of the challenge ahead. The international community must be swift and assertive in condemning any obstruction to progress on negotiations. I support the threat of sanctions by the European Union and the United States in the event that progress is not forthcoming. Most importantly, it is the humanitarian situation and human rights violations that are threatening innocent people’s livelihoods. I commend the work of the United Nations and the World Food Programme to assist with this, but it is not and cannot be enough.

The UN mission in South Sudan has been clear to both sides that its premises and facilities must not be violated. I welcome the temporary strategic shift towards the protection of civilians and the facilitation of humanitarian assistance. I also welcome the establishment of a commission of inquiry so that human rights abuses are properly investigated and perpetrators held accountable. Any eventual solution must be thorough and comprehensive enough to prevent such a catastrophe from recurring. I believe that the participation of all sides and relevant parties is crucial if this is to be achieved. The decisions of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development must be respected in its role as mediator in the region.

It is also paramount that we see the withdrawal of all allied forces and armed groups, as originally drafted in the cessation of hostilities agreement. The people of South Sudan are enduring suffering every day. Twenty thousand people have died and nearly a million people have been displaced in the space of just three months. There are now also warnings of a potential famine if farmers do not feel safe enough to return to their homes and plant their fields. It is depressing that the world’s youngest country has descended into such chaos. The people of South Sudan had already encountered far too much suffering prior to independence. Ultimately, these divisions must be healed and governance must be strengthened for the sake of the South Sudanese people.

This will happen only through mutual compliance with the cessation of hostilities and mature political dialogue. During the January ceasefire, our Foreign Secretary was clear that the UK was ready to lend its full support to efforts for a process of national reconciliation. I hope that we will do so and respect this commitment, and I would be grateful for clarification on this point from my noble friend the Minister. I am, however, encouraged by our Government’s commitment to working closely with the Republic of South Sudan towards international peace and stability. I ask my noble friend to update the House on the representations that the UK has received from the African Union on the assistance the UK can provide.

I also call on the Government to further press South Sudan to implement the agreements from September 2012 to resolve outstanding areas of disagreement with Sudan and uphold the ceasefire. We need to continue to work towards resolving the political, tribal and humanitarian problems to achieve peace and prosperity not only in South Sudan but in Africa as a whole. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks at the close of the debate.

My Lords, I begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for arriving late in his introductory speech. I should normally be struck off the list, but business is very hard to predict in the House of Lords. I thank the Whips on the Front Bench for resurrecting me.

All of us who follow South Sudan regularly have been dismayed and disturbed by the events in December, having had high expectations of Africa’s youngest country. What concerns me most is that so much killing will discourage even those who supported and nurtured this country long before its independence. I am sure that noble Lords will have read, as I have, other harrowing accounts about Malakal and Bor and especially the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of Médecins sans Frontières, which we must highly commend for their swift action. Through the aid agencies and the churches, we somehow have to rebuild the trust that we know exists among the people of South Sudan. We have to remind ourselves of the many bonds between the different races and that this is primarily a political conflict, in my view, based on and exploiting ethnic divisions. In short, it is a failure of leadership where it was most needed.

One of the most critical problems is the loss of confidence in UNMISS and the possibility that the UN itself will have to rethink its mandate in terms of nation building rather than state building. What is our Government’s analysis of this? Does the Minister agree that there has been perhaps too much emphasis on influencing—at times even controlling—organs of central government? One can imagine the enthusiasm of supporting states at a time of independence. Does she agree that there has therefore been too little emphasis on devolving power and ensuring that capacity building in the regions and people’s participation in local communities are equally important?

The showdown between Salva Kiir and the UN may now have passed, judging by more soothing comments I read recently from the GOSS. It would be very serious if this row halted the basic humanitarian work of the UN and the related agencies, on top of the considerable present challenges of feeding and sheltering tens of thousands in the midst of civil war and the continuing arrivals of refugees from almost every direction. The fighting has continued in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei in spite of efforts at diplomacy and peacekeeping.

I have no doubt that the UK has played a useful and important role in the troika during the IGAD talks in Ethiopia, but if the principals are not willing to settle their differences—which have a long history going back before the CPA—what hope is there for diplomats? I trust that we are not going to reduce the staff any further in the Sudan unit, for instance, or in South Sudan itself at a time when, at the onset of the rains, we are going to see a much bigger humanitarian disaster unless aid agencies can pre-position their supplies in time. I understand that, so far, owing to official obstruction as well as road conditions, the World Food Programme has been able to reach only 765,000 people—about three-quarters of a million—out of the 2.5 million affected by the conflict, and that is only in the south, although it has now begun airdrops in the three conflict states. UNHCR and UNOCHA estimate an even higher figure at risk of food insecurity, and there has been concern about the high level of malnutrition seen among young refugees arriving in Ethiopia from the north-east.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the situation in Abyei remains precarious. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that across the border in South Kordofan the Nuba people are still the victims of bombardment by the Sudanese armed forces. There is no doubt that Khartoum has taken advantage of the situation in the south to exploit its own position.

What about Riek Machar, the maverick opposition figure who has a long track record in Sudan? I notice that the IGAD statement loosely condemned tribalism and ideological bankruptcy. I am not sure which one of those applies to whom, and I do not know whether the member states of IGAD have any idea how to deal with Riek Machar. There are suspicions that he may return to his old alliance with the north. He has long had ties with the UK, and the FCO needs to make more effort to bring him back to the negotiating table. Perhaps the Minister will update us also on the position of his colleagues, who are in detention and the subject of diplomacy.

Finally, there has to be national reconciliation. There are currently three different official bodies concerned with justice and reconciliation and, although they put out a joint statement in January, there is concern that they are not yet active. The churches, on the other hand, led by Archbishop Deng, are an essential part of this process. They are already active and I understand that their initial focus will be on the displaced from Bor, Malakal and Nimule, who have suffered most in the recent conflict.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this debate. I claim no special expertise on this subject but, like other noble Lords, I am extremely keen to hear the Government’s assessment of how the peace process is proceeding.

It is indeed tragic that so soon after South Sudan came into existence as an independent country in 2011 such a vicious civil war should have broken out. I do not think that the world as a whole has yet woken up to the scale of the disaster, with more than 10,000 dead, according to the latest Economist report, and close to 1 million internally displaced people, according to the report of the United Nations Secretary General on 6 March. As we have already heard, major towns such as Bor, Malakal and Bentui have been totally destroyed.

Sadly again, as we know, it looks as though the conflict has taken on a horribly strong ethnic dimension, with Dinka and Nuer pitted against one another, and, even more tragically, that atrocities have been committed on both sides. However, it is important to note that the Government were formed from and still contain people from both ethnic backgrounds—and, furthermore, that they remain the elected Government.

The parish in which I reside and help when not working elsewhere has close links with South Sudan and, through this, I have information from a source who is not only very well placed but, in my view, is utterly to be trusted. He is quite convinced that the vice-president, Riek Machar, tried to depose the president in a coup and that he and his associates were certainly guilty of embezzlement. As we know, Riek Machar denies this and says that the spark for the conflict was fighting in the presidential guard. Nevertheless, we know that he broke away from the SPLM in 1991, signing a peace deal with Khartoum in 1997 and accepting arms from the north.

Furthermore, it is absolutely undeniable that he is now leading an armed conflict against the Government. If this reading of events is true—as I say, I know and trust the source, who is a good position to know what is happening—the wording of the Motion does not quite reflect the situation when it refers simply to “opposing armed groups”, as though there was an equality of blame. There are indeed some other breakaway armed groups and both the Government and Riek Machar’s forces are to blame for the atrocities, for local troops on both sides have got out of control.

However, the conflict is at heart one between a constitutional Government and a faction that has tried to overthrow them by force. In these circumstances it is difficult to see how the President could agree immediately to a power-sharing agreement, which he has been asked to do, without at least some adequate international backing to ensure that what has happened in recent months does not happen again, if and when first a ceasefire and then an agreement have been reached. Nevertheless, the UN Secretary-General was surely right when he said:

“While the declared intention by Mr Machar to remove an elected government by force is unacceptable, both sides now bear full responsibility for bringing the senseless fighting … to an immediate end”.

It will be very interesting to learn the Government’s assessment of Sudan’s role in all this. We cannot help wondering whether Sudan is once again trying to influence the course of events in the south, not least with a view to the oil fields, a significant portion of which are occupied by rebel forces. However, against this there is the fact that according to the latest Security Council report from the UN, President Omar al-Bashir and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan have met, and President al-Bashir has agreed to support a cessation of hostilities, and to participate in a monitoring and verification team.

We cannot underestimate the sheer difficulties that this country now faces. As we know, it is very poor. The Government are limited in the resources that they have to bring to bear. There are high expectations among the different tribal groups, and there is a long history of conflict that is still simmering and erupting. The number of troops on the ground is limited, considering the country’s vast size. Despite these difficulties, clearly every effort must be made, first, to bring about an immediate ceasefire, because nothing can happen until there is one. Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, emphasised so forcefully from her long and passionate engagement with the country, there must be an immediate stepping-up of humanitarian aid. There must be a serious examination of the kind of political system that might work there—without forgetting the fact, as I have emphasised, that there is a constitutionally elected Government in place and there is surely some duty to try to support them.

My Lords, I echo the warmest congratulations that have been expressed on my noble friend Lord Chidgey’s masterly analysis of the appalling consequences of the civil war and the useful proposals that he has made for the solution of the conflict.

After what was originally a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar, the tensions escalated until they became acute. It was the President who fired Machar, accusing him of trying to oust him in an attempted coup. If the allegations that have been referred to by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, are correct, I really wonder whether Machar has any future role to play in the politics of South Sudan, or whether the international community should say that he is no longer a fit person to engage in a dialogue with the Government.

After the power struggle escalated into violence, there were, first, clashes between units of the SPLA in Juba loyal to the two leaders respectively, and then almost immediately ethnic cleansing against the Nuer in the capital, resulting in tens of thousands abandoning their homes and possessions, and taking refuge in the UN camp next to the airport. This conflict spread with extraordinary speed to other parts of the country, as my noble friend said, particularly to the three capitals: Bentiu, the capital of Unity state; Malakal, capital of Upper Nile, which is the largest oil-producing region, recaptured as I understand from the rebels three days ago; and Bor, capital of Jonglei. The fighting has continued in spite of the ceasefire agreement between the warring ethnic factions. As has been said, the UN estimates that over a million people have been displaced, a quarter of a million of them across the borders, 90,000 to Uganda alone, with 500 people a day still crossing that border.

My noble friend mentioned the IGAD meeting 10 days ago in Addis, which authorised the prompt deployment of a regional “protection and deterrent force” in support of the ceasefire. As to Machar’s prompt rejection of that proposal and his idea that UNMISS should have sole responsibility in those areas, I ask my noble friend the Minister: what discussions have there been between IGAD and the UN with a view to dovetailing their mandates and even assigning specific tasks to IGAD?

The criticism of UNMISS that we have heard about may well be partly justified, particularly the episode when it was found that weapons were being shipped in a truck that was otherwise engaged in humanitarian assistance. UNMISS has explained this by saying that those arms were destined for Ghanaian peacekeepers, and apologised for departing from its usual practice of shipping weapons to the peacekeepers by air. Nevertheless, a nasty smell remains over that allegation, which needs to be cleared up.

UNMISS has not done anything substantial to prevent the carnage and destruction so far, even though its mandate includes the deterrence of violence and the protection of civilians. However, should the revision of its mandate called for by my noble friend explicitly authorise the use of armed force in support of those objectives? I ask my noble friend the Minister: will Ugandan troops remain in South Sudan as part of the IGAD force? My noble friend is surely right to say that Uganda has played an important role in preventing even greater loss of life, which would have happened without its troops. It would seem perverse if IGAD did not build on its knowledge and experience of the situation on the ground, but I understand that it is not on the list of potential contributors to the IGAD force.

The UN says that 3.7 million people are at risk of food insecurity, and the situation could become even worse if the conflict continues. Aid agencies have so far reached only about a quarter of these people, and I wonder if my noble friend has any information about the further plans of the eight humanitarian agencies whose emergency directors just concluded a three-day visit to the country to enhance the response that they are already making.

Do we know the timetable for the deployment of IGAD forces, and will they give priority to Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, where not only was the fighting worst but 90% of the food-insecure are concentrated and all the WFP food stocks, offices, computers, vehicles and other assets were looted or destroyed? In Upper Nile’s two WFP warehouses alone, 1,700 tonnes of food were stolen, which would have been enough to feed 102,000 people for a month. What guarantees have been given by the rebels that when these assets are replaced, as they have to be, the same will not happen again?

With the rainy season about to start, any planting will cease, turning the country’s acute food crisis into a long-term problem, as the FAO has said. On top of its lack of capacity and resources to deal with the humanitarian needs of its own population, South Sudan has to look after some 200,000 refugees from Sudan and to cope with the continued aerial bombardment of civilians in the border area by the Sudanese air force, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will at least be able to say that the UK has responded to this dreadful crisis with our accustomed generosity.

My Lords, the whole House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this Question for Short Debate. I am sure that we all thank him for the eloquent way in which he set the scene for this debate.

Following the fighting that broke out in Juba last December, we have seen the violence spread like a plague to Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, where fresh clashes only last week have rendered those areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. As we have heard, unverified reports suggest more than 10,000 fatalities. The key message of our debate to all sides should surely be that there should be an immediate cessation of hostilities with no delay.

Both President Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, must understand that anything which further exacerbates the existing ethnic tensions, particularly between the Dinka and Nuer, risks the very future of South Sudan and plays into the hands of those who wanted the world’s newest state to fail from the very outset. They should also take careful note of the statement of the special envoys of the European Union, the United States and Norway in which the troika warned them that, if they fail to engage constructively with the IGAD-led talks, “they will face consequences” and that:

“The people of South Sudan expect renewal, they expect their voices to be heard in forging a more sustainable peace. Business as usual is not a viable way forward”.

The suffering of the people of South Sudan is being further compounded by the collateral effects on humanitarian relief and those who work so selflessly to provide it. Since January there have been three fatalities among aid workers, more than 100 were prevented from relocating from Yirol in Lakes state to Juba for safety, and more than 75 humanitarian vehicles have been commandeered or stolen. It is impossible to feel anything but deep admiration for those aid workers still in the field, risking their lives to bring relief and help to the destitute. Surely there is more that we could do to give them practical help and support.

With 3.7 million people now experiencing acute food insecurity and 7 million facing some degree of food insecurity, according to figures provided by the food security and livelihoods cluster, does the Minister agree that if, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just mentioned, pastoralists and farmers prove unable to move with their livestock or to plant their seeds at the outset of this rainy season, it is becoming increasingly possible that this crisis of food insecurity will freefall into outright famine? I hope that the Minister will update us on the Government’s own assessment. Perhaps she can also tell us whether, with the reallocation of funds from development projects in other parts of the country to emergency food relief, she would concur that this poses a threat to the country’s long-term recovery. Is it the case that the crisis response plan for humanitarian activities until June 2014 is around only 23% funded, with a shortfall of £592 million? How can that gap be filled?

Over these weeks we have seen former allies become enemies, old grievances reignited, and tribalism and factions threatening the cohesion of South Sudan. The failure to address many of these underlying issues and challenges—many of which were well known but ignored in the framing of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement—has played its part in the genesis of this new eruption of violence. Any political agreement crafted between power brokers and warlords that does not address grievances and fails to reach out to affected communities will be a poor basis on which to build a peace. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that politics is practised in South Sudan. It cannot be based on deals between a couple of competing leaders. Sudan’s churches have always had a historic and important role as peacemakers, and groups such as Citizens for Peace and Justice—a coalition of 30 civil society organisations—should be given direct and independent participation at the IGAD negotiating table. They at least, in contrast to some of the political leaders, have had an enduring interest in the humanitarian needs of the people.

As is always the case when violence replaces negotiated political solutions, powerless, vulnerable people, especially women and children, are caught in the cross-fire and are the ones who suffer the most. From December to mid-January, almost 500,000 people were displaced. It is predicted that total displacement may reach more than 900,000 and that 40% of those will be children. The impact is also spreading to neighbouring countries. As we have heard, there are now around 222,000 refugees. As of 12 March, 70,000 South Sudanese had crossed into Ethiopia seeking asylum, with the number expected to reach more than 150,000 by the end of this year. Perhaps the Minister can update us on the Government’s own assessment of the numbers and of those who have been responsible for these events. Is there not an argument for the United Kingdom to have in place a full-time special envoy to Sudan?

We have seen attacks on civilians by government forces, attacks on civilians by opposition forces, ethnic targeting by government forces, and widespread destruction and looting. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us what is being done to hold those responsible to account and particularly to tackle the recruitment and arming of children and young people into their militias. Can she also tell us whether she thinks that the commission of inquiry, which has been referred to, is sufficiently well resourced? Will it have unimpeded access to the affected areas? As well as bringing perpetrators to justice, does it have within its terms of reference the creation of mechanisms for settling grievances which might pre-empt future eruptions of violence, while fostering a climate in which reconciliation might occur? Reconciliation is not a soft issue—an add-on which might be nice to have—but a hard-edged security requirement.

Will the Minister say what child protection specialists are in the field and whether we have formally requested the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to travel to South Sudan and report to the Security Council, so that due weight can be attached to addressing the appalling plight of the children whose lives have been shattered by these events? Perhaps I may also ask whether the British Government will be bankrolling the elections next year. How can we possibly imagine that an accurate census can be taken when 1 million people are displaced? What genuine choices will be able to be made?

As I conclude, I should be grateful if the Government would tell us what intelligence they have on the role and influence of South Sudan’s neighbours in the conflict. The harsh reality is that events in South Sudan have enabled Khartoum to continue its systematic war of attrition against the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The reality is that events in South Sudan have taken the spotlight off the 18 states affected by armed conflict in the north—not least in Darfur, where violence continues unabated and largely unreported.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has done a great service in helping us once again to focus attention on South Sudan. I greatly admire the consistent work done by so many noble Lords—above all, my noble friend Lady Cox—who take an interest in Sudan and in South Sudan.

I first went to Juba in 1950, 64 years ago. I was only 14 and I had the privilege of travelling around Equatoria province with my father, who was then an administrator in the south, visiting schools, seeing what life was like and visiting the missions. Later, in the early 1970s, when I became a Member of Parliament, I flew south to Juba from Khartoum with the then Foreign Minister of Sudan to visit the south at a time when President Nimeiry had made a major gesture to the south. He went south and spent Christmas with the Christians. Here was a Muslim President going south to spend Christmas with the Christians. Alas, that gesture and spirit did not last.

I want to make just a few reflections. First, it is right that Britain, having had responsibility for Sudan for 60 years, should, as part of the troika and as part of the international effort, carry on its interest and concern for that country. Indeed, it is a British interest that we should do so; it is a British interest to see stability in east Africa and in South Sudan.

Since independence—we have heard much today about this—there has been at least 30 years of fighting: horrific bloodshed and the longest civil war that Africa has seen. We have heard the figures. Two million were dead and 4 million internally displaced before independence was ever reached. We have heard the figures today on what has happened in the past three months. Earlier, in the 1980s and 1990s, there was serious disagreement within the southern SPLA. There was rivalry for power among the different politicians, creating what today could be described only as a Dante’s Inferno. We have to ask ourselves: what can we, the international community—the east African nations, above all—and the African Union, supported by the international community, do that will help these wretched, poor people?

First, there is the question of survival. We must have, before anything else can happen, a ceasefire, the right amount of humanitarian aid and stability. Then, to my mind, follows reconciliation; the lessons can be learnt from South Africa and other countries. There is an investigation going on led by IGAD, but it is important that civil society, local communities, women and, above all, the church—which is widely respected in the south—should take the major lead in reconciliation. I was very impressed by the visit made to South Sudan by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in early February, when he talked about the need to plant “a tree of reconciliation”, not trees of bitterness. He said:

“Politics is lived by habit; violent conflict has become the habit of politicians. It’s time to set a new habit”.

The church can play a major role in helping with reconciliation, led by people such as Archbishop Deng Bul and others.

I strongly endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lady Cox, but I think that we should see the area as a whole—not just the states of Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity but South Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile. Then we have to consider security, where we and others have skills to help. There is a dire need to create cohesion among the security forces in South Sudan and to be quite clear as to what the role of UNMISS is, as well as that of the neighbouring states in their military co-operation. Beyond that, there need then to be plans for the longer-term development of South Sudan.

I want to stress two final points, which have been made during this debate. First, only after stability has been created can we begin to recreate the framework for democratic participation, both at a local and a national level, to suit South Sudan’s own traditions, culture and history. I should like to know what the Minister’s view on this is, because you cannot achieve proper democracy of the kind that will suit Sudan without establishing the right values—those of freedom of expression, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, systems of accountability, tolerance and mutual respect. That takes a long time—we all know that.

Secondly, to achieve all these things, somebody has to hold the ring to avoid this unending cycle of violence. My own view is that it would be best to explore the idea of a trusteeship, created by the African Union and IGAD and supported by the UN and the troika. An interim Government could be established, participated in by all willing politicians and, above all, President Kiir, supported by leaders of civic society and the church—women, too, who have a vital role to play—and advised by many international experts.

I do not believe that any of this can be achieved without the basic security and stability of that country. The international community, because it is contributing money, resources, expertise and advice, is entitled to have a strong say in how that stable framework can be devised. For the sake of these wonderful people, the long suffering people of South Sudan, let us help them to have a future.

My Lords, I join those who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing this debate at a critical time for the future of South Sudan. There is clearly huge frustration at the lack of sustainable progress in the peace talks between the opposing groups in South Sudan. It is also extremely alarming to see human rights violations, particularly those recently in Bor, continuing to be committed on both sides, targeting innocent civilians along ethnic lines and resulting in the massive humanitarian crisis that so many of your Lordships have spoken about this evening.

At a time when so much has been achieved economically and politically in sub-Saharan Africa, it is a tragic state of affairs that the world’s youngest nation, which had such high expectations on achieving independence in 2011, has failed to end the current crisis.

I entirely agree with the recent statement by the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations in the region, who said:

“The security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan will continue to deteriorate until the parties fully engage in the political talks, respect the cessation of hostilities and allow freedom of movement for the United Nations and its partners”.

Despite the rhetoric of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, I question the commitment of both sides to ending this conflict. With the diplomatic initiatives in Ethiopia stalling, there is clearly growing support by several western backers to impose targeted sanctions in an attempt to break the deadlock.

The tragedy for South Sudan is that with its vast oil reserves and untapped additional natural resources, the country has huge potential to attract foreign direct investment. However, with the continued political uncertainty this investment is unlikely to be forthcoming. In the recently published Global Peace Index, South Sudan ranked 143rd out of the 162 countries analysed, making it one of the most risky countries for foreign direct investment. There is growing concern that the unrest within South Sudan could spill over its borders and destabilise the volatile region.

My noble friend Lady Cox’s account of continued genocide attacks in Sudan is extremely concerning. However, while Sudan could have taken advantage of the disarray in South Sudan to strengthen its hand on outstanding disputes between the two countries, President Omar al-Bashir so far appears to have supported IGAD in its efforts to mediate a sustainable settlement. Both the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments have requested the international community to assist in the debt relief of both countries. This should be another lever by the international community to incentivise a sustainable resolution to the challenges facing the region.

In conclusion, can the Minister outline what is being done to assist with humanitarian relief, particularly more air drops, to those regions with poor infrastructure? I would also like to hear what can be done to include civil society in the protracted negotiations. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Luce when he calls for women to have a more vital role in the future of the region.

This is a time for urgent compromise, strong leadership and an inclusive Government if there is any chance of a sustainable future for this fledgling nation.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for his introduction and for securing this debate. South Sudan is in a terrible mess. After gaining independence from Sudan, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, suggested, there were great hopes for South Sudan, the newest nation on earth. The overwhelming support of the South Sudanese for independence has not, however, resolved the problems that have plagued the country. Fighting between government troops and rebel factions has erupted, killing thousands and forcing more than 800,000 to leave their homes. After more than three months of negotiation, the only achievement of the peace process has been a ceasefire that has been repeatedly violated since January.

Last week, the United States special envoy to South Sudan, Donald Booth, issued a warning on behalf of Britain and other international diplomats when he said that,

“there will be consequences for those who obstruct progress”.

However, last Friday we heard that the second round of South Sudan peace talks had been delayed over the issue of who could participate. South Sudan’s Government have made it clear that they do not want to take part in the peace process if a group of former high-ranking political leaders whom they oppose join in the talks as a third party. I hear what noble Lords have said in terms of the undesirability and unsavoury characteristics of some of these people, but one cannot start to negotiate until all the relevant parties are round the table. That is unacceptable behaviour.

Therefore, following the warning prior to the meeting, what are the consequences now? If the international community fails to follow through, we will lose credibility. Will there be, as was threatened by the European Union representative, targeted restrictive measures against individuals who are obstructing the political process? At some point, all groups will need to get back round the table to deal with key issues.

Other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have focused on the severe humanitarian crisis in the country. When you read the horrific statistics, you imagine what it must be like, but I cannot imagine some of the suffering that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has witnessed over the years.

Efforts will also be need to be made to address two crucial issues. Oil is both a blessing and a curse for the country. Despite the significant resources in oil wealth, there is a desperate scarcity of infrastructure, and instability is holding back the opportunity to exploit oil. Oil production has fallen drastically. Sudan is now dependent on South Sudan for oil, but Sudan has the refineries and the pipeline to the Red Sea. Significant progress will need to be made on the issue of oil between Sudan and South Sudan before peace can be made permanent.

Border disputes in Sudan continue to strain ties. The main row is over the border region of Abyei, where a referendum for residents to decide whether to join South Sudan or Sudan has been delayed over voter eligibility. The conflict is rooted in a dispute over land between farmers of the pro-South Sudan Ngok Dinka people and the cattle-herding Misseriya Arab tribesmen.

Another border conflict zone to which other noble Lords referred is the Nuba mountain region of South Sudan’s Kordofan state, where violence continues between the largely Christian, pro-SPLA Nuba people and the northern government forces. Again, those issues need to be resolved before there is a lasting peace.

There has been a regional escalation to the situation. Uganda, Sudan’s main regional foe, is openly supporting the South Sudan Government in protecting the oil state of Unity. That has created the real fear that Sudan will go on the offensive, with its calls for Uganda to withdraw being ignored and its oil supply being threatened. Ethiopia has largely tried to arbitrate in the conflict. However, reports of Eritrea—Ethiopia’s old rival—becoming involved by funnelling weapons from Sudan to the South Sudanese rebels significantly increase the chances of it becoming involved. There is a real fear that all the old regional scores will be settled in South Sudan. As one Western diplomat observed: “You’ve got Uganda fighting Sudan inside South Sudan, with Eritrea fighting Ethiopia inside South Sudan and a complete law and order vacuum”.

A sustainable solution must include a resolute determination to address the people’s grievances, and the wider community must be involved in the negotiations. I was delighted to see that the Japanese Government have contributed $1 million to ensure that civilian members will be involved in the monitoring and verification mechanisms. It is worth taking note of the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, about the need for devolution within the country. There also needs to be an opportunity within the commission of inquiry to enable reconciliation, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in addition to identification of the perpetrators of human rights abuses. Can the Minister explain whether and how the Government intend to pursue that with the commission of inquiry?

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chidgey for tabling today’s debate, and to noble Lords for allowing me to adjourn the House for a short period to allow as many speakers as possible to take part. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part for their contributions. I also take this opportunity to commend the continued work of the All-Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan, of which I know that my noble friend is a member, as are other noble Lords here tonight. Their work ensures that parliamentarians of all parties are kept informed as the tragedy in the region continues to unfold and helps to raise awareness of the dire humanitarian situation facing millions.

This House’s continuing interest in both countries is evident from the past six months, in which we have had two debates, three Oral Questions and over 50 Written Parliamentary Questions. Since I updated your Lordships on 7 January, the picture has got no better. Huge efforts by IGAD, the African Union and the UK and its partners were put into getting the two sides to sign a cessation of hostilities agreement, which happened on 23 January. Not only have both sides blatantly disregarded it but they are showing no sense of urgency in political talks. The Government, in particular, have resorted to unacceptable rhetoric against UNMISS.

Through our Ministers and our special envoy we continue to work closely with the IGAD countries, the troika and the EU to try to move entrenched mindsets. We are providing both financial support and technical expertise to the IGAD process. In the Security Council we are making it clear that UNMISS should prioritise the protection of civilians, the facilitation of humanitarian assistance and the investigation of human rights.

The African Union has now established its commission of inquiry into alleged human rights violations. We fully support that commission and look forward to its findings. In the mean time, a report from UNMISS has made clear the depth and scale of human rights atrocities by both sides. These include extrajudicial killings, targeting of civilians, torture, recruitment of children and sexual violence.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey spoke about the commission of inquiry. We recognise the capacity limitations that the African Union faces and are encouraging it to liaise closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNMISS, and we welcome the efforts UNMISS, Human Rights Watch and others have already made to report these atrocities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and other noble Lords referred to the dire humanitarian situation. It is getting worse. More than 900,000 people have been forced from their homes. Around 75,000 are still sheltering in UN compounds in appalling conditions. The UN has declared a level 3 emergency—the highest level of humanitarian crisis. In response to my noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I can confirm that there is a very real risk of famine. We have responded by committing an extra £39.5 million for emergency assistance. This is helping to provide food, shelter, water, sanitation and tents, which afford some privacy to women, girls and young children. We are pressing all sides to ensure that unhindered access is given to humanitarian agencies.

We are, however, reviewing with the UN humanitarian country team and other donors how best to reach displaced populations that are on the move because of the security situation. This was a priority issue for the UN emergency directors’ visit to South Sudan last week, and we expect to announce a further package of support very soon. The UK is currently the second largest contributor, after the US, to the crisis response plan. We are lobbying other donors to contribute more, most recently through the working party on humanitarian aid and food aid in Brussels.

The South Sudanese population deserve better than this from their leaders. Beyond an immediate cessation of hostilities, they need to see a truly inclusive settlement which brings in not only politicians but—as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said—a full cross-section of civil society, including church groups, women’s representatives and minority groups. Those politicians currently standing trial in Juba must receive a fair and transparent trial. There needs to be a comprehensive national reconciliation process which properly addresses the deep-rooted political and social grievances that existed even before the current conflict. There must be a full inquiry into alleged human rights violations, and proper accountability for those found guilty. Access must be granted for humanitarian agencies needing to deliver and pre-position urgent aid before the rains. Humanitarian assets should be protected, and staff safety guaranteed.

My noble friend Lord Avebury asked about the other challenges to aid, and about what guarantees rebels have given in relation to aid. We have a real problem in relation to looting, commandeering and destruction of humanitarian assets. This is constraining the response and risks fuelling the conflict. The UK and our humanitarian partners are taking measures to reduce the risk of looting of humanitarian supplies during the conflict. We have called on all parties to respect the independence, impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian personnel.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey drew attention in the Question to the role of Sudan, and he expanded on that in his speech. We should recognise the fact that the Government in Khartoum, in their role as a member of IGAD, have chosen to put their full support behind the peace process and are resisting any temptation to intervene militarily. We acknowledge that Sudan has played a constructive role in that capacity. The two Governments have remained on good terms, with President Bashir’s visit to Juba in January being followed by a number of mutual exchanges, including most recently a visit by the South Sudanese Defence Minister to Khartoum last week. Our envoy Tim Morris was in Khartoum last week and held constructive talks with senior government Ministers. The Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, also discussed the situation in South Sudan during his visit to Khartoum in mid-January.

As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said, it is important that all regional leaders play a constructive role in the ongoing discussions and negotiations. However, we should also highlight our deep concern at the turn of events within Sudan in recent weeks, in which the upsurge of violence in Darfur has led to the displacement of about 120,000 people. The Minister for Africa issued a Statement condemning this on 6 March.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, also referred to other regional players such as Uganda. The presence of Ugandan troops in South Sudan is at the invitation of President Kiir. However, we have been clear to all South Sudan’s neighbours that their actions should not contribute in any way to escalating the violence. We welcome Uganda’s stated intention to withdraw its troops once a regional force has been established and we have been in regular contact with the Ugandan Government about this.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey spoke about Abyei and the withdrawal of police forces. We have repeatedly made it clear to both Governments through the UN Security Council and through our embassies that they should comply fully with the Abyei interim agreement of May 2011 and with UN Resolution 2046, including by withdrawing all their forces from Abyei. We have been clear that lack of progress in implementing agreements will only invite further unilateral action, increase tensions and raise the risk of conflict. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also asked about our support for Abyei. We are very supportive of the role which the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei is playing in trying to keep the peace. Beyond UNISFA, all our support for the people of Abyei goes through UN agencies. I can certainly write to the noble Baroness with a full breakdown of that support.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, asked about debt relief. We are committed in principle to seeing debt relief for all heavily indebted poor countries, including Sudan, where we are confident that it will lead to poverty reduction. We continue to make it clear to the Government of Sudan that they will need to meet the requirements of the internationally agreed HIPC initiative before the UK will provide debt relief as part of a multilateral Paris Club agreement. The Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, made this position clear to the Sudanese Government when he visited Khartoum in mid-January of this year. The noble Lord also referred to UN targeted sanctions. We have made it clear, as have the EU and the US, that we stand ready to consider targeted measures against individuals obstructing the political process in support of the African Union and the IGAD effort.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey referred to peace talks and civil society, as did the noble Lord, Lord Luce. We welcome the civil society forum, which was held in Addis last week, and its subsequent declaration as an important step towards ensuring that civil society views are heard and properly engaged. My noble friend also asked about the UNMISS mandate, which we believe must reflect the changed environment in South Sudan so that it can focus on protecting civilians, enabling humanitarian assistance and investigating human rights abuses and violations. We are encouraging the UN Security Council to bring forward the renewal of the UNMISS mandate so that it is better able to respond to these priorities. In the medium term this is bound to entail less of a role on state-building, which I think was also referred to during the debate.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to the staffing in the Sudan unit. We have no plans to reduce staffing in that unit. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about this. We have a UK envoy, Tim Morris, who was appointed in January especially to cover the South Sudan talks. He has been travelling extensively in the region in support of those talks; in fact, I think that he may be there today. A new special representative for Sudan and South Sudan will take a post in the summer.

My noble friend Lord Sheikh asked about what representations the UK had received from the African Union and what support it would like the UK to supply. We have not received a direct request for assistance, for example with the commission of inquiry, but we are encouraging it to work closely with the UN and would be happy to consider any request. We are providing financial and technical support to IGAD—I think around $1million—which is mediating the wider talks.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, spoke about the attempted coup, as he described it. There are conflicting accounts of the precise circumstances that led to the conflict. We have not seen any evidence of a coup attempt, but we are urging leaders on all sides to restrain their followers and to work actively to prevent the situation deepening divisions along ethnic lines. While there have been deeply disturbing occurrences of ethnically targeted killings, it is clear that the crisis began initially as a political one.

My noble friend Lord Avebury asked about discussions between the UN and IGAD, and the role specifically of the Ugandan forces. Our envoy Tim Morris is, as I said earlier, in Addis Ababa today. He is discussing with IGAD, the troika and the EU envoys, the nature of any popular deterrent force. We believe it is essential that any such force comes under the UNMISS hat, albeit drawing on regional forces. It will be for IGAD countries to agree on whether that should include Ugandan forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke about child soldiers. We are concerned about the number of child soldiers that have been recruited. It is vital that the commission of inquiry looks into this thoroughly during its investigations.

The noble Lord, Lord Luce, spoke about civil society, but I think I have already addressed that earlier.

In conclusion, bringing lasting peace and development to South Sudan is a huge and complex challenge which will require time, patience and unceasing attention from the regional and international community. For the good of the South Sudanese people, who have suffered for far too long, the UK will remain centrally involved for as long as is necessary. I know from the interest in your Lordships’ House that we will continue to keep this matter on an important and priority agenda.

House adjourned at 7.36 pm.