Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Minister and thank all colleagues for joining this debate. I have chosen the anniversary of the fateful coup in South Sudan last December as a reminder of the continuing conflict in the north and the south.
I start with a brief interview with a woman from Upper Nile called Nyantay, who went blind at the time of South Sudan’s referendum and then became a refugee. Nyantay, a mother of four, fled from gunfire in her village but then found herself alone. “I just kept running”, she said. She fell into holes, ran into trees and suffered from heat exhaustion. At one point she sat down expecting death. She went on, “I thought, if the animals eat me, that’s fine. If the soldiers kill me, that’s fine. I no longer felt fear”. Luckily, she was found and taken across the border into Ethiopia and later reunited with her family, whom she had presumed had died.
Nyantay has survived but many thousands have not. At least 10,000 have died in the south—perhaps twice that number. Nearly 2 million have fled from their homes; half of them are in neighbouring countries. Ethiopia now has the largest refugee population in Africa. Some 100,000 are in UN camps in the south but many of them still live in fear for their lives, the Nuer from Salva Kiir’s SPLA and the Dinka from Riek Machar’s opposition SPLA 1.0. There have been terrible massacres on both sides. With the onset of the dry season, fighting will resume and further genocide may be around the corner. One-third of children are acutely malnourished and literacy levels for women remain among the lowest anywhere.
South Sudan is now a level 3 crisis, which is the highest UN category. The figures from UNOCHA’s situation reports are staggering: 618,000 are displaced in Jonglei state alone. Can we even imagine the challenge this presents to aid workers? Nyantay, the blind refugee, nearly gave up hope and, as onlookers, we, too, at times feel helpless and hopeless. So long as the warring parties fail to agree, South Sudan—the world’s youngest country—will remain in a state of chaos.
We may ask why we should care. We should care because people are suffering; because we may have friends living or working there; because any failed state threatens its neighbours; because we, as a country, have a historic commitment, not least as one of the troika who have been continually present at the talks in Addis; and because if we do not end the conflict in South Sudan, more refugees will come to Britain.
If we do help, will aid through the Government reach the people, considering that oil revenues have gone direct to the SPLA and South Sudan is near the top of the corruption list? Did not the World Bank health programme seize up altogether so that NGOs had to take over? Is this not a reason for some to argue that we should reduce our aid budget, or will the Minister confirm my view, which is that through the UN, aid agencies and NGOs, we can and do help effectively if we apply strict conditionality? In principle, humanitarian aid is given safe passage by both sides but there are many obstacles and restrictions, especially on foreign aid workers. The UN doctrine of responsibility to protect is the hardest to apply in such conditions.
I do not want to imply that South Sudan is not functioning, because it has a professional elite and a vigorous civil society—and not only in Juba—with many NGOs and heroic individuals providing essential services where the Government have failed. I remember them from my last visit. For the moment, famine has been averted. Although the UN mission is constantly harassed by the Government, the ICRC is now active again. The British Council has stayed open for most of the conflict. Ministers and celebrities such as David Miliband are also constantly visiting. There is a Jamaican singer in town this week. The churches are preaching reconciliation and, despite widespread unemployment, people are getting by. So I ask the Minister: what part has the UK played in the recent Addis negotiations, and to what does she attribute their failure? Does membership of the troika give the UK a particular advantage? Can the Ugandan army remain on one side of the conflict when IGAD, the regional authority, is promoting dialogue?
In Sudan itself, while there is a so-called national dialogue at the political level, whole areas of the country are still cut off by civil war. The UN say that 6.9 million are in need of humanitarian assistance across the north. Over half of these are in Darfur, with 431,000 displaced up to November of this year alone. Peace negotiations with the JEM and SLM factions in Doha, and more recently in Addis under Thabo Mbeki, have stalled yet again. One can sympathise with the writer who said that Addis is just a paid holiday for wealthy male negotiators in large cars who bring home nothing for anyone else.
Meanwhile UNAMID, the UN mission, has been severely criticised by NGOs and others for inaction and providing too little security. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, can testify that it was slow to respond to allegations of rape of 200 women and girls by Sudanese soldiers. Lubna Hussein, the human rights activist, says the UK should stop funding UNAMID, as it may be causing more harm than good. DfID has turned lately more to WFP and the other humanitarian agencies. In any case, UN peacekeepers have been progressively opposed and are now reduced in numbers by Khartoum. South Kordofan and Blue Nile are the other two provinces most affected, with civilians now caught between two wars, with the overspill from the southern conflict, and continuing hostilities between north and south. Um Dorein county has suffered renewed aerial bombardment since October. Other counties see regular overflying and troop movements. Only last week, Antonovs dropped 32 bombs in six different locations. The two areas have also suffered heavy rainfall, although it is said that SPLA-controlled counties are less affected by flooding and damage to crops. However, food insecurity has raised market prices in general, and there has been a higher incidence of malaria and malnutrition.
In Abyei, since the murder of the Ngok Dinka chief in May last year by a member of the Misseriya tribe, there has been no progress in negotiations. The town is scarcely functioning, even with the presence of peacekeepers, and the hospital is short of drugs. The national dialogue, which has offered some hope to reformers, has stalled again, with Khartoum resiling from AU-backed agreement, and Islamist rhetoric taking over from serious commitment on the part of the National Congress Party. The landmarks this year have been the Paris declaration in August which brought together the Umma party and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front; the Addis Ababa agreement in September, which included members of the Government’s dialogue mechanism; and valiant attempts by the AU Peace and Security Council to bring parties to all the conflicts together. Some of us had a positive glimpse of this dialogue when Sadiq al-Mahdi came to address our All-Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan, although it is hard even for a seasoned politician to hold the line between so many power blocs.
Two points emerge. First, we should not—in our natural concern in the UK for the Christian south—be diverted from the necessity of a political solution in the north, intractable as it is. We must give the strongest support to the AU high-level panel and IGAD forums. Taking account of Sudan’s oil revenue, there needs to be a concerted international effort on the scale of the peace agreement between north and south, which, in spite of its many failures, at least led to South Sudan’s independence.
Secondly, Khartoum seems to be reverting to its old habit of suppressing legitimate opinion in the media and civil society, and there our embassy and the NGOs must be especially watchful. There have been some alarming attacks on universities and discrimination against Christians in Khartoum, including the partial demolition of a church last week.
What is HMG’s response to the Government’s attempts—and, more recently, their failure—to achieve greater openness to dialogue? How do they judge the performance of the UN mission in Darfur and the security of aid workers? Can our Government, as a major contributor to the UN’s Common Humanitarian Fund, match their generosity with more diplomatic effort and results? Finally, will they give an assurance that the Sudan unit in the FCO will survive the cuts and be strengthened, if necessary, to inform and advise diplomats, politicians and civil society? Does the Minister share my regret that the position of EU special representative was combined with that for the Horn of Africa?
We should remember that ECHO, the EU’s humanitarian agency, has warned of famine in the south. I end with the words of the new Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva:
“Aid operations will remain inadequate as long as the conflict continues. It is the responsibility of the political leadership of South Sudan to end the unnecessary suffering of its people”.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sandwich has a long-standing and consistent interest in the people of Sudan, and we are all indebted to him for instigating today’s debate. When the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, comes to reply, I hope that that she will share whatever information she has about the continuing humanitarian crisis in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states—which my noble friend talked about—about Khartoum’s refusal to allow charities and NGOs into the area, and about the regime’s aerial bombardment of civilian populations.
Endorsing what my noble friend just said, the South Kordofan and Blue Nile Coordination Unit told me that, last month, a total of 28 Antonov bombing raids dropped more than 130 bombs on 20 different villages. Can the Minister tell us when we last raised what Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE, a former senior British official and former United Nations resident and humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan, described at a meeting held in Parliament as,
“the second genocide of the twenty first century … unfolding in South Kordofan”?
The first was in Darfur, and the perpetrators in South Kordofan are the same indicted war criminals and fugitives from justice.
I will use my short time today to concentrate my remarks on Darfur, where up to 300,000 people have been killed and 2 million people displaced. A further 300,000 people have been displaced this year. Darfur is a region where governance as a civil concept has collapsed, law and order are a distant memory and the social fabric has been left in tatters. The current policy responses, including UNAMID, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur that was finalised in 2011, and the government-led national dialogue, are all wholly inadequate to address the national political and the local social and economic drivers and consequences of the crisis. Are the objectives of the DDPD now being reviewed?
In its paper, Darfur 2014: Time to Reframe the Narrative, the Sudan Democracy First Group says:
“The relevance and performance of UNAMID continues to be severely questioned by many observers. Recent events and revelations have not only shown that UNAMID is unable to undertake its mandate to protect civilians and provide protection for humanitarian actors, but it has become complicit in undermining these goals”.
Following my visit to Darfur in 2004, I welcomed the UN Security Council’s decision to send a peacekeeping force with a Chapter VII mandate to protect civilians. However, peacekeepers were only part of what was required: it was also crucial for the international community, and the UN in particular, to hold Sudan accountable for the continuing aerial and ground attacks against civilians by its armed forces and their proxies. UN Security Council resolutions imposed targeted smart sanctions on the architects of the ethnic cleansing. They should have been enforced but they were not, sending Khartoum a signal that there was little political will to hold it to its commitments under international law. Little wonder, then, that Darfur has happened all over again in South Kordofan. That failure meant that there was no peace to keep, and it soon became apparent that UNAMID was not fit for purpose, despite its annual £1.29 billion cost.
There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that UNAMID has repeatedly failed to properly investigate alleged attacks on Darfur civilians, and that it has been systematically impeded and intimidated by Sudanese security services and the Sudanese authorities, in direct contravention of the 2008 status of forces agreement signed by the Khartoum Government.
Those concerns, expressed by local people and international NGOs, have been reinforced by the testimony of former UNAMID spokesperson Aicha Elbasri. The events on the night of 31 October in Tabit, in which 200 girls and women were allegedly raped—and which I have raised in questions and correspondence with the noble Baroness—are only the latest incident in which UNAMID has failed the people of Darfur. When UNAMID personnel finally went to Tabit to investigate, they allowed Sudanese security services not only to accompany them but to film, and therefore intimidate, the local witnesses to whom they spoke.
Following Aicha Elbasri’s allegations, the UN Secretary-General set up an internal review of UNAMID—the Cooper review. However, the Security Council has not been given the full Cooper review team report, and the Secretary-General gave an incomplete summary of its contents to the Security Council. This only adds to the sense that fundamental problems at UNAMID are not being addressed as they should be by either the Department of Peacekeeping Operations or the UN Secretary-General. I hope that the noble Baroness can tell us what we are going to do to insist on transparency and accountability
As a permanent member of the Security Council, and as a general contributor to the peacekeeping operations, the UK must hold Hervé Ladsous, the head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, accountable for UNAMID’s lamentable performance. There must be an independent external evaluation that examines Aicha Elbasri’s accusations and Ladsous’s appeasement of senior Sudanese officials. Moreover, lessons learnt must be applied to other vastly expensive peacekeeping operations, because this is hardly the first time that civilians have been badly let down by those who were ostensibly protecting them.
Dag Hammarskjöld, one of the great Secretaries-General of the United Nations, once said:
“We should … recognize the United Nations for what it is—an admittedly imperfect but indispensable instrument of nations working for a peaceful evolution towards a more just and secure order”.
He also said:
“The UN wasn’t created to take mankind into paradise, but rather, to save humanity from hell”.
What has happened in Darfur—and most recently in Tabit—does not reveal an imperfect organisation creating a more just and secure order, nor has it saved the people from the hell which Khartoum has imposed. It is our duty to say so.
My Lords, I, too, must congratulate the noble Earl on securing this short debate to question the Government on whether they are taking the lead in the response to the conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan.
It is hard to believe that more than three years have passed since I travelled with the noble Earl as part of a parliamentary delegation to Juba in Southern Sudan, as it then was, and then to Khartoum in the north. In the south there was great excitement over the referendum on the creation of a new and independent South Sudan and the prospect of self-determination. Meetings with President-elect Salva Kiir and his team of Ministers were full of promise and reasonableness, of welcoming the expertise of aid and development NGOs, and of deploying teams of volunteers to train teachers, nurses, technicians and administrators to help rebuild the economy shattered by decades of war.
Less than three years after gaining independence, South Sudan finally degenerated into civil war. Negotiations in Addis Ababa continue in their tortuous fashion, holding out the possibility of a peace agreement but, more likely, a power-sharing arrangement between the warring parties. The danger here is that many in South Sudan would see this as rewarding the aggressors without resolving the underlying issues. Of course, talks continue in Tanzania between the three factions of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement—the SPLM—attempting to overcome the tensions that led to the civil war.
Many commentators take the view that a genuine national reconciliation process will be needed to bring together the different communities set against each other by this conflict. Notwithstanding the tension and outsize egos at the top of the SPLM, there is an ethnic dimension, too. President Salva Kiir is a Dinka, the largest of some 60 ethnic groups in South Sudan, many of whom are his supporters. The rebel leader and previous deputy, Riek Machar is a Nuer, the second largest group, of which many support him. When fighting broke out in December in Juba, hundreds of Nuer were killed on suspicion of loyalty to Machar. This provoked Nuer military units to defect and Machar’s rebels responded with ethnic massacres in Bor, Bentiu, Malakal and elsewhere.
The ethnic power bases of each leader are a significant part of their strength, and many believe the hardest task will not be to stop the fighting but to restore trust between the different communities in South Sudan. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that the international community has grown impatient with the failure of South Sudan’s leadership to stop the fighting. Last Wednesday, the United States warned South Sudan’s Foreign Minister that UN sanctions could be the punishment for people who stand in the way of peace.
For the past three years, the Government of Sudan have denied international aid organisations and the media access to non-government controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made clear. According to the US NGO the Enough Project, which campaigns against crimes against humanity:
“Taken together, the desperate situation of the people in rebel controlled areas, the Sudanese Government’s aid blockade, the indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and statements attributed to senior commanders in the government forces, lay the foundation for a case of crimes against humanity”.
While Sudan expert Eric Reeves considers the Government of Sudan’s military campaign,
“unique, presently and historically. Never has a recognized government, and a member of the United Nations, over many years deliberately and extensively bombed, strafed, and rocketed its own citizens—with almost complete impunity”.
The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on the charge of genocide, yet he travels without hindrance throughout the region.
The United Kingdom is one of the troika of nations appointed to oversee the comprehensive peace agreement process, yet our observer status apparently carries no enforcement powers. What, therefore, as a permanent member of the Security Council, is the UK doing to deliver on its responsibilities in the humanitarian and diplomatic fields? What measures is it taking within the UN to strengthen sanctions and other measures to tackle impunity, as practised in Sudan? What actions is the UK taking within the UN to hold the UN mission in Darfur to account for the accusations, so graphically described by other Members, of mass rape criminality? What further measures is the UK taking within the FCO to strengthen the UK’s response to the tragedy that is South Sudan and Sudan?
This month, South Sudan marks one year since the return to brutal conflict. The humanitarian impact has been catastrophic, with at least 1.9 million being displaced. The UK Government have responded accordingly, spending more than £143 million on humanitarian relief. However, if short-term relief is to translate into long-term recovery, emergency humanitarian aid must be accompanied by a wider focus on the risks to the development of a fair and democratic state in the long term.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sandwich for securing this important debate on one of the most pressing challenges facing Africa. I wish to devote my brief contribution to current challenges in South Sudan.
I met President Salva Kiir just a few weeks ago when I was in Juba on a private visit, and was able to meet several NGOs there. My first impression on landing in Juba—it was my first time there—was that it was as though one were landing at a United Nations military airport, with few domestic airlines. It is indeed tragic that the dreams of peace and prosperity after gaining independence in July 2011 have been shattered through the recent political and ethnic power struggles. The new conflict has reversed so many of the gains achieved post-independence, particularly disrupting health services, access to clean water, sanitation, transport infrastructure and, most importantly, food security.
As my noble friend mentioned, South Sudan is now in a level 3 crisis. The country faces chronic poverty, inequality is a massive problem, and there is a growing threat of famine now that the dry season has started. Almost 2 million people are displaced, with at least 400,000 South Sudanese across the border in Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries. Many of this displaced population are in camps that are largely inaccessible to relief agencies. It is alarming that ethnic tensions and violence have returned to the forefront of intra-South Sudanese relations, with increasing mistrust of their political leadership. There is a strong supposition that both sides have used ethnicity to fuel conflict to stay in power and that the fighting has been more complex than simply Dinkas fighting Nuers. I am in no position to pass judgment, but what appears to be the case is that the military lacks decisive leadership and is deeply divided. To quote a recent Chatham House report:
“South Sudan is not a country with a military. Rather, it is a military with a country”.
Most people in South Sudan either want the security of being left alone to get on with their lives or want the SPLA to deal with threats to local security, which normally stem from outside their immediate community.
One issue that we discussed with President Salva Kiir was that of the borders. Clearly, one of the unresolved issues following the 2005 CPA is the demarcation of the borders, particularly in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The President mentioned that he was seeking to identify the original maps to resolve this dispute.
The dramatic recent drop in oil production revenues over the past few years has also had a catastrophic impact on the economies of both South Sudan and Sudan. As the recent Chatham House report on South Sudan said:
“Politics and development are not alternatives in South Sudan, they are two sides of the same coin … It appears that Western countries, including members of the Troika, do not have a coherent policy towards South Sudan, with strongly worded statements followed up by inaction”.
There is an ever-growing groundswell of support for civil society, more specifically the churches, traditional local authorities, media and other civil society groups. Despite the continued conflict and worsening humanitarian crisis, there are a few positive developments. Since independence, there has been a revision of the national curriculum for all primary and secondary pupils, which has so far been remarkably successful. This has been funded by Global Partnership for Education and supported by DfID. I have the report here, but time restricts me from speaking to it. There is a strong need for a shared vision for South Sudan that unites rather than divides the very diverse society. Most commentators are in agreement that inclusivity is the only way in which to achieve a sustainable peaceful solution. The international community has a pivotally important role to play, but it is clear that there needs to be a more co-ordinated effort. Our Government’s work in South Sudan has made a significant contribution to addressing the MDG challenges, but we need to keep the focus.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandwich on holding this debate. In this media-driven world, there is always a risk that the perennial turmoil and conflict in Sudan and South Sudan will be just out of view and that the attention given rightly to Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, ISIS in Iraq and Ebola will keep questions about Sudan and South Sudan just below the media’s—and therefore the public’s—radar screen. At least the Guardian realises that Sudan and South Sudan need the continued attention of the world, Parliament and the Government.
When I was in Juba and elsewhere in South Sudan just before independence, there was a powerful sense of excitement and expectation, as the referendum results and their immediate aftermath showed. However, at that stage, among many external observers and analysts, that sense of expectation was more than tinged with concern about the prospects for both stability and economic development in South Sudan itself and for relations between Juba and Khartoum. So far, alas, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said so eloquently, the pessimists have been proved right.
The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is just the kind of conflict in which well directed external pressure, encouraged by media attention, can make a real difference to both their and our benefit. I very much support the questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and look forward to the Minister’s replies. I just add one or two points myself.
First, on Darfur, I very much share the views of my noble friend Lord Alton. I well remember, when I was in the Foreign Office, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, when a Minister there, asking me whether, with all the Foreign Office’s proper focus on relations between Khartoum and Juba, the north and the south, we risked forgetting about the humanitarian disaster then under way in Darfur. That was indeed one reason why a joint Foreign Office-DfID Sudan unit was established, and I am delighted that it is continuing and has been strengthened since then. Can the Minister assure us that Darfur continues to get to the attention that it needs at a time when, once again, focus is rightly on relations between Khartoum and Juba?
Secondly, there is the role of the European Union. Again, when in Juba, I was impressed by the European Union’s aid effort in South Sudan, which I am sure is continuing, although no doubt adversely affected by the continuing conflict. Can the Minister assure us that the US-UK-Norway troika is working closely with the European Union and that the United Kingdom is, in the jargon, leveraging its position as the only country present in both the troika and the EU?
Thirdly, there is the role of China. China has for some years now had a close relationship with Khartoum. It also has substantial interests in the south, in particular with its investment in the oilfields. It is striking that it has recently agreed to contribute to the peacekeeping forces in the UN mission to South Sudan—deficient though those forces are in many ways. China has traditionally tried to see its economic interests in the developing world as separate from the politics of individual countries and tried to avoid involvement in those politics, but China’s influence in both the north and the south mean that it can be a major player in working for longer-term peace and security interests with both Khartoum and Juba. Finally, what are the troika and the EU doing to work with China in a truly international effort to end conflict in the region?
My Lords, I very much support the noble Earl and all Peers who have spoken today, who have persistently, over the years, drawn attention to the atrocities that have been committed in Sudan, from Darfur to Blue Nile province, and from Kordofan to the south, and to the humanitarian crises which face both Sudan and South Sudan.
I am probably the least expert of all Peers who will have spoken today, but on the other hand, my link goes back to the late 1940s—55 years ago when, as a child, I watched my father contribute alongside other administrators in Sudan to the move towards independence, which took place on 1 January 1956. I had very clear impressions in my mind as a teenager of the beginning of the development of institutions such as the parliament in Sudan, which I remember attending, the judiciary as it developed and the very strong administrative system and civil service. In the south, when I visited Equatoria Province in 1950, I remember the relative peace between the various Nilotic tribes but there was a very separate administration between the north and the south. At one time, the British contemplated linking South Sudan, as it now is, to east Africa in the form of a federation. That was an historic decision, which I will not comment on now, but it probably would have had profound consequences because they decided not to do so.
Since the first rebellion took place in the south in August 1955, the people of the south have lived in almost perpetual conflict. Noble Lords have demonstrated that with all the statistics they have given today—the displaced people, the deaths, the hunger and starvation, the violence, and the refugees, from Darfur to Kordofan to the south. It is simply a total tragedy. I have often thought about what our attitude should be once a country has been granted independence from our former Empire, and as far as Sudan is concerned— South Sudan above all—I have no doubt that after 60 years of colonial rule we have a moral responsibility to do our best to help the African Union and east African nations do their best for Sudan.
As far as Sudan is concerned, I want to endorse and reinforce the words of the noble Earl that there needs to be a genuine dialogue if the international world is going to recognise and support what Sudan says it wants to do. If there is to be a road to peace and unity in Sudan, it has to embrace everybody: it has to be inclusive and comprehensive. Yet the undermining of freedom of expression, the imprisoning of opposition politicians, the detention and torture of activists, press censorship, and continuing violence in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile do nothing to give one confidence that Sudan is moving in the right direction. All I can say is that I hope the Government are watching and monitoring very carefully and will give support to that dialogue only if it moves forward in a comprehensive and inclusive way.
As far as the south is concerned, it is an untenable position, above all for the long-suffering people of the south but also for the international community, because following the euphoria of independence in 2011 we have had an interminable cycle of failed attempts to end the conflict, with the militias resuming fighting time and again, and human rights abuses and atrocities, with the international community constantly needing to step in with fresh humanitarian support—against compassion fatigue, which is undoubtedly taking place, and other competing demands, from Syria to Somalia to Zimbabwe, for example. The south can be described only as having the makings of a failed state.
The first thing that the people of the south need is the ability to survive—before you can even talk about development or political institutions. To that end, I ask the Government to consider one thing, which is our experience in Sierra Leone, where there was a serious civil war in the 1990s. At that point, the United Nations, with Britain in the lead, took up a UN peacekeeping mission which was mandated by the UN Security Council. Britain led reforming the police force and revamping the country’s courts. In the past decade we have seen one of the fastest rates of development in Africa in Sierra Leone. Yes, it is a new kind of trusteeship, and I ask the Government if we can learn from that experience and see whether this is not the best way in which a new transitional Government—with the help, no doubt, of the diaspora— can hold the ring and give the long-suffering people a chance to move forward and have a decent quality of life.
My Lords, I thank your Lordships for allowing me to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I also express my appreciation to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for instigating this discussion.
My interest is in South Sudan. I am a trustee of AID—Anglican International Development—which manages a number of projects in South Sudan in conjunction with the Episcopal Church of Sudan: in healthcare, microfinance, sanitation, agriculture and, hopefully, education. The disruption in South Sudan caused by the conflict a year ago between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar has been devastating. Following the comprehensive peace agreement and the vote for independence, South Sudan promised so much. The potential is huge, whether in food production or in wealth creation more generally. However, for understandable reasons, inward investment is on hold; many NGOs and companies we wish to work with are not interested, in the current climate, in investing in South Sudan. This is a tragedy for the people of South Sudan.
We have to be realistic and accept that these two egotistical leaders will never reconcile their differences and that neither is now capable of uniting his country. I request of the Minister that we redouble our efforts, through the UN and the African Union, to find a solution. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has suggested a Government of national unity, if that is possible. The current stalemate is destroying the country. If peace were to prevail today, South Sudan would have a massive uphill struggle to address health issues—it is bottom of the international league table in its health status—poverty and its dependency on aid. Without a resolution, these devastating circumstances are going to continue. The people of South Sudan had hope until 12 months ago. That hope has been replaced by despair, and we need to help them re-establish hope in the future of their country.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on securing this debate and thank the other speakers for their expertise and interest in this subject. We look forward to the Minister summing up and giving us the government position, particularly on the UNAMID question that has been raised by a number of noble Lords.
The people of both South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan continue to suffer in a way and to an extent that is almost incomprehensible to us in the UK and the West. Reports from both countries indicate that the inhabitants of these two states are the victims of practically every kind of outrage known to humankind. This is a story that seems very difficult to stop or to break into, however hard the rest of the world tries. There can be no doubt that the world, whether in the form of the United Nations, the African Union, various NGOs or individual countries, including our own, has employed and continues to employ considerable resources in personnel, advice and finance in an attempt to encourage peace and to get good government—or at least moderate government—in that part of Africa.
From this side, we support Her Majesty’s Government in their aid programmes to both countries. By way of example, as part of the humanitarian response to the rising food crisis in South Sudan, I understand £150 million has already been given. However, there is clearly a need to widen the international effort from other countries. As we have heard, nearly 2 million people have been displaced by a civil war that has already killed a vast number, and now the rainy season is over, hostilities have been resumed. As the Daily Telegraph wrote on 10 November,
“a resumption of hostilities … could tip the country into a full-blown famine”.
The politics of both countries seem cursed. As we have heard, South Sudan’s independence, only a few years ago now, was warmly welcomed by the outside world, but the civil war, now one year old, has changed all that. Attempts at mediation by IGAD, allowing prolonged peace talks, are of course to be praised, but the failure of three or four deals already that were meant to stop the fighting, and the recent putting on hold of a new round of talks in neighbouring Ethiopia are, frankly, not good omens.
The position of the Republic of Sudan today is hardly more promising. As was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, the Guardian is running a series of articles all week, which is very much to be welcomed. The first is out today and sets out the backdrop to where we are. President Bashir, now 70, having been in power for 25 years, now has an even greater desire to stay there, of course, because five years ago the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant so that he might face grave charges, now also including genocide. Of course, any successor might well be tempted to hand him over. The description in the paper this morning is of a pervasive climate of fear and paranoia in Khartoum.
The economy in the Republic of Sudan seems moribund. There is little hard currency because of the loss of a huge amount of oil production to South Sudan. Many teachers and doctors have left in the past few months—the figure of 4,000 is given. There is the new influx of refugees from South Sudan, to add insult to injury. Add to that 40% inflation and the effect of American trade sanctions.
It is disappointing but perhaps inevitable to end by quoting the head of the UN’s Mission in South Sudan, who told the Security Council:
“I have been shocked by the complete disregard for human life”.
That is a suitably depressing note on which to end. I hope the noble Baroness may be able to cheer us up a bit, but I fear that we have to say what we find, and the situation at the moment looks very grim indeed.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Earl on securing today’s debate at such a timely moment, as he well put it, in the development of the recent conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan. I also take this opportunity to commend the work of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan, of which the noble Earl is an active member—as, of course, are other noble Lords here today.
Peers have practical experience of the problems facing this area, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, reminded us of his experience. Their work together ensures that parliamentarians on all sides of the House are well informed about developments in the region. It helps to raise awareness of the dire humanitarian situation facing millions of people.
The Government listen, especially my noble friend Mr Duddridge, the Minister with special responsibility for Africa. I have made him my noble friend too soon; he will win his seat at the next election. I meant my honourable friend Mr Duddridge. We would not like him to be translated here just yet.
Today’s debate comes as we approach a grim milestone: one year since the outbreak of the current conflict in South Sudan. It had a devastating impact on ordinary people in a nation that was born amid such hope barely three years before.
The noble Lord, Lord St John, reminded us that he made a recent visit to the area and gave us a description of it. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, gave a moving example—the story of Nyantay.
Those are both examples of the background, where there are terrible humanitarian consequences of conflict. In the past year, nearly 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, almost a quarter of them to neighbouring countries. Many remain without any source of food and are dependent on the assistance of the international community, in particular the United Nations.
The conflict has led to appalling violations of human rights, with reports of villages being razed to the ground, with widespread ethnic and sexual violence. Despite the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement in January, both sides have continued to re-arm, and have yet to demonstrate the leadership, commitment, and urgency needed to end this suffering. It is essential that any agreement brings peace on the ground of South Sudan, and also leads to an inclusive transitional Government.
The UK has demonstrated strong leadership in responding to the crisis throughout this period. At the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, the former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, my right honourable friend Mr Hague, and the Secretary of State for International Development, my right honourable friend Ms Greening, immediately called on all parties to lay down their weapons and come to the negotiating table. Our officials have worked tirelessly to press the parties on this. In New York they have worked to strengthen the UN Mission in South Sudan, and in South Sudan itself they have worked to support the safe evacuation of British nationals. The noble Earl, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, raised the issue of the Sudan unit. To ensure that we had a proper response, extra staff were brought in to strengthen the Sudan unit during that period, but we continue to keep that under review; it is not a one-off. So we will keep our levels of resourcing under regular review to ensure that we respond appropriately to the range of government priority issues in Africa, which must include Sudan and South Sudan at all times. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, that Darfur gets the attention it needs from us.
Since January, we have been active in supporting the peace process led by the region and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, through the engagement of our special representatives and with our troika partners in the peace talks. The noble Earl asked about the troika, while the noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked about our engagement with the EU and China. Our troika partners, Norway and the United States, have been deeply involved in the region for a number of years. We work with them in a way that leverages our authority together. That includes our work through the EU. It is used as a strong method for negotiating influence and will, I hope, eventually lead to a successful conclusion. Together, we played a key role in the comprehensive peace agreement that led to South Sudan’s independence in the first instance. So we do have strong links.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, also asked about China, and our engagement there. China is an increasingly important international actor in both Sudan and South Sudan, and we engage with it diplomatically on a regular basis. In particular, our former special representative and our ambassador in Beijing have discussed the South Sudan peace process with Chinese Special Representative Zhong, and we raise the two countries regularly with China in international fora in New York and in Addis Ababa.
Returning to the peace process itself, the UK has provided expertise and more than £2 million to support both the talks and the monitoring and verification mechanism, to ensure that violations of the ceasefire are investigated, and that those who are responsible are held to account. We continue to champion the need for accountability for all the grave human rights abuses that have been perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. It is important that impunity is not permitted.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey referred to sanctions. The UK was a leading player in pushing for the EU sanctions implemented in July, and we think the time has come for the United Nations Security Council to consider sanctions. As well as leading international efforts to support peace, the UK has also been the second largest contributor to the humanitarian response. I will not repeat information given by noble Lords. In particular I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for pointing out the detail of the contribution that this country, over many years, has provided under different Governments. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to humanitarian aid. The UK has provided clean water, or improved hygiene and sanitation, to more than 180,000 people in South Sudan, and nutrition for more than 90,000.
Throughout all this, I have taken account of what has been said: severe malnutrition exists. It is something we bear in mind. There is danger to the harvest in this current season, and nobody should relax their attention as to the severe outcome that there may be for those in this whole area in the next spring. However, we think that the Government of South Sudan should do more from their own funds to support their own people. The UK is also a leading donor in neighbouring Sudan. However, I shall not repeat the figures—instead, I shall move over to other matters raised by other noble Lords, because those facts have been put in Hansard during the debate.
To end the humanitarian situation, there has to be an end to Sudan’s internal conflicts. Sadly, this year’s events in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, have reminded us of the violence and criminality suffered by the people of Sudan. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised Darfur in particular and the violence alleged to have taken place there. I am glad that he put on record the detail of that, although time does not permit me to go into as much detail myself. He reported what is in the media. What I can say is that we are using every opportunity to press the Government of Sudan, through bilateral discussions and through the United Nations Security Council, to end this violence and culture of impunity.
The noble Lord gave the particular example of Tabit, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to this as well. The fact is that we do not know precisely what happened in Tabit. We know why we do not know—because of they way in which soldiers in the Sudan army went in with UNAMID when it was making its inquiries—but we do not know the detail. It is vital that we uncover whether there were indeed such gross violations of human rights and human dignities. If those are uncovered and proved, the perpetrators must be held to account.
The Tabit case is a reminder of the difficult environment in which UNAMID operates. The noble Earl is right to draw attention to that. This makes it especially important that the mission communicates clearly and openly with the UN Security Council and the wider international community, and provides all relevant facts. We recognise the constraints that UNAMID faces and, for that reason, we are strong supporters of the ongoing UN-led strategic review. We are working with the UN, the African Union and international partners to consider what further steps can be taken to increase the mission’s effectiveness, especially in its core function of protecting civilians. To the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I can say that we welcome the fact that the Cooper review was established to investigate reports of past underreporting in UNAMID. We believe that it is essential the United Nations communicates its findings openly and transparently, including through publishing a full report, and we have raised this in the Security Council. It is important that the UN system acts as a result of the report to ensure that in future all relevant facts are reported to the UN Security Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also drew attention to the ICC. I am grateful to him for what he said about how valuable that organisation is. I am visiting the ICC later this week, and I shall make a statement there. I would be happy to discuss the matter of the ICC further with the noble Lord after I have made that visit.
We certainly support all the efforts in Sudan to achieve a full resolution. A national dialogue is crucial. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, is right that the UK, building on its historical ties, should continue to play a leading role in efforts to promote reform in Sudan and bring stability to South Sudan. There is clearly a huge amount yet to be done to bring peace to both countries—and peace also means stability and being able to grow your crops and have a living, not relying on others to feed you and keep you going. It means to have your own dignity and your own country. Ultimately, it is the region and, most importantly, leaders in Sudan and South Sudan who must take the initiative. But we, along with our partners in the international community, will not give up our support.