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South Sudan

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the resurgence of violence in South Sudan.

My Lords, we condemn the fighting that has broken out in Juba between President Kiir and First Vice-President Machar’s forces. Attacks on UN bases and the deaths of two UN peacekeepers are completely unacceptable. We are working with the region and our UN Security Council partners to stabilise the situation, and support yesterday’s statement by regional Foreign Ministers demanding an end to the crisis. Recent ceasefire statements by both parties must be fully respected.

My Lords, the eruption of the most terrible violence in South Sudan threatens to bring the return of civil war. Ban Ki-moon has rightly said that the fighting is,

“a new betrayal of the people”,

of that country.

What action has been taken to ensure the safety of the 170,000 civilians, including many women and children, who are desperately seeking refuge in UN bases in southern Sudan? Will the Minister assure the House that the UK will strive to secure an immediate UN Security Council arms embargo, which could—among other effects—ground the South Sudan attack helicopters, which are lethal when deployed against civilians?

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned the large number of IDPs in the camps within the UN sites, which is where UNMISS must focus. That includes investigating instances of human rights violations and abuses, assisting delivery of aid and supporting the peace agreement. In addition, UNMISS is already allowed to use all necessary force to protect civilians. We are working to ensure that it does just that and are looking at options to strengthen it further. We will be putting further pressure on the UN Security Council for the measures that the noble Baroness mentioned.

My Lords, I reported on Sudan some years ago. It was before independence and the regime in Khartoum was the problem, forcing the civil war and brutally repressing the southern Sudanese. Is there any evidence of the regime in Khartoum continuing to stir up trouble in South Sudan?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I am not aware of any influence from outside southern Sudan at present. The whole issue is that President Kiir and First Vice-President Machar are the ultimate decision-makers and they are accountable for their forces’ actions.

The President of the Security Council has already supported UNMISS and expressed its readiness to enhance the mission. He has stressed the need for UNMISS to,

“make full use of its authority to use all necessary means to protect civilians”.

What action are the Government taking in support of keeping Juba airport open as a critical lifeline for humanitarian and relief workers, given potential wholesale evacuation? How are the Government responding to Ban Ki-moon’s call for an immediate arms embargo and sanctioning of leaders for blocking the peace deal?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, makes some good points, but, as I said to the noble Baroness, we and other countries on the UN Security Council are putting on pressure to have a complete arms embargo. He will also be aware that the mandate for UNMISS is up for renewal in July, and we will be looking carefully at how it can be engaged and, perhaps, altered in some way.

My Lords, I have been in South Sudan twice in the past two years and in Kenya a week ago. Is the Minister encouraging the Government of Kenya to use the powers they have in their area, as most of the leaders of South Sudan have their families, farms and education of their children in Kenya, to encourage them to observe their ceasefire? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to support the work of the peace and reconciliation commission led by the Anglican Archbishop of South Sudan and Sudan?

My Lords, our primary objective is to engage with regional leaders to bring an end to the crisis. My honourable friend the Minister for Africa, Mr Duddridge, spoke to the Ethiopian Foreign Minister—an important player in the area—on Monday, and encouraged the region to press the parties to end the crisis. The United Kingdom attended the conference in Kenya earlier this week on 11 July and encouraged the regional players to take firm action. But we will take careful note of what the most reverend Primate said and I will discuss it further with colleagues.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this very tragic conflict must be seen in the context of the legacy of the previous war inflicted by the Government in Khartoum, in which 2 million people died, 4 million were displaced, tens of thousands of women and children were abducted into slavery and massive infrastructure was destroyed, with Khartoum’s widely reported continuing policies of destabilisation of South Sudan? Does he therefore agree that it is immensely important to invest now in positive developments in those areas not affected by conflict, such as education, healthcare, reconciliation and agriculture, in order to give those amazingly resilient people, whom I recently visited, some hope and some positive foundations for a post-conflict future?

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is quite right. We have to ensure that the implementation of the original peace agreement is taken forward and the troika have a lot to add to this. It must not be ignored, in particular the peace agreement’s reform pillars of demilitarising South Sudan, injecting transparency of public finances, and pursuing justice and reconciliation.

Returning to the point made by the most reverend Primate, the key players are the African nations themselves—the condemnation by the African Union is extremely welcome—but they appear ineffectual in these circumstances. Can the noble Lord tell us more about the direct contact with neighbouring countries—not only Kenya but Uganda—and what influence they can have in this really dangerous situation?

The noble Lord is quite correct that the way to go forward is by engaging with other countries in the region particularly through IGAD. Other countries in the region can have a strong influence on South Sudan. That is the way forward.