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South Sudan

Volume 778: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they are having at the United Nations to help to stabilise the situation in South Sudan.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. Through the UN, we continue to work with our partners to strengthen the UN Mission in South Sudan to carry out its mandate effectively, focusing in particular on the protection of civilians. In the UN Security Council, we continue to consider actions to help work towards peace, including a possible UN arms embargo or targeted sanctions against those who continue to block peace negotiations.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s statement. While the tragedy in Syria has been unfolding, an unsung but equal tragedy has been happening in sub-Saharan Africa. Since July, a third of a million refugees have gone to Uganda alone. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to press in the Security Council for regional stability through Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan itself, so that the legitimate Government of South Sudan can get stability and start to move forward in this so far tragic newest state of Africa?

I am absolutely ready to give that undertaking, and I am glad to hear the noble Lord’s support. He is right that this has been, in a sense, an almost forgotten tragedy. I am very much reminded of the report by the chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, Yasmin Sooka, when she said that,

“it is conceivable that the scale of sexual violence … already matches that of the Bosnian war—and yet we rarely hear about it”.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that when I was recently in South Sudan visiting places outside Juba, I was of course aware of the horrendous problems, but I was also deeply encouraged by the resilience of many local initiatives by local people in education, agriculture and reconciliation? Many of those local NGOs, including the churches, cannot access DfID funding because of bureaucratic procedures. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider ways to make funding available to those in-country NGOs doing such effective and much-needed work?

My Lords, I am always happy to learn from the noble Baroness’s experiences on the ground, and I will certainly look at that. With regard to aid, we have taken a lead role. We have contributed £357 million to address the humanitarian crisis since the outbreak of conflict. The Government of South Sudan have continued to block access to some areas, but I give this undertaking to the people of South Sudan, one that I feel sure that the House will join: we will not abandon them.

My Lords, article 1 of chapter 5 of the South Sudan peace accord charges the unity Government with establishing an independent hybrid court to help bring justice to the country, yet in Juba last week the South Sudan Government said that that much sought-after hybrid court will undermine peace, which they say they need time to achieve, at the expense of justice for the victims of the atrocities in that country. As a member of the troika, do the Government support that analysis, and what action are they taking to persuade South Sudan to participate in the implementation of transitional justice as a priority?

My Lords, the August 2015 peace agreement indeed mandated the creation of a hybrid court for the most serious crimes, and we then urged and continue to urge the African Union to accelerate its implementation. I suspect that I shall raise these issues when I travel shortly to the region— during the Recess, I hasten to add, in case the Chief Whip is listening. I am fortunate enough to be travelling to Kenya, Uganda and Burundi and, in Uganda, I shall be able to see some of the generosity given by the Ugandan people to refugees—to those who have suffered in this conflict.

My Lords, may I return to that latter point? Obviously the displaced people from this terrible episode are spreading across the region—in particular to Uganda, where the Bidi Bidi camp now has 250,000 people. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government will give practical support and advice to Uganda in these difficult circumstances?

Yes, my Lords, I can give that undertaking. We will continue to work with Uganda and the way in which it supports refugees. There are nearly a million now in Uganda—not all from South Sudan—but thousands are arriving every day. That has left Uganda sheltering the third highest number of refugees in the world.

My Lords, is not one of the great tragedies of South Sudan that when it broke away from the north it was given all the oil revenues, which at one moment amounted to some $12 billion, and that gave it something to fight about?

My Lords, whatever the country has to fight about, we want to find a way to peace. We welcome the fact that President Kiir announced a national dialogue to provide a way of bringing people into a peace dialogue. The important thing now is to do more than announce it; we have to achieve it.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that undermining President Salva Kiir threatens to further destabilise the country? He needs our support now more than ever. Does the Minister also agree that the United Nations could better utilise its time by building much-needed roads in the country?

My Lords, we give all our support to the peace process and that means encouraging President Kiir to ensure that the national dialogue is truly inclusive of all views in his country. With regard to the role of the UN Mission in South Sudan, this year the UK will provide more practical support there. Some of our troops are already in position scoping, but we will have up to 400 people in place there—technicians, engineers and those able to build and staff a hospital.

My Lords, I welcome the strong statement issued yesterday by the troika calling for an immediate ceasefire in South Sudan. Can the Minister tell us what Her Majesty’s Government are able to do to help make that ceasefire a reality? Is not there an urgency, outlined by the 1.8 million people who are now displaced, as the noble Lord said; the 1.1 million who have fled to neighbouring countries, accelerating the problem of mass migration and refugees; the 4.8 million who are currently food insecure; and the 3,000 new cases of cholera diagnosed already this year?

My Lords, I hope I have given some indication of that by talking about our support for the peace process. We will continue to take that seriously in the United Nations process. We are very disappointed that before Christmas our attempt to have sanctions imposed was voted down. The African Union felt that more time should be given before action was taken. Just about half the population are food insecure, and thousands are facing starvation.