Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the dinner break business is down at least one speaker—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury has scratched—and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, may be detained in getting here. That means that speeches can be slightly extended, but please show due balance and understanding and do not go over the top. Six minutes, or a little more, will be perfectly all right.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who are contributing to this debate on two countries where people are suffering so much, but for very different reasons.
I begin by focusing on Sudan because through my small NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, or HART, we work with local partners who can provide information not readily available, especially in South Kordofan’s Nuba mountains and Blue Nile state, known as the Two Areas. I visited the Nuba mountains earlier this year and witnessed the destruction perpetrated by the GOS—Government of Sudan—armed forces, including the destruction of homes, in which many civilians were killed, a school and the office of the local commissioner. I climbed for two and a half hours up a mountain to visit civilians forced to flee their homes by GOS military offensives and live in caves with deadly snakes. I listened to many people who described their anguish including a father, five of whose children had been burned alive when a bomb from a GOS Antonov set the hut ablaze. His sixth child, whom I met, is suffering from burns and mental trauma. I also met a girl who survived a cobra bite; most do not.
Where fighting has subsided, the humanitarian situation in the Two Areas continues to deteriorate: 23.9% of children suffer from acute malnutrition and 8.4% from severe malnutrition, increasing the risk of child mortality. Overall, stunting rates are a staggering 38.3% with severe stunting at 14.7%, creating a high risk of physical and mental developmental disorders. GOS troops still occupy vast tracts of ancestral farmland, displacing a substantial proportion of the population. Farmers who plant in these areas risk losing their lives or crops. Many villages remain ghost towns, as the 2016 offensive forced civilians to flee to the mountains. In many places I have seen, schools, churches and markets remain in rubble and people still live with the inherent fear of further attacks by the GOS. Episodic attacks continue. For example, on 10 October a long-range missile was fired from Dilling into Hejerat village and, according to local monitors, a significant amount of houses, farms and pastoral land have been destroyed by fire along front lines in South Kordofan.
In Blue Nile, 39% of households had reached levels of severe food insecurity in July and 11% are at the highest possible level of household hunger. Those numbers are expected to rise. There are also acute health problems. For example, there was concern over the spread of acute watery diarrhoea just north of the border and going into Blue Nile, where such few clinics as there are have no drugs to treat this condition. The internal SPLA-North conflict in Blue Nile ceased in October, allowing relatively free movement of civilians and goods. However, tensions remain high as the two SPLA-North factions have shown no signs of reconciliation. There is therefore an urgent need for initiatives to bring an end to this conflict, which has undermined the planting of crops and will lead to even more severe food insecurity in coming months. My small NGO, HART, has been one of very few NGOs enabling aid to be taken into Blue Nile. May I again—I have done this before—request that Her Majesty’s Government increase efforts to allow cross-border aid to reach these people? I appreciate the political complexities, but those heighten the need for an emergency response by the international community to fulfil the mandates to provide protection for vulnerable civilians.
I do not have time to discuss Darfur, where GOS aggression continues, but much of that aggression is well reported. I turn briefly to examples of concern elsewhere in Sudan. On 6 December, Sudan’s security forces or their apparatus kidnapped Mr Rudwan Dawod, a leading member of the Sudanese Congress Party, an adviser to the “Sudan of the Future” campaign—SoF—and a well-known human rights defender. He has been taken to an unknown place after he showed solidarity with the people of Elgiraif, who are struggling to protect their land as the GOS has been illegally confiscating lands from indigenous people to give to so-called foreign investors. Several other supporters of the SoF campaign have also been arrested. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Government of Sudan to release these civilians immediately and stress that President Omar al-Bashir will be held responsible if they are subjected to torture or any other harm? Is the UK embassy in Khartoum aware of the GOS policy of land confiscation from Sudanese civilians and has it made representations to the GOS regarding this serious violation of human rights?
A recent report by Global Justice Now shows the UK providing £400,000 from CSSF funds to strengthen the capacity of the Sudanese armed forces. Is this accurate and, if so, what is the justification for this support? Regarding all discussions with GOS, especially in the context of the Sudan strategic dialogue and the conditions for lifting sanctions, will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that there will be a thorough, accurate monitoring of compliance and genuine, demonstrable proof of the meeting of these conditions for the lifting of sanctions?
I turn briefly to South Sudan, where the UK has an important role as the second-largest bilateral donor and a member of the troika. I offer a brief overview of the situation there nationwide: 7.5 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, with 6 million severely food insecure; 1.8 million have fled to neighbouring countries, more than 85% of whom are women and children; there are 2 million displaced internally. Disease outbreaks, including cholera, kala-azar and measles, along with more than 2 million cases of malaria, were reported between January and November 2016, with at least 246 deaths from cholera since June 2016. More than 1.17 million children aged three to 18 have lost access to education due to conflict and displacement, while about 31% of schools have suffered attacks. An adolescent girl is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school and 76% of school-aged girls are not in school.
Our HART partner, Archbishop Moses Deng Bol, sent this update from Wau in Bahr el-Ghazal. He said:
“The most pressing issues in South Sudan are as follows: Insecurity has increased all over South Sudan. Dr Riek’s rebel movement the SPLM-IO is still fighting inside South Sudan and still considers him as its leader. More rebel groups have also been formed, including the National Salvation Front. As a result of the insecurity and hunger caused by the wars, thousands of civilians are still crossing the borders daily. More than 2 million people are now internally displaced in IDP Camps. New camps are being established, including one on the outskirts of Wau town and hundreds of civilians are entering the camp daily. The UN has stated that over 6 million people will be in need of food assistance in the coming year. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has initiated a process known as High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) to try to revitalize the peace agreement by asking the warring parties to recommit themselves to the agreement and to bring new rebel groups on board.
It is very important that the UK Government, especially with TROIKA, uses the forthcoming meetings to ensure sustained pressure on the warring parties to revive the collapsed peace agreement; to recommit themselves to permanent ceasefire; to open humanitarian corridors so that civilians can be given food aid; and to reach a political settlement so that the millions of refugees and IDPs can return to their homes and rebuild their lives”.
The archbishop also highlights problems of bureaucratic procedures for emergency funding—for example, food to save the lives of starving IDPs. When many hundreds of IDPs flooded into Wau earlier this year, he had to borrow money from local traders to obtain food and save them from starvation. Might Her Majesty’s Government urge DfID to consider working more with local partners such as the churches, which have the confidence of local communities, and to make the application process more user-friendly and the response to emergencies more rapid? The archbishop urges the UK to ensure that the HLRF process is genuinely inclusive and gives a strong platform to the voices of grass-roots South Sudanese groups, including churches, traditional leaders, women’s and youth groups. He also urges the UK’s approach to conflict resolution not to focus solely on the high-level peace process but to address root causes of conflict on the ground, investing in community-based peacebuilding and locally led reconciliation initiatives.
I greatly appreciate this opportunity to put on record some of the problems causing such suffering to the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan. I am very grateful to those noble Lords who will be able to highlight issues I have not had time to mention or discuss adequately. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the people of these countries so that when I send them this debate, they will see a response by the UK Government compatible with the responsibilities which we have a duty to fulfil.
My Lords, I will confine my remarks today to South Sudan, which I visited as a Minister at the Foreign Office in May this year. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on securing this timely debate. It comes not only as we approach a grim milestone—four years since the outbreak of the current conflict in South Sudan—but as we expect the high-level revitalisation forum to meet in Addis Ababa on Friday of this week to try to relaunch the peace process. Also, on Friday, the annual mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan will expire. Will the Minister say whether we expect the UN Security Council to renew that mandate, or is there a danger of just a technical rollover until early 2018?
I shall refer briefly to three issues on which I hope the Minister will be able to update the House today: the peace process, security for civilians and humanitarian relief. IGAD, to which the noble Baroness has referred, has a vital role to play in the peace process, as does the troika. While I was in South Sudan, I was able to discuss the process with President Mogae, chair of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission of the peace agreement, and have no doubt of his determination. I was also able to meet representatives of the troika and the EU to learn of their work to encourage both parties to make genuine efforts to cease the fighting. My visit to Juba and Malakal coincided, by chance, with the declaration by President Kiir of a unilateral cessation of hostilities.
Yet both sides continued to rearm. Conflict continues because both sides have yet to demonstrate leadership, commitment and urgency to secure a peace agreement and end the people’s suffering. For example, just last month in Duk, Jonglei state, at least 40 people were killed and many women and children were abducted. The South Sudanese Government and the UN announced that they would conduct a quick emergency assessment of the situation of those affected by the attack. Does the Minister have any information on the progress of that assessment and whether food, medicine and non-food items have been able to reach the area quickly? I welcome the fact that the UK has provided expertise and more than £2 million to support both the talks and the monitoring and verification mechanism. I am not suggesting that we should give up on the search for peace—far from it; but I wonder what more can be done to produce results. Will the Minister update us today on the Government’s views about whether progress may be made on peace?
A key role for the international community has been the protection of civilians who have suffered appalling violations of human rights, with reports of villages being razed to the ground and widespread ethnic and sexual violence. South Sudan has been a priority country for PSVI work by the UK Government and one of our four priority countries for women, peace and security. Can the Minister confirm that is still the case for the forthcoming year? When I flew north to Malakal in Unity state I visited the UNMISS protection of civilians camp where 35,000 people have taken refuge, having fled from what used to be the second city of South Sudan. The remainder of its population has either died, been killed or fled further afield. Now it is a ghost city with nothing left worth looting. I met the UK troops who had recently joined the UNMISS contingent. Their professionalism is highly respected. I was also able to see some of the important work carried out by DflD. The UK has played a significant role in the humanitarian response to the crisis in South Sudan, being the second-largest contributor. Is that still the position?
Humanitarian relief is desperately needed across the country. More than half the population now lacks enough food to feed themselves and their families, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, detailed. Tens of thousands have been killed and almost 4 million people, a third of the population, have been forced to flee their homes. I met some of them when I visited Uganda in February and went to Kiryandongo settlement where 50,000 refugees were sheltered, with more than 2,000 more arriving each day, mostly from South Sudan. DfID works alongside UN agencies and the international community there, and I was impressed by their effectiveness.
The resilience of the people is astonishing, but they need peace. Ultimately, it is the region, and most importantly the leaders in South Sudan, who must take the initiative to end the conflict, but I hope that we, along with our partners in the international community, will continue to give our full support to the peace process and to the security of those who are suffering in South Sudan.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who has drawn our attention so vividly to the terrible suffering of the people in South Sudan, and it is on South Sudan that I wish to concentrate. If I may say so, it is particularly good to have the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, taking part in this debate because as a Front-Bench spokesman she was always very sensitive to human rights issues and took them very seriously.
The parish in which I take services most Sundays has very close links with South Sudan, and what we hear above all is the cry of a suffering people—innocent civilians who bear the pain of political failure and who are intimidated by those with tribally based armies. There is a widespread desire for a new generation of leaders not implicated in the crimes of the past, for more younger people and more women, but reality dictates that we have to deal now, and urgently, with those who command the armies: President Kiir, those who lead the rebel group IO and new, emerging rebel groups.
With this is mind I shall ask the Minister four brief questions. First, how far advanced is the deployment of the regional protection force, the RPF? We understand that the Ethiopian advance party has arrived and the Ethiopian battalion is on its way, but how much of the main Rwandan infantry is in place towards the target of 4,000 troops? Before anything else can happen in South Sudan, there must be a UN force present which is strong enough, has the authority and the will to deter any further outbreaks of fighting and, especially, offers protection to civilians in areas of tension. The situation continues to be volatile, and any further moves towards a negotiated political future must not be allowed to be dashed by further armed clashes.
Secondly, what progress has been made by IGAD—the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—towards the revitalisation of the peace process? With the breakdown of past arrangements for a more representative Government in mind, what new arrangements are envisaged, at least as a first step? Will it be a priority to try to bring in more women and those not implicated in the human rights violations the people have suffered since 2013?
Thirdly, given these well-documented and well-known violations by all parties—the massacre of civilians, the silencing of Government critics, rape and pillage—what is being done to address these outrages? They cannot just be ignored. The African Union Commission has yet to establish the hybrid court envisioned in the August 2015 peace agreement to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed in the conflict. Its establishment would be a clear sign that continuing atrocities are totally unacceptable to the international community and that the perpetrators will not be forgotten.
Fourthly, is humanitarian aid now getting through? In November, President Kiir ordered free, unhindered access to such aid, but has that order been effective?
The situation in South Sudan is a real tragedy after the hopes expressed following independence. It is also complex and difficult, but for the sake of its suffering people the will of the international community to resolve these issues must remain firm and determined.
My Lords, I should declare that I serve as an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan. My noble friend Lady Cox is persistent, courageous and dedicated in her commitment to the people of Sudan and South Sudan. Her timely debate takes place on the eve of the United Kingdom-Sudan Trade and Investment Forum, which seeks to encourage British companies to do business in Sudan. It is also the same week that more Sudanese newspapers have been seized, and dissenting voices remain incarcerated in prison.
Sudan ranks joint 170th with Yemen, Syria and Libya out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index, just ahead of North Korea. Any businessperson who thinks they can safely invest in Sudan without not only reputational damage but actual financial loss clearly does not know the country. The Sudanese Government allocate around 76% of the national budget to defence, police and security expenditure, with just 8% earmarked for agriculture, manufacturing, health and education services combined. The latest report by Global Justice says that the United Kingdom is providing £400,000 from the conflict, stability and security fund to strengthen the “capacity” of the Sudanese armed forces. I would be most grateful if the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, said whether that money is being provided, and whether he has seen reports that Sudanese-made weapons have reached Boko Haram, as we were told during a meeting in which my noble friend Lady Cox and I participated, when we took evidence for a report prepared by the all-party group.
Let us set aside our apparent lack of scruples in bolstering a country whose campaign of terror and aerial bombardment has caused a man-made catastrophe in Blue Nile and South Kordofan—described so eloquently by my noble friend—and had catastrophic consequences in South Sudan, as alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, in her eloquent contribution a few minutes ago and by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth. As well as that catastrophe—a humanitarian disaster of extraordinary consequences—the regime that has perpetrated that aerial bombardment has simultaneously been arresting, flogging and criminalising tens of thousands of its own women for indecency every year, for so-called crimes such as wearing trousers. Surely it would be more prudent to make British Klondike enthusiasm for commercial activities at least contingent on Sudan fulfilling certain benchmarks for reform, rather than chasing trade deals down very dark alleys.
The country is led by Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir. He is subject to multiple indictments by the International Criminal Court, for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, which I have visited and where between 200,000 and 300,000 people were murdered. It is a place where 2 million to 3 million people were displaced because they were the wrong kind of Muslims. Genocide is the crime above all crimes. Will it not compromise the authority of the International Criminal Court if court supporters such as the United Kingdom seize every opportunity to put together trade deals with indicted leaders?
Beyond the genocide, the World Bank points out that Sudan is a country where corruption is endemic. The bank rates corruption in the judicial system as high; it takes 810 days to enforce a contract; there is negligible regard for the rule of law; and property laws are interpreted to suit the Khartoum regime—illustrated by the confiscation and destruction of dozens of churches. Minority investors are unprotected, and it is almost impossible to start a business without paying generous bribes. The banking system is deeply suspect.
A hugely experienced, formerly highly placed British official made five brief points to me. First, any UK business trying to set up in Sudan will be told by members of the ruling Khartoum regime exactly which companies and sectors to invest in. The same members of the regime have stakes in those companies, and they will then strip out the profits before the UK shareholders get a chance to benefit. Secondly, we say our aim in engagement is to help Sudan develop. But development has never been the concern of the ruling elites. They tell us what we want to hear. During the boom years of oil production, they treated the economy as their personal financial resource, manipulated for their own enrichment. Thirdly, the former official says it is hubris to imagine we influence Khartoum through engagement. Khartoum repeatedly confirms to its own citizens and armed forces that it is guided by Islamism. What they tell the West is calibrated to keep aid flowing to the regime. Fourthly, Bashir is said by insiders to have only one objective now: avoiding the ICC. Evidently, he is consumed by this, and uninterested in anything else. Finally, Bashir is Janus-faced: while telling us one thing, he tells his armed forces they are engaged in a jihad against the nation’s unwanted minorities and tells President Putin in Sochi:
“We are in need of protection from the aggressive acts of the United States”.
He also tells the Iranians that he has traded them in for the Saudis.
Bashir is not a man to trust but a man who should be brought to justice; he is certainly not a man with whom the UK should be shamelessly promoting business, and the Government are wrong to do it.
My Lords, if you put the two Sudans together, we face probably the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, ranging from the Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur to South Sudan. Like other noble Lords, I have nothing but admiration for my noble friend Lady Cox and the remarkable work that she has done consistently and with great courage over many years to expose the gross abuse of human rights in both Sudan and South Sudan. I also greatly support Her Majesty’s Government, who have been persistent in their work in support of the Sudanese people, through the UN, through the contribution of troops, through DfID and humanitarian aid and through the excellent work or Mr Trott, who is our UK special representative.
Thinking about and listening to this debate makes me feel hugely privileged for the fact that when I was in my teens and my father was a British administrator in the Sudan, I had a chance to see it in better times, whether in Khartoum, the Blue Nile province or the south of Sudan. That makes me realise that Sudan can be a wonderful place—because it was in those days, under a framework of the rule of law. But in the last year of British rule, the first signs of civil war and conflict started in the south. It was a rebellion against having northern, Arab officers in the armed forces working in the south that sparked the start of a very long and drawn-out civil war.
I want to make a very general reflection. Many people have rightly highlighted the abuses of human rights, but of course there can be no end to these humanitarian crises until the countries have a framework for peace and stability, which should be buttressed by strength and the support of the people at local level. The dilemma that we face the whole time is how to persuade elites, dictators and regimes that it is in their interest to go. That really turns out to be a battle between realism and hope.
Sometimes there is a small ray of hope. Last week we debated Zimbabwe, where we saw the people, with the support of the army, persuade Mugabe to go. We have seen that with a vote in Gambia its dictator, who was an army officer, was turned out in democratic fashion. In Angola we have seen President dos Santos turned out and now the dismantling of his family empire. We even see in Uganda today—others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who has been there recently, will know this better than me—that there is an upsurge of public opposition to Museveni renewing his term as president through legislation.
How do we seek the dismantlement of these dictatorships and the rebuilding of these countries? We have heard from many noble Lords about the atrocities committed by President Bashir, and of course we know the ICC has a warrant for his arrest. There has been a national dialogue that he instituted but it was not inclusive, and all its recommendations have been rejected. We now see in the President’s foreign policy that he is veering between the US and Russia. He has fallen out with the leading Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia. He seems like a cornered animal, and one has to ask oneself whether it is the fear of arrest if he is no longer president or whether it is simply the love and corruption of power, or both. We do not know the answer but it is a serious question because elections are due in 2020. A group of highly intelligent Sudanese have made representations to me to ask that there should be moves towards a new constitution with a transitional period and a truth and reconciliation commission, but none of that can happen unless the President and his regime are prepared to make a move in that direction. There have to be incentives given by the international community.
Ghana is an interesting example. In former times it was in a deep mess but it managed, through a carefully worked-out transitional period, to move towards a much happier condition today.
If we look at South Sudan, we see a manmade disaster with the outside world firefighting the whole time, its politicians having created a failed state. As we have heard, there is a peace process, the high-level revitalisation forum, but the question is how we help them to rebuild and create a framework of institutions that will enable peace and stability to return, buttressed of course by work at local level. Here, the civil societies and churches of the south are very strong and can do a lot.
We have a precedent in Sierra Leone, where the UN, the regional powers of Africa and the UK played a leading role in the early part of the century in restoring order and stability. We see even in Somaliland an oasis of stability. It is possible in Africa, and we must not give up hope. It is a great credit to the British Government that we help to keep the flame of hope alive. There must be African solutions for African problems, but the whole of the international world must be ready to give our support if we are asked to do so.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for securing this debate. She has been persistent over the years in highlighting issues of Sudan and South Sudan.
I have had the opportunity to visit both countries in recent years. In a cross-party visit by parliamentarians, I visited South Sudan soon after its independence five years ago. South Sudan is an oil-rich country with enormous potential. During our visit to the Juba and Rumbek districts, we witnessed the legacy and scars of decades of civil war, including devastation, insecurity, shortages of food, poverty, unemployment, a lack of skills, refugees, corruption and a border dispute with Sudan. Among other things, the frightening reality observed was the tribal and fragile coalition of different armed groups, some of which had formed the first Government under the presidency of Mr Salva Kiir, who lacked any experience of leading a country.
However, we noticed hope in the eyes of the people of South Sudan, many of whom thought independence was going to bring them peace, stability and prosperity. We saw huge interest in education and learning new skills in agriculture and science. We also saw some interesting and inspiring projects funded by DfID. The locals were very pleased to participate in these projects.
Sadly, that hope was short lived, as the violence erupted again in 2013 between rival armed groups. So far it has killed thousands of people and injured and displaced many more. The country has gone from bad to worse, and there is no end in sight. According to the report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published this month, 4.8 million people are severely food insecure, 20,000 people are facing famine conditions and 4 million people are displaced by conflict.
Turning to Sudan, I have taken part in cross-party visits to Sudan, which has an image portrayed in the media and by some politicians here in Britain of a banana state under a cruel and oppressive regime whose army is engaged in killing its own people, with no rights for women and the country’s armed forces controlling the streets. Sudan was hampered by sanctions imposed by the United States due to reports of human rights violations.
However, we saw a complete contrast with that image during our visit to Sudan. We were pleased to see men and women working freely side by side, from the airport to the hotel, from shops to schools, colleges and the university. Our visit included meeting with the women’s caucus in the Sudanese Parliament, visiting the University of Khartoum, meeting with parliamentarians and representatives of the opposition, visiting a hospital, and visiting Darfur, the Merowe dam built by the Chinese and archaeological sites near Jebel Marra mountains. During the visit, we had full co-operation from the British embassy in Khartoum.
We found Sudan to be a beautiful country with untapped natural resources including all kinds of minerals, from copper to gold, oil and gas, with huge business potential and geographic importance, a country with a diverse culture and an open society, with females making up 30% of its Members of Parliament. The Sudanese hold a huge amount of respect for the British people and are eager to do business with them.
Since that visit in 2016, I am pleased that Sudan is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Last June, the UN Security Council voted to reduce the United Nations forces in Darfur by 40%. The region which was portrayed by the Enough Project and Eric Reeves as hell on earth is now a safe haven for South Sudanese refugees. According to the United Nations, 453,258 South Sudanese arrived in Sudan since the beginning of the 2013 civil war there, and many of them have not yet gone back.
Speaking at Chatham House last June, Matthew Hollingworth, director of the United Nations WFP in Sudan, viewed Sudan as “an anchor in a sea of instability”. The combination of stability and lifting of US sanctions has resulted in a surge of investment and trade opportunities. A US Corporate Council on Africa business delegation visited Khartoum. An American gas company has already signed an agreement to help extract the proven 3 trillion cubic feet of reserves in central Sudan. An all-party group on Sudan has been established in the British Parliament—I declare an interest as one of the vice-chairs. A major British-Sudanese investment forum will take place in London tomorrow. I am pleased about all of that.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister two questions. First, what assistance are Her Majesty’s Government providing to bring peace and reconciliation between the warring factions in South Sudan? Secondly, what steps are the Government taking to report the warlords of South Sudan to the International Criminal Court?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating what is a timely debate. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 4.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Sudan. The UK-Sudan strategic dialogue, which has been mentioned, initiated in March 2016, provides a forum for discussing mutual bilateral issues and concerns. The last meeting was in October, which also marked the recent decision by the US to lift economic sanctions. On lifting sanctions, what has the UK done to support efforts to tackle corruption? Sadly, the trade dividend is unlikely to reach the average Sudanese person, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned. Sudan ranks 170 out of 176 on the Transparency International corruption index. As we have heard, there are built-in review periods to the decision which link continued sanctions relief to improvements in humanitarian access and respect for human rights—concerns again raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
Does the Minister accept that rigorous, enforceable human rights benchmarks, together with engagement with a young, diverse civil society in Sudan, are key to maintaining the progress that we in this debate all want to see?
In South Sudan, as the conflict enters its fifth year in 2018, the humanitarian crisis continues to intensify, as we have heard from all noble Lords. According to the humanitarian needs overview for 2018, released only last week, 7 million people inside the country—almost two-thirds of the remaining population—still need humanitarian assistance. About 1.9 million are internally displaced, even though more than 2 million people have fled South Sudan as refugees over the past four years of conflict, and 1.25 million people are in the emergency phase of food insecurity. In early 2018, half of the population will be reliant on emergency food aid. The ERC noted that the alarming level of food insecurity in South Sudan is directly linked to restrictions on people’s freedom of movement, their access to humanitarian assistance and their ability to plant or harvest.
What steps have the Government taken through the UN Security Council to ensure that the parties comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to respect and protect civilians, including humanitarian workers, and to ensure that the parties allow and facilitate humanitarian relief operations and people’s access to assistance and protection? As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, over 1 million South Sudanese refugees currently live in Uganda—a rate of 1,800 per day over the last year. It is clear that the United Kingdom must support Uganda to provide a safe haven for those refugees. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that support is given on a much longer-term basis, because undermining the host nation would be particularly disastrous for the future?
Despite the 2015 peace agreement—the ARCSS—and a Transitional Government of National Unity being formed in 2016, the conflict erupted again in Juba in July that year, and 2017 has seen, as noble Lords have described, escalating conflict and heightened tensions.
The Government of South Sudan have demanded that there be no renegotiation of the ARCSS and have shown little political will towards a sustainable resolution. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, the dry season will normally bring an upturn in violence due to ease of movement and travel, so any ceasefire must be sealed before that violence re-erupts. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, there is hope that the resumption of the high-level talks will mark some progress. Does the Minister accept that perhaps the UK’s approach should not only focus on the high-level peace process but address the root causes of conflict on the ground by supporting civil society and freedom of expression? The noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted the fact that repression and closing down newspapers is beginning to be increasingly evident. It is important that we support civil society, which is critical to sustaining meaningful peace and dialogue for the future.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling this important debate and in acknowledging her long-standing commitment to humanitarian issues, not just in Sudan and South Sudan but beyond. The two countries that we have discussed share a common history, but today each faces its own unique challenges.
I shall start with Sudan. Ending internal conflict remains a priority, and we welcome the Government of Sudan’s extension of their unilateral cessation of hostilities until the end of this year. We have encouraged them to extend it further. In Darfur, while the security situation remains fragile, there has been a reduction in fighting this year, and better access and security for humanitarian agencies. The joint UN-African Union Mission in Darfur is making progress with reconfiguration, and has begun to redirect its forces away from regions that are now more stable and focus on some of the more challenging areas—for example, on the Jebel Marra area. We are continuing to monitor the reconfiguration closely. Less encouraging, however, is the fact that the Government of Sudan have yet to formally agree to a new base in that area, as mandated by the UN Security Council. Together with other Security Council members, we will continue to urge them to do so.
In the two areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the peace process continues to be hampered by internal divisions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Civilians in opposition-held areas remain cut off from outside aid. I assure noble Lords that we have continued to urge both factions to move towards a permanent cessation of hostilities and a humanitarian agreement with the Government. In Darfur and the two areas that the UK continues to support, there are African Union efforts to negotiate a comprehensive and mutually agreed peace settlement. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to urge all parties to engage constructively with that process.
I shall pick up on some of the questions that noble Lords have raised. If I cannot answer the questions in the time allocated, I shall of course write to noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about representations that the UK has made specifically on the kidnap of Rudwan Dawod and other supporters of the “Sudan of the Future” campaign. The British embassy in Khartoum is aware of Rudwan Dawod and supporters of that campaign. Improving the human rights situation is a top priority of our engagement with the Government of Sudan. We regularly raise our concerns about specific human rights cases and will continue to do so.
The noble Baroness also asked whether the British embassy in Khartoum was aware of the Government of Sudan’s policy of land confiscation from Sudanese civilians. The embassy is aware, and officials from the embassy continue to raise our concerns about the issue with the Government of Sudan as part of our ongoing bilateral dialogue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of financial support to the Sudanese armed forces to strengthen capacity. I assure noble Lords that the UK does not provide any support to the Sudanese armed forces that could improve their military capacity. All engagement with the Sudanese armed forces is centred on compliance with internationally recognised human rights standards. One of the UK’s defence objectives in Sudan is to promote the observance of international humanitarian law by the Sudanese armed forces through the delivery of a range of courses focused on international standards, human rights and international humanitarian law. I assure noble Lords that the UK is not providing support to the Sudanese armed forces for capacity building.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of Boko Haram. I shall of course look into it and, if I may, write to him in that respect.
We are providing support through the fund. Perhaps I may confirm both elements of that in my letter to the noble Lord.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of the UK Government ensuring that the Government of Sudan are complying with the conditions of the US lifting sanctions. We welcome the decision, to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, also referred, that progress had been made in five key areas. As noble Lords are aware, these include humanitarian access to conflict-afflicted regions, non-interference in South Sudan and maintaining the Government’s cessation of hostilities in Darfur and the Two Areas. I assure noble Lords that we used the fourth session of the strategic dialogue on 16 October to agree steps that the Government of Sudan would take to address human rights issues—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins—and to discuss specific issues, including sexual and gender-based violence, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression and the convention against torture. We also used it to discuss corruption, a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, focused his contribution on the important element of the humanitarian situation in Sudan. I assure noble Lords that we acknowledge and recognise that over one-third of Sudan’s population lives in poverty, and nearly 5 million Sudanese are in need of support. The UK is an important donor: we give £50 million a year to Sudan, focusing on providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to over 550,000 internally displaced people and South Sudanese refugees every year. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised this concern. We continue to work with the international community to reform the approach to the long-term displaced in Darfur.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, raised the issue of the UK Government considering working more closely with local partners, including the churches, in South Sudan. The UK Government are clear that the renewed peace process in South Sudan, led by IGAD, must allow full engagement of non-armed actors including, importantly, faith groups such as the South Sudan Council of Churches. The UK has recently agreed a package of funding that will help that council to implement its action plan for peace, which promotes the development of neutral forums in South Sudan where an inclusive dialogue can take place.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also mentioned the trade event that is taking place. This is a private event and I can assure the noble Lord that the Government have not provided any financial, logistical or administrative support for it. We believe that opening up trade can help isolated political and economic systems and thereby help to improve human rights. I further assure the noble Lord that, in this regard, the position of President Bashir is clear. The UK remains a strong supporter of the ICC and encourages all states to act on its indictment.
I can confirm that our ambassador to Sudan will be speaking.
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is very grave, as we have heard from various noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Anelay spoke very poignantly and with great expertise and insight. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, has also visited the region. In response to my noble friend, the UN Security Council has renewed the mandate and the UK strongly supports the UN mission in South Sudan. All members of the Security Council have also agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendation for a two-month technical rollover of the mandate. This will allow for the UN strategic review to report to the Security Council on detailed recommendations for the mission’s mandate. My noble friend also raised the issue of the IGAD-led peace process through a sustained campaign of engagement by Ministers and senior officials. We continue to put pressure on all sides of the conflict to engage meaningfully with IGAD’s revitalisation forum to end hostilities, negotiate a ceasefire and allow full humanitarian access.
My noble friend also asked whether we are working closely with our troika partners. We are doing so, and with key actors in the region, to drive forward peace talks. My noble friend was the special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict under the previous Prime Minister. I have now taken over that role. I commend her valuable work in this regard and assure her and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that South Sudan remains a priority country for preventing sexual violence and is one of the focus countries for the fourth UK national action plan.
Furthermore, through our humanitarian response and resilience in South Sudan programme, and working with our UN and NGO implementing partners, the Department for International Development is providing another £443 million in aid to support the provision of food and emergency shelter.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lady Anelay also asked about the insistence on compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights. I assure noble Lords that the UK Government are clear—as a Minister responsible for human rights, I am also clear—that human rights abuses committed in South Sudan are unacceptable and that all sides must make concerted efforts to bring them to an end. Our concerns are raised forcefully with the Government of South Sudan at every available opportunity.
If I may, I will write to noble Lords on the remaining questions. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, raised the regional protection force. The RPF is in the process of deployment and the UK Government continue to support it, but I will write in more detail in this respect.
Several noble Lords, including the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, raised the importance of humanitarian aid. This year, the UK’s humanitarian response will provide drinking water to 300,000 people and food to over 500,000 people. We are also supporting neighbouring countries hosting 2 million South Sudanese refugees.
In conclusion, I assure all noble Lords that the UK remains fully committed to working towards peace, security and prosperity for the people of both Sudan and South Sudan and the protection of human rights, ensuring that the perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to justice. In Sudan there are promising signs that continued constructive engagement with the international community can, over time, lead to greater security and prosperity for the Sudanese people. In South Sudan the outlook is far less promising. Without outside help many South Sudanese will continue to suffer in the most appalling conditions. I assure noble Lords that the UK will not stand idly by. Through our dialogue and through UK aid we will continue to provide vital assistance to those most in need, and we will continue to do all we can to encourage both parties to cease fighting and start talking about peace. The people of the world’s youngest country have the right to a better future and the UK Government take their role very seriously in this regard.