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Sudan and South Sudan

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what priority they give to Sudan and South Sudan among their foreign policy objectives.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has taken a leading role in both Sudan and South Sudan. Through our extensive political engagement, we are working with the region and international partners to help ensure a peaceful and credible transition to democracy in Sudan and the implementation of the peace process in South Sudan. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor in both Sudan and South Sudan, supporting those who have suffered years of the countries’ conflict and civil wars.

My Lords, I am relieved to hear that Answer, not least because we have many humanitarian workers in both countries, including my noble friend Lady Cox, who has only just returned. Could the Minister confirm that the UK-Sudan strategic dialogue is still in place? That is so important for the rebuilding of society. Will civil society, women’s groups and all those groups outside Khartoum be involved?

I agree with the noble Earl’s point about ensuring that all of civil society is directly engaged. He will be aware that, because of the unrest in Sudan in 2019, the strategic dialogue that had taken place was put on hold. We are looking to review the renewal of that dialogue but, in the interim, our ambassadors and Ministers continue to engage with all parts of civil society and the Government directly.

My Lords, probing a little on that point, the move towards democracy will obviously be very difficult. A transitional Government are in place at the moment, still with military involvement. Could the Minister tell us a bit more about what support, apart from humanitarian aid, we are giving the transitional Government to move towards democracy?

My Lords, that is a very important point. We are engaging directly with the Government of Sudan to ask them what level of assistance and technical support they need. For example, I met the ambassador only yesterday to hear directly about the kind of concerns they have. Issues of security continue to prevail. Accountability and justice from the civil war remain important, particularly in places such as Darfur. We continue to work bilaterally and through UN agencies. The noble Lord will be aware that the mandate of the UN has been extended for a year, which reflects the ambition for security and accountability in Sudan.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, just last Wednesday, I was in Abyei, the region suffering from disputes over whether it is located in Sudan or South Sudan, and witnessed the immediate aftermath of a massacre perpetrated by Arab Misseriya tribesmen against Dinka villagers? I saw the burned bodies of women and children in huts that were still burning and heard local villagers voicing deep anger that the UN’s policy prevented them escaping to hide in the bush and left them without any protection. Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan to take the necessary measures to ensure the protection of the vulnerable people of Abyei?

I am sure I speak for all in your Lordships’ House in paying tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in the region. I am aware of the reports and I thank her for the report that she sent to my office only yesterday. I read the full results of the attack that happened. It was appalling and sickening, and I am sure I speak for the whole House in our total condemnation of it. What particularly concerned me was the fact that the UN troops—the mission—did not perhaps intervene in an appropriate manner. I have asked for a full, detailed report. I assure the noble Baroness that, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we continue to engage. I met the ambassador yesterday and, while this was not on the agenda, I raised these concerns directly with him.

My Lords, with 14 aid workers killed in Sudan last year, and more than 100 since 2013, Sudan remains one of the most dangerous and needy places in the world. Can the Minister tell me whether any of the aid workers killed were sent from the UK—for example, from the DfID mission established as part of the peace process in South Sudan, VSO workers or any other UK personnel?

The noble Lord asks for specific details. If I may, I will write on the nature of that situation. On his more general point, we are concerned about the security of aid workers because of the number of NGOs working on the ground.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the meeting in the Vatican last April of religious and political leaders from South Sudan, including the President and leading rebel and opposition groups; and of the Pope’s announcement when we met last November that he intended to make a joint visit himself, with me and a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, at the end of March if the transitional Government had been established by that time in Juba. The period for establishing that Government runs out towards the end of February. May we have assurance that with the whole thing in the balance—and given what we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—Her Majesty’s Government will apply carrot and stick vigorously, and give full attention over the next four weeks to enabling this new Government to happen solidly in Juba, including the presence of leading rebel members such as Riek Machar, to get a framework for peace?

Again, I pay tribute to the most reverend Primate for his work in South Sudan. I know this is an area close to his heart. Let me assure him that we are working closely not just with the Government but with civil society to ensure that we keep on track, and that the peace agreement between the two countries remains intact. We are supporting civil society organisations as well; for example, the UK is funding and enabling the South Sudan Council of Churches to engage in mediation. That is an important part of the reconciliation process in South Sudan, and for that matter in Sudan as well.

Has the Minister opened discussions with those countries supplying troops to the United Nations forces, which, as he rightly said, failed to intervene as they should have done in the recent disputes?

We are very much engaged with the countries involved in that mission and will raise those concerns directly with them.