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Sudan and South Sudan

Volume 834: debated on Monday 27 November 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support peace and democracy in Sudan and South Sudan.

My Lords, the UK is committed to supporting Sudan and South Sudan to achieve an enduring peace. In Sudan, we are pursuing all diplomatic avenues to press the warring parties into a sustained and meaningful peace process that paves the way to a return to a civilian-led government. In South Sudan, we continue to urge the Government to implement the peace agreement and secure a peaceful transition to democracy through free and fair elections.

My Lords, conflict between the two armed forces within Sudan has intensified over the last few months. Just a few days ago, the Sudan Government then informed or notified the United Nations that it wanted to pull out of the United Nations Assistance Mission ASAP or by 3 December, which is the last date on which this current rollover mandate of peace remains. As the UK is penholder on Sudan at the UN, can my noble friend tell me what negotiations there have been with the Sudanese Government to ensure that this mandate is rolled over, in a way that maintains the present level of impact upon Sudan? Otherwise, the millions of people who have been displaced, including 3 million children who are now on the verge of famine, will not be fed.

My noble friend is absolutely right. The UK led the renewal of the mandate for the UN Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan on 2 June to ensure that the UNITAMS process would have the most effective mandate possible to address the crisis in Sudan. She is absolutely right: there are 6.2 million people displaced, 1.2 million of them in neighbouring countries. As penholder on Sudan at the Security Council, we work in close partnership with the UN, including on how the UN can best support the Sudanese people going forwards. We will continue to work with Sudan and other interested parties on this ahead of the expiry of the UNITAMs mandate on 3 December. It is absolutely vital that all countries are doing their bit to try to assist the people who are suffering most in this terrible conflict.

My Lords, the conflict in Sudan is tragically forgotten by the world. The UN is paralysed, while the African Union stands on the other side and watches what happens. There is no real prospect yet of a ceasefire or any positive movement, so what can the Government do? As a penholder, can we persuade other Governments to increase support for the aid agencies as the tragedy unfolds?

The noble Lord rightly portrays a very stark situation, but the conflict is not ignored by this Government. We strongly believe that neither of the warring parties should have any role in power in a future Sudan, and we support an African-led approach to resolving the crisis. We are working with a range of partners, including the Quad—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the United States and ourselves—as well as African countries, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union and the UN to achieve a permanent ceasefire and allow unfettered humanitarian access. One of the great problems is getting humanitarian access to particular parts of Sudan; just getting visas for humanitarian aid workers is impossible. We are also helping a broad group of Sudanese civilian actors and stakeholders—that most recently took place in Addis Ababa at the end of October. My ministerial colleagues and I will continue to have meetings with parties to try to affect a changing situation, but I entirely agree that it looks bleak at the moment.

My Lords, if we get a leakage of water causing damage at home, the first thing we do is turn off the supply system. I know that I will be told that we have the most rigid control of arms in the world, but arms manufactured in this country are being sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which then sell them on to the warring parties in Sudan. Is that acceptable?

There is a long-standing UK arms embargo in place for the whole of Sudan, as well as a UN arms embargo on Darfur. If the noble Lord wants to give me more evidence of what he said, I will certainly take it up.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the displacement of people raised by the noble Baroness, who is absolutely right about UN involvement and our responsibility as a penholder. What was our response to the World Food Programme, which has announced that it requires £150 million just to support those who have moved to Chad? Can we take this issue seriously? As the noble Baroness said, women, girls and children are in an absolutely desperate situation and we need to respond.

The noble Lord is right about the situation. Some 24.7 million people need assistance and, as I said earlier, 6.2 million people have been displaced since 15 April, a large proportion of whom are in Darfur. Our top humanitarian priority is to secure humanitarian access and operational security guarantees for humanitarian agencies, as there can be no aid without safe and reliable access. In May, the Minister for Development and Africa announced £21.7 million in UK humanitarian aid for Sudan, as well as £5 million to help meet the urgent needs of refugees and returnees fleeing violence in Sudan into South Sudan and Chad. UK support is providing nutrition, drinking water and medical aid, as well as supporting our protection services, including for those affected by gender-based violence, of which there is a horrendous amount.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his place. He mentioned the democratic civilian forces meeting in Addis Ababa at the end of October. I declare an interest, in that I was there with them and I have been supporting them since the outbreak of the conflict in April. That meeting was a major move forward, and they are now working on a programme called Takadum, which means “progress”. Does the Minister agree with me that, if there is to be space for those civilians to take part in any meaningful peace negotiations to end this terrible conflict, the conflict cannot be prolonged? Armaments for the RSF and the SAF forces are being replenished, so will the Government consider having sanctions ready for any neighbouring countries—the whole sweep of Libya and Egypt, as well as the UAE, Turkey and Iran—participating in that replenishment during this dreadful conflict?

I thank the noble Lord for his involvement in this process. On 12 July, the Minster for Africa and Development announced a package of six UK sanctions, putting in place an asset freeze on the three commercial entities linked to each party involved in the conflict—the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. We do not speculate on future sanctions, but we will certainly look at anything that would limit the illegal activities that bring arms and cause this massive problem to continue, and we will certainly work with the noble Lord and others to ensure we are achieving that.

My Lords, peacebuilding requires specific, focused actions on the ground. There are few organisations on the ground in Sudan that have any credibility. Faith-based organisations, however, both Christian and Islamic, do. What specific steps have His Majesty’s Government taken to support faith-based organisations in their work in that country?

Next door, in South Sudan, there was an extremely important visit by the Holy Father, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. That certainly coalesced faith-based organisations in that area. However, in Sudan it is, if anything, more difficult because of this raging civil war. The noble Lord is right that civil society and faith-based organisations are very often the best people at delivering aid and support and trying to get humanitarian aid to those areas as quickly as possible.

My Lords, on 14 July, members of the PSVI international alliance issued a joint statement condemning reports of increased sexual violence and calling on all parties to stop the violence. Four months later, on almost a daily basis we hear about rape being used as a weapon of war, particularly in Darfur. We are seeing a repeat of the actions that led to genocide 20 years ago. What is my noble friend’s proposal? How do we address this? How do we best interfere and intervene in order not to see a repeat of the crimes that were committed then?

My noble friend raises a really important point. We have attacked in the strongest terms the atrocities we are hearing reports of from across Sudan. We initiated the Sudan Core Group members’ resolution to establish an independent fact-finding mission for Sudan, which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in October, and we will support future accountability efforts in Sudan. We condemn the ongoing attacks in west Darfur on innocent civilians by militias, particularly the RSF, which have all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing. My noble friend is absolutely right: the use of rape and torture as weapons of war is utterly appalling, and we want to ensure not only that it stops but that those who have partaken of this are held accountable.