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Yesterday, Baroness Cox asked the British Government for their position on military attacks on civilians in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, Sudan. You can read Lady Cox and other Peers’ questions and the Government’s replies below.
HOUSE OF LORDS
February 29th 2016
Question Asked by Baroness Cox
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of continuing military offensives against civilians in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan by the Government of Sudan.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) (Con): My Lords, the UK has provided life-saving assistance to conflict-affected populations in Sudan through our £36.5 million contribution to the UN’s response, making us the third largest humanitarian donor to Sudan in 2015. Conflict reduced in the Two Areas following the temporary ceasefires last autumn, but the humanitarian situation and recent fighting in Blue Nile remain of deep concern. The UK is continuing to press for agreement in the upcoming African Union-mediated peace talks.
Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I thank the Minister for her sympathetic reply. Is she aware that last month I was in the Nuba mountains in Southern Kordofan, where women and children are forced to live in snake-infested caves by the Government of Sudan’s aerial bombardment of civilians in what is a de facto genocide? There is now an IPC emergency level for food shortages in both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Will Her Majesty’s Government use their influence in the UN to recommend extending and strengthening sanctions against the Government of Sudan while they continue to kill civilians with impunity in these areas, particularly in the light of the recently renewed mandate of the panel of experts monitoring sanctions in Darfur?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, although we welcome the role that UN sanctions can play in the right circumstances and support the recent renewal of the sanctions around Darfur, each situation is different. We judge that at present the best way to promote moves towards lasting peace in the Two Areas is to support the peace process negotiations being led by former President Mbeki and his AU High-level Implementation Panel.
Lord Chidgey (LD): My Lords, in January Sudanese armed forces destroyed more than 20 villages in Jebel Marra during a major offensive, leaving literally thousands of people in hiding without food, shelter or assistance. Will the Government condemn these atrocities and challenge President al-Bashir’s claims to have ended the rebellion, as he calls it, in early February while his warplanes continue to bomb and murder helpless civilians in Darfur on a daily basis?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the recent fighting in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur is a setback, and reports of barrel bombs and other military action are very disturbing. We continue to urge all the parties to stop fighting and allow full humanitarian access, as well as for Abdul Wahid to cease provocative actions so that we engage in proper talks.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that there can be no military solution to Sudan’s internal conflicts, and will she join with the United States which has recently called on the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front to de-escalate the violence and work with others to agree a comprehensive end to the terrible hostilities which have been described?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, US financial sanctions are a matter for the US Government. We continue to support efforts to improve the effectiveness of UN-targeted sanctions in Darfur and the EU arms embargo that remains in place across Sudan.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, given that the Human Rights Watch organisation has said that in the Two Areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, civilians, including children, were,
“burned alive or blown to pieces after bombs or shells landed on their homes”,
and given what has already been said about Darfur, where between 200,000 and 300,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced, will the noble Baroness tell us why the International Criminal Court has failed so miserably to bring to justice Omar al-Bashir and others charged with the crime of genocide?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the UK continues to raise a range of human rights issues with the Government of Sudan, including the issues raised by the noble Lord. We are a big supporter of the International Criminal Court and will continue to make clear to the Government of Sudan and the international community that we expect compliance with the arrest warrant for President Bashir.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in noting that my friends the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Leeds and the Bishop of Salisbury have particular links with Sudan, is the Minister aware of the key role played by the Anglican Episcopal Church in Sudan in peacemaking, maintaining ministry and pastoral support on the ground in these areas? Will the Government pressurise the Sudanese Government to cease the illegal confiscation of church properties and the oppression of Christian people, especially those who are trapped in the Blue Mountains and South Kordofan?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is of course right to raise the important role that faith communities play, and we continue to ensure that part of the conversations we have with the Sudanese Government is about enabling people to live freely to practise the religions that they wish to practise. These are difficult and challenging situations but the Government continue to press hard to make sure that the concerns raised in your Lordships’ Chamber are raised there.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, the noble Baroness has described the terrible situation described by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as merely disturbing. We then listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, told us about the horrific atrocities being committed, and the noble Baroness said that these matters were a setback. Surely Her Majesty’s Government can produce a more robust response to these terrible descriptions than calling them a setback or disturbing.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that these are very difficult situations and we have to be mindful of the language used if we are to continue to have dialogue with the Government of Sudan. They are of course horrific atrocities and we as the UK Government take our role very seriously in raising those horrific atrocities. At the same time, we are working both with the Sudanese Government and others to ensure that we are able to access those who need our assistance the most. They tend to be the ones who are hardest to reach.
Lord Lexden (Con): Further to the last question, are there any signs of progress in this most unfortunate country for which Britain, in condominium with Egypt, once had responsibility?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend is right in raising that. It is a very difficult situation. Sudan is one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries and has suffered from cycles of conflict over many years. A devastating impact of that falls directly on the lives of ordinary people. Our aid, and the UK Government’s assistance, is therefore not just to channel money but to try to work with others for a long-lasting peace settlement. This will be done through the UN and African Union agencies.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Kinnock said, obviously support for the peace process, which is very complex, is vital. Because of the economic conditions, many families are forcing young sons into the proliferation of militias, so has the department thought of ways of breaking this cycle? It is now a cycle; every time the rainy seasons ends, there is another round of violence. Can the department look at this issue more fully?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that we must do much more. We continue to work with partners to ensure that we are doing as much as we can so that on the ground those young people are engaged in a much more meaningful way and do not get attracted to join the militia and others. As the noble Lord said, this will be a very long-term process. We need to work with and support the UN agencies and the African Union, and also get our other donor partners to step up so that their support on the ground is much more prevalent and we can make real progress.
You can find the debate on the House of Lords Hansard here.