Baroness Cox Debate on Sudan and South Sudan Developments

12 December 2017

On 11th December 2017, Baroness Cox and other peers asked her Government about their assessment of recent developments in Sudan and South Sudan. Below is her speech and click on the link to read the contributions from other peers and the response from Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Baroness Cox (CB)

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.

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