July 17th, 2013
House of Lords Debate the Sudanese Question: My First Day as a HART Intern
On my first day as an intern at HART I was propelled into the world of government policy with a trip to the House of Lords, and as a recent politics graduate with a longstanding interest in Sudan this was an extremely exciting opportunity. Over the past year, as President of Nottingham Aegis Students, I have been personally involved in developing and implementing a national student campaign called We Need to Talk About Sudan which sought to place pressure on the British government to speak out against the war atrocities being committed by the Sudanese Government. Through my involvement with the Aegis Trust, an international anti-genocide organisation, I have been lucky enough to have discussions with Sudanese Diaspora and Sudanese students from Nottingham University, which has allowed me to understand the grave humanitarian situation facing their people and the need for international action.
In an oral question put to Her Majesty’s Government, on July 9th the House of Lords asked what assessment had been made of the Amnesty International report We had no time to bury him: War crimes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.
Since September 2011 the Khartoum government, led by President Omar al-Bashir, has used its military to launch attacks against the rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and indiscriminate assaults on the civilian population of the Blue Nile State. Amnesty International has documented that, through ground attacks by Sudanese Armed Forces and the deployment of cluster and incendiary bombs dropped by Antonov planes, the Sudanese government has systematically targeted markets, schools and gatherings of civilian people. Humanitarian aid has also been blocked in order to punish the population for their perceived support of the SPLM-N. The calculated targeting of food crops and markets means that for the last two years people have been unable to plant or harvest crops and many civilians suffer from severe malnutrition which is exacerbated by a complete lack of healthcare. Amnesty International estimates that 150,000 people from the Blue Nile State have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia and South Sudan and tens of thousands more have been forcibly displaced. The human rights organisation maintains that despite an initial response from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and African Union they have failed to address the desperate need for impartial humanitarian assistance in the Blue Nile and nearby South Kordofan state.
The question was put to Her Majesty’s Government by Lord Alton of Liverpool, who has long championed Sudanese human rights. In his address to the House, Lord Alton drew attention to the satellite imagery compiled by Amnesty International which details the purging of Nuba people and the sheer extent of the scorched earth policies being undertaken by the Sudanese military. Lord Alton also queried when this situation had last been discussed at the UNSC, and whether the British government would support the extension of the current arms embargo on Darfur to the rest of Sudan.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire responded of behalf of the Government, and affirmed their support for negotiations to take place between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM-N, he noted that whilst there is a continued UN presence in the region, diplomacy remains extremely problematic.
During the debate many peers also referred to the ongoing-genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead contended that the brutality being deployed in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile amounts to “an appalling repetition of history” and constitutes another failure of the UNSC to respond to the suffering of the Sudanese people at the hands of their own government. Lord Chidgey also raised the excellent point that unless the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants levelled against President al-Bashir in relation to Darfur are implemented, there will be no deterrence for present crimes.
Baroness Cox, CEO of HART, imparted her own firsthand experience of the conflict in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where in January 2013 she witnessed the constant aerial bombardment of civilians and the impossible conditions local people are faced with, and questioned what Her Majesties Government are doing to hold the Khartoum Government to account for their crimes.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire thanked Baroness Cox for her unique insight and the reports she had provided the House of Lords regarding her recent trip to Sudan, he acknowledged that “it is the most appalling—I emphasis—series of interconnected conflicts from Darfur all the way across to Jonglei and Blue Nile”. He did however defend the inaction of the international community concerning the ICC arrest warrants, asserting that to apprehend an active head of state could easily lead to the instigation of war. He also maintained that Britain is only one of many actors who influence Sudan, and whilst the tripartite body of the UN, the African Union and the Arab League are attempting to mediate, due to the complexity of the conflict there are “limits to what the international community can achieve”.
Click here to read the full debate.
Click here to watch the full debate.
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