Baroness Cox asked the House of Lords about issues in Sudan and Burma

May 24th, 2016

Baroness Cox asked the House of Lords about issues in Sudan and Burma

Yesterday, Baroness Cox asked the British Government for their position on military attacks on civilians in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, Sudan and aid spending in Burma. You can read Lady Cox and other Peers’ questions and the Government’s replies below.

HOUSE OF LORDS

May 23rd 2016

Sudan & Burma

Question Asked by Baroness Cox

Baroness Cox (CB)
My Lords, the gracious Speech refers to DfID funding. I wish, sadly, to report on recent visits to conflict areas in Sudan and Burma where DfID funding is not provided, although it is much needed, and where there is a critical need for Her Majesty’s Government to call the Governments of Burma and Sudan to account for continuing military offensives against innocent civilians.
Time permits for only a few examples of evidence of genocidal policies being perpetrated in Sudan’s Nuba mountains and Blue Nile state—the “Two Areas”—and Burma’s Shan and Kachin States. The Government of Sudan, the GoS, use Antonovs, fast fighter jets and long-range missiles to target markets, schools, clinics and families harvesting food. They are constantly breaching international humanitarian law by failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants under the fundamental principle of distinction.
In January, we visited women and children in the Nuba mountains who are forced to live in caves with deadly snakes. One family told us: “We moved to the caves because every day there was bombing by the Antonov. We live here with insects, snakes and scorpions. One woman was recently bitten by a cobra”. In March, the latest GoS dry-season offensive began in the two areas. Ground fighting, aerial bombardment and shelling have increased internal displacement and humanitarian needs where there was already severe food insecurity. The most affected areas are Kurmuk county in Blue Nile, with 14 aerial bombardments and at least 96 bombs, and Heiban and Dalami counties in South Kordofan, where in March alone 146 bombs were dropped in 30 incidents. Last Tuesday, 16 bombs were dropped on Kauda town, some landing in the market, and aerial bombing in Heiban town on 1 May killed six children.
At least 173,000 IDPs are severely food insecure in the two areas and an additional 210,000 are at risk in the coming months. There is therefore a desperate need for cross-border aid. A local leader told us: “We have proposed cross-border aid. The priority for the SPLM-N is the provision for the humanitarian needs of health care and food. The people here can’t eat anything which comes from Khartoum—they couldn’t even feed their animals with it. But Khartoum continues to say ‘no’ to cross- border aid. We want an agreement to allow cross-border aid and for the UN to implement this”. The commissioner of Tobo told us: “The Government of Khartoum is not killing us secretly, they attack in broad daylight. They are killing us loudly, but no one is listening. We have no food, we have no shelter, our children have no education or immunisation. So we are going to keep speaking the truth—we will not be silent”.
Will the Minister say what progress has been made on undertakings already given by Her Majesty’s Government to consider the provision of cross-border aid and what measures Her Majesty’s Government have taken to end the impunity with which the Government of Sudan continue to kill innocent civilians?
I turn briefly to Burma. Two weeks ago, we were visiting civilians in and from Shan and Kachin states, where the Burmese army continues military offensives against civilians, aerial bombardment with MIGs and helicopter gunships and violations of human rights, including rape and torture. These have caused massive civilian displacement with an estimated 644,000 internally displaced people resulting from conflict. As recently as 10 May, 1,600 more people were force by fighting to flee their villages in two townships in northern Shan state. This is going on while we speak. Other civilians have been displaced, or fear imminent displacement, by unscrupulous investment building dams on major rivers, plundering gold and other precious metals and ruthlessly logging teak and other precious timber in the ethnic nationals’ areas. In order to survive, tens of thousands of Shan people have fled to Thailand and hundreds of thousands of Kachin are now IDPs or have fled to China. Many cannot return to their homes because the Burmese Government have given away their land. As traditional local villagers, they have no written proof of their long-standing ownership of property, so they are not allowed to return.
There is fear that this forced displacement may be one aspect of ethnic cleansing of ethnic national peoples and their replacement by Burmese civilians as part of a process of deliberate Burmanisation. There are acute shortages of food and medical care, but we have been advised by our local partner, Shan Women’s Action Network, that DfID’s aid is now channelled through other agencies and does not reach the many civilians in greatest need in areas of active conflict. Will DfID ensure that some of its large-scale resources are made available for life-saving aid in these areas? What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Burmese Government to ensure that the nationwide ceasefire agreement is comprehensive and not just a ploy to allow the Burmese army to use local ceasefires to advance its military positions and that the peace process will enshrine a genuine political solution acceptable to all the peoples of Burma?
My Lords, it may be helpful for the House if I remind your Lordships of the advisory speaking time of five minutes for today’s debate. If this time is adhered to, the House might be expected to rise around 10 pm. With the indulgence of the House, some flexibility may be given for the timings of the valedictory speech made by my noble friend Lady Perry, the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jowell, and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen.

The Lord Bishop of Carlisle
Thirdly, we are delighted that Britain’s commitment on international development spending will continue to be honoured. This is essential if we are to help to deliver greater stability globally, support the sustainable development goals and prevent new threats to national security. However, we must be vigilant that the international development budget continues to be spent on ODA-prescribed activity—not least of the kind highlighted a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—instead of being used simply to subsidise cuts in other areas. Only this month, analysis by the Royal United Services Institute showed that while official ODA spending through the Department for International Development will rise by 3% in real terms, in other departments it will rise by 123%. Indeed, by the end of this decade 73% of the Foreign Office’s budget will come from ODA, compared with just 10% in 2010. Of course we welcome the breaking down of barriers between departments, but we need to be careful that those boundaries do not become so porous that ODA money is used for non-ODA purposes.

 

Earl Howe [The Minister’s Closing Speech].
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke powerfully and with first-hand knowledge about South Sudan. We remain deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan. More than 2.4 million South Sudanese are displaced and almost 3 million people are at risk of life-threatening hunger. All parties must allow unrestricted humanitarian access. We are fully committed to supporting the people of South Sudan and have been a major donor to that country. Cross-border aid is a policy option that we keep under review. We support UN efforts to gain humanitarian access to rebel-held areas and welcome the Government of Sudan’s announcement that they will allow humanitarian aid from within Sudan to reach parts of South Kordofan controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North. We call on all sides to allow immediate and sustained humanitarian access.
As regards Burma, I am sure the noble Baroness will know that the UK has provided £18 million for humanitarian assistance since 2012 for more than 126,000 displaced and conflict-afflicted people, including water and sanitation, as well as work on malnutrition and gender-based violence. We will continue to be active in support of the peace process, both politically and through our development work.
The Minister, Earl Howe, closing speech
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke powerfully and with first-hand knowledge about South Sudan. We remain deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in South Sudan. More than 2.4 million South Sudanese are displaced and almost 3 million people are at risk of life-threatening hunger. All parties must allow unrestricted humanitarian access. We are fully committed to supporting the people of South Sudan and have been a major donor to that country. Cross-border aid is a policy option that we keep under review. We support UN efforts to gain humanitarian access to rebel-held areas and welcome the Government of Sudan’s announcement that they will allow humanitarian aid from within Sudan to reach parts of South Kordofan controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North. We call on all sides to allow immediate and sustained humanitarian access.
As regards Burma, I am sure the noble Baroness will know that the UK has provided £18 million for humanitarian assistance since 2012 for more than 126,000 displaced and conflict-afflicted people, including water and sanitation, as well as work on malnutrition and gender-based violence. We will continue to be active in support of the peace process, both politically and through our development work.

You can view the House of Lords Hansard here.


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