Baroness Cox in Parliament: Oral Questions on Nigeria and Sudan

December 17th, 2015

Baroness Cox in Parliament: Oral Questions on Nigeria and Sudan

Today Baroness Cox raised the ongoing situation in Nigeria during oral questions in the House of Lords, which developed into an interesting discussion. Directly afterwards, Lord Chidgey asked a question about human rights in Sudan, to which Baroness Cox gave an insightful contribution. Below are the Hansard transcripts and videos of the questions and answers.

Nigeria:

Question

11.12 am December 17th

Asked by Baroness Cox.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the northern states of Nigeria.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con):

My Lords, the security situation in north-east Nigeria has improved over the past six months, with Boko Haram being driven from key towns. However, Boko Haram remains a threat, launching regular suicide attacks, often using children. We estimate that more than 20,000 people have been killed, more than 2.2 million people displaced and more than 14.8 million people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very sympathetic reply and important information. Is she aware that I returned just last week from areas affected by Boko Haram and found the scale of killing, kidnapping and destruction to be far worse than that reported in the media? As indicated, a reign of terror persists, with continuing kidnappings and killings, despite the Nigerian army regaining some territory, and families trying to return home find everything destroyed, mines on their land and severe shortages of food. In Borno state alone, 875,000 people face emergency levels of food insecurity. What contribution are Her Majesty’s Government and the United Kingdom making towards urgently needed provision of security and means of survival for victims of this Islamist terrorist regime?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in such war-torn areas. She sees at first hand the devastation that these depredations by Boko Haram cause to individuals. She is right to point out the terrible position that people face when they seek to go back to what has been home.

In the 2015-16 financial year, the UK has already planned an additional £4 million of humanitarian support to north-east Nigeria, including through the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The UK development programmes in the north-east of Nigeria are supporting civil society organisations and NGOs that are working to reduce intra-community conflict, promote community governance and security dialogue, reduce violence against women and girls, and improve access to schooling in an area where 600,000 children are out of school.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab):

My Lords, given the importance in the new aid strategy announced in November by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development of conflict and development and the link between the two, will the forthcoming bilateral aid review for Nigeria take account, first, of the impact of these troubles in northern Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Cameroon, and secondly the key role that Nigeria plays in ECOWAS not just in economic regeneration and activity in the area but in conflict resolution and conflict prevention?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord is right to point out Nigeria’s position in ECOWAS and how important it is that it plays a strong role there and appreciates the position it ought to take. The advantage of the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund is that now we can have project funding on a four-year cycle, which makes it more certain.

Lord Chidgey (LD):

My Lords, Boko Haram systematically attacks education provision in the northern states of Nigeria, which now have exceptionally low levels of enrolment in primary, secondary and further education and where many schools have been closed for three years or more. With literacy levels falling to less than 60%, will the Government make representations to the Nigerian Government to prioritise education provision in these northern states? Will they also stress the importance of consistent, regular payment of teachers’ wages in state schools, improved teacher training and a focus on reopening closed schools and making them secure learning environments?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of education, because it provides security for children that they can be with their families and have a future. We have stressed to President Buhari that the work carried out militarily to defeat Boko Haram is only one part of the process. It is crucial that we work to ensure that there is reform of the constitution and the way it tackles and respects minorities. It is also crucial to support education systems for the future security of that area.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, did the Minister hear from her colleague, Tobias Ellwood, about the testimony given by Victoria Youhanna at a recent meeting here in Parliament? Victoria had escaped from Boko Haram. Given that hundreds of girls are still enslaved, abducted, forcibly converted, entrapped in domestic slavery, used as fighters and denied education, will the Minister—referring to the point the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, just made—tell us more about what can be done to ensure that girls are able to go back into education and that they are rehabilitated and given help in dealing with trauma? The words “Boko Haram” mean “destroy western education”, and it is therefore important that we show the importance that we attach, by contrast, to education.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, I have not heard the witness of that victim. I clearly sympathise with her experience. I have had the opportunity to hear witness from others about the appalling violence they suffered and witnessed. We regularly raise with the Nigerian authorities rescuing people being held by Boko Haram. We also work to support women and girls in northern Nigeria as part of our general humanitarian response. That includes helping the safe school initiative in north-eastern Nigeria. As part of our work on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, we help to fund a UNICEF programme which supports the reintegration of victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, what is DfID doing specifically to help those internally displaced persons who simply cannot return home and are forced to languish in deplorable conditions in camps?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, DfID is providing a substantial package of security, development and humanitarian support, including a £6.5 million humanitarian programme and a £5.4 million development portfolio in Yobe state. The funds are used to provide humanitarian support in the protracted food and nutrition crisis. It is important to note that it is not just Nigeria that faces this; it is a matter that reaches across the Sahel.

Sudan:

 

Question

11.20 am

Asked by Lord Chidgey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current human rights situation in Sudan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con):

My Lords, the human rights situation in Sudan remains of serious concern, particularly regarding reports of violations of international humanitarian law and the use of sexual violence in conflict. We consistently raise our concerns with the Government of Sudan and armed opposition groups and, where relevant, in the UN Security Council. In addition, we supported a renewed mandate for the UN independent expert on human rights at the Human Rights Council this September.

Lord Chidgey (LD):

I thank the Minister for that response. In 2004, Gayle Smith, the respected US analyst on Sudan, wrote in the Washington Post, in terms, that the efforts of the US Administration to end Sudan’s conflict would have been wasted if they allowed the Sudanese Government to continue to commit crimes against humanity. They would have demonstrated to Khartoum that it could act with impunity against its own people. Eleven years later, Gayle Smith has been appointed head of the US International Development Agency. In the mean time, 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur and 300,000 killed. Some 500,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and will die without emergency action. Will the Government remind Gayle Smith of her prophetic words and urge the US agency to join the UK in taking the strongest lead in the Security Council, and in the UN as a whole, to bring to an end Khartoum’s record of human rights abuse and denial of humanitarian aid access?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, we take a very strong position with the Government of Sudan on all those matters, and we work closely within the troika with our colleagues, the United States and Norway. Sudan has suffered now for decades in a situation where its Government appear to ignore the needs of their own population. We work within the United Nations, and of course the Human Rights Council is part of that body. In particular, we support the work of the UN panel of experts to document breaches of the sanctions regime, breaches of international humanitarian law and offences against individuals, which can be followed up because of course no one should be able to claim immunity or impunity for those crimes.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab):

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has strongly condemned the United Nations Security Council for its failure to bring high-profile indicted people, such as the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, to trial for mass rape and other war crimes in Darfur? Will the Minister confirm that as a member of the Security Council the UK is pressing for justice and the arrest of those who continue to commit atrocities in Darfur?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

Indeed, my Lords, we press very hard to ensure that those who commit atrocities in Darfur are not able to achieve impunity in that matter. That is important, not only there but around the world. With regard to Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor to whom the noble Baroness referred, of course I do not interfere in her work but I watch her very closely. Much earlier this year I met her and discussed the matters to which the noble Baroness referred. So I assure the noble Baroness that we not only watch; we also press.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, are we collecting systematic evidence to ensure that material goes before the International Criminal Court to bring to justice those who have been charged with genocide in Sudan? Reverting to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, what humanitarian access is now available both in Darfur and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where humanitarian agencies have been prohibited from reaching the desperate people in those places?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, I am aware that the UN independent expert has not yet returned to Sudan since his reappointment in October 2014, so we have not been able to test out whether he is able to gain access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan. We will watch to see what happens there. Humanitarian access across the border into the two areas is still judged to be so dangerous that very few organisations are able to commit to carrying out work. It is therefore difficult for Governments to fund them because it is difficult to judge what needs they are meeting and to be able to hold them to account. This is a matter on which we continue to press.

With regard to collecting information, we work with NGOs that are very brave human rights defenders, and we provide assistance where we may, using tools such as the international protocol on the collection of information that may later be used for prosecutions.

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the regime in Khartoum continues to carry out aerial bombardment of the peoples in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan’s Nuba mountains? They are living in terrible conditions, hiding in snake-infested caves and riverbanks, they cannot harvest their crops and, as noble Lords have already indicated, their humanitarian needs are enormous. The noble Baroness says that it is difficult to find agencies to take the cross-border aid but our own experience is that we work with organisations that are highly respectable. Will the Government continue to consider ways of providing that cross-border aid for the 750,000 people who are dying from lack of food and medical care?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The noble Baroness has seen at first hand the appalling violence against people in the two areas. I well remember her description of people trying to seek refuge in a dried-up riverbed infested with snakes, and I am aware that the violence now extends to bombing at night as well as by day. I assure the noble Baroness that we will keep our policy under constant review as regards providing assistance to those who wish to go across the border and that we will lobby both sides to allow humanitarian access to all parts of the two areas from within Sudan.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con):

My Lords, the Chinese have been very active both in Sudan and in South Sudan in this area, and have taken quite a forward involvement in the policy problems of the area. Have the Government had any liaison with the Chinese authorities, because they seem to have enormous resources which they can apply, particularly in this kind of area, and might be of assistance in solving the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, rightly raised?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, of course we had the Chinese state visit very recently, during the course of which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed the matter of human rights widely with the Chinese President. So we keep the matter under review. In the first instance we want to ensure that any aid provided is provided within international humanitarian law as well as international law itself.

Baroness Northover (LD):

My Lords, what further progress has been made in restricting the small arms trade, given that every community in Sudan is awash with small arms? Obviously, this is an extremely difficult problem, but international efforts were being made. What further progress can the Minister report?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The noble Baroness points to a serious problem, not only in that area but elsewhere. We have made clear to the Government that it is important that they improve their own attitude towards the security of all minorities, part and parcel of which is indeed the restriction of the amount of arms that are available. But I am under no illusions about the difficulty of trying to pursue that.


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