Sudan — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:47 am on 7th January 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 11:47 am, 7th January 2010

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who will be contributing to the debate at this critical time for Sudan. Tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, which has brought some respite from the relentless war unleashed by the National Islamic Front regime after it seized power in 1989-a war that has resulted in 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced. Then the conflict in Darfur erupted, with hundreds of thousands killed, displaced, injured and still suffering in refugee camps. Now there are fears that the CPA will be breached and that the war against the south will be reignited; or that the country will implode, creating chaos and instability.

I will focus first on the urgent need to promote and protect the peace process, and for the international community to encourage all parties to adhere to the provisions regarding the census, the elections and the referendum; and on the need to prepare for the post-referendum scenario, whatever the outcome, and the critical issues of wealth-sharing and power-sharing agreements and security. I will deal, secondly, with the recent violations of the human rights of people in northern Sudan, including the arrest of opposition leaders in Khartoum; thirdly, with the continuing violence in southern Sudan; fourthly, the humanitarian crisis in many regions; fifthly, the continuing suffering of people in Darfur; and sixthly, the plight of people, including the Beja, in marginalised areas such as southern Blue Nile, Abyei, southern Kordofan and eastern Sudan; and finally, slavery.

I will briefly state my own interests. I first worked in Sudan as a nurse in a remote area of desert in northern Kordofan in the 1980s, establishing an immunisation programme in the small township of Hamrat-el-Wiz. After the war erupted in 1989, I returned 30 times to locations in Bahr-el-Ghazal, eastern and western Equatoria, the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile, eastern and western Upper Nile and the Kassala region. During that war, Khartoum would regularly announce airstrips open to the UN's Operation Lifeline Sudan and the closed locations. It would then carry out military offensives in the closed areas so that no one could take aid to the victims or tell the world what it was doing. I focused on those locations, incurring the NIF's displeasure and numerous threats, took aid to civilian victims and obtained evidence of atrocities perpetrated by the NIF, including massacres of civilians, destruction of livestock, villages and crops in a scorched earth policy, and the abduction of tens of thousands of women and children into slavery.

Since the CPA, the small NGO, HART-the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust-with which I now work, is establishing primary healthcare clinics and helping with agricultural programmes around Yei, rebuilding a school in Bahr-el-Ghazal and supporting war widows in the Nuba mountains. My contribution will therefore reflect some of the first-hand evidence from those areas, and I am most grateful to other noble Lords who will address other issues.

I turn to the CPA and other peace agreements, drawing on a comprehensive report by the International Crisis Group. It states:

"Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup. The main mechanisms to end conflicts between the central government and the peripheries-the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the Darfur Peace Agreement and the East Sudan Peace Agreement-all suffer from lack of implementation, largely due to the intransigence of the National Congress Party (NCP). Less than thirteen months remain to ensure that national elections and the South Sudan self-determination referendum lead to democratic transformation and resolution of all the country's conflicts. Unless the international community, notably the US, the UN, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council and the Horn of Africa Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), cooperate to support both CPA implementation and vital additional negotiations, return to North-South war and escalation of conflict in Darfur are likely".

At the core of the current political crisis are delays in implementing key benchmarks laid out in the CPA. The referendum on independence for the south is due in January 2011. Before then, Sudan must hold national elections. These are set for April 2010, but President Omar al-Bashir's Government have failed to pass key democratic reforms promised by the agreement, and without these, there is no way that the results of the elections can be accepted.

Tensions have been rising between the NCP in the north and the SPLM in the south. In October, the President of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, for the first time openly called for the south to secede. Both sides are rearming. Another civil war would be devastating for the Sudanese people, as well as for the entire Horn of Africa and other neighbouring countries. The situation was exacerbated on 7 December, when the Khartoum Government arrested and maltreated SPLM leaders and other peaceful protesters who were angered by the NPC's use of its majority to impose amendments to the crucial referendum law which they deemed totally unacceptable.

But there are some signs of hope. On 29 December, the National Assembly finally adopted the referendum law, and the recent progress of negotiations on the Abyei area referendum and the popular consultations in south Kordofan and Blue Nile regions are positive steps. However, agreements still need to be found on many crucial issues before the referendum takes place, including border demarcation, demilitarisation of border areas and arrangements for security and wealth-sharing, including oil revenues. There is also concern that the donor community has not fulfilled its 2005 commitments. Only a small fraction of the $4.8 billion pledged has reached essential infrastructure projects, as humanitarian aid for Darfur has absorbed most of the money.

Consequently, many parts of southern Sudan and the marginalised areas have been off the radar screen for many major aid organisations and the international media, resulting in largely unreported humanitarian crises. For example, southern Sudan has the lowest immunisation rate in the world. In January last year we were told that only 17 per cent of children are immunised, leaving 83 per cent vulnerable to preventable killer diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles and TB, with one in seven children dying before they reach the age of five. One in seven pregnant women dies as a result of pregnancy-related problems, and a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to finish school. Three years ago, we discovered previously unidentified leprosy in eastern Upper Nile. There has also been a lost generation of children unable to receive education because of constant aerial bombardment. Even now, less than half the children in southern Sudan receive even a basic five-year primary education; and 85 per cent of adults are illiterate, with an even higher figure of 92 per cent for women.

The effects of an infrastructure devastated by war include the desperate need for rebuilding roads, without which people cannot move freely, especially in the rainy season, so people in rural areas cannot reach towns for healthcare or education, or polling stations to vote. Yesterday, I read a welcome announcement that Her Majesty's Government will be giving a very generous donation of £54 million, I think, to Sudan. Of course that is most welcome. However, is the money which the Government are providing through DfID being most effectively used in southern Sudan? One concern recently raised with us was the decision adopted by many aid agencies to change priorities from relief to development. That is understandable, but given the statistics of child and maternal mortality and morbidity, there is clearly still an urgent need for relief aid.

Perhaps I may offer a practical suggestion regarding voting. Will Her Majesty's Government and the EU press the authorities to arrange polling stations in a mobile form to reach remote rural areas? Otherwise, with no roads and the fear of attack from local militias in unstable areas, many people will effectively be disenfranchised. Can there also be an extension of voting over two days, to enable such mobile stations to reach all remote locations?

Problems of violence and insecurity claimed 2,500 lives last year and displaced 350,000 people. The notorious Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, which created havoc and horror in northern Uganda for 20 years, has now been responsible for many deaths, injuries and abductions in southern Sudan; intertribal fighting has been responsible for the rest. There is widespread concern that Khartoum is supporting the LRA and instigating the tribal clashes. Given Khartoum's support for it in previous years, when it allowed the LRA to operate its brutal military training camps for children abducted from Uganda in NIF-administered territory, suspicions of northern involvement in last year's deadly confrontations are not unreasonable. To date, no evidence has been found, but there is an urgent need for confidence-building measures if such conflicts are not to exacerbate instability and undermine the peace process.

For example, would Her Majesty's Government use their influence to encourage the United Nations Mission in Sudan to undertake a more proactive civilian protection role, in accordance with its mandate, and to define more clearly the circumstances under which it will provide protection with appropriate intervention rather than mere observation? Darfur remains cause for grave concern. Tens of thousands of displaced Darfuris still suffer extreme deprivation in harsh conditions in camps, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton who will be speaking on that continuing tragedy.

In other regions of Sudan, the people continue to suffer the after-effects of war and continuing political challenges. Last year I visited southern Kordofan, formerly known as the Nuba mountains, a name which is still preferred by the local people. The area is now governed from Khartoum and the peoples in the SPLM-administered areas describe systematic discrimination. For example, they have a desperate need for education but claim that the resources being made available from Khartoum are limited to schools in the Islamic tradition. Even the Muslims who live in those areas are deeply unhappy, as they wish their children to receive the more broadly-based southern Sudan or east African curricula. There is also an acute shortage of healthcare and provision for vulnerable people such as war widows.

Other marginalised peoples continue to suffer humanitarian crises. For example, the plight of the Beja people in eastern Sudan remains so serious that the southern Sudanese, whose own predicament is dire, undertook an investigation and claimed that the Beja people's plight is even worse than their own. Can the Minister say whether EU and DfID funding therefore includes appropriate weighting to provide essential assistance to those all too often forgotten people in the marginalised areas?

Finally, I turn to the still unresolved problem of the systematic abduction of tens of thousands of African civilians, mainly from Bahr-el-Ghazal and the Nuba mountains, during the 1980s and 1990s. For some years, many major international organisations denied the existence of slavery in Sudan. However, Gaspar Biro, the UN special rapporteur, confirmed the reality and subsequently many reports, books and documentary films, including a BBC "Everyman" programme, have testified to that inhuman and large-scale practice of slavery, supported by Khartoum. The slave raids, the after-effects of which I witnessed many times, were perpetrated by combined forces of government soldiers, mujaheddin jihad warriors and the murahaleen local tribesmen, who swept through the countryside, generally killing the men and abducting women and children.

My first encounter was typical. In Nyamlell in Bahr-el-Ghazal in the early 1990s, 82 men had been killed and their bodies thrown into a mass grave and 282 women and children had been abducted. We were able to assist with the rescue of many hundreds of women and children and their stories were heartbreaking. Some are recorded in a book on modern day slavery which I wrote with my colleague Professor Marks. I shall put a copy in your Lordships' Library in case any of your Lordships would be interested to read the evidence. Eventually an organisation was established in Khartoum, CEWAC, to identify and repatriate those enslaved. But it is estimated that there are still tens of thousands in captivity. In the past few months, I have met two people, one an Anglican priest, who know they have relatives still enslaved in the north. But, as the priest said with infinite sadness,

"I cannot go to rescue my brother. I will just be killed and no one will be able to do anything about it".

When I had the privilege last year of meeting the President of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, and other southern leaders, they acknowledged this tragic situation, but with so many problems related to the CPA, this is an "issue too far" for them to raise. However, they did ask us to urge the international community to press Khartoum to ensure the urgent identification, repatriation and rehabilitation of all still in captivity in the north. I ask the Minister to raise this issue.

I greatly look forward to the Minister's reply. Along with other noble Lords, I have great respect for her commitment to justice, peace and freedom in Africa and beyond that great continent. I believe that she may be visiting Sudan in the near future and I hope that this debate will be helpful in the important discussions which she will be holding with the leaders there.

The Sudanese people always look to the United Kingdom to play a special leadership role, given our historic involvement and responsibility. I hope that this debate will demonstrate our commitment to provide that help and that it will be a source of encouragement; a sign of true friendship; and a support for all in Sudan who are seeking to achieve the peace, freedom and justice which they so urgently need and so richly deserve. I beg to move.