Sudan — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:13 pm on 7th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 12:13 pm, 7th January 2010

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on introducing this debate, and on the comprehensive manner in which she has given us an overview of the situation. I hope that I can reinforce many of the points that she has made.

Peace in Sudan remains very fragile. In 2009 alone, violent conflict claimed some 2,500 lives in southern Sudan and displaced more than 350,000 people, almost double the figure for 2008. The latest reports from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirm that the LRA continues to destabilise most of Western Equatoria State in southern Sudan. Internal fighting has intensified, resulting in massive displacements, abductions of children, gruesome injuries and huge death tolls.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned, the Ugandan LRA rebels are a key threat to the relative calm established by the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement. The collapse of the CPA, should it happen, would likely revitalise the LRA as a force that could easily destabilise both Sudan and the whole region. The re-emergence of the LRA in different parts of southern Sudan may force the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to consider an appropriate riposte, according to some military sources in southern Sudan. In that regard, there are growing concerns over reports that a number of LRA splinter groups are continuing to move unchecked across the region, terrorising civilians in northern DRC, parts of the Central African Republic and Sudan.

It is of course important that the door be kept open for the diplomatic approach, but attempts by the UN special envoy to the LRA-affected areas, Joaquim Chissano, to effectively engage the LRA high command have apparently failed so far. With the final refusal of Joseph Kony to sign the Juba peace agreement, there is now a greater acceptance that a targeted and strategic military approach may be the best of a bad set of options, although always preferably combined with a diplomatic approach.

Much more needs to be done to apprehend the key LRA leaders and, in doing so, weaken the command and control and leadership of that movement. In October 2009 the European Council issued a statement calling for the LRA to honour its commitment to sign the final peace agreement and stressing the necessity of a comprehensive approach to defining a solution to LRA-related problems. On 17 November 2009 the UN Security Council, of which the UK is a permanent member, called for a better co-ordinated strategy between UN forces in the DRC, in the Central African Republic and in Sudan to protect civilians against further LRA attacks.

The Government have stated that they support legislation currently going through the US Congress, the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which in part aims to target and apprehend Joseph Kony and LRA top commanders. Informed sources have confirmed that military intelligence is available within the international community to pinpoint his location. While the failure to acknowledge that facility may neatly avoid any commitment to the Security Council and, on the ground, to the resources needed to secure his apprehension, failure to act is allowing the LRA to regroup and flourish.

Will the Government commit to comprehensively reviewing how they could contribute intelligence and logistical support to a careful and credible apprehension strategy? How could they better bring pressure to bear on the LRA to accept a peaceful solution? Will the Government then work for a unified military approach to tackling the LRA, working with other EU member Governments to apprehend and remove Kony and the top LRA commanders, therefore ensuring stability to the wider region? What representations will the Government make to the United Nations Security Council in order to support a more co-ordinated approach to tackling the LRA across the region?

Simply commending regional states that are targeting the LRA is not sufficient. What is required is targeted and strategic action. Recent successes-for example, the death, reportedly at the hands of Ugandan forces, of the second-in-command of the LRA, Bok Abudema, and the surrender of "Captain" Ocen-are positive signs, but continued and increasing acts of violence against civilians in Sudan, the DRC and the Central African Republic are proof that removing just one or two key individuals is not enough.

The report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in December records that in the three months to March 2009 a series of 27 confirmed attacks were carried out by LRA elements in Western and Central Equatoria, including attacks on 19 villages and four vehicle ambushes. More than 80 villagers were killed, with many others injured, mutilated, raped, abducted and forced to work as child soldiers and sex slaves. Villages were destroyed and more than 38,000 people displaced near the border with the DRC. LRA groups entered southern Sudan after a joint military offensive against them by the Ugandan and Congolese armies in December 2008. In recent months LRA attacks have resulted in a further 135 deaths and 67,000 people driven from their homes. Attacks are now extending to looting food distribution points, where the LRA is also abducting children and young women.

The cross-border nature of the LRA is a clear threat to international peace and security in the region. There is a growing concern among NGOs such as the Enough Project that the UN Security Council has yet to take seriously its responsibility to protect civilians from the LRA, and to put in place an effective counterinsurgency strategy. There is a growing call for the UN Security Council to authorise, and for member states to resource, a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians in LRA-affected areas, to identify and sever external lines of support, to increase opportunities for rank-and-file fighters to defect and to end the insurgency once and for all through more effective military pressure on LRA leader Joseph Kony and his high command. Through what means do the Government plan to target and sensitise LRA fighters in order to encourage them to disarm, demobilise, repatriate, resettle and reintegrate, commonly known as DDRRR?

The Government are contributing £400,000 to MONUC's DDRRR effort, part of which will be spent targeting the LRA. Can the Minister provide a breakdown of how this money will be used to target the LRA? Given the Security Council's recent statement that it would like to see a more unified, regional approach to combating the LRA, how do the Government intend to support UNMIS, as they have pledged to support MONUC, to target and apprehend LRA fighters and protect civilians?

The Government have committed to encouraging MONUC to increase its presence in LRA affected areas. Given the porous nature of the borders between the DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic, and the regional aspect that LRA movements have taken in recent years, it would seem necessary to adopt a similar approach with UN forces in southern Sudan. What plans do the Government have to support an increased civilian presence in Sudan?

DDRRR efforts led by MONUC in the DRC have been successful to an extent but have not prevented new LRA recruits from being either abducted or simply recruited from the civilian population. To be effective, DDRRR must be accompanied by a strategic and targeted military approach that will prevent LRA command structures operating effectively and will weaken co-ordination and recruitment. Do the Government recognise the need for a multipronged approach to the LRA problem, and if so what plans do they have to approach the problem from both military and DDRRR points of view? I hope that the noble Baroness can comment on how this policy might be affected by the £54 million that has just been pledged for the forthcoming elections.

According to the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in December 2009, evidence suggests that LRA actions during attacks in the early part of that year,

"may amount to crimes against humanity".

The high commissioner notes that under the statute of the International Criminal Court, murder, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, rape and sexual slavery are all considered to be crimes against humanity if carried out,

"as part of a systematic attack directed against any civilian population".

He calls for Governments in the region to co-operate with the ICC to apprehend the LRA leaders. What steps are the UK Government taking, as a member of the international community, to co-operate with the International Criminal Court and with Governments in the region to search for, arrest and surrender the LRA leaders accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes under the Rome statute?

The United Kingdom is a member of the troika of the UK, US and Norway, and is a guarantor of the comprehensive peace agreement. Therefore, what steps are the Government taking, and what have they taken so far, to ensure that the LRA is not allowed to become a threat to the peace process in Sudan by threatening local populations and therefore impacting on the implementation of the CPA?

A new International Crisis Group report, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned, notes that the failure to stabilize Jonglei and other areas of concern risks seeing south Sudan become increasingly unstable ahead of next year's national elections and the planned 2011 self-determination referendum. Intertribal fighting has taken on a new and dangerously politicised character, with the worst violence in and around the vast, often impassable, state of Jonglei. The escalation of violence has deepened divisions among its communities and leaders, some of whom may be manipulating conflicts to their own ends.

Action is needed now to stop the LRA becoming stronger and more uncontrollable-a threat underlined by reports that the LRA is now being sponsored by the Government of northern Sudan in much the same way as the Janjaweed. In this context, the Government of southern Sudan need to tackle the inability or unwillingness of the police to address domestic security issues, of which the LRA must be a prime concern. Police reform must become a greater priority in southern Sudan. The United Nations mission in Sudan should undertake a more proactive civilian protection role, as set out in its mandate, and better define the circumstances under which it will provide protection. That apart, there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forthcoming election process. Notwithstanding the difficulties mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness about accessing polling stations, voter registration has been greatly delayed. It has proved extremely difficult to motivate and organise people to register, which does not augur well for the success of future elections and referenda.

Finally, there is a pressing need to ensure local stability to work towards regional recovery and development. Without an active peace process, a commitment to increasing accountability for crimes committed against civilians, a fully deployed, equipped and performing UN/AU peacekeeping force, and serious planning for regional recovery, the situation across southern Sudan will continue to fester, destabilising the country and the region.