Sudan — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:35 pm on 7th January 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa and UN) 1:35 pm, 7th January 2010

My Lords, as all noble Lords have quite rightly done, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her unstinting efforts and commitment on behalf of Sudan. Having visited Sudan many times myself, I know how respected and known her work is in that country, and we are very grateful to her for instigating this timely debate.

As all noble Lords have indicated, these are crucial times for Sudan. As the fifth anniversary of the CPA approaches, we know that that country is still suffering from relentless, pervasive poverty and violence. In southern Sudan in 2009, 2,500 people were killed and 350,000 people were displaced. That is not a firm peace: it must be described as still a fragile peace.

The CPA ended 20 years of war, during which millions of people died and thousands of women and children were captured and taken to live in the north. However, this week sees the launch of Sudan 365, which will take place across the world. There will be drumming outside 10 Downing Street, the visit to the Prime Minister of Archbishop Deng and lots of opportunities for us, including this evening when an excellent multi-agency report will be launched here.

This debate has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox intimated, added a great deal to the essential efforts needed to ensure that the campaign can see greater engagement and to recognition of the dangers of escalation into further conflict in Sudan. That is why we in the UK must continue with our strong and determined engagement in Sudan, and must be especially vigilant as it faces an election in a matter of months and a referendum on separation in January 2011. Our task is to ensure that that election is credible, and that difficult outstanding issues are dealt with and resolved ahead of the referendum. This will be necessary regardless of which way the people of southern Sudan vote next year.

The issues must be seen in the context of the fact that the south is awash with small arms, there is fierce competition over natural resources and there is the added misery inflicted by the LRA. Many noble Lords have alluded to that. In many areas, access to people needing humanitarian aid is difficult and deteriorating. We must work to ensure that this is improved and that the capacity of local NGOs and churches in the south can be increased, because they alone will be able to reach the more remote areas. As well as international engagement, Sudan's political and regional leaders must, in the coming year, redouble their efforts and engage in substantive political dialogue. This is the missing objective that we must emphasise. The motivation must be to steer a course away from violence, poverty and inequality.

Many questions were raised and I will do my best to deal with as many as possible. I will deal first with the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. A number of noble Lords mentioned the report of the International Crisis Group. I agree that it is an excellent report and we welcome it, along with other reports from NGOs and think tanks such as Chatham House that are now being released.

On the question of insecurity in southern Sudan, we know that more people have died in the south as a result of tribal fighting than have died in Darfur. That is a shocking statistic. Attacks by the LRA have forced 300,000 people from their homes-more than double the number in 2008.

The Government are supporting a range of programmes to strengthen law-enforcement capacity and community-led security work, which is very important, as well as the promotion of reconciliation.

On the issue of the demonstrations, of course we are deeply concerned at the Khartoum Government's handling of the peaceful demonstrations held in Khartoum. In the context of this and other forms of violence, elections must be credible. Along with our international partners, we will be closely monitoring the run-up to the elections and polling itself, in order to ensure that freedom of expression, freedom of speech, media freedom and other precursors to a credible election are in place. We want full monitoring, as many noble Lords have said that we should, and we are keen for an early decision to go in from the European election observation teams. They took a technical mission before Christmas to make assessments, and we are waiting now to hear from them, but I am confident that they will announce that they will be taking a substantive mission to Sudan very soon to prepare the electoral commission work, and so on.

We welcome the Referendum Bill's passage through the National Assembly and see it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, suggested, as an important step in the progress that must be made towards the referendum in 2011. We know that it is essential that we build trust between the two sides. They must work together before the referendum, not at cross-purposes. On our development money and what we are funding, the budget in Sudan is £115 million for 2009-10, rising to £140 million from this year to next year. Our funding is focused on six thematic areas: supporting greater power-sharing and democratisation; promoting wealth-sharing; enhancing security, justice and reconciliation; strengthening public institutions to enhance the delivery of basic services-that includes education, which was raised by the right reverend Prelate, and I will come back to that later-improving natural resource management; and meeting the challenge of climate change, which has been proven to have important effects on conflict.

On the question of whether we are protecting civilians, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others, we have called and will continue to call for measures to protect civilians and give proper priority to those operations. We also call for close co-operation with the UN missions in LRA-affected areas-in particular, MONOC and UNMIS. The noble Baroness asked about mobile polling stations. Elections are currently scheduled for 18 April, and my latest news is that they will extend for two days. In rural areas, this is expected to give people three days to vote. As mobile polling stations would be moved around during the day, the concept has been rejected by national stakeholders, as the perception is that they would increase the risk of fraud and cause misallocation-which is a euphemism for losing ballot papers on purpose. That is probably a good point. The option for polling stations which, although stationary during the day, change location each day is still being considered, and that may be a helpful answer.

On the arrest of SPLM leaders, we are deeply concerned that Pagan Amum, Yasser Arman and others were detained in Khartoum on 7 December. We urge the Government of Sudan to avoid the disruption of peaceful protests, to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, and to protect people from arbitrary arrest and detention. I will be raising that and other issues with the authorities in Khartoum when I am there next week.

On the former African slaves we are greatly concerned that, five years after the signing of the CPA, instances of abduction between north and south Sudan have not been investigated or resolved. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan to respect human rights and bring an end to the alarming culture of impunity which is allowed to exist. Again, I assure the noble Baroness that I will raise the issue next week.

Several noble Lords raised the issue of eastern Sudan. The population in the east is one of the poorest and most disadvantaged in the country. We are seeking increased focus on the situation in the east. We urge Sudan's political leaders to ensure implementation of the remainder of the eastern Sudan peace agreement. I can inform the noble Baroness that we are also providing funding and support through the UNDP to the state Governments in the east.

How do we ensure that our funding reaches marginalised people? In such a deeply unequal society as Sudan, we are well aware of the issue of marginalisation. DfID's approach is very much about reducing poverty and reaching the more marginalised people. Again in the east, we are involved in healthcare services, demining-another important issue-demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants. On EU funding for the east of Sudan, there are some development programmes, but perhaps we should press for more.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned Abyei. The implementation of the ruling in July 2009 is a crucial part of the CPA. We are concerned that, despite public commitment by both the NCP and the SPLM, as the noble Lord suggested, progress remains very much behind schedule. Only a small number of border markers have gone down, and we continue to press for urgent action on that. A representative from our embassy visited Abyei in December as part of a joint UK-US evaluation, and we will continue to raise our concerns.

We are marking the fifth anniversary by a statement from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the troika. The maintenance of the CPA for that period represents some achievements, but we hope that it will galvanise us to achieve not just a CPA that is a short-term, intermediate measure, but one that will lead to long-term peace and security for the people of Sudan. On Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile, we have provided humanitarian and early recovery support to the traditional areas since the signing of the CPA-£5.1 million to South Kordofan in 2008 and £28 million through the multi-donor trusts since the CPA was signed. We have committed £30 million over the next three years to provide basic services to those areas. On voting in Abyei, the referendum commission will decide who is eligible, as the noble Lord suggested. We welcome the recent improvement in relations between Chad and Sudan, and encourage more concrete steps likely to build security in the region. I have probably said enough about the assessment of the security situation in the region.

Several noble Lords asked about the LRA. In Sudan, we have raised the issue of the LRA at a senior level with the Government of south Sudan, including the chief of staff of the SPLA. We have urged the Government of south Sudan to co-operate regionally to address the issue robustly-more robustly than we have seen to date. We assess that LRA units are currently active in north-east DRC, south Sudan and the Central African Republic. It has been suggested, including by some Ugandan officials, that the LRA could, under continuing regional military pressure, head for Darfur or Chad. We have no confirmation that that is the case. We are providing significant humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced. DfID is the largest donor to the Common Humanitarian Fund. We are providing £6 million to the ICRC in Sudan and assistance and protection to those people displaced by the LRA.

Why has Joseph Kony not been arrested? That is a very difficult question, and I wish that someone could come up with an answer. To date, we have not been able to do so. We do not comment on intelligence measures, as I am sure that the noble Lord will understand, but I would be happy to offer any more detailed briefing to him on the matters that he raised. The LRA's impact is disproportionate to its size and we must do all that we can to end that terrible campaign. We will be in touch very soon.

We will continue to call for the protection of civilians and for close co-operation between the UN agencies. As for what we are doing to facilitate more defections from the LRA, as noble Lords will be aware, Uganda and other countries involved in operations against the LRA are working on encouraging defections. To some extent that is working; it includes work with the International Organisation for Migration, with UNICEF and with MONUC. We are studying whether more can really be done. I can come back to noble Lords on this when we have a better idea of what is possible in dealing with the abductions and coercion and the terrible implications for the individuals.

Will the Government make representations to the Security Council? The Security Council discussed the LRA in November and the Government very actively emphasised the need for regional governments to do all they can, and other matters. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about the breakdown of the £400,000 and MONUC. I do not have those details to hand but, again, will be very happy to follow that up with him.