South Sudan — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:16 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 6:16 pm, 24th March 2014

My Lords, I presume that the extension of time also applies to the opening speech.

While diplomats attempt to find a lasting solution to the long-standing rivalry that sparked widespread conflict in December, millions of South Sudanese are suffering an acute humanitarian crisis. Fighting spread rapidly from the capital to volatile locations in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, fuelling local political battles and inflaming old civil war grievances.

More than 1,000 people were killed during the five weeks of violence before President Salva Kiir and the former vice-president Riek Machar signed a ceasefire agreement. Terrible human rights atrocities have been documented throughout the crisis. Taban Deng Gai, the rebel chief negotiator at the peace talks in Addis, confirmed that innocent people lost their lives in Malakal, Bentu and Bor, the state capitals of Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei states. Human Rights Watch concluded that armed forces from both sides have looted extensively, destroying civilian property and desperately needed aid facilities. They have targeted civilians and carried out ethnically based extra-judicial killings.

A substantial solution to the crisis will come only through an inclusive political process that engages South Sudanese communities and deals with the underlying causes of unrest. A political agreement between leaders that does not address people’s grievances, nor clearly invite citizens across the country to play their part in finding long-term solutions, may be a first step. It will, however, prove a poor foundation in the search for sustainable peace.

On 30 December, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate abuses perpetrated during the conflict to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities.

A five-member commission of inquiry was appointed on 7 March 2014, to be headed by former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo. The mandate of the commission is to,

“investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan”.

I ask my noble friend what actions the Government are taking to ensure that the commission is adequately supported and that it focuses on all its objectives— including modalities for reconciliation—as well as identifying perpetrators of human rights abuses. How are our Government working with the security council to press all the warring parties to allow unrestricted humanitarian access across the country, and to stress the need for UNMISS to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians more effectively?

On 30 March, east African heads of state met in Addis Ababa in the latest push for peace. Leaders from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, were called together, even as fierce fighting took place around Malakal. They authorised the prompt deployment of a regional protection and deterrent force that would operate as part of the IGAD monitoring and verification mechanism established to support the 23 January ceasefire. Riek Machar, the leader of the SPLA in opposition, immediately rejected the proposal, saying that UNMISS already had a clear mandate in the country.

The current crisis has its roots in wide-ranging failures of governance, security provision, reform, justice and reconciliation in Sudan. If the country is to move forward, there needs to be a process that is ready and willing to embrace these issues and address these drivers of the crisis. This will involve a change in political participation, not just a power-sharing deal. The peace talks must lead to a fundamental change in the way in which politics is done in Sudan, not just a political power-sharing deal between two leaders, which would be a return to the status quo. The peace process needs to deal with the roles of current leaders in any future Government, including what the appropriate role is for Salva Kiir.

South Sudanese civil society organisations are calling for robust justice mechanisms as well as reconciliation to be built into final agreements. These will need to deal with historic grievances that are not dealt with by the comprehensive peace agreement, as well as those from the newest outbreak of conflict. What are our Government doing as a matter of urgency to ensure that civil society plays an effective role in the negotiations and in the monitoring and verification mechanisms? What political and material support are we providing to help them to fulfil that role? Do our Government agree that the IGAD and international funds must quickly take steps to expand participation in the mediation process and engage representatives from South Sudanese communities, the diaspora and religious communities to ensure that the process is seen, heard and active across the states of South Sudan?

The Security Council received an advance copy of the Secretary-General’s report on South Sudan on 6 March, which it is understood was discussed on 18 March. The report apparently contains a reprioritisation of the core functions of the mission—protecting civilians, rather than capacity-building. In December, the Security Council voted to increase the mission’s military component by 5,500 to 12,500. However, UNMISS is unable to have a broader impact on the crisis and is increasingly seen as partisan by both sides of the conflict. On 13 March in Western Bahr el Ghazal, an area that has largely escaped conflict, youths demonstrated against the force, citing it as working with the rebels.

That same week, the Government of South Sudan openly accused UNMISS, or agents working with it, of channelling weapons to Riek Machar after they found mislabelled weapons in UNMISS-marked trucks travelling to Unity State. There is a strong perception that agents of armed groups have infiltrated protection areas within UNMISS bases and are monitoring who is inside. These perceptions increase fear, anxiety and tension within camps. UNMISS and UN police should expand their patrolling efforts and engage with communities to better control their perimeters and reassure populations.

Do our Government agree that the UNMISS mandate should be refocused on the protection of civilians and away from giving capacity-building support to either party? It is understood that finding additional troops for UNMISS is proving difficult. What are our Government doing to help to ensure that the reinforcements agreed in December arrive in good time?

On 14 February the UN Security Council welcomed the positive bilateral relations between Sudan and South Sudan. President Bashir visited Juba on 6 January and sent an envoy to the South Sudan peace talks. Sudan’s position is critical to the course of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. The split in South Sudan mirrors the division seen in the second civil war, when Riek Machar and a number of other groups split from John Garang and ultimately received support from Khartoum. The split differs in a number of ways from that of 1991. For example, the Bul Nuer of Mayom County, who comprised the core of the SSDF forces of Paulino Matip and remained allied with Khartoum until 2006, fought with Salva Kiir this time. The core of the rebellion was also from Bor, John Garang’s home territory.

Ugandan forces have been reported to have been fighting alongside the Government of South Sudan in the recent conflict. There is some argument that worse scenarios might have developed if they had not been present. The consensus at the Addis talks and among the international community, however, is that the involvement of the Ugandan army is counterproductive because it has undermined the ability of IGAD, in which Uganda is a main actor, to act as a mediator between the parties.

Implementation of the 27 September 2012 agreements on outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan still lack implementation, and the situation in Abyei has deteriorated terribly. Sudan’s internal conflicts have also escalated, and the international community should make every effort to avoid its piecemeal approach of the past, of following the crisis and taking its eye off the bigger picture. I ask my noble friend what reports our Government have received, if any, of any international actor providing political or material support to the SPLA in opposition. What are our Government doing to ensure that the Government of Sudan withdraw their oil police from Diffra, and that the SPLA and South Sudan police forces withdraw from Abyei, in line with the United Nations Security Council statement of 14 February?

What representations are the Government of the UK making to Sudan about accessing the 25,000 or so refugees who fled to that country from South Sudan in the recent fighting? Finally, I ask my noble friend to confirm, given the complexity of these issues and what I am sure will be the large number of questions put by noble Lords, that she will write to me to answer the questions more fully than is possible in the time available.