South Sudan — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:13 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord St John of Bletso Lord St John of Bletso Crossbench 7:13 pm, 24th March 2014

My Lords, I join those who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing this debate at a critical time for the future of South Sudan. There is clearly huge frustration at the lack of sustainable progress in the peace talks between the opposing groups in South Sudan. It is also extremely alarming to see human rights violations, particularly those recently in Bor, continuing to be committed on both sides, targeting innocent civilians along ethnic lines and resulting in the massive humanitarian crisis that so many of your Lordships have spoken about this evening.

At a time when so much has been achieved economically and politically in sub-Saharan Africa, it is a tragic state of affairs that the world’s youngest nation, which had such high expectations on achieving independence in 2011, has failed to end the current crisis.

I entirely agree with the recent statement by the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations in the region, who said:

“The security and humanitarian situation in South Sudan will continue to deteriorate until the parties fully engage in the political talks, respect the cessation of hostilities and allow freedom of movement for the United Nations and its partners”.

Despite the rhetoric of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, I question the commitment of both sides to ending this conflict. With the diplomatic initiatives in Ethiopia stalling, there is clearly growing support by several western backers to impose targeted sanctions in an attempt to break the deadlock.

The tragedy for South Sudan is that with its vast oil reserves and untapped additional natural resources, the country has huge potential to attract foreign direct investment. However, with the continued political uncertainty this investment is unlikely to be forthcoming. In the recently published Global Peace Index, South Sudan ranked 143rd out of the 162 countries analysed, making it one of the most risky countries for foreign direct investment. There is growing concern that the unrest within South Sudan could spill over its borders and destabilise the volatile region.

My noble friend Lady Cox’s account of continued genocide attacks in Sudan is extremely concerning. However, while Sudan could have taken advantage of the disarray in South Sudan to strengthen its hand on outstanding disputes between the two countries, President Omar al-Bashir so far appears to have supported IGAD in its efforts to mediate a sustainable settlement. Both the Sudanese and South Sudanese Governments have requested the international community to assist in the debt relief of both countries. This should be another lever by the international community to incentivise a sustainable resolution to the challenges facing the region.

In conclusion, can the Minister outline what is being done to assist with humanitarian relief, particularly more air drops, to those regions with poor infrastructure? I would also like to hear what can be done to include civil society in the protracted negotiations. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Luce when he calls for women to have a more vital role in the future of the region.

This is a time for urgent compromise, strong leadership and an inclusive Government if there is any chance of a sustainable future for this fledgling nation.