House of Lords Discussion on Conflict in South Kordofan

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Below is a discussion in the House of Lords regarding the conflict in South Kordofan…

Asked by Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the conflict in Southern Kordofan and of the continuing problems in the other marginalised areas of the Abyei and Blue Nile regions of the Republic of Sudan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the conflict in Southern Kordofan continues. Despite the announcement of a two-week ceasefire in Southern Kordofan by President al-Bashir, we have continued to receive reports of fighting and human rights abuses, and humanitarian access remains extremely limited. The outbreak of violence in Blue Nile state on 2 September marks a further deterioration in the ongoing pattern of conflict. We continue to work closely with our international partners to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities. In Abyei, deployment of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei continues, under UN Resolution 1990. We are concerned that the Sudanese armed forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement troops are not withdrawing as agreed, and call for both sides to start the withdrawal process immediately.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but I fear it seems to imply symmetry in the culpability for aggression between President al-Bashir’s government of Sudan forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Is he aware that in the recent conflict in Blue Nile, civilians have suffered aerial bombardment from government of Sudan forces? At least 50,000 civilians have had to flee, 20,000 into Ethiopia. Al-Bashir has denied access to UN and other aid organisations to civilians in need and dismissed the democratically elected governor, Malik Agar. What specific actions are Her Majesty’s Government taking in response to the sustained aggression that has been initiated and maintained by al-Bashir against the civilians, not only in Blue Nile but in Southern Kordofan and Abyei?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I think that symmetry is the wrong word, because we are under no illusions about the ferocity of the attacks by the Sudan armed forces, ordered apparently by President al-Bashir, and by the Sudan armed air force as well. Nevertheless, the truth is that these are disputed areas outside South Sudan. Many of them wanted to be in that but they have been left out. There is bitterness and both sides blame each other. That is a fact.

What are we doing? We are pushing for a strong line at the United Nations, where the matter is being discussed this very day at the Security Council. Our defence attaché is working hard in Addis Ababa, supporting the African Union implementation panel. We are, of course, putting strong DfID funds into South Sudan. The resources are already in the disputed areas, although it is very hard to get access to them, and we are backing the EU special representative, Rosalind Marsden, who is also very active in pressing Khartoum to halt the violence. Pressure is going on but it is not easy. The access is difficult and not all the parties concerned seem to recognise the awfulness of what is happening, but we are doing our very best.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s earlier Statement condemning the bombardments of civilians in the area. However, is he aware that the reports of Amnesty International and human rights groups on the ground confirm the UN’s concerns over the possibilities of war crimes through the bombing of civilians and villagers in that area? We are the lead member of the troika in the north of Sudan. Will we also take the lead in pursuing the investigations into these alleged war crimes of the bombing of civilians?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The short answer is: yes, we are aware of this. We support the recommendation of the report by Navi Pillay that there should be an independent inquiry into these atrocity allegations. This will be pushed ahead as fast as possible.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I was grateful to read the Ministerial Statement earlier in the week. I have just read a Ministerial Statement issued today by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this very serious area. Does the Minister have a prognosis of the African Union discussions under Thabo Mbeki, and what hopes does he have for that agency to influence for good a very difficult situation?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right. We have issued a Written Statement today trying to bring colleagues up to date with the very ugly, and, I am afraid, deteriorating, situation. The official leading the African Union implementation panel has, of course, been Mr Mbeki. However, there is increasing activity as well from President Meles of Ethiopia, who is taking a lead in trying to get the aims of the panel and all the untied-up ends of the comprehensive peace agreement carried forward. There is more involvement locally. The whole process is very much alive.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister recall the letter that I sent him on 22 June about the events in Kadugli, where 7,000 refugees were escorted away by members of the northern Sudan military? They included women and children and they disappeared. There have been reports in the area since then of mass graves. Is this not like an unfolding Jacobean tragedy, as we hear day by day of aerial bombardment, arson attacks on villages, rape and looting and the events that were described by my noble friend? In the discussions at the Security Council today will we be pressing for these crimes against humanity to be referred to the International Criminal Court?

Lord Howell of Guildford: We shall certainly be discussing them. I hope the noble Lord will believe me when I say that I do recall the letter that he sent me. As he knows, he sends me quite a few letters, which are very informative. However, as I say, I recall that particular letter. The atrocities that have apparently happened, which he described, are appalling, as is the general refugee problem of homeless people milling around in all three areas that we are discussing. That is causing enormous suffering, hatred and bitterness, which, I am afraid, will take a long time to eradicate. However, as to the role of the International Criminal Court, it is, of course, independent and will decide, probably on the recommendation or the nature of the debate in the UN, what charges to press further. As the noble Lord knows, it has already pressed some charges. These matters are very much on the table.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, will the Minister clarify exactly what the United Kingdom is doing to help secure unimpeded access for humanitarian workers? Is not the silence of the UN co-ordinator in Khartoum somewhat baffling? What pressure is the UK putting on the UN to be more vocal and more effective on this issue of humanitarian access? Secondly, what are the Government doing to help facilitate credible mediation efforts between the NCP and the SPLM in the north?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The answer in a very confused and difficult situation is that we are doing our best. As I said earlier, access for humanitarian activity is extremely difficult, particularly in Blue Nile state. The Government, through DfID, have put in resources and supplies almost in grim anticipation of things getting more difficult so that resources and supplies are accessible within Blue Nile state and in Southern Kordofan, but access to find out what is happening is difficult. The Government in Khartoum have been extremely unconstructive, as the noble Baroness knows, and she knows this area very well. They have constantly resisted the renewal of the UNMIS mandate in the north, although just recently I understand that a high Khartoum official did not rule out the idea of an international presence in Blue Nile state. If it is proved to be true, that could be a change from the previous totally unconstructive attitude. However, access is really difficult, so it is very hard to give the precise answers that the noble Baroness rightly seeks.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, my long-standing and firm friendship with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, began when she served with great distinction as a Member of the European Parliament for the city of Liverpool, where at the time I was a local constituency Member of Parliament. I cannot think of anyone better to have opened today’s debate. She set the scene with great clarity and we are all grateful to her.

My association with the Commonwealth began when I was a Member of another place. I served as chairman of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. There is an old proverb that states: if you plant a seed, you plant for a season; if you plant a tree, you plant for 10 years; but if you plant education, you plant for a lifetime. I echo some of the things that my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said earlier, and others have said in the debate about education; it is clear that the role of the Commonwealth in future in promoting education must continue to be one of its central tasks.

There is a debate between ecclesiastical and secular Latin scholars about when to use a hard C and when to use a soft C. Many of us would say that in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for far too long we have used a soft C. However, in the Minister who will reply to today’s debate-the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford-we have someone who has a long and distinguished record in promoting the Commonwealth, and who I am sure will insist that it is the hard C which is used rather than the soft.

I will make one substantive point in my remarks. To some extent I echo what was said by my noble friend Lord Luce and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord

Howe of Aberavon, about membership of the Commonwealth and new members. I support in particular what they said about British Somaliland but my remarks will return to a subject that I raised with my noble friend Lady Cox earlier today at Question Time: the position of South Sudan.

10 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Rwanda. I visited the genocide sites. In that country, the genocide that took place against the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority led to the deaths of 1 million people. Visiting those sites was one of the most emotional and disturbing experiences of my life – seeing some of the mass graves and the places where people’s bodies had been left. Ialso had the opportunity to speak to President Paul Kagame. I was particularly struck that, in 2009, Rwanda applied and was given permission to join the Commonwealth. After all, this was a Francophone nation without the historic connections that many existing Commonwealth nations had. Their admission was the right decision, not least because, in the Harare Declaration of 1991, the Comonwealth set out the principles of democracy and human rights that are not always observed even now in Rwanda. However, a country that seeks admission must surely have some belief in those principles: otherwise, why would it apply to join? At least when a country becomes a member of the Commonwealth and accepts the principles in the Harare Declaration, we are then able to hold it to account and also to enter into proper dialogue in order to strengthen those principles.

This morning, with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, I met two senior officials of the new Government of Southern Sudan. It has become the world’s newest nation, having achieved outright independence on 9 July. I visited Southern Sudan during the civil war, in which 2 million people died. I went to Darfur, where more than 300,000 people died. As the House heard earlier today, in Southern Kordofan and Abyei a campaign of aerial bombardment continues. I was last in Southern Sudan with my second son last year. We visited some areas there and in southern Ethiopia and Turkana where major challenges continue to face those nations. Again and again, I heard of the great warmth that people had for the United Kingdom and for the Commonwealth. Therefore, I was not surprised when the Juba Government, led by President Salva Kiir, lodged an application to bring the world’s newest fledgling nation into the Commonwealth.

This is a dangerous time. I heard from the officials we met this morning that they are fearful that Khartoum will embark on a new outright war against the South. I heard from them about some of the many challenges that the South faces. Half of the South’s population is below 18 years of age; 72 per cent are below the age of 30; 83 per cent are rural; only 27 per cent of the adult population are literate; 51 per cent live below the poverty line; 78 per cent of households depend on crop farming or animal husbandry as their primary source of livelihood; 80 per cent of the population have no access to toilet facilities; infant mortality is 102 per 1,000 births; under-five mortality rates are 135 per 1,000 births; the maternal mortality rate is 2054 per 100,000 live births; just 17 per cent of children are fully immunised; 38 per cent of the population have to walk for more than 30 minutes one way to collect drinking water; 50 per cent use firewood or grass as the primary source of lighting; 27 per cent have no lighting; 96 per cent use firewood or charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking; and a mere 1 per cent of households in Southern Sudan have a bank account. These are pretty daunting odds for any Government, but at least the Africans of the South now have the liberty and freedom that they have craved, and for which they fought and spilt blood, for so long.

Despite the phenomenal challenges, the taste of freedom is sweet. What better candidate could there be for admission to the Commonwealth? I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will do all that they can in these urgent circumstances to accelerate that application for admission.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Government Minister): South Sudan, yes, we support its membership. It is of course up to the whole Commonwealth, all 54 members, but we think it is a good idea and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said so in terms.


Turkish Prime Minister Takes Significant Step to Advance Religious Liberty

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

On August 28, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an historic decision to return property confiscated in 1936 to religious minorities.

The Prime Minister made the announcement surrounded by 150 Jews, Christians, and Muslims celebrating a Ramadan dinner. The properties will be returned to the Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian communities in Turkey.

Erdogan’s decree states that minorities who had hospitals, schools, temples, cemeteries, apartments, houses, and other property seized by Turkish officials have a twelve-month period to submit their requests for the return of their properties. The Prime Minister has also declared the rightful owners of property sold to a third party will be reimbursed by the Turkish Finance Ministry for the market value of the property.

Approximately 1000 properties will be returned to the Greek Orthodox Church and 100 to the Armenians.

“Holocaust survivors welcome Turkey’s announcement on the properties of religious minorities and now call on the Turkish authorities to return hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen property — particularly gold — hidden by the Nazis there during World War II,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement. “It is time for Turkey to come clean. If it wishes to enter the family of European nations, it should take the moral position adopted by the other European states and return to the victims — Jew and non-Jew — the properties stolen by the criminal Nazi regime,” Steinberg said.

In February 2008, the Turkish government attempted a similar decree. However the decree failed before it could be passed.

While this is a significant step, we still hold out hope that the returned property will include the Halki seminary and that further legislative changes will be made to advance and secure religious liberty in Turkey.

Kazakhstan Again Goes Down Bad Road on Liberty Restrictions

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

From RT:

“LiveJournal and Liveinternet blogging platforms, along with more than two dozen other web sources, have been closed in Kazakhstan, Interfax news agency quoted a Kazakh court as saying on Friday. The authorities believe the websites to be vectors for “terrorism and religious extremism propaganda”. Earlier, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Communications and Information, Askar Zhumagaliev, announced on his Twitter page that LiveJournal had been closed by decision of the court and gave no further details. The court said the decision had already come into legal force, but could still be appealed. It is not the first time access to LiveJournal has been blocked in the country. Earlier, access to YouTube video hosting was also closed.”

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Congo’s Forgotten Sexual Genocide

August 5, 2011 1 comment

My latest column in the Huffington Post, “Congo’s Forgotten Sexual Genocide”, focuses on the increasingly horrific conditions for women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rape has been a weapon of war in the overlapping conflicts that have rumbled on in Congo since 1996, causing millions to die of illness and disease. According to one study, 60% of attacks are gang rapes and most are carried out by armed men breaking into the victims’ homes after dark, meaning women are not safe anywhere.

In the piece, I call on Congress to establish a Special Envoy to deal with these issues as well as call on companies not to use conflict minerals that come from the region.

You can find the piece here.

Vatican Declaration on Illegitimate Ordination in China

More evidence of China’s blatant disregard for freedom of religion:

VATICAN CITY, 16 JUL 2011 (VIS) – At midday today the Holy See released an English-language declaration regarding the episcopal ordination of Fr. Joseph Huang Bingzhang, which took place on Thursday 14 July in the diocese of Shantou (Province of Guangdong, Mainland China).

“1. Fr. Joseph Huang Bingzhang, having been ordained without papal mandate and hence illicitly, has incurred the sanctions laid down by canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. Consequently, the Holy See does not recognise him as bishop of the diocese of Shantou, and he lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of the diocese.

“Fr. Huang Bingzhang had been informed some time ago that he could not be approved by the Holy See as an episcopal candidate, inasmuch as the diocese of Shantou already has a legitimate bishop; Fr. Huang had been asked on numerous occasions not to accept episcopal ordination.

“2. From various sources the Holy See had knowledge of the fact that some bishops, contacted by the civil authorities, had expressed their unwillingness to take part in an illicit ordination and also offered various forms of resistance, yet were reportedly obliged to take part in the ordination.

“With regard to this resistance, it should be noted that it is meritorious before God and calls for appreciation on the part of the whole Church. Equal appreciation is also due to those priests, consecrated persons and members of the faithful who have defended their pastors, accompanying them by their prayers at this difficult time and sharing in their deep suffering.

“3. The Holy See reaffirms the right of Chinese Catholics to be able to act freely, following their consciences and remaining faithful to the Successor of Peter and in communion with the universal Church.

“The Holy Father, having learned of these events, once again deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible”.

OP/ VIS 20110718 (330)

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VATICAN CITY, 8 JUL 2011 (VIS) – Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. today released the following declaration:

“Tomorrow 9 July, the new Republic of South Sudan will be proclaimed in the city of Juba. For this solemn occasion, the Holy Father has sent an official delegation headed by Cardinal John Njue, archbishop of Nairobi and president of the Kenya Episcopal Conference. The delegation, which will also include Archbishop Leo Boccardi, apostolic nuncio to Sudan, and Msgr. Javier Herrera Corona, secretary of the apostolic nunciature to Kenya, will bring the authorities of the new State, and all its citizens many of whom are Catholic, best wishes for peace and prosperity.

“As Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States, said yesterday when receiving a Sudanese parliamentary delegation led by Ahmed Ibrahim Elthair, president of the Sudanese National Assembly, peace, reconciliation and respect for universal rights (especially religious liberty) are the fundamental pillars upon which to construct the new socio-political circumstances of the region, and vital conditions in order to be able to look to a future of hope.

“The Holy See, which has had stable diplomatic relations with the authorities of Khartoum since 1972 and will give due consideration to any request from the government of Southern Sudan, invites the international community to support Sudan and the new independent State so that, through frank, peaceful and constructive dialogue, they may find just and equitable solutions to outstanding questions; at the same time she expresses the hope that those peoples will enjoy a journey of peace, freedom and development”.

OP/ VIS 20110708 (270)

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Sudan: Framework Agreement Question in the House of Lords


2.57 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in advance of Southern Sudan’s independence on 9 July, what is their assessment of the likely impact of the Framework Agreement signed at Addis Ababa on 28 June on securing peace and security in the region.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we fully support the ongoing discussions in Addis Ababa led by President Mbeki. We assess that for it to secure peace and security in the region, the framework agreement must be used by both sides as a basis for the immediate cessation of hostilities.

We continue to urge north and south to negotiate to resolve all outstanding comprehensive peace agreement issues.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he accept that for any of us who travelled in Southern Sudan during the war there, when some 2 million people died and 4 million others were displaced, any celebration of Southern Sudan’s landmark independence this coming weekend is tempered by the terrible atrocities which have been committed in recent days – committed on the basis of ethnicity and political affiliation, and by the dire failure of the ceasefire to stop the violence or displacements?

As the comprehensive peace agreement expires this weekend, and given the United Kingdom’s role as guarantor and as one of the brokers of that agreement, will the Minister say whether we have raised, in the UN Security Council, the importance of sustaining, rather than withdrawing, a continuing UN peacekeeping presence in the area, and the importance of a robust Chapter 6 mandate? Will the Minister also comment on the bleak warning given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury last weekend that he could see another Darfur beginning to unfold in southern Kordofan, Abyei, and the areas to which I have alluded?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Naturally, on the last point, we hope that this warning, which no doubt is justified by the long history of atrocities, is not fulfilled.

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As to the noble Lord’s question on the comprehensive peace agreement, in theory it ends on 9 July with the independence of Southern Sudan, but it has been recognised that key issues are yet to be resolved and must be talked about.

As for our role with the United Nations, the UN Security Council, as the noble Lord knows, has extended the remit of UNMIS until 9 July and has signalled that it wants the remit to continue beyond then despite the continued strong opposition of Khartoum, which says that UNMIS must remove itself. As well as that, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1990 empowers the Ethiopians to move into Abyei. They are on their way, although they have not yet arrived. Those are the activities of the United Nations and we continue to play a full and central part in them.

Lord Chidgey: Is my noble friend aware that the chair of the Sudan Disarmament Immobilisation and Reintegration Committee has estimated that with the current level of resources, when the conflict ends it will take at least six years to assimilate 150,000 surplus soldiers back into civilian life? What assistance do the Government plan to provide to speed up this DDR process and reduce the risk of what is a major security threat to the region?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Clearly, this is one more problem on top of the problems of refugees, resettlement, basic development and provision of infrastructure in the two countries; notably, in Southern Sudan, which is a very poor country, and in the north. I can give my noble friend only the general answer that my right honourable friend the DfID Secretary of State has indicated that our substantial and detailed programmes to meet these and future problems will continue and will be administered in a very detailed and hands-on way.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, the Minister will be well aware of the enormous needs of the new country soon to become a reality on Saturday. Those needs include health, education, infrastructure and huge gender disparities-92 per cent of women in Southern Sudan are illiterate. Will the Minister comment on the heavy criticism now regularly made of the slow disbursement of aid through the pooled donor fund which is being used? Will he further comment on the need for long-term, predictable funding, rather than the unpredictable, short-term financing that is currently happening?

Other post-conflict countries, such as Mozambique, Rwanda and Sierra Leone received long-term funding after the conflict ended, and Afghanistan still receives long-term predictable funding. Will the UK push for a five or 10-year commitment to funding for essential services, such as health and education, in the new Southern Sudan?

Lord Howell of Guildford: All that the noble Baroness says is correct. The model followed elsewhere is that which should be followed in the division of Sudan. It is very difficult. A lot of the activities are unco-ordinated

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and need better co-ordination. However, it is very hard to see beyond the present pattern of continuing an ugly conflict. As soon as we can see beyond it, these post-conflict arrangements should be put in place. For the moment, I can only say that these are the right ideas. We are moving towards them but there are some ugly, immediate problems that have got to be overcome in order for peace to break out and for these very poor countries to begin to move on the long-term pattern to development with suitably arranged financial funding behind them.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the efforts made by the former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, in brokering the framework agreement demonstrate the viability and stability of both states of the Sudan, will to a large extent remain dependent on the continued support and assistance of the international community in helping both sides to resolve the outstanding issues? In the light of the report of the European Union Committee of this House, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking with their European partners to hold the Khartoum Government to the agreement?

Lord Howell of Guildford: For a start, as the right reverent Prelate surely knows, we are backing and funding to a substantial degree the African Union implementation panel, over which President Mbeki presides and into which he is putting enormous efforts. That is our expression of support for the continuing work of the panel and of the products of the panel, including the framework agreement signed on 28 June, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already referred. We hope that will stay in place and will secure the beginnings of some order, particularly in South Kordofan where a whole confused range of Arab and non-Arab forces-some allegedly belonging to the south but in the north, and some in the north but belonging to the south-are fighting each other. We are backing the Mbeki implementation panel and, through that, many African Union people think that the best solutions will come.

There is an argument, which I only put before your Lordships, that while we must support the humanitarian efforts and do everything we can to support peace, the African Union itself is anxious that it and not outside powers should solve its problems.

Lord Luce: My Lords, since Southern Sudan is proceeding this week towards independence-in what we all agree is a very dangerous and very precarious situation which could lead to further disasters-may I reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lord Alton that, as a sponsor of the comprehensive peace agreement and with all our responsibilities over 60 years with the Sudan, we should pull out all the stops to persuade the international community, particularly the African community, to help hold the ring in that part of the world?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord will recognise, I am sure, that we are doing so. Enormous efforts are being made on the diplomatic front, both in

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the UN and with the African Union and with all other parties involved. On top of that, the UK is one of the chief funders and backers of development-medium, short and long-term-in both Khartoum Sudan and Southern Sudan. We are not merely talking and making pleas for the ceasefire, of course we have to do that, but we are putting our money where our mouth is and making very substantial and solid commitments to a better future for these countries, which we hope will begin after 9 July.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, the Minister will know that, sadly, oil reserves play a very great part in the troubles of Southern Sudan and indeed in the government of Sudan generally. The Chinese are very involved with oil extraction in Sudan. Will the Minister tell us whether our Government had any conversations about the Sudan with the Chinese when they visited?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I am very glad that my noble friend raised that issue. We tend to overlook the fact that the Chinese nowadays not only have a commercial involvement in many regions-particularly this region-but need to match their commercial involvement with some diplomatic responsibility. I am happy to say in the Sudan situation that is beginning to be evident. Our own envoy has had contact with the Chinese envoy and the Chinese have made some extremely helpful statements in support of calming the situation and overcoming the difficulties in the disputed areas of Abyei and South Kordofan. We are finding that Beijing’s old stance of not wanting anything to do with anybody else’s foreign policy is in this area beginning to give way to a more realistic and responsible attitude. That can only be helpful and we intend to work with it.

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