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Debate on the conflict in South Sudan

5th June 2018

Harriett Baldwin responds to a debate on the conflict in South Sudan.

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) for the eloquent way in which he described the situation in South Sudan and for the work that he does as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Sudan and South Sudan. I add my appreciation for the work done by Chris Trott and the team on the UK’s role in the peace process.

Last summer, the Prime Minister decided to combine the role of Minister for Africa with the role of Minister in the Department for International Development, which makes enormous sense when we are discussing matters such as this. We completely agree that the grim situation in South Sudan, as outlined by the hon. Gentleman, is an entirely man-made crisis.

As always in such situations, however, the UK is at the leading edge in terms of the humanitarian response. We have consistently been one of the top three donors in South Sudan. Our drinking water package alone reached almost 700,000 people. More than 400,000 people received food, and almost 400,000 received nutrition support. More than 6.5 million health consultations were delivered in South Sudan, of which 2.5 million were for children under five. We have funded almost 4,000 schools to deliver basic education. At a time when the population of South Sudan is suffering from this terrible man-made violence, UK aid is providing that life-saving support.

Clearly, however, the question that we need to discuss is what more the UK can do to try to ensure peace in South Sudan. It is only through peace that we will be able to move beyond providing aid to trying to build a stronger economy in South Sudan. I will outline some of the events of that peace process, which is timely because there have been recent developments, as reported during the debate.

Clearly, the only way we can move forward without the escalation of suffering and without consequences for generations to come is through putting as much effort as we can into the peace process. Since my appointment in January, one of my top priorities has been to see what more we can do in South Sudan and in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development peace process.​

In terms of UK support, we welcome the work that IGAD has done so far to deliver the peace talks, but the failure to impose consequences for violations of the ceasefire has been a major blocker of progress. We strongly urge IGAD to take action against those who have violated the cessation of hostilities agreement before the final round of discussions. Spoilers of the peace process must be left in no doubt about the region’s commitment to peace.

The UK has been committed to tackling impunity, and we continue to explore all avenues for action against those who undermine peace. So we have been pushing hard for action by the EU. We announced some sanctions in February, through the EU, and we have also been pushing in the United Nations Security Council. That is why we much very welcome last week’s Security Council resolution, which commits to consider sanctions and an arms embargo if violations continue; that is a welcome development.

I also pay tribute in this debate to our armed forces, because the UK deploys nearly 400 troops in South Sudan as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS. And may I pass on the praise of David Shearer, the UN’s Special Representative for the Secretary-General, who recently visited the troops in South Sudan and praised them for their achievements?

I can reassure the hon. Member for Scunthorpe that the UK will also continue to support the important work of the South Sudan Council of Churches. We regularly discuss that work with the Archbishop of Canterbury. We believe that the council has a vital role to play in fostering open and honest dialogue.

Hon. Members asked specific questions about Uganda. I can confirm that we have regularly raised the issue of South Sudan in our discussions with President Museveni of Uganda. For example, the Foreign Secretary discussed South Sudan with the President at the UN General Assembly in September last year and followed up by writing to him in December, encouraging Uganda’s positive engagement with the peace process in South Sudan. Also, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, I met Uganda’s Foreign Minister and was able to discuss the situation in South Sudan, as I have done on all the occasions when I have met Ministers from neighbouring countries. There is a consistent theme that regional players are keen to see a resolution of this conflict.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe specifically asked whether there was the opportunity for elections in South Sudan. We do not believe that elections are the answer to South Sudan’s political problems. The conditions in South Sudan are not conducive to elections. Can you imagine, Sir Graham, holding elections in the country when over a third of its population—some 4 million people—have been forced to flee their homes? In fact, it is likely that elections would only serve as a catalyst for further violence, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. Clearly, South Sudan must first focus on achieving a sustainable negotiated political settlement before the conditions necessary for credible elections can be created.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the role of the new powers that the UK has as a result of the recently enacted sanctions legislation. Of course, that legislation will give us more flexibility in the future, but it is also incredibly important that we try to work ​alongside other partners for peace as much as possible and that we send a consistent message in terms of our actions.

Regarding the ceasefire and transitional security arrangements monitoring mechanism—that is not a phrase that readily trips off the tongue, but the mechanism is very important—we strongly condemn all the appalling violence in South Sudan. The hon. Gentleman read out some examples from the UN’s report on the violence against civilians. The information in the report reflects the ongoing and widespread violence and human rights abuses, and the ongoing and appalling levels of gender-based violence in South Sudan. The people of South Sudan are bearing the brunt of this terrible conflict, so the UK continues to support the ceasefire and transitional security arrangements monitoring mechanism, to ensure that it can report on ongoing violations in a timely manner.

John Howell
I believe there is an African Union summit meeting coming up. Will the Minister ensure that these points are reflected in that meeting in some way?

Harriett Baldwin
Well, as my hon. Friend knows, the UK is obviously not a member of the African Union, but I do know from my discussions with countries that are members of the African Union how many of them share our concerns and how keen they are to support the peace process in South Sudan. So I would very much welcome it if the African Union was able to discuss South Sudan at their forthcoming meetings.

Stephen Kerr
Will the Government also commit themselves to doing what they can to bring to justice those who have perpetrated these terrible crimes?

Harriett Baldwin
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. As he will know, because the work continues to this day, Lord Hague of Richmond, the former Foreign Secretary, was very much at the forefront of the UK’s leadership in making sure that we are able to gather and retain the evidence of such crimes, so that those who perpetrate these kinds of outrageous examples of violence know that justice will follow; even if justice is delayed, it will be inevitable. So I pay tribute to Lord Hague’s work to keep this issue at the forefront of the international agenda.

The UK Government are fully committed to working towards peace and security for the people of South Sudan. We will not stand idly by while the South Sudanese suffer in these appalling conditions. UK aid continues in an environment where, as has rightly been pointed out, in the last year alone 30 aid workers have lost their lives. It has been incredibly difficult for the teams delivering aid on the ground, so I pay tribute to those brave aid workers who are able to get lifesaving assistance into communities. We will continue with our commitment on that front, as well; we will continue to address the most acute needs of the people; and we will continue to do all that we can to support the region as it pushes for peace.


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