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Baroness Cox calls for ‘robust’ response to Sudan conflict

03 April 2012

by Madeleine Davies

Dry: a shepherd walks with her donkeys in Shendi, 90 miles north-east of Khartoum, last month. Water shortages are a continuing problem in the area AP

Dry: a shepherd walks with her donkeys in Shendi, 90 miles north-east of Khartoum, last month. Water shortages are a continuing problem in the area AP

CRIMES against humanity in Sudan and South Sudan must be stopped — or the British Government will be guilty of allowing the horrors of Rwandan-style genocide to be repeated, Baroness Cox has warned.

In the wake of reports of ethnic cleansing in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan, Lady Cox told the House of Lords on Mon­day of last week that the Gov­ern­ment must take a more robust approach.

“After Rwanda, the British Gov­ernment famously said that they will never condone another genocide, but this is precisely what they are now perceived to be doing.” The “powerful intervention” by Britain into Libya raised questions about whether its foreign policy was influ­enced by racism, she said.

South Sudan celebrated inde­pendence in July last year, after a civil war in which 1.5 million people were killed. It is estimated, however, that there are still up to 700,000 southern Sudanese people living in the north: aid agencies claim that they are the targets of ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese government.

Last month, the Sudanese govern­ment set a deadline of 8 April for all people of southern origin either to leave the country, or be treated as foreigners. On 13 March, however, African Union mediators announced that the two governments had pro­duced an agreement that provided citizens with “basic freedoms” in both nations, allowing them to live, work, and own property on either side of the border.

Since then, military clashes along the border have raised fears of a renewed conflict. Talks scheduled to take place in Ethiopia last weekend, co-ordinated by the African Union, were delayed, after the two countries accused one another of aggression. The UN Security Council, which is currently led by the UK, was “deeply alarmed” by the clashes, and joined the African Union in calling on the two governments to respect their agreement.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that there are now 185,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile in South Sudan and Ethiopia, and more than 400,000 “internally dis­placed” inside Sudan.

“South Sudan is taking the strain as hundreds of thousands of people flee from President Omar al-Bashir’s ongoing brutal campaign to Islamise and Arabise Sudan completely,” said the International Director of Barn­abas Fund, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo.

In February, the Sudanese govern­ment bowed to pressure from the UN to give humanitarian workers access to areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where there are rising levels of malnutrition and food shortages. However, the UN World Food Programme estimates that nearly five million people in South Sudan could suffer from food insecurity this year, including an estimated one million in severe need.

The Bishop of Kadugli in South Kordofan, the Rt Revd Andudu Adam Elnail, has accused the Sudanese government of “ethnic cleansing” in the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. At a lecture hosted by the Council of Foreign Relations in the US last month, he said that the government was guilty of aerial bombardment and also of “using the food as a weapon”.

Bishop Elnail denied that the conflict was religious, arguing that “the best place in Sudan to experi­ence the co-existence between Mus­lims and Christians is the Nuba Mountains.” He shared a platform with the actor George Clooney, who has produced a film showing evidence of the bombing of the Nuba Mountains. On 16 March, Mr Clooney was arrested at the Sudanese embassy in Washington DC, in a protest that accused the Sudanese government of blocking aid in the border region.

On 18 March, Sudan Change Now, a grass-roots opposition organisation that seeks democratic change in Sudan, wrote an open letter to Mr Clooney, asking him to show “a more comprehensive picture of the con­flicts”. It describes the Sudanese government as “a dictatorship” that “does not reflect the sentiments of the majority of the people”.

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said that the Church was among those “best placed” to support South Sudan. “One of the great advantages of the fact that the Anglican Church has not split into a Sudanese and a South Sudanese Church is that it can work across the border and provide support on both sides of it,” he said during the House of Lords debate last week.

Lady Northover, the govern­ment spokesman on international development, rejected calls to cut diplomatic ties with Sudan. “The contact we do maintain with the gov­ernment of Sudan is consistently used to press for a cessation of hos­tilities and for humanitarian access.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool said that it “cannot be right” for the Sudanese government to enjoy full diplomatic relations with the UK. President al-Bashir and the governor of South Kor­fofan, Ahmed Mohammed Har­oun, are wanted by the Interna­tional Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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