The UK government should consider a more robust approach to alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Khartoum government in South Sudan, says Baroness Cox
The fledgling Republic of South Sudan faces many challenges as its leadership tries to develop democracy and good governance. It is hard to build democracy on empty stomachs.
The people of South Sudan are suffering from the legacy of a war with its northern neighbour, the Republic of Sudan, ruled by the ruthless General Al-Bashir, an International Criminal Court (ICC)-wanted dictator. It is a war in which two million African people in the South and the Nuba Mountains died and four million were displaced; infrastructure has been destroyed and there is a desperate shortage of essential services. Only 15 per cent of the people receive immunisation, leaving 85 per cent vulnerable to killer diseases such as polio, tetanus, diphtheria and TB; a generation of children could not go to school because of aerial bombardment, so there is widespread illiteracy. A recent report by the World Food Programme and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warns that millions of people in South Sudan will face hunger this year if urgent action is not taken.
All these problems are now being brutally exacerbated by the genocidal policies of General Al-Bashir and Khartoum's ruling regime, committed to turning the Republic of Sudan into 'a unified Arabic Islamic State'. Al-Bashir's infamous and well-reported crimes against humanity perpetrated in Darfur are now being followed by similar racist ethnic cleansing in Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) and Blue Nile, with targeted aerial bombardment and systematic slaughter of civilians, combined with a refusal to allow access by aid organisations to the victims of the war.
My NGO HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust) works with local partners in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, from whom we receive harrowing stories and pictures of the suffering inflicted on local people. In the Nuba Mountains, women and children have to flee to caves to shelter from the bombs. There are deadly snakes in these caves, but they say "we are more afraid of the bombs than the snakes".
In the Nuba Mountains, Khartoum's troops have also arrested civilians, according to local sources, because they were black Africans and/or Nuba people, shooting them in cold blood, sometimes in front of UN personnel. The terror of such genocidal policies has resulted in a mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, many of whom are fleeing into South Sudan, exacerbating the humanitarian crises there. And Khartoum is even bombing civilians in refugee camps across the border in South Sudan.
Many people, including those suffering in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, are very disappointed in the British government's apparent lack of a robust response to Khartoum's ruthless policies, which can be seen as crimes against humanity and genocide. Comparisons are being made with Britain's active involvement in Libya and conclusions are being drawn to the effect that there is a racist dimension underlying the discrepancy.
If the UK government does not want its present policy of continuing to talk to Khartoum, while Khartoum continues its policy of systematic killing of its own African peoples, to be seen to be racist or even de facto complicit, it might be helpful to consider a more robust approach, such as the adoption of diplomatic sanctions targeted at leading members of the regime in Khartoum; or using the presidency of the UN Security Council to support the establishment of an international independent inquiry to investigate and report on alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Khartoum government in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Government should consider a more robust approach to alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Khartoum government in South Sudan.