On the back of Kony 2012, Lord Alton of Liverpool asks why it seems that a life in Africa is counted for less than a life elsewhere.
My Oral question in the Lords, tomorrow, asks, yet again, what progress is being made in bringing Joseph Kony, Omar al-Bashir and others indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, to justice.
In 2005, the ICC's very first arrest warrants were issued against Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and three other Lords Resistance Army (LRA) commanders -Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen-so no one should be more on notice than him, along with the armed groups using children in around 15 conflicts worldwide. Most recently, al-Shabaab has joined their number in Somalia.
For two decades, as the LRA has murdered its way across Uganda, Northern Congo, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, an estimated two million people have been forced to flee their homes, tens of thousands have been kidnapped, mutilated and killed. More than 20,000 children have been killed. At the height of the conflict violence and disease killed 1,000 a week with more than 70,000 people are still in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
Joseph Kony has led the LRA in an orgy of violence targeting civilians, slicing off the lips of survivors, kidnapping children for use as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. The "Kony 2012" viral video, which tells this shocking story, has been watched on the internet by more than 100 million people worldwide.
In October 2009, I asked Ministers questions which still remain unanswered. Who funds the LRA? Who arms it? Why have western intelligence agencies not pooled resources to track down Kony? Why have the UN and the African Union been so lamentably inadequate in protecting civilian populations? Why has Kony not been apprehended?
As the ICC's prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, says in an interview on "Kony 2012":
"It will be bad for the world if we fail".
It will also be bad for the world if the ICC fails to bring Sudan’s President, Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir and South Kordofan's governor Ahmed Mohammed Haroun to justice. In south Kordofan one million people have been affected by a campaign of aerial bombardment.
Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE, a former senior British official and former United Nations resident and humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan, recently told a meeting in Parliament that "the second genocide of the twenty first century is unfolding in South Kordofan."
The first was in Darfur – and the perpetrators are the same indicted war criminals and fugitives from justice.
Both men are wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, a region which I have visited, where more than 300,000 people were killed and some two million people were displaced. Surely, as a matter of principle, where a head of state is indicted by the ICC, we should radically review our diplomatic relations?
Contrast the situation with that of Syria. I hope that, at the very minimum, the government will consider at least the downgrading of our diplomatic relations, the freezing of assets and the imposition of travel and other sanctions.
Is the second genocide of the 21st century unfolding, or it is not? Either those responsible for the first genocide, who are now responsible for the second, are the men who have just been mentioned, or they are not. Either they are indicted by the ICC or they are not? Either it is business as usual, or it is not?
During his evidence, Dr Kapila described the situation in South Kordofan:
"We heard an Antonov above us. Women and children started running and going into the nooks and caves of a mountain, a small hill rather ... We saw a burned-out village. As we left the border there was burned place after burned place after burned place. There was hardly a person to be seen".
How long will it be before the world acts to bring those responsible to justice? When it comes to international urgency and decisiveness, why does it seem that a life in Africa is counted for less than a life elsewhere?
The UK government argues that through engagement with Sudan, including through economic and business ties, we will bring about the necessary reform in Khartoum. This view has been expressed by several UK ambassadors to Khartoum. This presupposes that the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party wishes to reform itself, a conclusion with no basis in fact.
It is hard to find precedents for the belief that closer business ties have any influence whatsoever on repressive regimes. Countries such as Sudan that target and kill groups within their own population include China and Russia, Burma, Iraq (until recently) and South Africa until 1994. In the case of South Africa and Burma, progress has come from sanctions and calculated engagement – not business as usual - rather than relying on close economic ties to mellow the attitudes of the ruling elite. Change came in both nations when the USA withdrew its businesses and froze both countries out of the community of nations.
The evidence indicates that repressive regimes are emboldened by our silence and they interpret our willingness to do business as a sign that while our politicians may talk about human rights, their words are for consumption by their audience at home. What speaks louder than words is our keenness to continue business as usual.
Churchill described appeasement as feeding a crocodile, hoping it chooses to eat you last. If we learnt anything from the 20th century, surely it was that when you ignore genocide, and avert your eyes, you will only see far worse carnage and that the crocodile has an insatiable appetite.