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11 October 2010

The All Party Group on Sudan, of which Tony Baldry is a Vice Chairman, has recently written to the Foreign Secretary expressing their concerns on Sudan.

Below is the text of the letter:

4th October 2010

Dear Foreign Secretary,

We are writing this letter in response to two recent events: firstly the UN high-level meeting on Sudan which was held in New York on the 24th of September; and secondly the ‘Opportunities in Sudan’ networking event on the 29th of September which has drawn much attention to the UK government’s recent messages with regards to trade in Sudan.

As you know, the Associate Parliamentary Group on Sudan continues to maintain its constant scrutiny of the situation in Sudan, and has been responsible for focussing the attention of its parliamentary members on the changing situation in Sudan since 1998. Now more than ever we, as members of the APG, are aware of the importance of the coming months for Sudan, and we too embrace the opportunity to move beyond the conflicts of the past 50 years and welcome a peaceful future.

UN high-level meeting

We strongly support the recent communiqué that was issued after the UN high-level meeting on Sudan which was held in New York on the 24th of September. In particular, we welcome Henry Bellingham’s statement that: “There is no greater challenge [than Sudan] facing us over the next twelve months. The UK intends to make Sudan the top priority for our Presidency of the Security Council in November.”

In January of this year the APG held parliamentary hearings on the role of the international community in supporting Sudan’s peace, which were attended by a wide range of esteemed expert witnesses. In the report published following the Hearings in March 2010, the APG strongly called for the UK government and other CPA international guarantors to concentrate attention on the January 2011 referendum and post-referendum arrangements. As one of the recommendations stipulates, “this includes supporting the parties to reach agreement in advance of a number of outstanding issues, including citizenship for southerners in the north and northerners in the south, oil revenue sharing, border demarcation, rights of tribes that regularly cross the north-south boundary and the status of the Three Areas (particularly Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile) post-2011”.

We are extremely concerned at the delays in preparations for the referendum amidst the news that the registration is unlikely to take place before mid November, and rumours that the referendum itself may be delayed for two weeks or more. We welcome the progress made towards a framework for negotiations since the Mekelle MoU which was signed between the NCP and SPLM in June 2010, including the limited progress made by the four working groups. However, we are concerned that the Lead Panel on the Post-Referendum Negotiations has not met since the July launch event, and therefore discussion of substantial issues has yet to take place.

The international community have an opportunity to think strategically about how to help Sudan navigate the next nine months, thinking beyond the referendum towards a potentially extremely dangerous period in the months leading to the end of the CPA. Having met with Ambassador Nicholas Kay in September, we are aware of the FCO’s commitment to Sudan’s future and applaud the work of the Joint Sudan Unit and the British Embassy in Sudan. We strongly urge the continuation of this engagement and continue to stress the need for contingency planning. The UK Government needs to demonstrate its firm and unwavering commitment to peace in Sudan, and this includes preparing for what happens beyond the referendum.

In addition, we call for the UK Government to offer the parties support for mechanisms to ensure that the interests of wider Sudanese society are reflected in discussions around post-referendum arrangements, as mandated by Article 4 of the Mekelle MoU. Since the CPA was signed, issues of reconciliation, dissemination and civic education, and broadening of the peace process have been overlooked in favour of a focus on technical benchmarks. The result has been a hardening of attitudes at the local and national levels, which both have the potential to bring the country back to war. In order for the CPA to be truly successful, these benchmarks should be seen as part of a process which leads to sustainable and long-term peace for all the people of Sudan rather than a list of boxes which must be ticked.

We would like to echo the key messages from the September Sudan365 day of action in calling for Guarantors to:

1. Reaffirm the right of the people of Southern Sudan to self-determination, and pledge to recognise the authentic choice of Southern Sudanese whether they elect for unity or independence.
2. Support the preparations for a free and fair referendum. These preparations must include adequate measures to protect civilians from potential violence, especially in volatile areas. Scrutiny over the referendum preparations must begin immediately. The same must also be ensured for Blue Nile’s popular consultation and for the Abyei referendum.
3. Call on donors to deliver on past funding pledges to Sudan and to increase their levels of engagement in the immediate future, especially in Southern Sudan. Sudan is on course to fail 6 of the 7 Millennium Development Goals which were reviewed in New York
4. Clearly and publicly state that the conflict in Darfur must be resolved through a political settlement, justice delivered for its victims and that international human rights and good governance standards must be respected in Northern as well as in Southern Sudan

The APG continues to emphasize the importance of a perspective which takes into account the whole of Sudan, and we welcome Henry Bellingham’s reference to Eastern Sudan in his speech on the 24th of September. Eastern Sudan urgently needs a large scale, integrated response to the development needs of the region. The Group has also heard concerns that the region represents a potential transfer route for extremists from the Horn of Africa, and therefore actual and potential instability in this area also represents a potential threat to UK security.

Trade in Sudan

The ‘Opportunities in Sudan’ networking event which was held on Wednesday the 29th of September has caused a great deal of concern amongst human rights advocates. Whilst we welcome the potentially positive influence of foreign investment and constructive engagement, we are also keen to emphasize the need for clarity around what kinds of guarantees are put in place to ensure that this will not play any role in perpetuating injustice. When carried out irresponsibly, foreign investment can fuel instability and conflict, negatively impacting local communities and generating financial hazards and insecurity for investors. Trade with Sudan requires caution because many of its businesses and industries are directly linked to supporting and funding armed conflict, large-scale human rights abuses and environmental damage. It is worrying that the UK Trade and Investment June 2010 report on Sudan does not mention the continued conflict in Darfur or the indictment of the Sudanese President for genocide.

Evidence has shown that previous investment in the Sudanese oil industry has in fact contributed to marginalisation, profiting only a small number of regime officials and supporters. According to Global Witness, 70% of the Government’s share of the oil revenues during the north south war was spent on defence. Furthermore, certain companies’ operations in Sudan have been associated more directly with environmental damage and human rights abuses. Recently Sweden opened a criminal investigation into allegations that a consortium led by the Swedish exploration firm Lundin Oil may have been complicit in atrocities committed in Sudan between 1997 and 2003. In addition to having a serious negative impact on the local population, unmonitored trade risks damaging the reputation of British companies. In 2007, Rolls-Royce identified this risk to its reputation and pulled out of Sudan in light of the continuing conflict in Darfur.

In your speech on September 15th you rightly said “We should never turn a blind eye to countries which display trappings of democracy while violating basic human rights, or that lay claim to rule of law while lacking the independent courts and proper systems of accountability and transparency to prevent abuses of state power.” By pushing for greater trading ties with Sudan, the UK risks signalling that it is ready to tolerate or overlook human rights abuses in order to trade with partners and build Britain’s own prosperity, compromising Britain’s reputation as a promoter and protector of human rights. In line with your vision for promoting British values through foreign policy, we urge the UK Government to make clear that this is not the case. We also respectfully suggest that the UK Government works with human rights groups to develop recommendations for responsible corporate behaviour to ensure that UK companies investing in Sudan do not contribute to large-scale human rights abuses and environmental damage.

The people of Sudan deserve to see their country achieve peace and economic development. UK Government and business have a key role in supporting that process, while ensuring respect for Sudanese people’s fundamental rights.

We look forward to continuing our dialogue on all of the issues mentioned in this letter, and would like to invite you to meet with members of the APG once we return from recess. We hope that it may be possible to arrange a meeting or event with you before the referendum to discuss the role of the UK and the international community in supporting peace and development in Sudan over the forthcoming critical months.