Hélène Laverdière, NDP MP, Laurier – Ste-Marie
March 12, 2014 (HUFFPOST) — In recent months members of Parliament have debated three of the world’s major crises, in Ukraine, Syria, and the Central African Republic.
There is another crisis, though, that Canada has neglected so far — the political and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country, following a monumental referendum in 2011 where nearly 99 per cent of voters voted in favour of independence. The international community made major investments in the country in the hopes that, after years of civil war, a stable and functioning government would be established. Yet in December political differences among South Sudanese leadership led to an outbreak in violence, leaving thousands dead and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. With the coming rainy season, there are major challenges in terms of aid delivery, and numbers of refugees and internally displaced people are rising.
Canada has a special role to play in South Sudan. We were strong supporters of the peace process leading to the 2011 referendum. Indeed, the Government of Canada used to have a Sudan Task Force within the Department of Foreign Affairs, staffed by a dozen people. The Task Force was Canada’s approach to both Sudan and South Sudan, working on diplomatic, military and development issues. But in the Fall of 2013, just when the Sudan Task Force was most needed, the Conservative government dismantled it.
While the government condemned the rise in violence in South Sudan in December 2013, to date, they have made no announcements of funding, despite a 2014 UN Emergency Appeal.New Democrats have asked the government to support the peace negotiations in South Sudan. I have twice asked the government to contribute humanitarian funding to the crisis in South Sudan, but have yet to receive a response from the Minister.
It’s not as though the money is not available; we are nearing the end of the fiscal year, and last year the Conservatives allowed nearly $300 million of the aid budget to lapse. This is a way of cutting aid through the back door. Rather than lapsing funds again this year, the Conservatives would do well to increase funding to humanitarian relief and improving the security situation in South Sudan.
What else can Canada do to help South Sudan? In addition to much-needed humanitarian support, Canada could provide financial support for peace negotiations currently underway in Ethiopia. Canada must use our diplomatic influence to help ensure that women and members of civil society have a seat at the peace negotiations table. At the same time, we should increase our support to the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and support the African Union’s efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.
South Sudan is supposed to be a priority country for Canada. It is clear that Canada has both a diplomatic and financial role to play in supporting the South Sudanese people. It is time the government of Canada step up and play a stronger diplomatic and humanitarian role, before the situation gets worse.