Sudan's crimes against humanity need real EU action, not empty words
Sudan's crimes against humanity need real EU action, not empty words
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Sudan: A Year of War (with Comfort Ero)
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Sudan's crimes against humanity need real EU action, not empty words

As state-sponsored atrocities continue to cause misery in Darfur, it is time for targeted measures such as travel bans and asset freezes, writes Chris Patten

As the Darfur tragedy enters its fourth year, it is hard to believe the European Union's response has been so feeble. Europe has failed to take any effective steps to pressure Khartoum to stop the war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by its troops and proxy militias in western Sudan - and during this time over two million people have been forced from their homes, and more than 200,000 civilians have died in the government-sponsored campaign.

Of course, if official European expressions of unease were effective, Sudan's ethnic cleansing would have been halted long ago.

Since April 2004, European foreign ministers have issued 19 council conclusion statements on Darfur, most recently on March 5th, 2007, announcing their collective "concern", "grave concern", "continued concern" or "deep concern" no fewer than 53 times.

Not surprisingly, Khartoum has been rather unimpressed with European "concerns" because, when it comes to anything beyond words, the EU has fallen short, having sanctioned only four individuals: a former mid-level Sudanese air force commander, one Janjaweed militia leader and two rebels.

It has also imposed a weak and ineffective arms embargo on the warring parties that has been skirted by all of them with ease.

The reluctance to act more robustly is not grounded in any philosophical objection to sanctions. Europe has been willing to place asset freezes and travel bans on the leadership of Belarus, for example, for "violations of international electoral standards" and its crackdown on civil society.

It has also imposed travel bans on separatists in Moldova for their "campaign against Latin-script schools" and on Uzbekistan's leaders for the Andijan massacre.

Spoilers in the Congo, Liberia and Ivory Coast are subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans. But while these are all worthy of condemnation, the conduct being targeted in these cases pales in comparison to the systematic campaign of state-sponsored devastation in Darfur.

Nor can anyone in Europe seriously question how deeply Khartoum is implicated in Darfur's mass atrocities. Any remaining doubts would have been dispelled last month, when the International Criminal Court's prosecutor presented extensive evidence against two individuals, including a senior government minister, Ahmed Harun, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Speaking of the minister's role, the prosecutor said: "The most prominent of the co-ordination tasks entrusted to Ahmed Harun as head of the 'Darfur Security desk' was his management of, and personal participation in, the recruitment of militia/Janjaweed, to supplement the Sudanese armed forces." The body of evidence is perhaps the clearest indication yet that the government of Sudan - at senior levels - has played a central role in planning and carrying out atrocities in Darfur.

The devastation continues and, in fact, the already horrendous situation has further deteriorated in recent months. In mid-January, aid agencies in Darfur warned their relief operations would collapse unless security improved.

Khartoum has also been actively fuelling rebellions in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, with a predictable spread of appalling humanitarian consequences.

Instead of a 54th expression of concern, European foreign ministers should use their next monthly meeting in April to heed the European Parliament's call for sanctions on Khartoum. They should impose travel bans and asset freezes on all the individuals named in the UN Commission of Inquiry and Panel of Experts reports. They should look at measures specifically targeting revenue flows from Sudan's petroleum sector and foreign investment and supply of goods and services to that and associated sectors. And they should authorise a forensic investigation of the offshore accounts of Sudanese businesses affiliated with the ruling majority party in Khartoum, the National Congress Party, paving the way for sanctions against the regime's commercial entities - the main conduit for financing its Janjaweed proxy militias that have done so much damage in Darfur.

Words are clearly not enough to get the government to think twice. Khartoum has repeatedly reneged on its commitments to disarm the Janjaweed, implement ceasefires and allow the deployment of a more robust peacekeeping force - all with absolute impunity.

And until significant costs are imposed on it, Khartoum has no incentive to listen to Europe's leaders or to change its behaviour.

Finally, what is perhaps most poorly understood in all this is that the regime in Khartoum has a history of responding to stiff international pressure.

Most notably, it signed up to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005, ending the 20-year civil war in the south of the country, in part because of demands from the international community backed up by forceful measures.

The regime may be murderous, but it does care about its own survival and calibrates its actions in line with international coercion.

Formulaic "concern" from Europe just won't do. It is time for a set of tough sanctions that might actually get Khartoum's attention and convince Sudan's leaders that there are real costs to continuing their campaign of mass violence against their own citizens.

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