Sudan leader should not attend EU-Africa summit, say NGOs

22.10.07 @ 09:17

  1. By Helena Spongenberg

Leading NGOs have called for Sudan's president to be barred from attending the EU-Africa summit in December, while EU capitals continue to be divided over what to do with Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe.

  • Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (Photo: Ministère français des Affaires Etrangères)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's presence at the summit in Lisbon "could be interpreted as a legitimisation of atrocities committed by the Khartoum regime in Darfur," said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Friday (19 October), according to AFP.

In Sudan's Darfur region, more than 200,000 people have died in the past four years while 2.5 million have been forced from their homes by government forces or the government-backed militia, the Janjaweed.

The NGOs also called on the EU to apply sanctions against Khartoum and freeze foreign bank accounts held by the Sudanese president and other leaders in Africa's largest country.

The call came as EU leaders gathered in Lisbon on Thursday and Friday for an informal meeting, where renewed signs of divisions on the controversial issue of Mr Mugabe's attendance at the same summit emerged.

The Zimbabwean leader is accused of human rights abuses, rigging elections and has been held responsible for creating economic chaos in Zimbabwe, which now has the world's highest inflation rate of some 6,600 percent, and unemployment of around 80 percent.

Mr Mugabe, in power since his country's independence in 1980, currently has an EU travel ban against him issued in 2002, after his ruling Zanu–PF party won in what the EU considers a rigged election.

Portugal – which currently holds the rotating EU presidency – plans to host the first EU–Africa summit in seven years on 8-9 December 2007. It would be the second EU-African Union summit ever held.

The same row over Mr Mugabe's attendance indefinitely postponed a summit scheduled for 2003.

African leaders - who see him as a hero of the anti-colonial struggle for independence – have said they will boycott the summit if the Zimbabwean leader is not invited.

Even Ghana's leader John Kufuor, who has previously described the situation in Zimbabwe as "an embarrassment to the African conscience", is saying Africa is indivisible on this issue.

But UK leader Gordon Brown reiterated last week his intention to boycott the EU-Africa summit if Mr Mugabe comes Lisbon. The Czech Republic is considering a similar move.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, on Friday opposed such a move arguing that "criticism of Mr Mugabe can be levelled at him when he is there," reports Reuters.

"I am going regardless," Ms Merkel said. "I think we should have this summit ... it wouldn't be responsible if everyone was interested in Africa but not us," she added.

Brussels wants to launch a 'strategic partnership' with the African countries to manage closer political and economic reforms, and Lisbon views the December summit as central to this goal.

However, the EU's focus on promoting human rights and good governance in Africa as a basis for trade and investment is under pressure from China's increasing economic influence on the continent.

Correction - An earlier version of this article said that Oxfam International took part in the call for Sudan's president not to take part in the EU-Africa summit. This was not the case.