28th Jul 2017

Ex-commissioner attacks EU verbalism on Darfur

EU foreign policy on Sudan is a failure costing thousands of lives former external relations commissioner Chris Patten has said, lambasting the bloc for issuing statements of concern ad nauseam instead of imposing sanctions on Khartoum.

EU foreign ministers have since early 2004 issued 19 Darfur statements using phrases such as "serious concern" or "profound concern" a total of 53 times in a period that has seen some 200,000 slaughtered and 2.5 million displaced by government forces or government-backed militia, the Janjaweed.

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"When something more than words is needed, the EU does not have much to boast about," Mr Patten, who currently chairs the influential NGO the International Crisis Group, wrote in an open letter to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Tuesday (20 March). "It's hard to imagine the EU reaction has been so weak."

"Instead of expressing concern a 54th time, European foreign ministers should use their April meeting to follow the European Parliament's call on sanctions against Khartoum," he said, urging a travel ban on most government officials, a freeze on foreign assets of businessmen connected to the National Congress Party and a blockade on oil exports and foreign investments.

"The regime in Sudan may be a murderous one, but it is mindful of its own survival and has been proved to react to international pressure," Mr Patten explained, adding that the "horrors" of Darfur make abuses in Belarus, Uzbekistan or Liberia - all of which face EU sanctions - "pale into insignificance."

EU restrictions against Sudan so far include a travel ban on four low-ranking soldiers and an arms trade embargo, but do not even cover humanitarian affairs minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun, who has been named by the international war crimes court in The Hague as a Janjaweed recruiting agent.

The Sudanese conflict began when rebels in the south-west Darfur region rose up against Khartoum in 2003, sparking the brutal government crackdown.

A fresh report by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council this week stated that "killing of civilians remains widespread, including in large-scale attacks. Rape and sexual violence are widespread and systematic. Torture continues." The Khartoum regime "has itself orchestrated and participated in those crimes" the UN report adds, the International Herald Tribune writes.

Speaking to international press on Monday, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir called the official estimates of loss of life and displacement a "fabrication" designed to help the west snatch oil and gas reserves in the south of the country.

"Yes, there have been villages burned, but not to the extent you are talking about," Mr Bashir said, Reuters reports. "People have been killed because there is war. It is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It doesn't exist. We don't have it."

Journalists on trial highlight Turkey crackdown

The trial, which opened Monday, of 17 journalists and administrative employees of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet is considered one of the most important episodes in a systematic campaign to silence dissent.

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