3rd Dec 2020

EU not doing enough for Sudan, Sakharov prize winner says

Salih Mahmoud Osman, the winner of the 2007 Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament's top human rights award, has called on EU capitals to step up pressure on the Sudanese government and to show real solidarity with the people of Darfur.

"Europe is talking tough about the policies of the government of Sudan, but we don't see enough action to address the situation in a proper manner", Mr Osman said on Monday (10 December), underlining "it is not enough to send humanitarian relief".

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"Europe has to review its position towards Sudan and put sufficient pressure on the government so it complies with the international demands related to human rights and the rule of law", he added.

Salih Mahmoud Osman was speaking to European lawmakers from the development and foreign affairs committees, as he is to receive this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought later on Tuesday (11 December) - the prize awarded since 1988 to those who stand up for fundamental freedoms.

Mr Osman is a lawyer working with the Sudan Organisation Against Torture, which provides legal assistance and other aid to victims of human rights abuses in Sudan.

He himself was imprisoned without a charge or a trial three times. Several members of his family were killed, tortured or burned out of their homes by the country's militias.

"Every time I returned from prison, I became more strong because of the support...Last time, I found more than five thousands letters from people from all around the world", he said when asked about the main driving source behind his work.

"The prize is not only for me. It is for tens of human rights defenders all over Sudan and particularly in Darfur", Mr Osman added.

Roughly 600,000 civilians in Sudan's region of Darfur have been killed and more than two million have been forced to flee their homes since 2003, when the violent conflict between the Arabic-speaking Islamist government in Khartoum and mostly Christian and animist black rebels started.

The conflict was fuelled by several factors - the scarcity of resources, tribal conflicts as well as the feeling among Darfurians of being marginalized and excluded from the profits of Sudan's oil.

In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the government in Khartoum and the rebels, but tensions continue to run high.

Mr Osman criticised European governments for not exercising their full diplomatic potential towards Sudan's government and cited as an example the fact that the Darfur issue was not specifically discussed at the EU-Africa summit last weekend (8-9 December).

"We are disappointed", he said, adding that Europe fears that the CPA might be jeopardized if more pressure is put on Sudan.

"But it is at the expense of the lives of people of Darfur", Mr Osman concluded.

The Sakharov Prize winner also spoke about a 26,000-strong peacekeeping mission, made up of UN and African Union forces, which is to replace the 7,000 African Union operation this month.

"You tell us you are busy in Afghanistan, but without an international component there will never be effective protection of the people in the region", he said.

Finally, he also called on ordinary Europeans to get involved. "We want the people of Europe to go out in the streets and tell their governments that it is not acceptable to leave the people of Darfur to the merciless government of Sudan", he said.

Salih Mahmoud Osman was the unanimous choice of the leaders of the parliament's political groups from among the three finalists - Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the Chinese dissident couple Zeng Jinyan and Hu Jia.

Previous winners include Nelson Mandela (1988), Alexander Dubcek (1989) and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and all the UN staff (2003).

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