Last month the International Criminal Court issued a new arrest warrant for Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir. He was already wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, to which he can now add the count of genocide for his campaigns against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. In response, Al-Bashir warned Western organisations that they would be expelled from Sudan if they showed disrespect for his government.
So why, just two weeks later, was Britain’s Minister for Africa calling for closer ties with Sudan? MP Henry Bellingham visited the country as part of a short African tour, declaring that the UK would be “candid friends of the government.”
Needless to say, the main reason for the trip was trade: “One of our top priorities is to increase trade with different countries around the world, particularly in Africa. The trade we have with Sudan at the moment is very good but we feel the scope for that trade can increase.’
Bashir’s government came to power in a coup in 1989. The US has imposed trade sanctions on the country since 1997. China has been a big investor, but there has been a major campaign for British businesses to ‘divest’, and withdraw their money from the country. After all, trade in Sudan means money into government coffers, which pays for the conflict in Darfur. Many banks had listened, and one that didn’t – Lloyds – was fined $350 million last year for breaking US sanctions and disguising the origin of funds. Shell has been involved in the country for a decade, but has recently being trying to sell off its assets in Sudan.
Britain’s new government apparently thinks this is all going in the wrong direction. “We voiced our concern about certain issues” said Bellingham, “but we also said we want the relationship to be a strong one and one where UK bilateral trade will increase.” He added that British oil interests were lagging behind China, and that he wanted British banks “taking a more positive view of Sudan.”
Forget the fact that Sudan is number 3 in the Fund for Peace’s index of failed states, and one of the worst countries in the world for human rights abuses. According to Bellingham’s logic, the problem is the government, not the people, so “it would quite perverse and wrong for us to not encourage trade because trade equals wealth.”
Wealth for whom, one wonders.
Do we, as a country, believe in human rights? Do we support the International Criminal Court? Do we value peace in Darfur? Or is genocide acceptable in countries that have oil? If you’re as disgusted as I am by our new policy on Sudan, join in me writing to the Foreign Office to say so.