'Sanctions on Sudan now'

Human Rights Watch's EU director Lotte Leicht says without international pressure the victims of Dar

Shortly after taking office, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown stood before the United Nations General Assembly and declared the situation in Darfur to be the “greatest humanitarian disaster” facing the world today. He sent a message to Darfur that “it is time for change”.

Brown pledged to place sanctions on the Sudanese government if the killings of civilians in Darfur did not stop. Nine months later, people are still dying and suffering - apparently, Khartoum did not get the message. It is time to send it with a new messenger – sanctions.

While Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy should be applauded for their efforts last year which resulted in the adoption of a United Nations resolution approving the deployment of a 26,000 strong peacekeeping force to Sudan, President Bashir has managed to obstruct and delay this deployment.

The UK and its EU partners have responded to Bashir’s continued stonewalling with only kid-gloves and toothless threats. Despite pledges to the contrary, the EU has still not imposed sanctions to encourage Bashir’s compliance. Without firmer pressure on Khartoum, the victims of Darfur will never see justice, and their persecutors will feel free to redouble their murderous ways.

Many in Europe have never heard of Ahmed Haroun, but for the villagers of Bindisi, Kodoom, Arawala and Mukjar, he is their worst nightmare. Four years ago, Haroun was State Minister of the Interior responsible for Darfur’s security during the time that Sudanese government forces and their allied Janjaweed militias carried out a brutal scorched-earth campaign of killings, rape, destruction and displacement.

Haroun and those under his watch are alleged to have murdered hundreds, raped women and young girls, destroyed property, and forcibly removed thousands from their homes. Some of the crimes were carried out by a militia leader named Ali Mohammed Ali, also known as “Ali Kosheib,” who received orders from Haroun.

Since then, the International Criminal Court has charged Ahmed Haroun and “Ali Kosheib” with 51 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, persecution and forcible transfer of population.

Despite international arrest warrants issued almost one year ago, Haroun and Kosheib remain free men. Indeed, far from having arrested Haroun, the Sudanese government promoted him; he is currently Sudan’s sitting Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs. Then, to add insult to injury, Khartoum appointed Haroun co-chair of a committee that monitors security in Sudan and is authorized to hear complaints of victims of abuses, including those in Darfur. By virtue of his position, Haroun is also the intermediary between the government and the UN forces designated to protect civilians. The second ICC suspect, “Ali Kosheib,” was imprisoned at the time the arrests warrants were issued, but the Sudanese government has since released him.

Developments in Darfur over the past year have been bleak. Peace talks have stalled--again; ceasefires are violated on almost a daily basis; government-backed forces have shot at clearly marked UN convoys and have bombed civilians; and armed men in uniform have looted villages and raped women. The rate of atrocities committed and documented in the last three months alone is now reminiscent of the beginning of the scorched earth campaign in 2003-2004. Such is the “progress” that has been made in Darfur while the world and the EU sat back and adopted a “wait and see approach”.

One of the factors arguably contributing to this downward spiral is that the Sudanese government has not seen any real consequence for its continued repression in Darfur and its continued obstruction of international efforts to curb that repression. Khartoum has simply ignored UN resolutions and international arrests warrants with no repercussions.

Khartoum’s intransigence may be expected, but the lack of a firm EU response is deeply disappointing. The UK and the EU tout international justice as a priority, but it has left the ICC prosecutor empty-handed as he seeks pressure on Khartoum to surrender indicted suspects for trial. Until significant costs are imposed on it, Khartoum has no incentive to stop its current campaign of atrocities or to cooperate with the ICC.

Indeed, over the past year, Khartoum’s lack of cooperation has evolved into overt defiance, if not mockery. In January, for example, President Bashir created a special presidential advisory position for a notorious Janjaweed leader who is subject to UN sanctions. With alleged war criminals serving in political posts, Khartoum has clearly sent the world a message: it may have to allow a peacekeeping force in Darfur, but it does not have to give the victims any justice.

Three years ago, the UK was instrumental in securing the historic referral of the Darfur crimes to the ICC. At the time of the referral, the UN Security Council took the view that justice was an essential component of any effort to end the violence in Darfur. But since then, British and EU leaders have, by and large, turned their backs on the principle of justice.

When a government grants official posts to people accused of war crimes, it is long past time to transcend empty threats and apply meaningful pressure. Otherwise, the Sudanese government will only be reconfirmed in its view that it can continue to commit atrocities in Darfur with impunity.

In an EU declaration issued 31 March, the EU threatened punitive measures against those responsible for Sudan’s failure to cooperate with the ICC, including the failure to arrest and surrender those subject to international arrest warrants to the Court. It is up to the EU to ensure that this declaration will not be just the latest example in a long history of empty threats that the rulers in Khartoum have become so accustomed to ignoring with impunity.

In keeping with Brown’s commitment to redouble efforts to impose further sanctions if any party blocked progress or the killings continued in Darfur, the UK should assume the lead in demanding that EU leaders take the next step when they meet in June and adopt targeted individual sanctions against those officials who are responsible not only for Sudan’s serious human rights violations but also for its non-cooperation with the ICC. Such sanctions should include visa bans and travel restrictions, the freezing of assets, and the blocking of access to European banking systems.

Justice isn’t simply a moral luxury. The EU made a pledge to the victims of Darfur; it is high time that the EU delivered—that it moved from empty threats to action.

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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