'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.