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allAfrica.com: EU Watches, Then Watches Some More

EXTRACT: “Some European countries host big companies that have invested in the Sudanese oil sector or otherwise have commercial ties that limit the appetite to take stronger measures against the regime,” said the ICG’s John Prendergast. Among the European companies that have done business in Sudan are Austria’s OMV Aktiengesellschaft, the Franco-Belgian consortium TotalFinaElf and the Royal Dutch/Shell group.

THE ARTICLE

Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
April 5, 2007
By David Cronin, Brussels

Each month this year, the European Union’s foreign ministers have threatened to impose sanctions against the Sudanese government over atrocities in the western province of Darfur. Within those three months, 86,000 people have been driven from their homes in the region.

With no signs of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur improving, is it time that the EU actually carries out its threat of taking punitive measures against those fuelling the violence?

“There has been a catastrophic lack of leadership on the part of the EU recently,” Lotte Leicht from the Brussels office of Human Rights Watch told IPS. “Without smart, punitive and targeted sanctions, the government of Sudan has no incentive to stop the crimes it has been getting away with cost-free.”

The Union’s foreign ministers are to convene again in Luxembourg Apr. 23-24.

While Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and current head of the EU’s rotating presidency, indicated last month that she is in favour of sanctions against Sudan, some human rights activists fear that the foreign ministers will stall on actually imposing them.

Such fears have arisen from a discussion on Sudan that the ministers held in Bremen last weekend. They agreed then that Jan Elliason, the UN’s special envoy on Darfur, should address their April meeting, but the question of sanctions appears to have been sidestepped.

Leicht said that it would be wrong for the ministers to baulk from sanctions on the grounds that this may have an adverse effect on international efforts to halt the violence.

“One of the excuses for inaction is based on hopes and prayers that any diplomatic trip might provide the breakthrough and God forbid that we rock the boat,” she said.

“Every envoy believes he can make a difference and good luck to them all. But the only people who can make a difference are those who turn to the Sudanese government and say ‘enough is enough; you will be made to pay for your crimes when you continue them’.”

Chris Patten, the former European commissioner for external relations, recently pointed out that the foreign ministers have formally declared concern about Sudan 53 times since April 2004. Since then, more than 200,000 people have died and two million have been forced from their homes.

The United Nations has blamed the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia that it supports for much of the killing and displacement.

Patten said that “instead of a 54th expression of concern” the ministers should agree a travel ban and a freezing of assets on all Sudanese individuals accused of human rights abuses by a UN commission of inquiry. He argued, too, that there should be an investigation to determine what offshore accounts are held by firms linked to the ruling National Congress Party, so that measures can be taken against businesses financing the Janjaweed.

Human rights activists say that the EU’s resolve towards Sudan has weakened in the past few years. In March 2005, the UN Security Council approved a resolution referring those accused of murder, rape and other grave crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Whereas Russia, China and the United States had initially been opposed to that move, western European governments on the Security Council lobbied successfully in favour of it.

In February, the ICC presented evidence that senior figures in the Khartoum government, including minister Ahmed Harun, had managed the Janjaweed and helped their recruitment efforts.

A new report from the International Crisis Group (ICG), which campaigns for conflict resolution, suggests that the EU’s campaign on Darfur has lost momentum.

“Some European countries host big companies that have invested in the Sudanese oil sector or otherwise have commercial ties that limit the appetite to take stronger measures against the regime,” said the ICG’s John Prendergast.

Among the European companies that have done business in Sudan are Austria’s OMV Aktiengesellschaft, the Franco-Belgian consortium TotalFinaElf and the Royal Dutch/Shell group.

Although France has been opposed to an embargo on Sudanese oil exports, its President Jacques Chirac said last month that “if the acts of violence continue, the (UN) Security Council will have no other choice but to adopt sanctions.”

Ulrich Delius, an Africa specialist with the German Society for Threatened Peoples, said that it is vital that the EU acts swiftly.

The scope for taking punitive measures could be seriously reduced from July, when Portugal takes over the EU’s presidency from Germany. The Portuguese are to hold a summit between EU and African heads of state and government that has been placed on the backburner for several years because of differences over whether Zimbabwe’s autocratic president Robert Mugabe may attend.

Delius believes that Lisbon could be unwilling to press for sanctions against Sudan to avoid any friction between Europe and Africa.

Over the past few weeks, Darfur has become an issue in the French presidential election campaign. Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou has suggested that France should contemplate boycotting the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing if China does not take a tougher stance towards Khartoum.

With China a growing economic player in Africa, the Beijing government has been largely silent on human rights abuses in Sudan. China is seeking to build an oil pipeline from Eastern Chad to the Port of Sudan, passing through Darfur in the west.

“The international community does not have any real interest in acting,” Delius told IPS. “In their minds, there are much more important issues on the agenda: the war against terrorism and the electoral campaigns in several countries.”

Nonetheless, the International Crisis Group has prepared a blueprint for international action on Darfur. If implemented, the ICG believes, the Darfur situation could be resolved quickly.

The six-point plan advocates that the EU help organise a field conference for rebels fighting the Sudanese government. France, in particular, should work with the government in Chad, a former French colony, to ensure that rebels supported by President Idriss Deby take part in talks.

Without building cohesion among the various rebel forces involved, any peace deal will be “dead in the water”, according to the ICG.

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Copyright © 2007 Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). 

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