By Ahmed H. Adam and Ashley D. Robinson
In the European Union’s struggle to manage its refugee crisis, is it sidestepping human rights standards by funneling funding to war criminals through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa? The high-level dialogue between Sudan and the EU started in November 2015 during the EU and African summit on migration, when Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour met with European top officials in Valletta. The EU pledged $2.2 billion (€2 billion) for the trust fund for the African countries to resettle Europe’s unwanted migrants.
The EU perceives the immigration to Europe from Africa and the Mediterranean as an existential threat. However, Europe’s migration crisis cannot be resolved by collaborating with genocidal and repressive regimes like that of Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.
Despite decades of aid funding, economic and diplomatic sanctions, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s “technical assistance and capacity building,” and warrants for the arrest of al-Bashir, his regime continues to terrorize the Sudanese people with impunity. His own policies and practices are the root causes of the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the flow of refugees and trafficked persons through Sudan. Behind Syria, Colombia, and Iraq, Sudan has the world’s largest number of IDPs, at 3.1 million. Sudan is also a major migratory route for refugees fleeing the continent through Libya.
On Feb. 16, 2016, Ghandour met with his EU counterpart, Mogherini, for the Brussels dialogue on migration. The EU described the visit as “the first step to set the direction for future EU/Sudan cooperation.” In its statement on Ghandour’s visit, the EU praised Sudan's "constructive role" in the region. The next day, the European Commission announced a $110 million (€100 million) Special Measure package for Sudan that will be dedicated to addressing the root causes of Sudan’s ongoing conflicts under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Sudan will receive an additional $44 million (€40 million) to improve the capacity of countries along the Eastern Migratory Route, along with surveillance equipment and training.
During the inaugural U.K.-Sudan Dialogue in March this year, the British Foreign Office’s Africa Director, Neil Wigan, expressed his country’s intent to work with the Sudanese government on issues of trafficking, migration, and extremism, among others. The U.K.’s Ambassador to Sudan stated he was looking forward to the “ongoing dialogue between the two nations.” This marked a major shift in the U.K.’s position on Sudan. These developments should be considered in light of the fact that the U.K is currently the chair of the EU Horn of Africa Migration Initiative (the Khartoum Process), and while it could use its role to expand EU-Sudan cooperation, the country’s recent vote to exit the EU calls into question its future influence on regional bodies.
In April, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica visited Khartoum to meet with top al-Bashir aids on the topic of migration, including the first vice president. Despite this ongoing dialogue and the EU’s multi-million euro pledges, there is no clear plan for how this money will be spent and what role the Sudanese government will play.
All this funding is made possible through the Cotonou Agreement. The Cotonou Agreement was signed between the EU and African, Caribbean, and Pacific states, and entered into force in 2003. It aims to eradicate poverty and aid the signatories by integrating them into the world economy. Sudan withdrew from the Cotonou Agreement in 2009, after it was revised to include in its objectives the fighting of impunity and promotion of criminal justice through the International Criminal Court. Al-Bashir has been wanted by the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, also since 2009.
Documents leaked in Der Spiegel and reports on German television show Report Mainz state that the EU identified several funding risks: “Smuggling and trafficking networks in the region are highly organized and sophisticated, often with the complicity of officials … Corruption is reported to be widespread in almost every beneficiary country, facilitating illegal migration and trafficking through the complicity of ticket bureaus, check-in-desks, immigration officials, border patrols, etc.” Those involved in administering the EU Emergency Trust Fund have long been aware of these persistent problems.
The EU's rapprochement with Sudan is based on al-Bashir's good faith and lacks scrutiny of the regime’s track record. For many in Sudan, smuggling and trafficking have become a lucrative business. Leading officers from the National Intelligence and Security Service have been involved in human trafficking and smuggling for personal gain.
As recently as 2014, Human Rights Watch reported finding “evidence that government aircraft deliberately bombed hospitals and other humanitarian facilities.” Putting surveillance equipment and expertise in the hands of this government will only strengthen its ability to target the most vulnerable populations and directly endanger the lives of humanitarians.
This collaboration is undermining the EU’s human rights standards. Aside from the ethical argument that giving funds to war criminals goes beyond complacency to complicity, there are practical reasons why the EU should not provide such funding. While it may temporarily ebb the flow of refugees through Libya, it is not a long-term solution. Youth in Sudan are protesting for their rights, and several movements within the country show that the old ethnic divides, which allowed al-Bashir to keep Sudan in war, are fading. The people of Sudan will eventually succeed in bringing a new democracy to the nation, but the misguided policies of the EU merely hamper their efforts and prolong suffering. When will the international community learn to stop rewarding dictators for acts of unspeakable violence?
Ahmed H Adam is a visiting fellow at Cornell University's Institute for African Development and a research fellow at the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo.
Ashley D Robinson is a Public Policy and Human Rights Expert; she obtained her masters from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs.
[Photo courtesy of Jesse B. Awalt, U.S. Navy]