Just under six months on, these fears have been confirmed. Last Wednesday, senior government officials and business leaders hosted a delegation of indicted war criminal Omar Al-Bashir’s cronies, to discuss the facilitation of UK investment in Sudan. Ignoring the charges of genocide in Darfur levelled against Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court, and his government’s continued hindrance of the referendum on Southern-Sudanese independence scheduled to take place early next year (the kind of hindrance that could feasibly trigger civil war); William Hague and his advisors have seen fit to economically get into bed with the tyrant.
Predictably they have trotted out the age-old line (or should that be “lie”?) that investing in authoritarian states gives you a degree of influence over their politics; and that consequently through deals such as this, the UK can help to stop the genocide (which has so far claimed between 300 000 and 400 000 lives) whilst ensuring a smooth referendum come January. In reality nothing can be further from the truth: dictators such as Al-Bashir are swayed by money and power, not the moral prophesising of their trade partners, so investing with them will only serve as tacit endorsement of their actions.
The potential of trade should be used as an incentive to reform, and only offered up once real, tangible improvements have been made. True, some will argue that Hague & Co’s investment programme will leave them with the option to withdraw if Al-Bashir continues to slaughter those under his control, but no one can seriously envisage this actually happening.
A further issue lies in the way that UK investment undermines attempts at coordinated strategies to deal with Sudan. Such complex human rights situations require the most globally-joined-up approach possible to make any real headway, rather than various states and international bodies each taking different, contrary approaches. Instead, the UK is striking trade deals whilst the US imposes sanctions; and Al-Bashir is subjected to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, whilst his men are welcomed as honoured guests in London. This is utterly counter-productive.
Right now it seems that the Conservative Human Rights Commission has been shafted, the Lib Dems as junior coalition partners are silent, and Hague is pursuing a policy of financial gain rather than humanitarian values. It looks like the activists are going to have their work cut out.