Boris Johnson condemned for trade forum with Sudan over rights abuses
Boris Johnson has come under fire over Britain’s stance on trading with ahead of a controversial forum due to take place in London on Tuesday.
A group of MPs have signed a letter to the foreign secretary warning the government against pursuing investment in a country rife with corruption and where the president is wanted for human rights violations.
The marks the African nation’s first global investment summit and the first to be held in Europe since the US
It will be hosted by the trade organisation Developing Market Associates under the instruction of the Sudanese government and is billed as an “opportunity for foreign investors and businesses to obtain first-hand information on the country’s latest development and investment opportunities in key sectors”.
The agenda includes a welcome speech from the British ambassador to Sudan, Michael Aron, and a keynote address from a “UK government representative” who will speak alongside a senior Sudanese delegation including the country’s foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour.
The event marks a significant U-turn on Britain’s stated position on Sudan, according to Caroline Lucas, the Green Party co-leader who coordinated the letter to Johnson amid concerns raised by some of her Sudanese constituents.
“Previously the government has made it clear that it doesn’t pursue pro-active trade opportunities with Sudan and is very aware of its low ranking on the corruption index.
“Looking at the agenda it appears to have left that policy behind – even with President Omar al-Bashir being subject to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for numerous human rights violations,” she said.
“This sends out really dangerous signals in terms of giving the impression Sudan has reformed itself and is a partner in negotiations. It also cuts across the so-called [named after the former UN secretary general for business and human rights ] around human rights when it comes to business operations.”
Sudan ranks joint 170th with Yemen, Syria and Libya out of 176 countries on . Only North Korea, South Sudan and Somalia are ranked lower.
Economic sanctions were eased by the Trump administration as a reward for “positive actions” by Sudan’s government, yet the country remains on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism alongside Iran and Syria.
Sudan’s economy has slumped since losing when the country seceded in 2011.
Critics say the forum sends out the wrong message to potential investors who they say should remain wary of corruption.
An earlier draft agenda for the event, seen by the Guardian, included the logo of the British Foreign Office, which has since been removed and replaced with the logo of the British Embassy in Khartoum.
“I hope this means they have recognised this event is far too premature and ill-advised. However it is clear they are expecting the British ambassador and the fact this forum is going ahead in London is completely dishonourable,” said Lucas.
“If the government had come to the Commons and said, ‘For these reasons we are revising our relationship with Sudan,’ at least that would have been honest. But as far as I’m aware no statement has been made so what we are seeing is a contradiction to their stated position.”
The original billing also featured Conservative peer Baroness Fairhead, a minister in the Department for International Trade, and Chris Trott, the UK special representative for Sudan and South Sudan as speakers. The Tory MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Sudan and South Sudan, Henry Bellingham, and Labour peer Lord Hain were listed as chairing sessions. All four names were absent from the revised agenda.
Lord Hain said he was no longer able to attend the event due to another appointment.
A source said the Sudanese had insisted Henry Bellingham’s name was removed from the billing.
They said their request may be linked to Bellingham’s involvement in a report by the APPG published in February, which warned against engaging with Sudan without clear evidence of progress on human rights values.
The analysis, , followed an inquiry exploring how growing priorities including trade in a post-Brexit world, migration and extremism, were hampering the protection of human rights in Sudan.
Campaigners have warned Britain against dropping its standards in attempting to reconnect with former colonial governments as a strategy post Brexit.
“Sudan still has a fundamentally corrupt economy, where to get ahead in business you need to be from the Arab elite based in the capital. Brexit has caused Britain to lower its standards and consider new, unsavoury international partners,” said Maddy Crowther, co-director of the NGO .
“We abandon our moral credibility if we promote trade with a country recognised as the site of a genocide in the Darfur region, and where conflict continues to this day.”
Campaign groups urge any engagement with Sudan should focus on investment that will make a meaningful difference to the lives of its people, such as improved infrastructure or links with British universities.
Shadow foreign minister for Africa said: “With the Brexit talks ongoing all government ministers seem to be concerned with is opening up trade deals – it seems to be an obsession right now but I’m surprised about Sudan.
“The Sudanese diaspora tell me they feel let down by the UK. They are worried Britain seems to be shaking hands with the country they fled due to suffering violence and persecution.”
Gillian Lusk, the former associate editor of Confidential, said it was “totally inappropriate” for Sudan’s foreign minster to be given a platform in the UK.
“Every Sudanese democrat I know across the political range is currently appalled by Britain – I’ve never heard them criticise the UK in this way before,” she said.
“The British ambassador Michael Aron seems to be doing his own thing. It’s bizarre. He’s on a wave of enthusiasm and he seems blinded by the smiles of the Sudan government.”
A stated the Sudan government allocated 76% of the national budget to defence, police and security expenditure with just 8% earmarked for agriculture, manufacturing, health and education services combined.
A British government spokeswoman said: “The UK-Sudan trade and investment forum has been organised by a private company and has not been arranged or hosted by the UK government.
“We continue to press the government of Sudan to make progress on the peace process and improve the human rights situation to create a more conducive business environment.
“As part of this engagement, the UK will consider opportunities to promote trade with Sudan, as trade can help to open up closed off political and economic systems.”
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