Omar Al Bashir "has allegedly caused the displacement of millions of people in order to curb migration." Wikimedia/Jesse B. Awalt. Some rights reserved. Journalists from the leading German magazine Der Spiegel are reporting a secret deal made in March among EU member states and African countries – including Sudan – to curb immigration through these countries towards Europe. The plan could include aid to Eritrea’s government, who the UN accuses of committing crimes against humanity, including holding hundreds of thousands as slaves. According to Der Spiegel reporters, the project would apparently provide the government of Sudan, under president Omar Al Bashir, with “cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants.” The German government would allegedly head these efforts with a budget of €40 million for multiple African countries.
An EU spokesperson has reportedly denied that the project is being implemented in Sudan, but did not deny the authenticity of the documents. The EU has recently made other agreements aimed at decreasing immigration, including with Turkey. MSF announced that it will not seek further EU funds to support its vital operations to protest the EU’s migration policies.
If the Der Spiegel report proves to be accurate, the EU should cancel this agreement with Sudan and potentially other autocratic governments because of the harm it will likely cause, and because of the harms the EU might prevent if they spend the funds in ways that could contribute to alleviating the plight of many oppressed people throughout Africa. It is paradoxical, to say the least, to work with a man who himself has allegedly caused the displacement of millions of people in order to curb migration. Why should EU representatives trust Bashir to responsibly use the tools they might provide to him?
Why should EU representatives trust Bashir to responsibly use the tools they might provide to him?
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued arrest warrants for him in 2009 and 2010. He is indicted on 10 counts of crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for directing military campaigns in the Sudanese region of Darfur, and remains at large and in power. Although Sudan has not ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction over the situation because the United Nations Security Council referred the case to the ICC. The UN estimates that 200,000 to 300,000 people have died. And Amnesty International has documented a horrific pattern of mass rape and sexual abuse. One of the underlying acts the ICC has charged Bashir with is rape.
Lest one think Bashir has reformed, abuses in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan continue. What is more, Human Rights Watch has documented “collusion between traffickers and Sudanese and Egyptian police and the military who hand victims over to traffickers in police stations, turn a blind eye at checkpoints, and return escaped trafficking victims to traffickers.”
Sometimes it may be necessary to engage with autocratic governments in order to achieve important aims such as providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, as international actors have controversially done in Syria during the war and atrocities there. Given the structure of international politics, at times working with leaders who abuse human rights may be the least bad option and can save numerous lives.
But there is little in the EU proposal, as reported by Der Spiegel journalists, which suggests this move by the EU is meant to help vulnerable people. Providing such equipment and training to a government that persistently violates the human rights of many could contribute to additional rights violations. Indeed, in a section of an EU document on the plan labeled “risks and assumptions”, the authors allegedly wrote about the risk of “provision of equipment and trainings to sensitive national authorities (such as security services or border management) diverted for repressive aims.”
Furthermore, Sudan is one of three countries on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. Potentially contributing equipment and training to a government run by an alleged international criminal without any sort of reasonable expectation that the assistance will promote human rights or other important goods is one of the worst ways funds can be spent.
Beyond the obvious objections, the opportunity cost is high for how the funds might otherwise be used. Some of the main reasons people flee to Europe are to avoid exactly the sort of severe human rights abuses that Bashir allegedly commits, and provide themselves and their families better economic opportunities. Even while maintaining the same goal of slowing immigration, the European money could be better spent on bolstering the protection of physical integrity rights and providing economic development opportunities that would very likely improve humanitarian outcomes.
An EU diplomat recently walked out of a ceremony in Uganda in part to protest against Bashir’s attendance. That was the right move. Condemning Bashir in public and allegedly making such a deal with him in secret, is wrong. In addition to the negative outcomes of such a deal, the EU – thus far a staunch supporter of the ICC – would also be sending the wrong message to Bashir and others indicted by the ICC if the alleged deal moves ahead. In order to keep to its values and universal human rights commitments, the EU should not proceed with this alleged deal and instead allocate the funding to other projects that would contribute, in more productive and humane ways, to decreasing the need to flee by preventing conflict and atrocities, and help provide economic opportunities to vulnerable people.