Wanted by the Hague for genocide... and by William Hague as a trading partner

Government demonstrates new foreign policy ethos by welcoming business delegation from Sudan

The Government is courting the regime of the indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir by declaring that relations with Sudan have entered a "new epoch". The announcement came as Britain welcomed a trade delegation from the country which has near pariah status, for the first time since warrants for President Bashir's arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, over atrocities in Darfur.

Khartoum's high-level delegation met British government officials and business leaders on Wednesday to encourage investment in a country still targeted by US sanctions. It was the clearest example yet of how problematic William Hague's new foreign policy, in which commercial interests are to trump ethical concerns, will be for the Coalition to implement. The change has already seen complaints that UK diplomatic missions have been reduced to commercial agencies to drum up business.

The "Opportunities in Sudan" networking event on Wednesday brought a delegation including senior members of Mr Bashir's NCP party together with British counterparts including the UK ambassador to Sudan, Nicholas Kay. It comes after a visit by Henry Bellingham, the new minister for Africa, to Khartoum in July to boost trade and business ties. He told reporters there that Britain would be a "candid friend" to the regime in Sudan.

Representatives of major British oil, engineering, agriculture and banking companies who attended this week's event were told that Sudan was full of "untapped natural resources" and that there was "a lot of money to be made".

A brochure for the meeting and "networking reception" said Sudan is "endowed with rich natural resources, including oil, and has been emerging as a major oil producer". Those listed as attending on a document handed out at the event included mining companies, investment banks and security firms. Their representatives heard Mr Kay hail what he called "a new epoch" in relations between Britain and the regime responsible for massacres in Darfur.

The pursuit of such friendly ties leaves the Coalition partners open to accusations of hypocrisy. While in opposition the Tory party called Darfur the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" and senior officials including Mr Hague, the current Foreign Secretary, and Andrew Mitchell, now the International Development Secretary, backed the campaign to get UK companies to disinvest from Sudan.

In a foreign policy advisory in 2007 Mr Mitchell wrote of the need to "change national and international business behaviour in the face of manifest gross violations of human rights".

But last night a Foreign Office spokesman insisted that British companies were "free to pursue legitimate commercial opportunities in Sudan", adding that "increased trade would benefit" the country's people. He said that there was "no question of prioritising commercial links over the very real and pressing human rights concerns".

The Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, co-chairman of the party's backbench committee on international affairs, admitted that the Government's stance "was something to be concerned about". But he defended the argument for trade. "You sometimes build relationships rather than chuck bricks," he said. "It might not be the most pleasant prospect for people who feel strongly about these issues, but it's about what you can do – how you can make a difference. Do we want to be purist and make no difference, or be pragmatic and actually improve human rights?"

The rapprochement with Mr Bashir comes at a time of mounting international concern over the future of Africa's largest and possibly most complex country. Barack Obama led a meeting of world leaders at the UN in New York last week to address fears that a vital referendum which could see the South vote to split Sudan in half is threatened by delays. The vote which is due in January was the keystone of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a 20-year civil war between the Muslim-dominated North and the predominantly Christian South that cost 2 million lives. Any collapse in that deal could prompt a return to war.

Human rights groups are also warning that deeply flawed elections earlier this year that returned Mr Bashir to the presidency have been followed by a fresh bout of political repression.

These concerns were ignored, according to participants at this week's meeting organised by the UK Trade and Investment Authority. An accompanying investors' guide to Sudan devoted only three lines to the myriad security concerns and insisted that the country had enjoyed 20 years of political stability.

The British Government's new commercial priorities have outraged human rights groups. The ongoing crisis in Darfur which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more as well as the North-South arms race ahead of a vote on secession are summed up in the investment booklet as small "exceptions" in "peripheral regions".

In sharp contrast to the UK approach, the US has a powerful package of economic sanctions that it deploys against the Sudanese regime, which works in concert with an international arms embargo. But that policy has also resulted in China's emergence over the past decade as the Sudanese government's main backer to wield outsized influence in Khartoum. China has been heavily criticised at UN Security Council meetings for protecting the same regime that the British Government is now prepared to do business with.

The devastation in western Sudan prompted the ICC to add the charge of genocide to counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against Mr Bashir in July. The oil industry has provided a lifeline for a regime in Khartoum that became an international pariah for its actions in the western region of Darfur. Oil accounts for half of all Sudan government revenues and more than 90 per cent of export earnings. While this has meant fabulous riches for the political elite, such as Mr Bashir's NCP party, and development in the capital, the total lack of investment in the regions has been one of the key sources of conflict in Sudan's bloody history since independence.

The Chinese energy giant PetroChina and several Swedish firms are currently under criminal investigation over alleged involvement in human rights abuses. "Entering Sudan's oil business comes with a host of risks attached," warned Gavin Hayman, from resources watchdog Global Witness. "For the average citizen in Sudan oil has been a source of long and bloody conflict rather than a source of development. Companies have a duty not to just pour money into an opaque government. Oil will either be the key to peace in Sudan or the cause of another war."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee