Rebecca Tinsley: Oil and ethics don't mix, so Bashir is a pariah no more

Evidently we are happy to work with Sudan's Islamist regime as long as it restricts itself to killing its own people
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The Independent Online

It is hardly news when the red carpet is rolled out for an African trade delegation visiting London. But it is unprecedented when the delegation is led by officials whose president is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide against his own citizens.

Since a coup brought him to power in 1989, Sudan's President, Omar Bashir, has been ethnically cleansing Africa's largest country of those who disagree with his Islamist ideology. Now Bashir's regime wants closer economic ties with Britain. It is also pressuring Washington to drop economic sanctions and remove Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terror. And it wants its debt cancelled.

Why are the UK and US governments even considering the wish list of a man indicted for genocide? Because Bashir's good behaviour is required as Sudan goes through momentous changes. Next January a controversial referendum is likely to split Sudan in two, giving the country's main economic asset, its oil, to the new South Sudan.

As the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office prioritise trade above all else, apparently there is no longer room for the protection of human rights. More than trade is at stake, however. The CIA looks to Sudan for intelligence on terrorist safe havens in nearby Somalia and Yemen, ignoring the inconvenient fact that Bashir's regime shares a core philosophy with the Islamist militias it is supposed to be monitoring.

Many Sudanese are risking their lives to create a pluralist society, but the international community is sanctioning the actions of Bashir's genocidal government. The UK must use its influence to hold Khartoum to the many yet-to-be enforced human rights measures in the peace deals and international conventions to which the regime is committed. Sudan's version of political Islam despises free speech, independent thought, Jews, women, gays and, of course, moderate Islam. But evidently we are happy to work with Islamists if they restrict themselves to killing their own people.

The writer is chair of Waging Peace

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