Sudan Tribune reported earlier this week that the foreign ministers of Poland and Sudan met in Khartoum on July 21st, to discuss a number of issues of common concern to both countries. Following their meeting, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz made a statement regarding Poland desire for closer relations with Sudan. This is an incredibly worrying development.
Poland has historically been a strong advocate for the people of Darfur, who have long suffered from government violence and genocide. This was true a month ago, when the Polish delegation to the United Nations made a very strong statement at the UN Security Council meeting on June 20th, 2018. Poland noted concern for an uptick in violence in Jebel Marra, stressed that return of IDPs to their homes must be truly safe and voluntarily, demanded protection for women and girls from sexual violence, and called for any reduction of UNAMID personnel to be compensated for with an increase in UN country team presence. Additionally, Poland stressed full support for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in her investigation into crimes committed in Darfur and the need to hold the powerful accountable for their actions. This is all incredibly powerful speech.
However, actions speak louder than words. The Sudanese government is on the ropes, as it faces the possibility of the outbreak of famine and severe domestic unrest among its traditional power base. Khartoum is desperate for international legitimacy and access to international markets. This could be a turning point in Sudanese politics, but if Poland and other states like it – especially those states bound by the Rome Statute – give the Khartoum regime life support at this critical time, the consequences for the people of Darfur will be dire. Poland must not extend economic ties to Sudan, and must live up to its own words at the United Nations and hold President al-Bashir and his government accountable for their many crimes.
That Poland continue to demand justice for the people of Darfur and accountability for the leaders of the Sudanese government is especially important given Poland’s position within the international community. Poland is a state signatory of the 2002 Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court. This Court filed arrest warrants against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010, for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of genocide. Poland is also currently serving a term as a member of the United Nations Security Council. Poland must use this position of great power to protect the vulnerable people of Darfur, and demand justice for the atrocities committed by the current Sudanese government.
More worrying than just that the Polish Foreign Minister chose to visit Sudan, is who he chose to meet while there. Sudan Tribune reported that Minister Czaputowicz met with Sudanese Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh, who was Minister of Defense from 2000 to 2005, the period of the start of the genocide in Darfur. After participating in the 1989 coup which brought President al-Bashir to power, Saleh held other important positions within the Sudanese government including head of the National Security Service and Minister of the Interior, and he has been rumored to be a possible successor to al-Bashir. In a regime tainted by genocide to its very core, a man this powerful has blood on his hands. That Poland would grant this man legitimacy in the form of a one-on-one meeting with its Foreign Minister is deeply disturbing, and completely violates any notion that Poland truly seeks to hold this regime accountable.
Unfortunately, this meeting follows a dangerous trend in the international response to Sudan. The United States removed economic sanctions against Sudan in November of 2017, despite clear evidence that Sudan had not actually met the qualifications for sanction removal. Similarly, the European Union signed a deal with Sudan regarding illegal migration in 2015.
The responsible states of the world have an obligation not to support the current Sudanese regime. But not only should these states not deal with the Khartoum government in the first place, they should also recognize that this same government has been dealing in bad faith since its very inception, and that this pattern has not changed in recent years.
While Khartoum pays lip service to containing illegal migration (and the European Union pays cash for this lip service), officials as high up in government as President al-Bashir’s very own brother have been making money hand over foot operating the very human smuggling rings which the Sudanese government claims to be containing. Following an in-depth investigation, Refugees Deeply reported that the President’s brother has been operating a service selling Sudanese passports to wealthy Syrians. These Syrians can then fly to Europe as Sudanese citizens, destroy their Sudanese passports, and apply for asylum as Syrian citizens. Refugees Deeply also reported that Sudanese police, all the way up to high-ranking generals in the Armed Forces, are inextricably linked with the human smuggling routes from East Africa through Sudan into Egypt and Libya. You can read our summary of these investigations here. When Sudan does in fact stop migrants from crossing the borders of Sudan, they employ the brutal Rapid Support Forces, formed from the infamous Janjaweed of the early 2000s, and responsible for mass atrocities throughout Darfur.
The Sudanese regime is equally hypocritical in regard to “conflict resolution,”. The government constantly references their “unilateral ceasefire” in Darfur, however this agreement is neither unilateral nor a ceasefire. A select group of rebel forces, weakened by combat to the point that they no longer control fighting men or territory, have agreed with the government of Sudan to stop fighting. However, the government of Sudan continues to pursue an aggressive offensive against the remaining rebel group, Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Abdul Wahed (SLM/A-AW). The recent government campaign in the Jebel Marra region, attacking rebel positions in a territory controlled by this group for years, has led to a marked uptick in civilian casualties as well as the displacement of between thirty and fifty thousand people. Despite a lack of media coverage, and despite the claims made by Khartoum propagandists, the government war against the people of Darfur continues unabated.
The Polish Foreign Ministry released a tweet relating to this meeting, stressing concern for human rights and cooperation with international organizations on the part of the government of Sudan. We certainly hope that the Polish government uses this opportunity to press Sudan to be sincere about its professed desire to see peace in Darfur, and for genuine compliance with international norms, laws, and organizations by the Sudanese government. However, it seems that the Polish government is more interested in pursuing economic ties with Sudan than actually holding this regime accountable for any of the promises it makes on these non-economic fronts. The two ministers discussed a Polish-Sudanese economic forum to be held, as well as ways to cement ties between the two nations’ agrobusiness industries and improve trade between them. This follows a similar meeting last year in August on this same topic.
Poland, with its own history of liberation from authoritarian oppression and atrocity, can be a leader of the international community. We urge that Poland continue to advocate for the people of Darfur long oppressed and victimized by their government in Khartoum, and truly back up Polish words with strong actions.