25 September 2012
Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo received Â£2.4m in training and support for military and defence staff
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the international criminal court. Photograph: Ibrahim Usta/AP
Tuesday 25 September 2012 11.33Â BST Last modified on Wednesday 21 May 2014 09.11Â BST
The UK government has spent millions of pounds on training military, police and security personnel from oppressive regimes that have arms embargoes in place, the Guardian has learned.
In the last five years, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have received from the UK government Â£2.4m between them in training and support for military and defence personnel. Sudan is the only country in the world where the sitting president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the international criminal court, while in Congo extensive human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings and torture, have been documented.
The Enough Project, which works with the American actor George Clooney to expose human rights abuses in both Sudan and Congo, says the two countries are the scene of some of the world’s most serious mass atrocities. In information revealed in a freedom of information response from the Ministry of Defence a total of Â£75,406 has been spent on providing 44-week courses at the elite Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for Sudanese and Congolese forces. Other support includes military logistics, advanced command and staff courses, strategic intelligence and evaluating challenges to state sovereignty.
A total of Â£952,301 was spent on international peace support, which includes border security and stabilisation.
Much of the current focus of concern about human rights abuses in Sudan centres on conflict in the border areas with the newly formed country of South Sudan, such as Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains and South Kordofan, and the ongoing conflict in Darfur, where documented genocide shows 300,000 Darfuris have been killed and up to 4 million displaced. The Sudanese government has refused humanitarian aid access to the border areas.
In Congo many and varied human rights abuses have been documented, especially against opponents of the president, Joseph Kabila. A UN report earlier this year highlighted “serious human rights violations, including killings, disappearances and arbitrary detentions” during last November’s presidential elections. At least 33 people were killed by government forces during the elections, and hundreds were arrested and said they had been tortured. A delegation of UK officials has been investigating claims of torture in Congo and is due to report back shortly.
A leading Sudanese exile based in the UK, Dr Gebreil Fediel from Darfur, is challenging the legality of the UK government’s relationship with Sudan in the high court next month.
His legal team is bringing enforcement proceedings against the government for failing to provide him with protection under the refugee convention and travel documents to enable him to attend peace talks around the world. These talks aim to bring an end to the appalling human rights situation in Sudan. He is the leader of a major Sudanese opposition movement, the Justice and Equality Movement.
The high court judge Mr Justice Wyn Williams described the government’s approach to Fediel as “unreasonably restrictive” in January of this year.
In a statement to the court Fediel accused the government of failing to provide him with protection because there was a deal between the two governments.
“I believe the government of Sudan is requesting the UK government to treat me like this for political reasons. Their decisions to exclude and restrict me are underpinned by political and intelligence considerations.”
He expressed concern about the military support and training provided by the UK: “If it was and is the intention of the UK authorities to teach Sudan’s police and security officers how to conduct these matters in a democratic manner, it has failed. The brutality and genocidal activities of government of Sudan state organs against its own citizens is widely documented.”
In July the Foreign Office minister Lord Howell admitted about Sudan: “There is ample evidence that the military tactics being used raise concerns that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community may be being committed.”
Fediel said that as well as the UK’s provision of military support to his government the UK had also been providing support and training to Sudanese police and security officials. He said that in May a group of senior police officers came to the UK for training.
A letter from the former Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis in 2010 stated: “The UK has a large police support programme in Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Aaron Hall, the associate director of research for the Enough Project, said: “We would hope that any nation providing military and security support to these countries would have conditions attached to that support based on the adherence to international human rights laws and standards. If credible evidence exists that shows violation of those laws and standards whether within those countries borders or externally, we would urge those governments providing support to immediately suspend that support, and further to work with international and regional partners to hold those responsible for human rights abuses accountable for their actions.”
Jovanka Savic, Fediel’s solicitor, said: “There is an obligation under international law that requires states to bring to an end breaches of international law through legal means. This new evidence suggests that the UK is not helping to do this but is instead giving aid and assistance to the Sudanese government in a way that could be in breach of its international legal obligations. It is very concerning that support is being offered to DRC where many human rights abuses have been documented.”
She said the UK’s actions against Fediel, in preventing or restricting him from attending peace talks around the world, was helping to prolong the human suffering and conflict in Sudan.
“They are making this man’s life very difficult for political and arguably illegal reasons,” she said.
The government provided a response from four departments â€“ the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development.
A spokesman said: “Strict criteria are applied to any training to ensure that it complies with overseas security and assistance human rights guidance. For each funding decision an assessment of the risk of human rights abuses is carried out. Her Majesty’s government conducts continual assessment of its programmes and human rights compliance is a cardinal criterion of this.
“UK officials have contact with international criminal court indictees only when this is considered essential and on a case-by-case basis. No contact with President Bashir has come about as a result of these programmes.”
However, the spokesman confirmed that some meetings had taken place between the previous and present ambassador to Sudan and Bashir. “The main occasions are when a British ambassador leaves or takes up their post in Khartoum.”
The spokesman said that international peace support was delivered to UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and South Sudan and funding was provided for the African Union panel leading the talks aimed at ending the conflict.
He confirmed that nine senior national police officers from Sudan visited London in May to learn about policing and human rights in the UK, two of whom held the rank of major general. “The officers met the Sudanese ambassador at his London office as a protocol courtesy.” He said that community policing initiatives had been set up following the officers’ return to Sudan.
The reaction from Africa
Studies have shown that Congolese soldiers are responsible for at least 60% of reported rapes in the country. Last year the UN implicated them in the rape of at least 121 women over three days in the village of Nyakiele, in South Kivu province. This came after the gang-rape of at least 47 women by government troops in North Kivu.
The UN’s high commissioner for human rights has said: “The Congolese army remains responsible for a significant number of human rights violations, including sexual violence.”
The opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) was at the sharp end of last year’s election crackdown and claims soldiers were used to intimidate voters and interfere with ballot papers. It expressed concern at the use of British resources to train and support the military.
Albert Moleka, the party’s cabinet director and spokesman, said: “Training is a normal part of the co-operation of our two countries but we might say it is the responsibility of the DRC to use those who have been trained properly. That can only be done by a legitimate political authority. Unfortunately we don’t have a legitimate political authority. There is a huge gap of mistrust between the army and the population.”
He added: “In our experience it is the elite troops with the best equipment who are used against the population. I think military co-operation should be attached with strict conditions that ensure force is never used against the people. That is difficult for outside countries to monitor.”
Moleka said there was a long tradition of Congo’s military elite studying at academies in Britain and other foreign countries. “But when they come back, what functions do they occupy? How can they help their country? They’re not given the opportunity to bring what they learn to change the attitudes and behaviour of the army.”
The Congolese army, badly paid and fed, is still struggling to maintain discipline after the integration of a Tutsi rebel militia following a 2009 peace treaty. Yet the international community, including the world’s biggest UN peacekeeping operation, has put faith in it to quell violence in the country’s war-torn east.
In May, Human Rights Watch reported that Sudanese government forces were carrying out indiscriminate bombings and abuses against civilians in southern Kordofan. It called on Sudan to investigate the discovery of a cluster bomb in the region. Witnesses interviewed in Blue Nile also described serious abuses by the armed forces. The onslaughts have created tens of thousands of refugees living in appalling conditions.
John Ashworth, a church adviser who has lived in Sudan and South Sudan for three decades, said: “While one might argue that helping an army to maintain professional standards could improve their human rights record, this is clearly not the case with the Sudanese army, which continues to commit atrocities against civilians in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, and continues to threaten its new neighbour, South Sudan.”
Ishag Mekki, a Darfur refugee in Britain who campaigns for the region, said: “It is shame that the UK government behaves irresponsibly and assists a war crime government. It is an ethical matter not to stand firmly with victims of both countries. I am annoyed seeing ministers and government officials visit the UK on a regular basis for various businesses, but to train them is shocking. It means the people of Darfur will have to wait very long to persuade this government to change their mind.”
Pascal Kambale, DRC country director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said: “I don’t think this is appropriate at all. The Congolese army badly needs complete reform and western donors â€“ including the UK â€“ have completely failed on their promise to help the Congolese government’s effort to reform its army. Throwing this kind of big money into training not only is not in line with security sector reform programmes. It is also counterproductive because it comforts the Congo government into its lack of interest in reforming its army.”