Bank Faces Darfur Protest

NAIROBI: There is a trade-off to be made between keeping Darfur in the newspapers and offering an accurate analysis. So while I might not agree that the war crimes committed there constitute genocide, that one word is probably responsible for keeping Sudan on the world’s radar while humanitarian crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia drift in and out of public consciousness. I disagree with much of the analysis offered by organisations within the Save Darfur Coalition, such as the Aegis Trust, and by celebrities including Mia Farrow and George Clooney.

But without them, we may have forgotten about the people of Darfur.

Their latest wheeze is to target western firms doing business with Chinese oil companies operating in Sudan. My colleague at The Times, Steve Hawkes, came up with this story:

Human rights campaigners including the actress Mia Farrow and three winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have called on UBS to pull out of PetroChina’s $5 billion (£2.4 billion) Shanghai flotation over the oil giant’s links with Sudan. In a letter seen by The Times, more than a dozen international luminaries have attacked the Swiss banking group for its role as a lead underwriter on the forthcoming initial public offering.

One of the quotes I collected wasn’t used, but it explains why the Chinese companies, which buy up almost two thirds of Sudan’s oil, are essential to Khartoum’s intransigence.

Salih Mahmoud Osman, a Darfuri opposition MP and human rights lawyer, said China’s presence was insulating Khartoum from international pressure on Darfur. “The work of China is undermining things like sanctions. They just don’t seem to care about the human suffering,” he said by telephone from Khartoum. “This is a big issue and we need to work hard at keeping the pressure on China to take account of the ongoing crisis.”

The signs are that China is starting to wake up to its responsibilities. It could have abstained from or vetoed Resolution 1769 – which gave authority for 26,000 peacekeepers to go into Darfur – but it didn’t. In fact, government figures worked behind the scenes to convince Sudan to accept the force. And it is sending engineers to pave the way for that hybrid force. OK, China has a long way to go. I’ve watched Chinese-built Fantan fighters screaming over the rooftops of Nyala and I’ve interviewed Janjaweed commanders holding Chinese Kalashnikovs.

But the Chinese leadership is nothing if not pragmatic. It cannot continue to buy up Africa’s oil and mineral deposits if that strategy proves bad for business elsewhere. No-one is going to pretend that Beijing has had an overnight change of heart, putting human rights at the centre of foreign policy. But that doesn’t matter if one of Bahir’s few allies begins to realise the PR dangers of working too closely with his government.

(The Save Darfur Coalition also has a new paper on China in Sudan)

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