by Aziz Alnour, Klaas van Dijken, Heiner Hoffmann, Maximilian Popp, Nouska du Saar
read the original article by Der Spiegel here.
14.11.2020, 12.55 Uhr
Pact with the devils
Members of the Sudanese mounted militia RSF were involved in war crimes in Darfur. Nevertheless, the UN and the EU wanted to establish the force as a partner in migration policy. Human rights activists are appalled.
They have murdered and plundered, they have raped women and burned villages: The Janjaweed, a mounted militia from Sudan, is estimated by experts to have killed up to 400,000 people in the Darfur region between 2003 and 2012 and to have forced 2.5 million people to flee.
Sudan's former dictator Umar al-Bashir, who once created the Janjaweed, was driven out of office last year. He is now in prison and is to be extradited to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for crimes against humanity.
The Janjaweed are more powerful than ever
But the Janjaweed (English: "devils on horses") are more powerful than ever before. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the most powerful paramilitary unit in Sudan, is recruited from former Janjaweed militias. RSF leader Mohammad Hamadan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, was involved in the war crimes in Darfur. Today, as Vice President of the transitional government, he is the most influential man in Sudan. Above all, the EU was about to upgrade the RSF to a legitimate partner in the fight against migration.
The SPIEGEL and the ARD magazine "Report Mainz" had already revealed in 2016 that Brussels would provide the Sudanese authorities with training and equipment - also to prevent these migrants from travelling on to Europe. This cooperation was financed by a fund to combat the causes of flight.
Following criticism of the plans, the EU had to remove several items from the programme, including the construction of detention centres for refugees. At the same time, Brussels officials launched a PR campaign, published a flyer entitled "Disenchantment of myths: What the EU is really doing in Sudan". The flyer emphasised on several occasions that "under no circumstances do you cooperate with the RSF - not now and not in the future".
But now research by SPIEGEL, "Report Mainz" and Lighthouse Reports shows that the EU did not want to take this promise too seriously.
International diplomats were already rehearsing in February what cooperation with RSF might look like. At that time, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) together with the UN Peace Mission in Sudan (UNAMID) organised a conference in a luxury hotel in the capital Khartoum, to which high-ranking RSF officials, including RSF Chief Hemeti, were invited. A banner in the conference room bore the motto of the event: "Training Human Rights and International Law for the Rapid Support Forces."
War criminals as legitimate partners
If the organisers had had their way, the conference would have been just the prelude to a comprehensive training for the RSF. "We would like to further prioritise this field of work," said UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif in July.
And the UN had even already found a sponsor for the planned training of the Rapid Support Forces: the European Union. This is confirmed by statements of high-ranking UN staff and internal documents available to SPIEGEL. As in 2016, the money should come from the EU fund to combat the causes of flight.
Brussels has approved ten million euros for the OHCHR to train Sudanese security authorities, particularly in human rights issues. The RSF should also benefit from these EU funds, as confirmed by several persons in charge of the operations. Experts criticise the planned participation of the RSF in these training sessions - it would make war criminals seem legitimate partners.
"The RSF wants to polish up its image by participating in such events," says Hafiz Ismail Mohamed of the human rights organisation Justice Africa. "Human rights courses are meaningless if RSF officials continue to avoid prosecution," says Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch.
OHCHR and the EU nevertheless stuck to their plans for a long time. The financing agreement was fine-tuned throughout the summer. In September, UN staff confirmed to SPIEGEL that training for the RSF would continue - with the help of EU funds. And still in the last week of October, the Dutch government, which has been a major driving force behind the project in the EU, sent a letter: It was not intended to provide "training" to the RSF. But "training", especially in human rights issues - that is something else.
Following enquiries by SPIEGEL and "Report Mainz", the participants are now rowing back hectically. OHCHR announced in early November: "We have come to the conclusion that it is best to stop the training for the RSF. An EU spokeswoman also assured: "The RSF are not part of the work plan."
A sudden change of heart. The EU project description itself could provide an indication of the reasons for this about-turn. Under point 3.3, "Risks of the project", it says: "Loss of reputation by participating institutions whose members may have committed human rights violations."