The UK and Sudan: Trade Relations and Human Rights

4 January 2018


Now that 2017 has drawn to a close, the New Year holds prospects of much needed Human Rights, Political and Economic reform for the people of Sudan. What is behind this positive outlook? Answer, the controversial lifting of US imposed sanctions on the troubled country. Nonetheless, this has opened the doors for potential foreign business investments and improved global relationships, of which the UK seems keen to explore.

The relationship between the UK and Sudan has been strained following twenty years of sanctions, but all seems to have been forgiven or forgotten. At first glance this seems to be the long awaited road to progression, but do a double take and there’s a dark and disturbing shadow looming above this transaction. The past year has shown the willingness of the UK Government in working around the abysmal Human Rights record of a country ruled by a war criminal indicted by the ICC. Secretary of State Boris Johnson was recently criticised over a Sudan trade forum in December, held in London, which boasted the chance to get information on the country’s best investment opportunities. Although the programme was edited several times to explicitly show the absence of Government participation as reported by the Guardian, the very issue is in the fact that the UK is playing host.


UK Policy and Funding

As Caroline Lucas MP quite rightly pointed out, by allowing such an event to take place we are abandoning policy that aims to weaken a regime engaged in corruption and genocide. To resume a relationship with Sudan portrays that we, firstly are legitimising Al-Bashir and his criminal policies and secondly, that we agree with the lifting of sanctions on Sudan. Does our Government really want to resume resume relations with a country who has made no real strides in addressing such Human Rights concerns as genocide, slavery and poverty (to name a few). Is our Government going to encourage UK investment in a country currently ranked 170 of 176 on the Transparency Index for corruption across “all branches and all levels of Government”. Surely we would not make the same mistake twice, after allowing the Sudan minister of Investment, Omar Faisal, to visit the UK in November 2016 to promote business interests in Sudan. By ignoring these facts, the UK becomes complicit in the violence that has forced thousands to flee from the ethnic cleansing policies of Omar Al-Bashir.



It is imperative to acknowledge that if the UK renew trade relations with Sudan and encourage investment in the economy, we arm the very military that bombards those we seek to help with our annual commitment of £50 million in humanitarian aid. Is this a regime with whom the UK wishes to renew trade relations? We should consider this when Global Justice Now revealed that £400,000 from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund has been donated to strengthening the Sudanese Military. This claim was denied by a UK Government spokesperson, yet the justification for a dialogue with the military was given as ensuring their compliance with Human Rights Standards. Sudan has faced decades of conflict, but the recent scale of attacks throughout the country has created the most dire situation and unprecedented numbers of vulnerable people. Is this what the UK Government mean by compliance?


Health and Education

According to DFID, official figures show the number of marginalised people in desperate need of assistance stands at 6.1m, but with restrictions on access, essential aid is in short supply. This is where the work of HART and their partners are vital, providing medical and education supplies to the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State, facilitating life-saving care and a future for the children that involves learning not fighting.

During HART’s recent visit to the Nuba Mountains, they visited families who escaped the fighting by taking shelter in caves. The stories are tragic, where families have lost their homes and loved ones to air strikes coordinated by the Government of Sudan (GoS). Those that managed to flee to the mountains are still not safe, having to deal with burns and deep wounds as a result of the shelling on top of cobra bites, malaria, acute watery diarrhoea and malnutrition. With the lack of humanitarian access, the limited supplies that HART are able to provide mean the difference between life and death.

In addition, partner organisations ‘New Sudan Council of Churches’ (NSCC) and ‘Nuba Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation’ (NRRDO) run emergency relief services, supplying nutritious food to locals left starving by the loss of agricultural land . Having to endure flooding and military raids, farmland near the frontlines are left abandoned or occupied by Government forces. Losing their main source of food, children are affected the most with almost 25% suffering acute malnutrition. Due to their displacement, children also have little access to schools and education. Without such efforts by the NSCC and the NRRDO, the people of the Two Areas, 27,000 of whom are internally displaced and suffering almost 40% severe food insecurity, would be suffering in silence at the hands of the GoS.

Children living in Caves in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains


This should be a prime concern for the UK Government – How can we think to invest in a country where the Government neglects the basic needs of its people and violates their rights? The disregard of the Sudanese people is evident from national budgetary spending. With as little as 8% in total assigned to agriculture, manufacturing, health and education, it is apparent that the status of the people’s needs ranks low to the GoS. This is exacerbated by the fact that 76% of the budget is designated for the Armed Forces. Facing decades of sanctions and the loss of 75% oil revenue to the split of South Sudan, it seems national spending had to be reconsidered and basic needs and services took a backseat to bolstering defence forces.

In South Kordofan and the Blue Nile (The Two Areas), HART supports the hard work of the NRRDO and the NSCC to provide access to education following relentless bombings that forced school closures. Recent reports show that there are approximately 255,000 children in the Two Areas, with little or no access to trained teachers or schools. Without the invaluable efforts of such organisations in restoring the availability of education, the youth are otherwise exposed to a life of military service, weapons and fighting, losing the right to their childhood. It is understandable that the UK Government cannot demand change, but before we invest in a country that reinforces its warfare capabilities over development, we should urge for reform, access to aid and creating sustainable peace.



The overpowering military presence is ingrained in the Government through Al-Bashir and his genocidal policies. It is in his attacks on civilians in Darfur that the ICC has brought charges against him for Human Rights abuses. Notwithstanding the authority of the ICC, the President continues to resort to using military forces and declared a state of emergency in 7 states including South Kordofan and Blue Nile. In December 2016, six months after an alleged ceasefire was announced in the Two Areas, Al-Bashir made clear his intention to resolve the conflict using the Armed Forces. By January 2017 the ceasefire had broken down and the fighting escalated with a further push towards enforcing an extremist agenda. The GoS is preoccupied with pursuing policies that attack political and religious freedoms in an attempt to fashion an Arab Islamist Nation. The shift towards an extremist opinion, realised after building a relationship with Saudi Arabia, should be of concern to the UK as any investment would unwittingly serve this brutal campaign and its commitment to ethnic cleansing and genocide. To engage in a trade relations with The Sudan while it favours its Military prowess and exercises it on its own people to achieve its goal of an extremist nation, would cause irreparable damage to the UK’s reputation.




The fact that Sudan has much to offer in way of investments that can make a huge difference to the future of their economy and ours is discredited by the lack of accountability for the Governments actions. There cannot be any reasonable explanation for the UK Government to consider trade relations with Al-Bashir’s Government and their lack of respect for International Human Rights Standards. The very purpose of the sanctions on Sudan for two decades was to coerce the Government to rectify their humanitarian violations, yet without making any progress, Trump’s Administration lifted them altogether. This raises a lot of questions and theories about the motives of the US that are left unanswered, and with the UK ignoring the same details, what are we to think? Not only does the UK Government become complicit, but they actively encourage the Government of Sudan’s unspeakable actions by keeping open a window of opportunity.

With this, we should call on our Government to stand by our policies and values and clarify that Sudan will only become attractive to UK investment when (as a minimum): 1/ there is a peaceful end to the offensive against civilians; 2/ the Government allows cross-border aid and humanitarian access; 3/ national spending focuses on essential services of health, education, agriculture and manufacturing to improve job opportunities and livelihoods.

Let’s hope that the UK Government is brave enough to promote reform first and then prosperity.


Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made on the blog


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