Some European governments, organizations and businesses have been quietly making deals and pursuing contracts with the Rapid Support Forces, an outlawed Sudanese paramilitary group with ties to Russia’s Wagner Group, although the militia is officially under sanctions for human rights violations.
In April 2023, the war that broke out in Sudan between the Sudanese National Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia had a devastating impact. Thousands were killed and displaced in addition to the destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Many feared that the whole country might fall into a state of full-fledged civil war.
But this war isn’t just between two Sudanese warring parties. Foreign actors, who aim to preserve their vital interests in the country, have been playing a crucial role in sustaining the cycle of violence by taking sides.
While categorically repudiating any relation with the RSF militia and even placing sanctions upon it for a number of violations, European countries have been covertly collaborating with the militia on many levels and issues.
It is now time to bring this issue into the public spotlight.
The RSF was founded in 2013, primarily to restructure the infamous Janjaweed paramilitary organization. It’s headed by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, nicknamed “Hemetti” or “Little Mohamed,” who was a leader of the Janjaweed during the War in Darfur that started in 2003.. The government aimed to back up the counterinsurgency operations in Darfur and South Kordofan.
In 2017, the Sudanese parliament passed a law that organized and legitimized the militia’s activities, which Dagalo said made his RSF group “a semi-autonomous force” under the Sudanese government at that time.
But the current Army’s chief and de facto ruler of Sudan since the 2019 revolution, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, recently signed a decree to dissolve the militia “as a consequence of the rebellion of these forces on the state and the grave violations they committed against citizens, and the deliberate sabotage of the country's infrastructure.”
Different independent reports from Human Rights Watch, Reuters, the United Nations and other organizations purport to show that the militia has committed countless crimes and atrocities, including destroying villages, killing protestors, sexual violations and rape, mass killings, and unlawful detention, in addition to targeting hospitals and churches during the current war.
The militia has also launched a campaign to influence Europe’s leaders and policymakers by hiring PR companies and journalists and sending the militia’s envoy to persuade Europeans that it has sought to protect civilians during the war, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Several European countries are buying into this narrative and choosing their immediate mutual interest with the militia at the expense of moral considerations.
The first collaboration between the EU and the militia started with Europe looking to outsource its border control and address this issue at its roots. In 2014, the Khartoum process was established as a political platform between countries along the migration route in East Africa and Europe. The RSF militia received generous funding and logistics support to control immigration flows by establishing detention centers.
After the regime’s removal in Sudan, the EU announced in July 2022 the suspension of the border control project under fears it might support the repression of peaceful protestors who took to the streets demanding a democratic transition and handing of power to the civil government. But, despite this official stance, countries such as Italy are still cooperating with the militia on this issue and reportedly sent a delegation to train RSF militia members.
Countries such as Greece have ignored the serious risk that the militia poses to the stability of Sudan and the region. It has instead allowed the transfer of surveillance technologies to the militia, giving it an edge over its competitors and putting the Sudanese people’s privacy rights at risk. In November 2022, an investigation by Lighthouse Reports revealed that the militia in Khartoum received a shipment of advanced spyware technologies made in Cyprus.
Most recently, another investigative report said that several European countries and organizations had hired a security company called Shield, which is affiliated with the militia and owned by one of the militia’s leader brothers, to safeguard their office buildings and embassies in Sudan.
Despite the war crimes and atrocities committed by the militia during this war, the company continued to provide its service to some of these clients, with some admitting to knowing the direct connection between the company and the militia.
Need for change
Many human rights activists and parliamentarians have criticized this collaboration. For instance, Amnesty International has pointed out some violations associated with the refugee detention centers, and a report by the Enough project has also explained the double nature of the supplied equipment and how the militia could use it for other purposes. The Italian and Greek parliaments have also questioned the cooperation between the militia and their countries.
The European Parliament should systematically oversee this relationship by establishing an independent committee that 1) ensures European countries and actors are not cooperating with the militia, effectively supporting and sustaining its violations and crimes; and 2) European taxpayers' money is not utilized to fund an anticipated genocide in Darfur and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the whole country.
Why this matters for Ukraine
Exposing this unscrupulous relationship to the public should also encourage European governments to stop supporting the creation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s future man in Africa. Just one day before the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the RSF militia leader visited Russia and publicly defended what it framed as its rights to protect its people.
The militia also developed strong military cooperation with the Russian Wagner group. In April 2023, a news report showed that the militia received military aid from Wagner; then, in August 2023, Wagner’s then leader Yevgeny Prigozhin offered to send more weapons to the militia in exchange for supplying him with smuggled Sudanese gold, which Russia has come to rely on following Western sanctions.
The current shortsightedness of European policy prioritizes short term benefits and overlooks the long-term serious risks that this will have on them.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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