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Rights Advocates Tell Russia to Halt Warplane Sales to Sudan

A New York-based human rights group is asking the Russian Federation to suspend all arms sales to Sudan following media reports that Moscow recently sold 12 MiG-29 fighter jets to Khartoum. Human Rights First is urging Russia to take steps to ensure that the war planes are not used to attack civilians or rebel groups in Sudan’s conflict-riddent western region of Darfur. Julia Fromholz directs Human Rights First’s Crimes Against Humanity Program. From Washington, she says that rights groups oppose such sales, not only because they violate an international arms embargo against Khartoum, but also because given the Bashir government’s track record on the conflict, Russia and other countries that violate the embargo cannot be expected to trust Khartoum’s word that the planes and other arms will not be used in Darfur.

“It’s difficult for any country to get guarantees that one can trust because for the past five years, if not more, the government of Sudan has made numerous promises about ceasefires and other actions that they will or will not take, and they have a strong history of breaking every one of them,” she said.

Between 2004 and 2007 Sudan purchased at least 33 military aircraft from the Russian Federation and obtained other arms and training from the Russians. Fromholz says this was irresponsible for Russia to do since Sudan continues to acquire arms for use in Darfur in clear violation of a 2004-2005 UN Security Council embargo on the sale and supply of weapons to belligerents in Darfur and the international community has done very little to stop the deals.

“There’s a report that’s in the works right now that lays out in very clear language specific instances of various countries violating the arms embargo. So plenty of evidence is there for the international community, starting with the UN to take some action against these countries that are violating the embargo that it has put in place. Yet there is very, very little response by anyone at the UN about these violations,” Fromholz notes.

Not only does Human Rights First urge punishment for more than 30 nations that continue to sell weapons to Khartoum. It also asks those countries to suspend shipments immediately. One way to get Sudan to respect the Darfur arms embargo is for the Security Council to extend its restriction on sales to all parts of Sudan. Julia Fromholz says Human Rights First is advocating that individual countries act on their own ahead of the Security Council to impose bilateral restraints on Khartoum.

“It would happen a lot faster. If countries declared on their own that they would halt sales of weapons, they could halt them tomorrow. And a UN Security Council resolution would take a much, much longer time. And if the country makes that declaration and does it in good faith, then there would be some assurance that they would actually stop them. With the UN embargo that’s more punitive, we’d be in the same boat of having to monitor it and then hold countries to account for breaking it,” she notes.

The human rights official says she sees a unique opportunity for US policy to make a breakthrough on the Darfur crisis with the impending change of administrations.

“It’s an interesting time right now because there are some that believe that the Sudanese government would rather deal with President Bush than with President-Elect Obama because some advisers of President-Elect Obama have been very, very strong in their condemnation of the government of Sudan and in their recommendations for how to deal with the government of Sudan. I would like to see President Obama focus on consequences for actions that have or have not been taken. I would like to see President Obama try to strengthen the backbone of some of our allies and some other countries around the world that aren’t our typical allies, but could be very helpful in trying to bring some spine to the UN Security Council behind this embargo that they cared enough to impose,” she said.