/ 8 December 2007

EU summit accused of ignoring Darfur

European and African leaders arriving for Saturday’s summit in Lisbon were accused by parliamentarians and human rights groups on both continents of trying to sweep human rights issues under the carpet.

Much of the criticism was aimed at the absence of Darfur from the main agenda of the European Union-Africa meeting. Forty MPs from across Europe and Africa published an open letter saying they were ”surprised and disappointed to note that at a two-day summit of the leaders of our two continents, there will be no time allotted to discuss the continuing crisis in Darfur that has claimed over 200 000 lives”.

A coalition of 50 African and European human rights groups wrote a separate letter claiming that the failure to address the issue now ”would be to turn our backs on the people of Darfur”.

Human rights groups also staged protests in the Portuguese capital against the presence of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, accused of rigging elections and suppressing opposition groups.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is boycotting the two-day summit because of Mugabe’s attendance, provoking widespread criticism from other African leaders, and a rebuke from the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

”If you are an international leader, then you are going to have to be prepared to meet some people your mother would not like you to meet. That is what we have to do from time to time,” Barroso said.

However, the EU’s invitation to Mugabe came under fire itself on Friday. William Hague, Britain’s shadow foreign secretary, described it as ”a shameful episode”, while Reed Brody, a legal expert for Human Rights Watch, argued that Mugabe would emerge from the summit with a propaganda victory unless he was taken to task for his actions.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, discussed the issue with Brown on Friday and, according to United Kingdom officials, signalled her intention to discuss Mugabe’s record in a summit session on governance. Brown is also pushing for clear EU standards for Zimbabwe’s elections due next year.

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s decision to send Baroness Valerie Amos, a former secretary for international development, triggered a row in London, when a former colleague suggested the only reason she was being sent was because she was black.

Clare Short, who also served as international development secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: ”I don’t see any reason to send a kind of pseudo-minister and I think that it’s not right to send her because she’s black. I don’t see any other reason for sending her.”

The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, rejected the claim, telling the BBC: ”I think that is a bit insulting to Baroness Amos,” adding that she had a deep knowledge of Africa and development.

Miliband also defended the British boycott, saying: ”It would have been absurd for the prime minister or myself to sit next to Robert Mugabe through a discussion of good governance and human rights and pretend that there wasn’t absolute meltdown going on in Zimbabwe.”

British officials argued that the inevitable media focus on Brown and Mugabe would have risked overshadowing the summit. Besides, the officials said, Brown remained closely involved in African issues despite his absence from Lisbon.

He was due to talk to French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday about an Anglo-French plan to break the impasse over the deployment of international peacekeepers in Darfur. The force has been held up by Khartoum’s objection to the inclusion of non-African units, and by a lack of helicopters.

The new plan would involve raising finance for helicopters. Khartoum would also be threatened with new sanctions if it continues to block the force’s deployment. — Guardian Unlimited Â