Skip to main content

UK accused of trying to suppress criticism of UAE role in Sudan war

London reportedly told African diplomats to refrain from condemning Abu Dhabi, which has long been accused of aiding the RSF paramilitary group
A fighter loyal to Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan holds up a weapon backdropped by the minaret of a mosque, in the southeastern Gedaref state on 27 May 2024 (AFP)
A fighter loyal to Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan holds up a weapon backdropped by the minaret of a mosque, in the southeastern Gedaref state on 27 May 2024 (AFP)

UK officials tried to suppress criticism of the United Arab Emirates' alleged role in the war in Sudan, according to sources cited by the Guardian in a report on Monday. 

The UAE has long been accused of supporting the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the paramilitary group which has been at war with Sudan's armed forces since hostilities broke out in April last year. Abu Dhabi denies the accusation. 

MEE has reported on the network of supply lines that exist to funnel arms and other goods from the UAE to the RSF, via allied groups and governments in Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Yonah Diamond, a legal counsel at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, told the Guardian that informal talks were held in Ethiopia exploring possible legal action against the UAE for its role in Sudan.

During the discussions, Diamond was told by sources that the UK was actively dissuading African diplomats from criticising Abu Dhabi. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"They told me that the UK was discouraging states from criticising the UAE," Diamond said. "We were looking to build support for a civilian protection mechanism [in Darfur] and moves to hold the UAE accountable in the international court of justice or elsewhere in the region."

The UK Foreign Office denied the claims. A spokesperson said: "These accusations are categorically untrue. The UK is using its diplomatic influence to support efforts for a durable peace."

For several weeks, the RSF has surrounded El-Fasher, the state capital of North Darfur, leaving no clear escape routes for civilians. 

It is the only city in western Sudan's Darfur region in the hands of Sudan's army. Commentators have warned that el-Fasher could become a "kill box" in the event of a major attack on the city by the RSF. 

'Clear and convincing evidence'

report released in mid-April by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre concluded that a genocide was taking place against non-Arab groups in Darfur, at the hands of the RSF and allied militias. 

It stated that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Sudan, the UAE, Libya, Chad, the CAR and Russia, via the actions of the Wagner Group, were "complicit in the genocide". 

The UAE has repeatedly denied providing military support to the RSF, and last week clashed with Khartoum at the United Nations Security Council. 

Sudan war: Darfur faces its own 'Srebrenica' as el-Fasher fighting intensifies
Read More »

Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed, Sudan's ambassador to the UN, said: "The military aggression launched by the Rapid Support militia, supported with weapons by the Emirates, is deliberately and systematically targeting the villages and cities."

UAE ambassador to the UN Mohamed Abushahab said his Sudanese counterpart had made "ludicrous" and false allegations designed to distract from "grave violations that are happening on the ground".

"You should stop grandstanding in international fora such as this and instead take responsibility for ending the conflict you started," Abushahab added. 

The UK is currently the "penholder" at the UN Security Council on Sudan, and therefore leads the council's activities on the country. 

In late April, the UAE cancelled a number of meetings with UK ministers over the issue of the war in Sudan. 

According to a report in The Times on Sunday, four UK ministerial meetings were cancelled by the Emiratis, who were reportedly angered by the British not jumping to the UAE's defence after it was accused at the Security Council of aiding the RSF. 

Last month, the UK's deputy prime minister made a secret trip to the UAE to repair ties with the Gulf country, after months of rising tensions. 

A source close to talks between the two countries told the Financial Times that Emirati officials felt like the country had become a "punching bag" for British politicians attempting to appear tough domestically. 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.