Last week, a woman gave birth while chained to a prison wall in Sudan. But as soon as baby Maya is weaned, her mother will hang for the crime of "apostasy." Meriam Ibrahim considers herself a Christian. Although her father was a Muslim, he abandoned her Christian mother when Meriam was a child. The 27-year-old Meriam compounded her "crime" by marrying a Christian, a U.S. citizen, and now she faces death.
The head of the Anglican Church, Justin Welby, Hillary Clinton and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, have condemned Meriam's sentence. But President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are silent. Their failure to join the global chorus of outrage at Sudan's warped interpretation of Islam is all the more striking given their recent support for the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls.
It may be baffling, but it is consistent with the Obama administration's reluctance to confront Sudan's hard-line Islamist regime about its other questionable activities. Sudan's leader, Field Marshall Omar Bashir, came to power in a military coup 25 years ago. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur. His National Islamic Front regime spent decades ethnically cleansing the non-Arab and non-Muslim people in what is now South Sudan, killing an estimated two million. He openly declares there is no place in Sudan for anyone other than Arabs and Muslims, and he and his proxy militias are in the third year of a bloody war aimed at eliminating those in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states who do not share this view.
It could be argued these are internal Sudanese matters, but the regime's support for international terrorism is not. Bashir gave shelter to Osama bin Laden for five years, and allows an al Qaeda club to flourish at Khartoum University. Sudan remains on the list of state sponsors of terror because of the refuge given to jihadists; and a Sudanese led the terrorists who took over the Westgate mall in Nairobi last year. Sudan has long given arms and protection to Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army as it rampages its way across Africa, and Sudanese jihadists are killing Christians in the neighboring Central Africa Republic.
Field Marshall Bashir is forthright about his ideological and military links to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Israeli Defense Forces have recently intercepted several shipments of weapons from Iran, going through Sudan to Hezbollah. Sudan manufactures Iranian armaments under licence, and Iran is building a vast military complex at Port Sudan. This week Sudan created a diplomatic car crash by trying and failing to convince Saudi Arabia that the Iranian missiles that were to be based in Port Sudan would not be pointing at Saudi.
Why is the Obama administration appeasing the Khartoum regime? During the Bush years, the U.S. pressured Sudan to stop its jihad against the non-Arabs and non-Muslims in the southern third of the country. In 2005, Khartoum signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) allowing the south to hold a referendum on possible independence in 2011. As the CPA was being negotiated, I was in Darfur. Local people warned me they would be sacrificed for the price of peace in south Sudan. "The Americans will look the other way as we are killed by Bashir," they told me. "We are just a sideshow."
Unfortunately, they were right. Until the last ballot was counted in 2011, the international community was nervous Khartoum would abandon the CPA, plunging the region back to war. This may explain why no one required the regime to live by its promises to the UN to disarm its militia who were killing hundreds of thousands in Darfur. It may also make sense of the reluctance to impose penalties on Khartoum for failing to fulfil so many other aspects of the CPA, let alone breaking international law on a daily basis.
The UN has been especially craven, so fearful is it of offending the Sudanese authorities. For instance, they stopped estimating the number of dead in Darfur at 300,000 in 2006. They also apologized for embarrassing Khartoum when it emerged that the Sudanese government was painting its aircraft to look like UN planes, fooling unsuspecting Darfur villagers.
In the run up to the secession ballot, John Kerry, then chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had meetings with top Sudanese officials, extending so-called carrots to the regime if the vote went ahead. True to his word, there has been no meaningful US condemnation of Sudan's serial human rights abuses and atrocities ever since.
Because Sudan never faced consequences for its mass murder in Darfur, it rightly concluded it could do the same in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where it has been bombing and attacking unarmed civilians since 2011. Field Marshall Bashir knows the occasional words of concern from the State Department are token gestures. It would worry him rather more if existing UN resolutions on Sudan were finally implemented, freezing his financial assets and those of his kleptomaniac cronies.
The U.S. and its international partners have so far failed to use the many forms of soft-power or economic leverage at their disposal. Analysts suggest the U.S. is fearful of who might replace Bashir if the screws were turned, although it is a challenge to find an alternative less attractive to U.S. interests than the current regime. After all, Sudan was willing to be used as an Iranian missile base until the Saudis made a fuss. Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is facing the consequences of our diplomatic spinelessness.