The US government is rumored to be on the verge of lifting decades-old sanctions against the Sudanese regime. America will thereby signal to the world’s despots that they can ethnically cleanse their unwanted citizens with impunity. It will also show the US is not serious about the benchmarks it expects countries to reach, if they are to benefit from America’s friendship. Kim Jong Un, Bashar Assad and the government of Myanmar will be taking note.
To be fair, President Trump inherited this muddled policy. One of Barack Obama’s last acts was to begin the process of lifting sanctions against the openly Islamist fundamentalist Khartoum regime (1). This is more than a diplomatic nicety for two reasons. First, countries keen to cash in on Sudan’s unexploited natural resources are anticipating a bonanza. Sensing American weakness, lobbyists will now push for debt relief for Sudan and the regime’s premature removal from the US’s list of state sponsors of terror. The European Union will also step up its so-called Khartoum Process (2), whereby it works closely with the Sudanese regime to prevent migrants from crossing Sudanese territory to reach Libya’s Mediterranean coast and the people-smugglers’ boats.
Secondly, lifting sanctions will embolden other regimes, whether they are committing atrocities against their own civilians, or acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Iran and North Korea will see American threats as hollow if Sudan is rewarded for repeatedly failing to meet US requirements. Syria and Myanmar will conclude that a few token gestures and hollow promises will satisfy the US State Department.
What are America’s Benchmarks? The Sudanese regime has failed to meet the most significant benchmark identified in Obama’s January Executive Order: “….a marked reduction in offensive military activity, culminating in a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan and steps toward the improvement of humanitarian access throughout Sudan.” (3)
According to Maddy Crowther of the NGO, Waging Peace, the Obama administration assessed the violence in Darfur between July 2016 and January 2017, after the Khartoum regime had already declared victory against the Darfur rebels. Significantly, the Obama administration did not count the continuing attacks on civilians by the regime and its tribal proxies (4). Of a population of six million Dafuris, four million remain displaced by this violence (5).
In the period in question, barrel bombs were dropped on villages (6); chemical weapons were allegedly used in the Jebel Marra region (7); women and girls are raped (8); people were extrajudicially killed (9); newspapers were shut down (10); democracy activists were imprisoned (11); students were threatened (12) and 100 Darfuri villages were destroyed (13). In August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a point of criticising the Sudanese regime for its restrictions of religious freedom. “The government arrests, detains and intimidates clergy and church members. It denies permits for the construction of new churches and is closing or demolishing existing ones.”(14) Yet, America ignored all these violations of international law because the Sudanese armed forces were not attacking the already vanquished rebels.
Equally meaningless is the second part of the benchmark, improved humanitarian access. If
reputable international charities can assess the need but not actually deliver aid to people in previously sealed areas, then access is futile. The regime still determines which NGOs go where, and prevents the international peacekeeping force, UNAMID, from investigating reports of attacks on civilians (15). So, in what sense is this “improved access” worth rewarding?
Bear in mind that leading members of the Sudanese government have been indicted for genocide in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (16). The same officials continue to spearhead a six-year scorched earth campaign against their non-Arab Sudanese citizens in the Nuba Mountains, so graphically described in a recent book of essays by Americans who have worked in the Mother of Mercy hospital, the only surviving medical facility there (17).
What should be done? America underestimates its diplomatic leverage. Khartoum is desperate to normalize relations with Washington. A tough, deal-making president would exploit this, requiring: 1) the Sudanese armed forces and its proxies stop its attacks on Sudanese civilians for at least another six months or a year; 2) the regime would allow reputable international agencies to safely deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to the vast areas of Sudan which have been off-limits; and 3) there would be an extended period of genuine institutional reform, meaning freedom of speech, faith and culture; an independent judiciary, and the release of political prisoners. It isn’t as if these benchmarks are unreasonable: all this has been required by United Nations resolutions, again and again.
According to Maddy Crowther from Waging Peace: “A good or effective US policy toward Sudan, especially working in concert with other international actors, could encourage the government to strengthen state institutions and rely less on the threat and use of coercion to maintain power, whereas a bad or ineffective US policy could prolong suffering for Sudan’s citizens.” (18)
President Trump publishes his National Security Strategy shortly (19). Foreign leaders will realize it isn’t worth the paper it is printed on if Washington lets Sudan off the hook so easily.
4. Maddy Crowther, www.WagingPeace.info September 18th 2017
17. “Sudan’s Nuba Mountains – People Under Siege” edited by Sam Totten, McFarland & Co Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, USA, 2017.
18. Maddy Crowther, www.WagingPeace.info September 18th 2017