THE BLOG
01/05/2017 08:45 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2018

President Obama, Will the Moral Arc of the Universe Bend Toward Justice for the People of Sudan during Your Presidency?

Dear President Obama,

It is with grave concern that we hear rumors of pending changes to U.S. policy on Sudan that would relax or lift U.S. sanctions in a way that would benefit Sudan's President Bashir and his government. This is the same government carrying out policies that have resulted in the death and displacement of millions of Sudanese and increased instability, conflict and terrorism within the region and beyond for the last twenty-seven years. And it is the same government that is responsible for the New Year's Day attack on the town of Nertiti in Central Darfur that killed at least 11 and wounded 70 or more civilians.

As a Senator, you were a leading voice pushing the Bush Administration to focus on ending the genocide orchestrated by Bashir against the people of Darfur. In 2006, you noted that "what's most disturbing is that the United States government seems to be backing off a little bit, the commitment that it made to deal with the problem." You explained that "the rationale that has provided from the Sudanese government for what has been taking place is that there is a battle going on between Sudanese government and rebels that operate within the area. But the real victims have not been rebel sympathizers, or the rebels themselves, they've been innocent men, women and children."

It is now 2017 and nothing has changed except that more innocent Sudanese have died and millions more are suffering due to widespread attacks, indiscriminate bombing and blocking of international humanitarian aid throughout Sudan by Bashir's government. One other notable and disturbing change is the approach of the international community, including the United States under your leadership, of backing off of the commitment to resolve the crises in Sudan. Instead of ending impunity and supporting the victims of genocide and mass atrocities, Europe is providing funds to train Bashir's deadly Rapid Support Forces; the United States regularly invites leaders of the regime to the U.S. and helps Sudanese institutions navigate existing sanctions to minimize their impact, while failing to protect Sudanese who dare to speak out against their government. The United States engages in negotiations with clever and charming representatives of a genocidal regime, without apparently recognizing that their history and practice is to say anything but to do nothing to change their ruling methods, conniving in order to remain in power and to rob the resources of the country. The message to you from one Sudanese youth who is helping to mobilize change in Sudan through social media is "Stop supporting Bashir!"

As President, your Sudan policy has not come remotely close to reflecting the power and clarity of the conviction you expressed as a Senator. One result is an enormous sense of disappointment for Sudanese and Americans, a palpable betrayal of the people of Sudan and Darfur in particular. Another result is a stark erosion of confidence in the vision and values of the United States. Given the short amount of time that you have left in office, we have one simple request and that is to listen to experienced Sudanese, fellow Americans and other activists who respectfully urge you to keep the existing Sudan sanctions in place. For your consideration, please find below a few of those voices.

• "Sudan didn't do anything to be rewarded. If anything, targeted sanctions should be tightened against those who perpetrate violence that continues to happen in every corner of the country. The Obama policy towards Sudan has miserably failed and all that is left is to reward a government of genocidaires and perpetrators of violence and mass atrocities." - Omer Ismail

• "The fact is there is no progress on the ground. The people of the Nuba Mountains are still starving over 5 years by the Khartoum regime. And also in Jabel Marra there continues bombing daily by Sudanese government aircraft and Antonov. The U.S must keep the sanctions tightly on Sudan instead of lifting them. The game is over with the NCP regime. Compromises don't work. Genocide is happening now by the Khartoum criminal regime." - Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih

• "The US can and should keep the sanctions on. The US has no need to support the genocidal regime in Khartoum. We know from experience that Bashir will do everything he can to cause trouble (in South Sudan, in Libya, in Egypt, ...), and we know that any deal with Bashir and his regime is no deal at all. The US can pursue a tough policy with Sudan that supports and seeks to protect the people of Sudan, without fear that somehow Sudan will go over to the dark side. Sudan's government lives on the dark side. Let's be sure not to give them ammunition or money that makes them more powerful, particularly now that Khartoum is teetering under economic pressure." - Eric Cohen

• "Any relief AlBasher gets from US on sanctions, debt, normalization, removal from the terror list, will be an enormous reward to his regime and a nod to finish the genocide. Albashir will never be reformed. There will be NO peace in Sudan with AlBashir in power in Khartoum. Just last week the Sudanese media published this terrible statement by AlBashir to his troops at a training center in the Northern Nile State on December 23rd 2016, 'I want you to train well, aim well, because the end of this month (December 2016) will be the end of the cease fire I gave to those who refused so far to come to the peace table. I tell them: After the end of this month, we will come to your place. We will come to you and we will get you down from the top of the mountain (Darfur: Jebel Marra) and we will get you out of the caves (Nuba Mountains) one by one.'" - Mohamed Suleiman

• "If you concur with the lifting of sanctions against Sudan and are silent about its genocidal assaults on civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, you will risk being remembered in history as a President complicit with genocide." - The Baroness Cox, House of Lords, Parliament of the United Kingdom

• "When you were running for president in 2007 you called the genocide in Darfur a 'stain on our souls' and said that 'as president of the United States I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.' I supported you and worked for your election in 2008 and I was so hopeful when you appointed Susan Rice and Samantha Power to important positions in your administration. But now, over eight years later, nothing has changed for the victims of the regime in Khartoum. In fact, for many in Sudan things are much worse, not only for Darfuris but also for those in the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized areas of the country. You have abandoned the men, women, and children of Darfur. You have turned a blind eye to the slaughter of the innocents. They greeted your election with expectations that their lives would be better but so many during the last eight years have lost all hope. Now is not the time, in the last weeks of your presidency to change sanctions that have already been imposed." - Marv Steinberg

• "Hopefully the Administration will understand the situation and keep the sanctions in place." - Hashim Orta Adaw, Blue Nile Youth for Peace and Development Organization

• "STAND emerged out of the struggle to stop genocide in Darfur and we have continued to support the struggle for justice in Sudan for nearly a decade. As senator, President Obama was a strong ally of this cause, and we are disappointed to see his policy as President overlook the country's horrific and ongoing human rights abuses. The decision to withdraw sanctions on Sudan as atrocities continue to occur with appalling frequency will offer financial support and confer legitimacy to a government that has made clear that it has no intention of stopping abuses against its people." - STAND: The Student-led Movement to End Mass Atrocities

• "The U.S. cannot lift the sanctions to Sudan!" - Philip Nima

• "In one of his last speeches Bashir designated USA as the enemy. In a another occasion he said the USA, UK and France are under his shoes. He is anti-western and inhumane. His same message but in a relatively more sophisticated theological manner had been continuously propagated in Sudanese official education, media and mosques. Such hatred should not be for free. And for us as Sudanese democrats, it is better to suffer from sanctions for a while than to continue to suffer under the brutal Islamist fascism." - Elhag ali Warrag, Hurriyat Editor-in-Chief

• "Every school child knows that appeasing a bully never solves the problem. Reducing sanctions on Sudan, and on the individuals in Sudan responsible for the carnage, only emboldens them. The architects of the ethnic cleansing of Sudan's minorities will perceive weakness and redouble their efforts to eliminate their opponents. The sanctions must remain." - Rebecca Tinsley, Founder of Waging Peace

• "One of the agendas in your campaign was a solution for the Darfur crisis. I am hopeless. Because of your policy failure I am not able to return back home to join my kids and start my legal business. My dreams are ruined in the Diaspora. Five years have passed and nothing has improved. Your promise has failed." - Abdelrahman

• "By rewarding a Regime that commits mass atrocities, the US is marginalizing accountability, the rule of law and dishonoring those that have been killed or maimed by the Bashir Regime. The Regime has attacked innocent civilians in Darfur, and continues to bomb innocent civilians in places of refuge in Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile States. As an U.S. international criminal lawyer, I am 'disappointed' that the U.S. is choosing to reward genocidaires, instead of taking a stand to uphold rule of law and protect innocent civilians. Lifting any of the sanctions against the Bashir Regime rewards the regime and curtails peace. Please keep the existing sanctions in place."

• "Sudan is one of only three States on the US list of Sponsors of Terrorism; its President Al-Bashir is the only sitting Head of State in the world with an arrest warrant by the ICC for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Its actions and policies continue to pose 'an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States', as you wrote upon renewing sanctions against Sudan, Nov. 3, 2016. These sanctions, instituted in 1997, have been effective: Khartoum is desperate to have them lifted, and to get debt relief of $59 billion. For the US to relent on either would be rewarding a criminal regime, and facilitating their murderous actions. Equally important is for the US to discourage the Europeans from rewarding Sudan for control of illegal immigration and for 'counterterrorism' (EU has just awarded them 170 million British pounds on Dec. 18, '16). We must reject the notion that this Sponsor of Terrorism can be useful in counterterrorism operations, or in solving the immigration problem of which it is a primary cause." - Al Sutton M.D., African Freedom Coalition

• "Our 44th President was quoted as saying: 'To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.' Appeasement has its place, but if Omar al-Bashir unclenches his fist, which he has not, the crushed bodies of countless innocent women and children will fall out. Don't find yourself on the wrong side of history 44." - John Jefferson, Co-founder, End Nuba Genocide Project

• "When President Obama called the genocide in Darfur 'a stain on our souls', we all thought: at least a committed leader who understands the urgency of the situation, eventually. Two years later when President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he declared: 'I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.' Even if no action whatsoever had been taken since his first statement in 2007, many thought the Nobel Peace Prize would be an incentive for Barack Obama to take his responsibilities and move up Darfur and Sudan on the agenda of world leaders. Once again, nothing happened. The lack of political leadership to resolve the problem is a real shame, on Obama but also on the world leaders and the international community. Now is the last chance for President Obama to do something before it is too late, for History to remember he is a man of his words. He won't remove the indelible stain on our souls, but he can leave with a clear conscience and do something for the innocent men, women and children being killed everyday in complete impunity and total indifference." - Max Dana, Founder of The MagkaSama Project

• "It is with utter disbelief that those of us who have tried to convince you and our own government to act on Sudan look toward 2017 and see no change for the people still suffering unimaginable horror. In 2011 when the terrible attacks began in the Nuba Mountains I believed that if we could make the US and UK governments aware of what was happening and who was responsible they would act immediately to stop Bashir from going against the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which was brokered by our countries. That action alone should tell you that his regime cannot be trusted. Let's be honest, they are manipulative and nasty and like all abusive and psychopathic characters they will tell you anything to stay in power and change nothing. Please do anything you can to make this understood. The people of Sudan are suffering while the world is largely ignorant of their plight. We understand how difficult things are for you right now. But you know what is happening to these amazing people and you must act quickly to prevent a worsening situation. Please do all you can, before it is too late. With hope," - Claire Vera, Nuba Now

• "Releasing funds to Albashir by lifting sanctions is equal to helping him finance his genocidal wars. Khartoum's policies will not change by cookies and rewards. The NCP understands only pressure." - Gibril Ibrahim, Chairperson, JEM

• "During the years of your administration, Sudan government-initiated violence and inhumane conditions increased, not only for Darfuris (who the U.S. and others long have considered targets of genocide) but also for members of ethnic-African tribes in other marginalized regions such as South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Beja. The Sudan government also supported initiation and advancement of the civil war in South Sudan, on which your administration has focused unsuccessfully while ignoring al Bashir's murderous activities in Sudan. Yet Sudanese from these regions still express belief that the U.S., and its people, will save them or at least increase protections and access to humanitarian aid: they still believe in 'the promise' of America, that we are incapable of standing by while slaughter and suffering occur. You have let down America's image and philosophy abroad, for victims and freedom-seekers in so many countries, in ways that are harmful to the American people, but you have an opportunity to not enable the situation in Sudan to worsen - by increasing sanctions against Sudan's president, specific government officials and other specific employees, and by improving the quality and value of the impact of sanctions on these people. Also, you can impede government violence in Sudan by freezing accounts and property-ownership by these same people in the U.S. and any other location where such American actions are legal, impede their travel and that of their families to, and within the U.S., where some now may be attending school. You also can press American allies to take the same actions against Sudan's government and lackies." - Laura Limuli, Coordinator, Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur& Marginalized Sudan

• "Early in his presidency, Obama made a promise to protect the people of Darfur. With the genocide in Darfur now in its fourteenth year and with violence in other areas of Sudan taking place, the current approach to diplomacy with Sudan must be improved. The Sudanese government, under President Omar al Bashir, has proven that they cannot be trusted. There can be no sanctions relief for Sudan. If a genocidal regime is not held accountable for their actions, impunity will continue. As President Obama said at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 23, 2012, 'Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing.' It is not too late for the Administration to stand up for the Sudanese people and say 'NO to Bashir and NO sanctions relief for the NCP!'" - Lauren Fortgang, Policy Director, Never Again Coalition

• "To even consider easing the sanctions on Sudan is unfathomable. And not only unfathomable but unconscionable. President Obama, have you conveniently distanced yourself from the fact that millions of Sudanese people live in absolute misery and fear under the al Bashir regime? Under a dictatorship that considers 'black Africans' 'abid' (slaves)? Really, why in the world would anyone even suggest the possibility of lifting sanctions on a regime that has wreaked havoc and killed at will in the Nuba Mountains (1989-1995), Darfur (2003 through today), again in the Nuba Mountains and now in the Blue Nile State as well (2011-present)? One has to wonder, really wonder, has your moral compass, Mr. President, altered so dramatically over the past eight years that your administration is now considering lifting sanctions on a government where killing 'the other' is second nature to it. Are you the same man who wrote the following words in 2007 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: 'I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.' Indeed, are you the same man who spoke the following words over a decade ago during your first presidential campaign when queried about the mass murder underway in Darfur: 'We can't say 'never again' and then allow it to happen again. And, as President of the United States, I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter'? Mr. President, is there some quid pro quo here that you and your minions are hiding from the rest of us?" - Samuel Totten, Professor Emeritus, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; author of Genocide by Attrition: Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Transaction, 2015)

• "It would be unconscionable to lift sanctions on a government who has had a history of genocide as an ongoing policy. And a history of lying. I consider it a betrayal if the United States lifts sanctions on the Sudan government. In his first term, President Obama wrote to me that Darfur and Sudan are a priority to his administration. I have seen no sign of this being true. Senator Barack Obama said in his speech at the Save Darfur Rally on April 30, 2006 'If we care, the world will care. If we bear witness, the world will know. If we act, the world will follow.' We have done nothing to show we care. If only words could heal ~ and they can play a part, but we need our leaders to have the political will and moral integrity to act on behalf of courage and basic human rights that allow living out a normal lifespan with dignity. We are waiting for the actions of our honorable President to match the words he so eloquently and rightly spoke when he was a U.S. Senator and a Presidential candidate. There is nothing redeeming about being silent when speaking up is the humane thing to do. The honor and integrity of the human race relies on it. Complicity is not a policy. Complicity comes from a lack of will. It comes from an administration that has lost its moral compass. It comes from a world too wrapped up in its self-importance to stop and contemplate just what human disaster will we condemn, if not genocide. Just exactly when is genocide not okay with us? Just exactly which group of people can we turn our backs on and the definition of genocide fits our values? A moral nation needs to stand up for justice. Genocide flourishes when there is no accountability. Where there is a will there is always a way. Where there is no will there is never a way. One voice won't stop a genocide, but that is no excuse to be silent. I have never chosen silence regarding Sudan. I cannot imagine lifting sanctions is the honorable thing to do. How can this administration? Omar Hassan Al Bashir is a suspect at large from the International Criminal Court for 10 counts of crimes: 5 counts of crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape; 2 counts of war crimes: intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population, 3 counts of genocide. The legacy of President Obama and his administration regarding Sudan is already poor, lifting sanctions would make the legacy even worse." - Sandra Hammel

• "Looking back on the history of Sudan's war timeline, Sudan keeps killing its own citizens. It makes me cry sometimes to myself and to God, asking him did you create all humans equally in the universe. For example, since the beginning of the Darfur war in 2003 between rebels and the government, Sudan's military has never stopped killing innocent people in the region. It is the US and UN leadership who failed the people of Sudan. The US should not lift the sanctions against President Bashir's regime. If the US allows this to happen, then it will mean that they give the government of Sudan a green light to continue to commit the worst atrocities in Dafur and in Southern Kordafan and the Blue Nile region as well. It is important to keep the sanctions until the Sudan government has fully accepted peace and is allowing access to humanitarian aid into the region. We can't just let the Sudan government keep killing civilians who have done nothing or even know the root cause of the wars in the region." - Ngor Kur Mayol, President of Sudan Rowan, Inc.

• "We: you, me, ... the world has a Responsibility 2 Protect the civilians of Darfur and all of Sudan. Yasir Arman, SPLM-N Secretary General, wrote on 1 January 2017, "The SPLM-N calls on the Sudanese public to stand against genocide and war crimes and it appeals to the United Nations Security Council, the United States, and the European Union to take measures against General Bashir. This [latest] massacre is reminding all of the international stakeholders of the need for civilian protection in Sudan rather than rewarding General Bashir and casting a blind eye on his war crimes." Sanctions need to be enforced, fines for broken sanctions should go to the people who have suffered under the Government of Sudan, and al-Bashir, Haroun and all with evidence against them should be arrested and tried at the ICC. This could be your greatest legacy. With much appreciation for all you have done in other areas to improve our world," - Lakshmi Linda Sirois

• "We are writing to express our deep concern and distress regarding administrative plans to lift sanctions on Sudan. We ask in the strongest possible terms that you do not lift the sanctions on Sudan. As you know, the government of Sudan often says they will abide by agreements and then ignore them. They have never changed course when given 'carrots' and there is no reason to believe they will do so now. We ask that you not reward the Sudanese government for allowing aid in when they should never have stopped aid in the first place. It's pure blackmail. While all injustice and human suffering concerns us, as Jewish Americans, crimes of hatred and genocide are especially heinous and we believe that there must be NO appeasement where such crimes are concerned. As victims of the Holocaust, we understand the particular evil of the crimes being perpetrated by the Khartoum regime against 'the other,' in Darfur, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and all marginalized regions of Sudan. In the words of Rabbi Marshall Meyer: 'I have no right to be silent in the face of injustice. We human beings are made in the image of God, and when humans are denigrated, humiliated, and persecuted, the sanctity of human life is threatened everywhere.' As Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, 'In a democratic society, not all are guilty, but indeed all are responsible. We all are responsible for the sins of our society. I cannot, nor can you, dare to hide in our respective gardens when people scream in pain! Circumcise your hearts and listen to the calls of the most vulnerable who are in pain and who are bleeding! They are asking, where are you?' At a time when the Sudanese government has increased its attacks on its most vulnerable citizens, we ask the same question. Mr. President, where are you? Where are we all?" - Eileen Weiss and Sharon Silber, Jews Against Genocide and NY Coalition for Sudan