Within the coming week the Trump administration will make a decision unlikely to break through the furor of bizarre presidential behavior, the health care debate, or any of the foreign policy issues that have dominated the past six months—from North Korea to ISIS and Syria to relations with Europe to dangerous frictions among the Gulf States.
But the decision—whether to make permanent President Obama’s lifting of U.S. economic sanctions on the Khartoum regime in Sudan—will have immense implications for the people of that desperate country. And for the western Darfur region, a permanent lifting of sanctions will likely result in cataclysmic human destruction. Perhaps not immediately, although there will be significant and direct consequences for the 3 million non-Arab/African Darfuris displaced from their homes and lands (http://sudanreeves.org/2017/05/22/displacement-in-sudan-and-darfur-un-figures-continue-to-be-careless-or-inadequate/ ). But sooner or later many of these desperate people will join the more than half a million people who have already died, directly or indirectly, from violence unleashed over the past fourteen years during Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in the region (http://sudanreeves.org/2017/04/27/violent-mortality-in-the-darfur-genocide-a-matter-of-international-indifference-and-prevarication/ ).
Who has said that that the violence was genocidal? For the moment, let’s focus on senior members of the Obama administration, beginning with Senator, candidate and President Obama himself. He campaigned declaring that Darfur was a “stain on our souls,” and that he would never “turn a blind eye” to such human slaughter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEd583-fA8M/). His National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, wrote in these pages during the Bush administration that genocide was occurring in Darfur and that the U.S. should be prepared to undertake unilateral humanitarian intervention if necessary to stop it (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64717-2004May28.html?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange_article/). Obama’s Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, also wrote frequently and powerfully about Darfur, and did not hesitate to use the “g-word” (https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/video/samantha-power-responding-genocide-darfur/).
Did the genocide somehow stop? Did it burn out? There is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. Indeed, beginning in the 2012 – 2013 dry season, violence escalated dramatically, particularly in the region known as East Jebel Marra. This violence was perpetrated chiefly by Khartoum’s new Arab militia force, the heavily armed and well-organized “Rapid Support Forces” (RSF). An important report from Human Rights Watch (September 2015 | https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan ) gave us our best insight into the character of RSF violence—and the ambitions of the Khartoum regime. Vice President Hassabo Abdelrahman delivered a speech to the RSF in December 2014, according to a defecting militiaman, in which he declared:
“Hassabo told us to clear the area east of Jebel Marra.
To kill any male. He said we want to clear the area of insects…
He said East Jebel Marra is the kingdom of the rebels.
We don’t want anyone there to be alive.”
The chilling echoes of the Rwanda genocide and Hutu characterizations of Tutsis as “cockroaches” has been remarked by no one in the Obama administration—or to date by the Trump administration. But in fact Hassabo’s comments had ample precedent in Darfur, perhaps most notoriously in a memo ten years earlier from the headquarters of brutal Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal: “Change the demography of Darfur…empty it of African tribes.”
Khartoum’s human rights record continues to be abominable, as does its persecution of Sudan’s small Christian population. And yet current U.S. Charge d’Affaires Steven Koutsis recently gave an interview in which he declared emphatically that issues of human rights, political and religious persecution, and freedom of expression were irrelevant to the decision about sanctions:
“None of these other issues were the point of sanctions, and none of these other issues, therefore, should be linked to the lifting of sanctions." (Agence France-Presse, June 24, 2017 | http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-4635304/Sudan-positive-steps-meeting-sanctions-terms-US-envoy.html/)
But Koutsis is dead wrong: the Preface to the Executive Order by President Clinton imposing economic sanctions in 1997 explicitly asserts that in addition to the Khartoum regime’s support for international terrorism, sanctions were being imposed because of “the prevalence of human rights violations, including slavery and the denial of religious freedom” (https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/13067.pdf /). Unsurprisingly, Sudan remains one of only three countries remaining on the State Department’s annual list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”
Perhaps the most egregious violation of international human rights law in the recent past occurred last year during Khartoum’s savage military campaign against the people of the Jebel Marra region in central Darfur. Amnesty International published an exhaustively researched report in September 2016, demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that Khartoum had used chemical weapons against civilians nowhere near the fighting (https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-sudanese-government-forces-ravage-jebel-marra-darfur/). Most of the victims were young children. The international community has been silent about Amnesty’s finding—indeed, in an action grotesque even by African Union standards, seven AU members elected Khartoum to the position of Vice-President of the executive body of the Organization for the Prohibition of chemical weapons, the very body with a mandate to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/sudan-elevation-to-opcws-governing-body-a-slap-in-the-face-for-victims-of-chemical-attacks/).
Certainly the Sudanese economy is a mess. But that isn’t a function of U.S. sanctions, which have been largely undermined by French banking giant BNP Paribas, convicted in 2015 of massive criminal violation of U.S. financial sanctions (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bnp-paribas-settlement-idUSKBN0F52HA20140701/). The Khartoum regime is a powerful, ruthless kleptocracy—maintaining a monopoly on Sudanese national wealth and power since it came to power as the National Islamic Front on June 30, 1989—28 years ago (http://sudanreeves.org/2015/12/09/7041/). It has failed to invest in infrastructure, agriculture, or health services. It failed to anticipate the consequences of the loss of oil revenue with the 2011 secession of South Sudan and now confronts staggering inflation, a plummeting currency, and an almost complete lack of foreign exchange currency (Forex) with which to import critical commodities, including wheat for bread, cooking fuel, and essential medicines.
The Sudanese people—across the political spectrum—desperately want range change; they have been told by the U.S., however that this is not what we want:
“We [the Obama administration] do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2011 | http://english.aawsat.com/2011/12/article55244147/asharq-al-awsat-talks-to-us-special-envoy-to-sudan-princeton-lyman)
The notion that this brutal, profoundly repressive, and serially genocidal regime is capable of “carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures” is simply too preposterous to take seriously. Rather, it is the way in which the Obama administration, and so far the Trump administration, choose to put a fig-leaf over the real reason they want to keep the regime in power: supposedly valuable counter-terrorism intelligence, this from one of three countries that remains on the State Department’s annual listing of “state sponsors of terrorism.” But whatever the putative value of counter-terrorism intelligence expediently provided by the regime, is this really the time to be giving such brutal men an economic and financial lifeline? denying Sudanese people their political aspirations and ensuring that the regime feels it has a “green light” to continue its genocidal ways in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile?
There was a time before the Obama administration when Americans broadly said “no!” That should be our answer now.
[Eric Reeves has written extensively on Sudan for almost two decades; he is a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights | https://fxb.harvard.edu/people/eric-reeves/ ]