Distrust and Verify: An Appropriate U.S. Government Response To Sudan Government Actions

Before leaving office, President Obama issued an Executive Order that lifted some U.S. sanctions on Sudan for six months because of “positive actions” by the Sudan government. The six months have come to an end and the Executive Order stipulates that the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the President on or before July 12th indicating whether or not the Sudan government has sustained those positive actions. The report will be based on “relevant and credible information from available sources” and it will provide “recommendations on appropriate U.S. Government responses.”

Important for the Secretary’s report and for effective U.S. policy on Sudan is relevant and credible information, which is largely unavailable since the Sudan government does not allow unimpeded access to U.S. government officials, international NGOs and journalists. Without this access, the U.S. is dependent on information from and promises by the Sudan government, which have historically proven unreliable. Unfortunately, information gathered by U.S. officials in the presence of Sudan officials has been detrimental to those who have shared their experience; and without access to the people of Sudan, especially those in the conflict areas, the U.S. government can propose solutions that are unwanted and counterproductive. Since the Sudan government is eager for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Sudan and has hired Squire Patton Boggs to lobby Washington on its behalf, it would be reasonable to expect the Sudan government to allow access to the country. The U.S. should, therefore, advise the Sudan government that before a final determination on sanctions can be made, U.S. government officials, including members of Congress, must visit key areas of Sudan, particularly areas of conflict, unaccompanied by the Sudan government, allowing internationally credible and knowledgeable NGOs and international aid and humanitarian agencies to act as trusted interlocutors.

Often the argument in favor of lifting U.S. sanctions is that sanctions hurt the people of Sudan. It is worth noting that even with sanctions, the Sudan government is not devoid of resources; however, those resources are not used to benefit the country. Instead, government elites “have amassed personal fortunes by looting the country’s oil, gold and land resources.” Furthermore, the largest line item in Sudan’s budget is for defense, an expenditure used to harm the people of Sudan. Unfortunately, when the sanctions were temporarily lifted by President Obama, the priorities of the Sudan government did not change. According to Brad Brooks-Rubin in his testimony to Congress, the Sudan government “used the provisional easing of the sanctions put in place in January, not to begin the necessary reforms of the structural deformities of the country’s economy, but instead to order fighter jets and battle tanks from its traditional suppliers, Russia and China.”

The Obama Administration set such a low bar for progress by the Sudan government that essentially little has improved for the people of Sudan who continue to face assaults by the government and its militias, including religious persecution, and still have no access to humanitarian aid. According to Ryan Boyette, who lives in the Nuba Mountains, “There have been no major attacks during the six months that Bashir has been on probation…but the government’s Russian-made cargo planes did circle overhead every day in May. That’s the month Nuban farmers have to plant their sorghum, peanuts and sesame because the area has such a short rainy season that if they don’t get the crops in then, there is no harvest. The intimidation worked; farmers hid in caves instead of planting, and now, the famine will be even worse.”

An appropriate U.S. government response to Sudan government actions was outlined by a bi-partisan group of U.S. lawmakers last week, urging the Trump Administration to delay lifting sanctions until the necessary staff is in place to “thoroughly review whether the Government of Sudan has abided by the requirements of the Executive Order,” a reasonable request for a new U.S. Administration given the aforementioned challenges. In the meantime, to show good faith, the Sudan government should immediately release and drop the charges against Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, Hafiz Idris, Mobarak Adam Abdalla and seven other human rights activists currently in detention; and it should declare a state of emergency and allow international humanitarian aid organizations to help address the dangerous spread of cholera. Ultimately, any permanent change in U.S. policy on Sudan must be the result of these and other positive actions by the Sudan government that are verifiable and result in a just peace for the people of Sudan.