US 'should delay decision on Sudanese sanctions'

US 'should delay decision on Sudanese sanctions'
5 min read
11 July, 2017
In-depth: The US State Department and the White House's National Security Council disagree over the decision to lift sanctions - and some NGOs have called for a time extension.
UNAMID peace-keeping fighters positioned in Jebel Marra, Sudan [AFP]

The final decision on whether international sanctions against Sudan may be lifted permanently on Wednesday has still not been made, as various US departments cannot agree on the issue, sources close to the decision-makers have reported.

Sanctions against Khartoum were temporarily lifted in January by President Obama in one of his last executive orders before leaving office, and the final resolution on whether to extend or abandon the sanctions must be made by July 12.

As a result, several humanitarian organisations have argued that the decision should be delayed until all factors have been fully considered.

The UN and the CIA both argue that terms for lifting the sanctions - referred to as the "five tracks" - have mostly been met.

One of the key US demands in exchange for sanctions relief was the sharing of key intelligence on Islamist groups - a demand with which the regime has duly co-operated.

Yet despite this cooperation, some humanitarian organisations believe that the time is still not right to lift sanctions. Many NGOs argue that more needs to be done to prevent state violence in the country's south and that removing the sanctions also removes leverage to effect real change in the country.

It would be premature to conclude that any potential hints of progress would be sustainable if US sanctions were permanently lifted

"There is not sufficient evidence of progress in Sudan on at least two of the five tracks, and it would be premature to conclude that any potential hints of progress would be sustainable if US sanctions were permanently lifted in July," the Enough Project wrote in a July policy document.

The Enough Project's sister organisation, The Sentry, has been investigating human rights violations in Sudan as part of a larger investigation into the region's governance. It found evidence that no real changes had been made by the country's regime.

"The government of Sudan continues to use starvation as a weapon of war on its own people, still funds militias that murder its own innocent civilians, and continues to loot the country of its natural resources," The Sentry's directors wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine.

The government also imprisons thousands of political dissidents in unacknowledged torture centres, as the British journalist Phil Cox revealed earlier this year.

Electrocution, torture and routine death threats were regularly inflicted upon the film-maker, who only saw an embassy representative after a week in prison.

Read morePress freedom in Sudan

Big business

Many Gulf Arab and Israeli companies with proven business interests in the country have been lobbying the US behind the scenes for months to lift sanctions.

Due to twenty years of sanctions, there has been little exploration of the country's gas and oil reserves - and some experts believe there are billions of dollars of untapped resources in the country's south.

The national ministry of minerals also announced last year a massive expansion in the country's gold mines, the country's largest resource-export, worth $1.2 billion a year.

The investment process to access these resources faces several large challenges however, as sanctions prevent international companies from trading in the country.

The government of Sudan continues to use starvation as a weapon of war on its own people

All of this may change if the sanctions are lifted.

Sudan's ministry of investment announced last month that it was working with the World Bank to isolate $42 billion in soft loans to help rejuvenate the country's infrastructure.

The 'reality on the ground'

There are many others who disagree, however, arguing that the lifting of sanctions is essential to help improve the lives of Sudanese civilians.

"The reality on the ground has proved that these measures [sanctions] do not have a negative impact on officials or on any elite group," said Idriss Jazairy, a UN special rapporteur for Sudan, in 2015.

"Their full impact is on innocent citizens and on a deepening of the gap in income distribution within the Sudanese society and between provinces."

The Sudanese foreign minister agreed with this principle when he told The Financial Times that ordinary people couldn't "transfer a penny in or out of Sudan for more than 20 years", despite several Gulf-based banks offering international transfers in the country.

The penalties inflicted on the people have been enormous

"The penalties inflicted on the people have been enormous," said Ibrahim Ghandour.

A 2005 review of Sudan's economy found that 13 Arab banks had continued to operate in the country, despite the sanctions.

The French bank, BNP Paribas, was fined almost $9 billion in 2014 for its continued trade with the Sudanese government.

The five tracks

The US terms for lifting sanctions include 1) improving access for humanitarian aid, 2) ending support for rebels in South Sudan, 3) halting state-sponsored violence in Darfur, 4) improving counterterrorism cooperation with US intelligence agencies and 5) cooperation in helping fight the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

The US first issued sanctions against Khartoum in 1993 when it was labelled a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Since that time, Sudan has hosted Osama bin Laden and several other high-profile individuals on the international terrorism watchlist.

In addition, the country's head of state, President Omar al-Bashir, is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges.

And despite the government's claims, some feel that lifting the sanctions now would only reward the autocratic regime - ending any chance of real change in the country's governance.

"[Khartoum] continues to obstruct humanitarian access while more than a million people urgently need food and life-saving aid and continues its relentless attacks on religious freedoms, including demolition of churches and denial of freedom of worship," the Enough Project said in a statement.

"That is not the description of a good partner or one that is honoring its commitments to the United States."

Follow Rob Cusack on Twitter: @Rob_Cusack