For nearly all of the 61 years since Sudan was granted its independence in 1956, war has blotted its history. Subsequently, since 1990, the United States and United Nations have passed countless resolutions, laws, and executive orders, and imposed economic sanctions in an attempt to disincentive the Sudanese regime and their aligned militia groups from continuing to perpetuate civil war throughout Sudan. The current civil war that now rages in Sudan started in 2011, after South Sudan was granted its independence. Unfortunately, the regions of South Kordofan, Darfur, and the Blue Nile State in the southern portion of Sudan were excluded from independence. Today, this is the epicenter of the fighting, which persists between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLA-N, a rebel organization) and the Sudanese government. Fighting in these areas has resulted in over 4,000 aerial bombings of civilian targets.
Despite continued violence in Sudan and the disapproval of senior members of Congress, on January 13, 2017, President Obama signed an executive order citing “positive actions” by the Sudanese regime in five tracks of engagement: (1) cooperation on counterterrorism; (2) cooperation in countering the Lord Resistance Army; (3) commitment to a cessation of hostilities in the conflict areas; (4) ending support for rebel groups in the newly liberated South Sudan; and (5) providing unfettered humanitarian access to under resourced populations. This order lifted sanctions on a probationary basis with the ultimate goal of removing all economic sanctions placed on Sudan by the Clinton and Bush administrations by July 12, 2017, if the Sudanese Government complied with its requirements.
Obama Administration officials believed that this order would serve as an incentive for the Sudanese government to treat its citizens better and adhere to the norms of international law. However, President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir has never been one to uphold his agreements, and a plethora of UN Security Council Resolutions[i] citing a lack of adherence to agreements and requirements by the Sudanese Government prove a behavioral pattern. With less than a week until the July 12th deadline, little has changed in Sudan.
While the Sudanese Government claims that humanitarian access has increased for people living in the conflict zones, there is little evidence to suggest this is the case. Eyewitnesses on the ground claim that mothers feed their children with leaves and roots. In the February to May 2017 time period, the Famine Early Warning System Network determined that most portions of the conflict zones in the south of Sudan were experiencing food “crisis” and, in some cases, “emergency.” This makes the government’s limitation of humanitarian access even more crucial. Interestingly, the government allowed some food to enter the Darfur region of west Sudan earlier this year. However, it was minimal, and the government continues to use it as grounds to claim that humanitarian access has increased as Obama’s executive order requires.
In addition, despite the fact that there have been no aerial bombings of civilian targets in the conflict zones since the signing of the executive order in January, in recent weeks during planting season, the Sudanese Military began flying planes over rural farmland, preventing the people from farming. Without dropping any bombs, the government is waging war in a different way by denying people the ability to plant. In the rural areas of Sudan, a day of planting equals a month of food when the harvest comes. By removing sanctions next week, the United States Government sends the message to the world that it can be easily manipulated and deceived by dangerous regimes, like Sudan’s.
Along these same lines, before agreeing to sign a ceasefire last July, Sudan’s government forces advanced to take large swaths of farmland in the conflict areas. Knowing that rebels wouldn’t deny a ceasefire agreement for fear of being ostracized by the international community, the SPLA-N was forced to comply. This put the entire area in lockdown and, with no humanitarian access, put the civilian populations at heightened risk. This type of behavior cannot be ignored and must be recognized as a mere strategic ceasefire which benefits the Sudanese regime and its agenda.
Cooperation on counterterrorism is another main component of the executive order’s five track process. However, there is a question as to the value of Sudan’s assistance. There is still no clear evidence to suggest Sudan has stopped assisting Josef Kony, his LRA, or the Seleka, a terror group that operates east of Sudan in the Congo and Central African Republic, making it unwise to assume that Sudan is a capable and trustworthy counterterrorism partner. To that affect, how can a counterterrorism partner also be the same government that housed Osama bin Laden in the 1990s and staged attacks on the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the bombing of the USS Cole? More importantly, how can the US deem Sudan a counterterrorism partner when it remains one of three countries on the State Department’s state sponsor of terror list?
In addition, the greatest flaw of the order is that it lacks requirements for religious freedom, despite it being one of the main reasons for implementing the third round of sanctions in 1997, the action president Obama’s order now seeks to rescind. In April 2013, the Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Sudan’s governmental entity in charge of issuing licenses for Church buildings, announced that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan. Since January, the regime has already bulldozed two churches in Khartoum and plans to bulldoze at least 27 more by the end of the year, proving its commitment to persecution. However, where the government bulldozes churches, the believers remain and often return each Sunday to worship God beside the ruins of their church. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2017 annual report, Sudan continues to engage in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.” To reverse punitive sanctions on a regime that continues to commit religious freedom violations would leave a stain on the credibility and morality of the US Government. Allowing Bashir’s government access to American markets and foreign investments would not only reward the regime for its bad behavior, but also provide the Government of Sudan with more resources to commit atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities living in the country.
In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt noted in his State of the Union address that there are “four freedoms” in which the world should be founded upon, including the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.” As a global leader in religious freedom and human rights, the United States must not let Sudan off the hook. Taking steps towards better relations with a regime, like Sudan’s, would negate any credibility the US had on these topics. As America’s founding document states, all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Therefore, it is imperative that the US take actions to prevent atrocities such as these and secure these unalienable rights for everyone everywhere. Re-implementing and modernizing sanctions on Sudan is the first necessary step to this end.
Andrew Larsen is a rising senior at Wake Forest University and currently interns for a non-profit advocacy firm in Washington, DC, which specializes in human rights and religious freedom issues. Last summer he spent time interning at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, where he conducted research on the Middle East through the lens of regional security.
Photo Credit: Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, President of Sudan, listens to a speech during the opening of the 20th session of The New Partnership for Africa’s Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 31, 2009. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released.
[i] UNSCR 1556, 1547, 1564, 1590, 1591, 1593, 1672, 1706