Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir scored a major victory this past week in removing another layer of his international isolation. The Obama administration issued an Executive Order that would revoke most sanctions on Sudan in six months, provided that the Trump administration certifies continued progress on areas of policy concern. At the same time, President Obama issued a general license that eases nearly all existing sanctions effective immediately, which his administration argues would provide incentives to the Bashir regime to move forward.
There are two main problems with this approach. First, nothing concrete has changed on the ground in Sudan at a level of significance that justifies such a sweeping move. There is no peace deal, or even peace process, that holds any hope of ending the interlocking deadly wars throughout the country. Not one additional person has begun receiving food or medical assistance, even though there has been bureaucratic progress in the relationship between aid agencies and the Sudan regime. And the sanctions relief came before the true test of military restraint on the battlefield could be assessed, as most government offensives don’t start in full every year until February or March because of weather patterns.
The Trump administration should wipe the slate clean, restore and enhance existing sanctions, and develop its own plan utilizing leverage derived from a position of strength, rather than the weakened position it now finds itself in on Day 1.
The key to maximizing leverage is to modernize the existing comprehensive sanctions, which have remained in place largely unchanged since November 1997. The Trump team – with the support of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Sudan and South Sudan, which for years has supported human rights in the two countries – should begin by immediately ratcheting up financial pressure and tightening sanctions enforcement on Sudan, deploying more focused, enhanced, and modernized sanctions that more sharply target the military and financial assets of those most responsible for continuing conflict, atrocities, and mass corruption in Sudan. At the same time, there is room for the Trump administration to provide long overdue guidance to minimize the unintended consequences of the existing sanctions measures that have harmed the medical, humanitarian, people-to-people, and academic sectors in Sudan.
We recommend the following measures that can more effectively target top regime officials and their commercial interests most responsible for conflict and corruption:
• Anti-corruption sanctions against individuals and entities facilitating public corruption, including through utilizing the new authorities created by the recent Global Magnitsky Act;
• Increased designation and enforcement of targeted sanctions on specific companies owned by Sudan’s notorious National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and companies owned by other senior government officials—areas where sanctions enforcement has been weak;
• Sectoral sanctions efforts directed at the weapons and mining sectors, the latter specifically for investment in projects in conflict areas; and
• Sanctions on foreign financial institutions that facilitate the al-Bashir regime’s most egregious activities.
Separately, but critically, the Treasury Department should pursue aggressive deployment of focused anti-money laundering measures that target the laundering of the proceeds of corruption in Sudan through the gold trade, real estate purchases, and other means. Treasury should work closely with the financial intelligence units of other countries to make these effective. Sudan’s regime is one of the most corrupt in Africa, and its top officials offshore much of the stolen wealth with the help of bankers, realtors, and other international facilitators. That illicit activity should be tracked and countered aggressively.
The goal of these modernized measures would be to create additional leverage for real change on the ground in Sudan, and would need to be paired with new efforts by the new Secretary General of the United Nations to revitalize the dormant peace process in Sudan and get aid to the millions of Sudanese people trapped in areas to which the Sudan regime currently blocks humanitarian access. Only real, lasting and verifiable results should be the benchmarks for lifting these financial pressures and providing debt relief.
Through modernized and biting financial pressure, the new administration has a real chance to use existing and new leverage to alter the deadly status quo that has led to the deaths of millions of Sudanese people over the past 25 years. Those pressures should not be removed until real change occurs on the ground for Sudan’s long-suffering people.
John Prendergast is Founding Director of the Enough Project, where Brad Brooks-Rubin is Director of Policy.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.