Sanctions still needed on Sudan

In their recent piece in The Hill, former Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Richard Swett (D-N.H.) defended the Obama administration’s decision relating to the easing of sanctions on Sudan.

We believe any decision to relax sanctions on Sudan should rest on the conduct of the Government of Sudan in relation to their treatment of the Sudanese people. In this regard, little has fundamentally changed. Those in power have not been freely elected by their people. Today, in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, people are forced to flee their homes and seek temporary refuge in caves and dry river beds, exposed to the elements and other hazards, in order escape aerial bombardment by government forces. There, as in the Blue Nile and five Darfur states, millions have been displaced by the regime’s war against its own people, and yet humanitarian access in areas of urgent need remains hindered or outright barred for years by the Khartoum government as a central part of its war strategy. Political opponents, human rights advocates, and journalists continue to be detained and at times tortured for expressing their beliefs.

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Last April, the Enough Project published a major report outlining how a commitment to a modernized targeted sanctions regime would ratchet up the pressure on the massively corrupt senior officials in the regime. Moreover, the report highlighted how more carefully calibrated sanctions exemptions can relieve potential consequences for aid groups, NGOs and everyday Sudanese.

The factual basis for the conclusions reached by Shays and Swett are misguided and incomplete.

For example, the rise in cancer and other ills in Sudan can be attributed to the regime’s corrupt budgetary mismanagement that has left the country’s productive and human development sectors – in particular its healthcare, industry, agriculture, and education -- in shambles. Blaming sanctions for a government’s decision to use its resources to fight wars against its own people while regime officials enrich themselves personally is to provide a convenient scapegoat.  

Sudan’s military has deliberately attacked and destroyed towns, including bombing hospitals in areas where the government’s own “scorched earth” military operations have driven people to seek such urgent care. Therefore, we would argue that it is not, as the authors state, that “sanctions kill people,” but rather it is the Bashir regime that is largely responsible for the many horrors suffered by its citizens.

The piece also directly attacks the motivations of the Enough Project and its co-founder. But far from the “moneyed lobby” the authors rail against, the Enough Project is a modestly budgeted, non-partisan, non-profit organization focused on preventing the kinds of mass atrocities perpetrated by the regime in Sudan. 

The easing of U.S. sanctions, and the ensuing weakening of targeted financial pressures, will only further entrench the Khartoum regime. Without any restraint on its access to the global financial system, Bashir and his cohorts will increasingly profit from mass corruption, will continue to shut down political competition through arrest and violence, and continue to commit atrocities as a central part of its war strategy.  For those concerned about flows of migrants from Sudan to the West, the violence, repression and corruption of the Bashir regime is a key source of that flow. For those concerned about international terrorism, few leaders in the world have a worse track record of giving aid and comfort to terrorists than Bashir over the last 27 years, despite current efforts to curry favor by sharing information in order to have the sanctions removed.  Once removed, the information spigot will slowly close, and terrorist engagement will slowly increase.  That has been the pattern for nearly three decades.

PR whitewashing efforts to the contrary, Khartoum’s brutal and corrupt record is clear. If the Trump administration allows Sudan’s violent kleptocracy to continue without the pressure to build a more inclusive and transparent government, American and European national security objectives related to terrorism and migration will be severely undermined, and the hopes of the Sudanese people for peace and human rights in their land will once again be callously punted down the field.

Ian Schwab is Director of Advocacy and Impact Strategy at the Enough Project, where Greg Hittelman is Director of Communications.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.