Bipartisan effort needed again for Sudan

In September, President Obama announced a sequenced strategy that offers the genocidal regime in Khartoum incentives in exchange for specific progress on key issues such as allowing referenda for Southern Sudan independence and the tense border region of Abyei scheduled for January and resolving the crisis in Darfur. Broad statements hint at severe penalties should Khartoum not make progress in these areas, however, for a strategy that is marketed as a balance between incentives and pressures, there has been far more emphasis on the former.

Senator Kerry was dispatched by President Obama to Sudan earlier this month to offer an amendment to the September strategy that would allow Khartoum to come off the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SSTL) before fully implementing the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement (which guaranteed the referenda) or resolving the crisis in Darfur. The administration explained that this de-listing, which could happen as soon as July 2011, would not trigger the lifting of sanctions.

Congress should act to ensure that Khartoum does not come off the SSTL without an investigation into whether or not it is arming and supplying the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Khartoum has a long history of supporting this group which terrorized civilians, and particularly children, in Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are reports that the LRA is now in South Darfur and attempting to re-establish connections with Khartoum.

To come off the SSTL, President Obama must by law certify that the Government of Sudan has not supported terrorism in the prior six months. If the President is considering de-listing Sudan, Congress should demand that President Obama immediately investigate whether or not the LRA, which remains on the State Department’s Terrorist Exclusion List, is or has recently been directly supported by Khartoum.

In 2006, a bipartisan coalition passed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (DPAA). This law requires that a number of conditions – including an end to violence in Darfur and full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement – be met before comprehensive sanctions on Sudan are lifted. The administration has indicated that it will honor this congressional mandate; however, the requirements are subject to interpretation. We have already witnessed diplomats tempted to move up incentives and interpret the requirements in a minimalist fashion. Given Khartoum’s history of broken promises and backsliding on agreements, Congress should insist on a conservative interpretation of the requirements.

Finally, Congress should do what the administration has not – spell out the consequences Khartoum will face if it instigates large-scale violence in Southern Sudan or the border areas.

When United States tried to pressure Sudan to end crimes against humanity in Darfur, it refrained from pursuing the most aggressive sanctions – those that would directly impact Sudan’s oil revenues. The reason is that those revenues are supposed to be shared with the regional Government of Southern Sudan, a U.S. ally. However, if hostilities between Khartoum and Juba erupt and the Khartoum stops sharing oil revenues, those aggressive sanctions should be back on the table.

In the DPAA, Congress encouraged the president to “to deny the Government of Sudan access to oil revenues, including by prohibiting entry at United States ports to cargo ships or oil tankers engaged in business or trade activities in the oil sector of Sudan or involved in the shipment of goods for use by the armed forces of Sudan.” Congress should be prepared to quickly consider this and other similar measures should oil payments to Southern Sudan stop.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been frustrated by presidents from both parties failing to take sufficient action to help address the gross human rights abuses in Sudan. In the past decade at least three major Sudan laws were passed with bipartisan support. Moreover, the constituencies concerned about Sudan are liberal and conservative. The referenda in Sudan, potential flashpoints for violence, will take place just days after the 112th Congress is sworn in. A divided Congress should continue the bipartisan tradition on Sudan policy and firm up the administration’s carrots-and-sticks Sudan strategy.

Sam Bell is executive director of the newly merged Save Darfur Coalition and Genocide Intervention Network. You can follow the author on twitter @Sam_A_Bell.