US should continue sanctions against Sudan until human rights improve

US should continue sanctions against Sudan until human rights improve

The Trump administration is reviewing U.S. sanctions against Sudan — which have been in place for nearly two decades — with an expected decision expected to come Oct. 12. Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Ahmad al Bashir has urged that international economic sanctions be lifted and promised to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which calls for an end to internal hostilities as well as securing humanitarian access and affirming Sudan's commitment to fighting terrorism. 

 
Yet Bashir has already failed to keep those promises.
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As a native Sudanese from Darfur, I have traveled to conflict zones in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile and have seen first-hand the plight of the Sudanese people. Last month, I visited policymakers in Washington with Peace Direct, a group that supports peace-builders in Sudan who are helping to prevent and mitigate violence every day. We were shocked to hear U.S. officials admit that the U.S. has never undertaken a thorough review of the impacts of its sanctions on Sudan. And reports from peace-builders on the ground reveal that violence and human rights abuses are, in fact, growing. If the sanctions are lifted, Bashir would increase military action against the Sudanese people, led by well-paid security and militias.

 
Sudan has a war-based economy in which more than 70 percent of its GDP goes to the security sector. Rather than a free-market economy with a competitive private sector, Sudan is entirely regulated by the ruling National Congress Party and its strong security regime. No ordinary Sudanese citizens can own or run successful businesses — only party members, relatives and allied political and religious groups.
 
Every year, the Sudanese government conducts a military campaign in the dry season, November to June, with aerial bombardments and ground operations against its own civilians. The sanctions have successfully limited those assaults against the country's people, and since 2013, they have also prevented the Sudanese government from deploying Darfur Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. 
 
Instead, the government has had to concentrate on recruitment and air strikes to reduce its own military costs. Now, Bashir is preparing for an aggressive summer war in 2018 after receiving a potential “green light” for a total lifting of sanctions. How do we know this? First, the Sudanese government is engaging in massive recruitment of RSF personnel. Last May, the government graduated tens of thousands of RSF in Khartoum, Blue Nile, Darfur and the greater Kordofan. 
 
Secondly, the Sudanese government is working to seal a new weapon bid with Russia. (Sudan is attempting to purchases jets such as MIG-29, Su-25, and combat helicopters MI-24 and MI-17, and other internationally prohibited chemical weapons from Russia.) Thirdly, as stated, the bulk of Sudan’s 2017 budget goes to defense and security, neglecting essential services for the Sudanese such as education, health and transport. 
 
The U.S. has a responsibility to keep the pressure on Bashir. The most effective way to lift sanctions is to do so gradually and tie it directly to 1) ending the existing violent conflict; 2) ending terrorism and regional armed groups; 3) disarmament of the militia; and 5) protecting human rights. 
 
Peace Direct has worked to support local peace-builders in Sudan for nearly 10 years, enabling local peace committees to mitigate violence and resolve conflicts in communities every day. Listening to local people in Sudan who are experiencing the ongoing violence first-hand and who working tirelessly to address it should help to inform any decisions on sanctions.
 
If the Trump administration lifts sanctions, it will not only aggravate Bashir’s war against its civilians but pave the way for a clear win in a one-man election in 2020. Sanctions are one of the only tools the international community can use to push for peace, security and human rights in Sudan. 
 
If the U.S. eases sanctions and opens relations with Khartoum while the Sudanese people face rising violence, it will be a sign that self-interest and greed have replaced human rights and peace-building as core values of U.S. foreign policy.
 
Quscondy Abdulshafi is a Sudanese activist and researcher with Peace Direct, an international organization that supports peace in areas of conflict.