Sahel Blog

Some Arguments for Easing U.S. Sanctions on Sudan

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In January, the outgoing administration of U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order that would have triggered, six months later, the easing of some U.S. sanctions on Sudan. Before that six-month marker arrived on July 12, the new administration of President Donald Trump promulgated its own executive order putting in place a three-month delay.

I’ve seen two major reports from think tank/advocacy groups arguing for a rethink of the sanctions, as well as for a removal of Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terror (SST) list.

One report (.pdf) comes from the Atlantic Council’s Sudan Task Force. The report argues that sanctions have hurt ordinary Sudanese people rather than decisively affecting the ruling regime (p. 8). The report doesn’t quite come out and say “lift the sanctions,” but that’s the message I got from it. The report adds that “Continuing to maintain the SST designation without any evidence of sponsoring terrorism – and, in fact, with plentiful evidence of Sudan’s cooperation in countering terrorism as well as various commendations from members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities – undermines US credibility and leverage in Sudan, the region, and on wider US counterterrorism efforts” (p. 10).

From the perspective of actual Trump administration policy, it may be significant that the Atlantic Council’s Peter Pham, himself a member of the Sudan Task Force, is rumored to be a top candidate for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, a position the Trump administration has not yet filled.

Another report comes from the International Crisis Group, and it’s a bit blunter:

Sudan’s government has gone some way toward meeting U.S. criteria for sanctions relief. But its progress, particularly on humanitarian access and ceasing hostilities in its internal conflicts, at best is partial and President Omar al-Bashir’s government remains autocratic, corrupt and abusive. To lift sanctions would reward a regime that must do much more to improve governance and end its wars; not to do so could lead to a reversal of advances made and discourage further cooperation. On balance, lifting sanctions is the better of two imperfect options, particularly if coupled with clear signals that far more is needed for the government to escape those sanctions that will remain in force and obtain debt relief. The U.S. should also make clear that it stands ready to impose new targeted financial sanctions should Khartoum renege on its commitments.

Personally, I’m swayed by the arguments that Atlantic Council and Crisis Group make. No one should deny the abuses that the Sudanese government perpetrates, but the current approach does not seem to be working, and maintaining the sanctions unchanged could undermine U.S. leverage and even engender backsliding on the part of the Sudanese government.

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