Lifting United States Sanctions against Sudan on Trial
By Ibrahim Musa
Saturday 9 June 2018
Thus, October 12, 2017, was such a fear-mongering day coming with the worst news for Sudanese activists, human rights groups, and victims of the war affected zones, rebel groups, and opposition parties. Such day witnessed the publication of the most thrilling news ever published, President Trump’s decision on lifting the two decades sanctions against Sudan.
Earlier in January of 2017, President Obama before leaving office eased sanctions crediting Sudan for cooperation in counter-terrorism. Whereas the permanent lifting of sanctions was left based on Sudan’s “progress in five key areas of concern, which included cooperation on counter-terrorism, ending support to South Sudanese armed opposition actors, and providing humanitarian access to populations in need.”
His successor, President Trump upon coming to power, had to extend the sanctions for more three months “facing off strong opposition to take immediate action.” The behaviour of the Sudanese regime required policy-makers to exercise sufficient time “to establish that the government of Sudan has demonstrated sufficient positive action across all of those areas.”
In addition to the five key areas, Trump’s administration raised “concerns about human rights issues, religious freedom, and ensuring that Sudan is committed to the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.” Activists, human rights groups, victims of wars, Sudanese rebel groups, and opposition parties on the other hand, kept urging the American decision-makers not to lift the imposed sanctions on Sudan stressing several reasons.
To them, lifting sanctions was dreadful news considered as pumping a new life to the regime to continue its repression and genocidal war in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and the Blue. At least sanctions would limit the Sudanese regime’s capabilities of possessing more advanced weapons and recruiting militias fighting on behalf of the regime in war zones and repress demonstrators in urban areas. Additionally, sanctions would drain the capabilities of the regime leading it to a severe collapse that would help with a regime change.
Their argument was that nothing would change the pariah status of the Sudanese regime. Therefore, “in a statement issued on 14 September, Act for Sudan, a group of Sudanese American activists called on the U.S. Congress members to oppose the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Sudan.” Instead of lifting sanctions, they urged the U.S. to impose additional sanctions on the Sudanese regime.
Such additional sanctions were required to target the individuals and entities alleged to be supporting “terrorist ideology and networks; commit genocide, mass atrocities and crimes against the people of Sudan; violate human rights and basic freedoms, and undermine genuine peace processes.” Facing such measures, the regime and its allied actors would abandon their pariah acts.
Despite all the above fears and requests, Trump’s administration recklessly lifted the sanctions against Sudan raising very important central questions posed as; why the United States decided to lift sanctions against the Sudanese regime? Has the Sudan regime changed its behaviour? Of course not, the Sudan regime’ links to terrorist ideology and networks, genocide, mass atrocities and violation of human rights would never change.
If so, the United States decision on lifting the sanctions against Sudan assumed to be more interest-driven than any positive changes in the pariah status of the Sudanese regime. In other words, the Sudanese regime had made no any progress in the five key areas of concerns raised the United States earlier. Instead, the regime kept launching intensive diplomatic interactions throughout the three-month period to affect President Trump’s decision positively.
Among the most influential interactions, were those launched with Saudi Arabia and its partners, which leveraged the circumstances and pushed Sudan to end ties with Iran and join the Arab coalition against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen in March 2015. Indeed, Sudan joined the coalition heavily with both air forces and ground troops. In return for this, Saudi Arabia played “a pivotal role in persuading the United States to permanently lift economic sanctions against Sudan.”
Undoubtedly, the Sudanese regime’s diplomatic campaign had fruitfully succeeded making Trump’s administration credit Sudan’s improvement of humanitarian access, cooperation on counter-terrorism and preservation of ceasefire in conflict areas.” Based on such assessment, on September 15, 2017, the United State Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan met with the Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour to discuss “bilateral relations within the framework of the post-sanctions era.”
Positive engagement with the Sudanese regime as the Department of State asserted would make the Sudanese government “cooperate with the international community in its efforts to achieve peace in Sudan and regional stability.” Believing in such assertion, on October 12, 2017, Trump’s administration lifted decades sanctions against Sudan, despite Sudan’s constant pariah status in terms of human rights, religious tolerance and support for terrorism.
Other than Trump’s administration and Saudi Arabia interest-driven deal to lift the sanctions, the Sudanese regime has never changed its behaviour and will never change in the future. As state-sponsored terrorism experts assert, the Sudanese regime has a long history characterized by terrorism and harbouring radical Islamic groups and terrorist organizations.
John Prendergast and Philip Roessler argue that the Sudanese government is the only sub-Saharan African government that has officially supported terrorist organizations and provided them with a safe haven since seizing power in 1989. The regime promoted an aggressive Islamist agenda seeking “to establish an Islamic state in Sudan and to make the country as the capital of the Islamist militants’ world.”
As a result, the Islamist regime openly hosted Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996, to use its territory as a safe haven, and as a location for staging areas and training bases for numerous radical Islamist groups and terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), and Gama’at al Islamiyya (GAI) maintained an intensive presence in Sudan during the period.
The outcome of such support for terrorism, a group of Algerian veteran’s returnees from the Afghan war, who had been trained in Sudan, launched armed operations against the Algerian government causing bloody years of war in the early 1990s. Similarly, Libyans who had been trained in Sudan attempted to assassinate Qaddafi by launching attacks inside Libya killing several Libyan security officers as reported in 1996.
Hamas operatives likewise, launched suicide bombings on Israeli civilian buses in November 1995, killing five American soldiers, as well as killing other 19 American soldiers in United States’ military barracks in Khobar in June 1996. In June 1995, Sudan was also involved in the failed assassination attempt of Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt in Ethiopia.
Furthermore, Sudan was involved in al-Qaeda’s 1998 execution of twin American embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. In addition, the Sudanese regime provided a safe haven and support to numerous terrorist groups in the region, such as the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army, which is described as one of the most notorious rebel armies in the world.
Moreover, the Sudanese government backed the Séléka rebels to overthrow the government of the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the Sudanese regime provided the Malian terrorist’s support and sanctuary in exchange for their assistance in the war against the newly unified Darfur rebel groups. Sudan also persistently used its territory “as a key transit route to facilitate the movement of Iranian-shipped weapons to Gaza.”
Domestically, Sudan has supported the Janjaweed militia in Darfur since April 2003. Such militia committed numerous war crimes against humanity represented in burning villages, rape, indiscriminate killings of civilians and destroying their possessions. Thus, in a genocidal or ethnic cleansing war, the militia killed an estimate of 300,000 to 400,000 civilians and displaced over 2.5 million others.
In addition, the Sudanese regime has established jihadi units in all Sudanese colleges to be deployed to wars against rebel groups in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile or to be used in campuses against peer students opposing the regime. These young jihadists have committed notorious crimes against their peer students represented in murders and all types of torture, especially those students coming from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile state.
Reports indicate that hundreds of Sudanese college students die monthly either shot or tortured by jihadi units on campuses. Amnesty international regularly reports these incidents though totally ignored by the international community and U.S policymakers. Due to such behaviour, in 1993, the United States designated Sudan as a "state sponsor of terrorism."
Then in 1996, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1044 imposing diplomatic sanctions on Sudan in response to its involvement in a failed assassination attempt targeted the Egyptian president in 1995. Additionally, the United States issued Executive Order 13067 in 1997 imposing comprehensive sanctions against Sudan. Furthermore, in 2011 the United States extended Executive Order 13412, which was originally issued in October 2006 in response to Sudan’s support for terrorism and human rights violations.
The “International Criminal Court on the other hand, issued an arrest warrant against the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity” in 2009 extending charges of genocide in July 2010. Suffering such severe isolation and economic collapse, Sudan expelled Osama Bin Laden in 1996 keeping strong ties with Iran and its sponsored groups.
Nonetheless, since the events of September 11, 2001, Sudan has limited terrorist activities in the country to some extent by arresting individuals believed to have connections with Osama Bin Laden and offering the United States intelligence on al-Qaeda activities. Yet, cells of designated foreign terrorist organizations remain in Sudan according to the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism of 2012.
Accordingly, the United States has remained Sudan in the list of terrorism sponsor states. Avoiding criticism and accountability on issues concerning the Janjaweed, Khartoum has given the militia full immunity under the new name “Rapid Response Forces” to practice the same war crimes under the cover of regular armed forces. Sometimes the loyal Janjaweed fighters have been implicated in a broader transnational criminal network such as backing the Lord Resistance Army and trafficking weapons to Libya.
Similarly, jihadi unit’s operatives are still active in Sudanese colleges spreading violence across Sudanese colleges. These units are responsible for the death of hundreds of students in colleges. They operate out of the law enjoying full “autonomy even from police and university security officials.” Just recently, student jihadists attacked some students from Darfur killing two students and injuring two others.
Such violence has become a norm in Sudanese colleges since 1989. The Islamist regime has created a terrorist climate even at universities forming pro-government student militias that are well trained and armed to carry out operatives. Due to such climate, Sudanese colleges have become a transit route for the Islamic State recruits from Europe and elsewhere.
Thus, 22 British medical students joined ISIS from the University of Medical Sciences and Technology (UMST), which is owned “by Khartoum governorate Health Minister Ma‘amoun Houmeyda, a known Islamist.” Given this, it is prudent to suggest that Sudan is still incubator of terrorism. If so, what makes U.S. policy-makers believe that Sudan has changed behaviourvior and decide to lift sanctions?
Of course, nothing other than the unripe counter-terrorism intelligence reports, which the United States receives from Khartoum tentatively. For Eric Reeves, such reports are received “from men who could hardly be more dishonest, and will abandon all terms specified for the permanent lifting of sanctions, once the decision is announced.”
To conclude, the Sudanese regime has changed nothing in terms of human rights issues, religious tolerance, genocidal wars and support for terrorism. Instead, these key areas of concern have turned even worse. In this sense, Trump’s administration decision lifting sanctions on Sudan has interest-driven resulted from Saudi Arabia and its partners’ interaction with the United States.
Nonetheless, the United State national security interests requires regime change in Sudan due to Sudan’s irresponsible behaviors. Therefore, the United States is strongly recommended to impose even stricter sanctions to make pressure on Sudan to disarm the jihadi units and clean the terrorist climate that has been in universities for three decades.
Additionally, the United States is strongly required to make pressure on Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militia. This is because these remaining issues will constitute a major security threat to the United States and its European partners, especially jihadi units in colleges. These young men after graduation eventually, will travel to America or Europe a become lone wolves.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org