Trump Delays Decision Over Sanctions On Sudan

In early July, the decision on whether economic sanctions imposed on Sudan should be lifted was delayed by President Trump. Since the 1990’s, Sudan has been the subject of sanctions from the United States. This has included an embargo on trade, the freezing of assets, and the implementation of financial restrictions. Initially, these were enforced due to Sudan’s apparent involvement in sponsoring terrorism, which included playing host to Osama Bin-Laden from 1991.  More recently, with civil unrest resulting in mass civilian deaths in Darfur, unwarranted military involvement in South Sudan, and reported use of chemical weapons against civilians, America utilized sanctions in the hope of bringing about stability.

The Obama administration temporarily lifted these sanctions in rewarding Sudan’s “positive actions” towards furthering peaceful and stable outcomes. Working in coordination with America, Sudan has progressed on a number of fronts. The government has countered the growth of terrorism, allowed aid workers to access civilians suffering from a stagnant economy, and recently announced the maintenance of a unilateral ceasefire with the rebels it has been at war with in Darfur. Whether this has been enough to justify making the temporary removal of economic sanctions on Sudan permanent is the question President Trump has to answer. Originally his decision was due on July 11th, but now has been postponed until October 2017.

The Trump administration, in justifying their delay, stated that they wanted to see “sustained progress” in Sudan. This has been welcomed in America by a number of lobbyists from both ends of the political spectrum. In late June, 53 congressmen and women petitioned the president to delay the decision, pointing out the continued persecution of Christians in Sudan and the denial of religious freedoms.

Officially, it seems the Trump administration wanted more time to assess whether the Sudanese government had taken enough positive steps to warrant the lifting of these sanctions. The US Chargé affairs to Sudan, Khartoum Koutsis, stated that the “US administration needs more time to discuss this file.” From Sudan’s perspective, this delay has provoked frustration. The criteria laid down to Sudan upon the sanctions implementation have from their perspective been achieved.

Abdul Ghani al-Naim of the Foreign Ministry stated that “the natural and logical step is that the sanctions are lifted, because Sudan has implemented what was asked of it entirely.” The lifting of these sanctions would allow Sudan to regain access to the global banking system, bring in urgently needed foreign investment and trade, and tackle inflation which has reached almost 35%.

The decision in October poses no easy answer. Undoubtedly, Sudan has made progress in previous years, and the lifting of these sanctions may also hold benefits. For the US intelligence services and key nations in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan could become a useful ally in the fight against Jihadist extremists if economic sanctions were eased. It would also allow the economy to recover, and with it help improve the situation for thousands of civilians living in economic strife.

The sanctions have arguably worsened the position of many Sudanese people, as well as refugees in the country, who suffer from a shortfall in food, medicine, housing and education. A re-engagement with the international community and the encouragement of foreign investment may ease this issue. However, it is also worth considering that the removal of these American sanctions may re-bolster the position of Sudan’s highly contentious president Omar al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir, who has held power since the military coup of 1989, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for his role in the coordination of mass genocide against civilians in Darfur. Furthermore, his role in the use of chemical weapons against civilians last year has also brought outrage. These are crimes that need to be accounted for. The lifting of these sanctions will only make this more unlikely, with Al-Bashir’s position set to be strengthened. While his regime has taken positive steps, reconciliation must be done warily.

Sudan remains a country with a questionable human rights record, and one still relying on a fragile unilateral ceasefire. With Al-Bashir set to remain in charge, America must ensure that Sudan continues to make positive reforms, with or without these economic sanctions.