In an unexpected turn of events, the United States has lifted sanctions on Sudan, ending a 20-year trade embargo with the African nation. After 16 months of diplomatic talks, the State Department declared that Sudan has been cooperating with the U.S. on counterterrorism. A State Department official stated that “We see this as an important milestone, but one on a road that’s going to take a lot longer to get to where we want to go in Sudan.” The Sudanese government expressed delight, stating that they “welcome this positive decision”, and Al Jazeera reports that the lifting of the sanctions will further incentivize Sudan to cooperate on “issues of international peace and security, illegal immigration, human trafficking and fighting terrorism.” The Trump administration also recently removed Sudan from the list of northern African and Middle Eastern countries with travel restrictions to the U.S.
Despite this historic decision, Sudan still remains listed as an official state sponsor of terrorism. Additionally, according to the Washington Post, not all sanctions were lifted from Sudan- in particular sanctions on individuals who have committed war crimes. One of the conditions of this sanctions relief was that Sudan must commit to refraining from purchasing arms from North Korea, with the U.S. stating that “they understand we have zero tolerance for continued arms deals with North Korea.” Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, Sudan must comply with all UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea.
US sanctions on Sudan were first imposed in 1997, due to the country’s support of terrorism on the governmental level. Additional sanctions were applied in 2006 as a consequence of the situation in Darfur. As a result, Sudan has suffered from decades of political instability and prolonged internal conflict resulting from these economic sanctions. In 2003, Sudan was experiencing a deadly civil war that created a humanitarian crisis, with 2.5 million internally displaced people (IDP) fleeing ethnic violence and crimes against humanity from the Sudanese government. Darfur was the centre of political violence between the Sudanese government and the two main opposition groups, Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which compromised regional stability. The continuous attacks on civilians generated a response from the African Union, who was in its infancy stage as it was created in 2001, just two years prior to the conflict. This led to the establishment of the African Union’s Mission in Sudan (AMIS), the organization’s first-ever peacekeeping operation. Its mandate was to monitor and observe compliance by the Sudanese government and the two opposition forces, SLA and JEM, to the Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement (HCFA) of 2003, which was partially coordinated by the AU, according to Human Rights Watch.
Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir has been in power for 28 years. He has had a hostile relationship with the United Nations, and his animosity for the organisation intensified when the International Criminal Court Special Prosecutor issued his arrest warrant for “ genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes” on March 4, 2009. This case was effectively referred to the ICC by the UN. Although the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur was signed between the Sudanese government and JEM on February 23, 2010, a peace agreement that was highly praised by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, hostilities escalated shortly after the April 2010 elections. The relentless fighting interfered with the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur’s (UNAMID) ability to enforce peace, protect civilians, and provide adequate military protection for humanitarian workers. The brutal war that started in 2003 had caused an estimated 300,000 deaths by 2010. There were also fatal attacks and kidnappings of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers by the Sudanese Armed Forces, the Sudanese Police Force, and allied Janjaweed militias. The deteriorating situation in Sudan along with 145 deaths of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers resulted in debates at the UN Security Council about possibly withdrawing the mission. Nonetheless, the contested UNAMID mandate was extended and it remains the largest peacekeeping mission to date. Certainly, that the mission is still ongoing and Sudan remains unstable is not only because of the protracted conflict, but also because of the poor economic and social conditions caused by resource scarcity.
Magnus Taylor, a Sudan analyst at the International Crisis Group stated that “It is appropriate now to offer Sudan incentives and the beginning of a way back to a kind of international order from which it was thoroughly expelled.” However, these unexpected foreign policy changes towards Sudan have been criticized by human rights groups who strongly believe that sanctions relief will allow Sudan’s long-serving ruler to remain in power. Nonetheless, the removal of economic sanctions will attract FDI and incentive foreign investors to invest in Sudan. This will consequently have the potential to uplift the country’s crippled economy, which has suffered from decades of economic isolation. This historic decision effectively encapsulates the effectiveness of diplomacy in international cooperation and advancing common goals.
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