If you were told that an indicted war criminal who is responsible for the death of thousands of Sudanese citizens should be allowed to gain the economic benefits of trading with the U.S., what would you say? On July 12 the Trump administration postponed a decision for 90 days on whether to continue to implement Executive Order 13761 regarding sanctions on Sudan that were established as the result of decades of violence, genocide and crimes against humanity.
My first visit to Sudan was in 1989. I have been there numerous times since and I was the first member of the House to go to Darfur during the genocide in 2004. What I saw there was one of the worst scenes I have ever witnessed. Shortly after I returned, Congress passed a resolution declaring that genocide was taking place in Darfur. President Bush declared it genocide as well, effectively becoming the first president to declare an ongoing conflict to be genocide.
Since 2011, the Sudanese government has continued to target Sudanese villages in the Nuba Mountains and other areas dropping thousands of bombs on them over the past six years, indiscriminately killing thousands of civilians including women and children. Nuba Reports, a journalism initiative based in the Nuba Mountains has documented more than 4,000 bombs dropped on civilian areas since June 2011.
Then there is the latest report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom which states, “Religious freedom conditions in Sudan continued to deteriorate in 2016. Government officials arrested and prosecuted Christian leaders and marginalized the Christian community.” The report goes on to state, “The government of Sudan, led by President Bashir, imposes a restrictive interpretation of Sharia and applies corresponding hudood punishments on Muslims and non- Muslims alike.”
Last, according to a report issued in 2017 by the Enough Project, “Throughout his reign, President Omar al-Bashir has overseen the entrenchment of systemic looting, widespread impunity, political repression, and state violence so that he and his inner circle can maintain absolute authority and continue looting the state. The result of this process, on the one hand, has been the amassment of fortunes for the president and a number of elites, enablers, and facilitators, and on the other hand crushing poverty and underdevelopment for most Sudanese people.”
At the end of the last Administration, President Obama declared that Sudan had made progress and Executive Order 13761 was signed, setting a course for Sudan’s sanctions to expire July 12, 2017 if President Bashir maintained a cease fire in war torn parts of the country, improved access for desperately needed humanitarian relief, and cooperated on U.S. counter-terrorism efforts by sharing intelligence on regional conflicts.
However, six months is not enough time to fully monitor and determine the future of sanctions that have been in place for two decades, especially when the President of the country is an indicted war criminal.
As the deadline to lift sanctions drew near, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative joined with many other organizations across the political spectrum and from multiple sectors including advocacy, journalism, human rights, and relief agencies to take a strong stand on Sudan. Together we brought testimony, evidence, and arguments to the administration. And they listened. At a time when there is much tension in our culture and politics, it gives me hope to see many people and organizations come together on this important issue, and to be able to have an impact for those suffering in Sudan.
I am grateful to President Trump for extending the review period so his administration has more time for fact-finding and comprehensive analysis. The United States must ensure that the genocidal government of Sudan will not use the lifting of sanctions as a means to acquire the capacity to commit more crimes in the future. I hope all who care about this issue will speak up as the Trump administration considers its next steps. To paraphrase one of my heroes, William Wilberforce, now that we know, we cannot look away.
• Frank R. Wolf, a retired U.S. representative from Virginia, is a distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.