The announcement last week by the Trump administration that it is delaying the Obama administration’s order to ease sanctions on Sudan was a welcome decision. The three-month delay is not long enough to give the Sudanese the impression that we are not serious about this matter, but will be long enough to complete the needed and ongoing review of that government’s adherence to the requirements of sanctions-easing.
When the previous administration announced the plan to ease sanctions last year, it came without prior consultation with Congress, a body that has played a key role in U.S.-Sudan relations for more than three decades. In 1996, I co-chaired a hearing with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on slavery in Mauritania and Sudan. We both lamented that at that late date we were still examining the existence of slavery, an action that should have been relegated to the dustbin of history long ago. Then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Twadell described an appalling attempt by the government in Khartoum to “subjugate opposition wherever it is found” — including the taking of slaves by the army of Sudan or forces under its control. A few years later, the Sudan government and its forces were no longer enslaving Sudanese citizens, but continued to terrorize them.
Our government, led by Congress, has continued to play a role in supporting diplomatic efforts to end the long North-South civil war and set the stage for independence for South Sudan in 2011. Over the years, Congress has discussed with various administrations the prospect of easing sanctions as a reward for proven democratic progress by the Republic of Sudan.
Unfortunately, that government has met these efforts not with cooperation but with further provocations. For example, the Sudanese government facilitated attacks on the people of Darfur by the Janjaweed militias; the attacks were declared genocide by our government in 2004. Subsequent attacks on people in the Abyei area by Misseryia Arabs drove thousands to flee as refugees. Repeated bombings in the Nuba Mountains have prevented normal life for people there, and intimidation reportedly continues with overflights, if not actual bombing.
The Obama administration set five conditions for easing sanctions that would allow American companies to engage in commerce freely in Sudan: 1) rebuilding counterterrorism cooperation; 2) countering the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army; 3) ending “negative involvement” in South Sudan’s conflict; 4) sustaining a unilateral cessation of hostilities in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile Provinces; and 5) improving humanitarian access throughout Sudan.
The major missing point is the defense of human rights. The current Department of State human rights report describes Sudan as “a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle.” The report went on to state that in the period before the April 2015 national elections, “security forces arrested many supporters, members and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers,” conditions creating a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections.
The State Department report further cited the National Intelligence and Security Service of perpetrating “a pattern of widespread disregard for rule of law, committing major abuses, such as extrajudicial and other unlawful killings; torture, beatings, rape and other cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; incommunicado detention; prolonged pretrial detention; obstruction of humanitarian assistance; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion and movement and intimidation and closure of human rights and nongovernmental organizations.”
Former Secretary of State John Kerry has been a proponent of easing sanctions on Sudan since his days as a U.S. senator. Yet few observers are certain that the conditions he saw being met by the Sudan government have indeed fully been implemented. The current administration’s delay allows for further investigation and, hopefully, benchmarks for progress. This will benefit both the U.S. and Sudanese governments as both sides can quantify the status of progress.
Providing incentives for Sudan to make democratic progress is reasonable, but only if there is a framework to certify that Sudan is indeed making the promised reforms and that both sides can transparently track any progress being made. Otherwise, we are left with a vague process that will disappoint both governments, but most of all, the people of Sudan.
• Chris Smith is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey.