Accessibility links

Breaking News

Stronger Sanctions Will Help Pressure Sudan into Democratic Reforms Say US Officials

Observers are concerned that peace in Southern Sudan is under serious threat. A 21-year civil conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government in Khartoum ended in 2005, when the warring parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). But the SPLM recently quit the Government of National Unity to protest what it says is President Omar al-Bashir’s failure to implement democratic reforms called for in the agreement. The party also hopes that the United States’ application of stricter economic sanctions on the government in Khartoum will eventually lead to greater freedoms in Sudan. In the fourth part of a series on the country, Darren Taylor provides an overview of the US financial measures against Sudan.

Adam Szubin, the director of the United States Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), is responsible for administering and enforcing the US government’s economic sanctions. He says these programs target “supporters of terrorism, proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, international narcotics traffickers and select foreign countries” – including Sudan.

“The sanctions are very broad. There are comprehensive sanctions against any trade or dealings with the territory of Sudan, and even tighter sanctions…on the government of Sudan itself that say any property, or any interests in property of the government of Sudan, that comes into the possession of a US person, that comes into the territory of the United States, or any US person or company abroad, has to be blocked or frozen,” Szubin explains.

The US first implemented comprehensive sanctions against Sudan in 1993, says Ted Dagne, former advisor to Washington’s Special Envoy to Sudan and international relations expert at the Congressional Research Service – the public policy arm of the US Congress.

“What the government of Sudan did – it’s embassy, actually, in New York – it provided some of the logistic support to some of the bombers of the first Trade Center bombing,” he says.

Washington then placed Khartoum on a list of states sponsoring terrorism, and sanctions against President Omar al-Bashir’s government have been in place ever since.

“Sudan was not able to get assistance from the US, and also our representatives in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were instructed often to vote against Sudan when it came up for a loan or assistance,” says Dagne.

Then, in 1997, former President Bill Clinton issued an executive order, in response to Khartoum’s war on the people of Southern Sudan, that expanded the sanctions on Sudan.

“Those sanctions have been in place for the last ten years and are among the most restrictive sanctions we have. It’s a reflection of the level of concern by the US government at the time, and in the years since, about what the government of Khartoum had and has been doing,” says Szubin.

President Bush recently toughened the economic punishments on the Sudanese government in response to atrocities allegedly committed by Khartoum’s troops and militias in the Darfur region.

“That included sanctions against additional government-of-Sudan-owned-and-controlled companies – some of them in the petroleum sector, some of them in the telecommunications sector. (And) additional sanctions against individuals who were responsible for coordinating between the government of Sudan and the janjaweed militias.

“We named a company, an air cargo company, that had been ferrying armaments from Khartoum to Darfur for use by these militias. And these sanctions blocked any assets that these individuals or companies had anywhere in the world,” says Szubin.

He adds that the United States has also improved the methods it uses to investigate individuals and companies trying to evade its sanctions.

“We take a very harsh view of those who would try to evade our sanctions and deliver anything – whether it’s arms, equipment or material – to a prohibited entity such as the government of Sudan, from the United States.”

But Szubin emphasizes that the US government is eager to protect Southern Sudan and the so-called “marginalized” areas in Sudan against the impact of the sanctions – including Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile.

“Executive order 13412, which was issued more than a year ago, lifts sanctions from those territories that I mentioned and other marginalized areas around Khartoum, with an aim to not only lift the sanctions, but also to allow for trade and business to go on between US persons and those areas,” he explains.

In terms of the order, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also issues licenses to aid workers and people operating on behalf of the United Nations “to do any commerce or trade that they deem necessary in the course of their official business,” Szubin says.

The US also allows humanitarian goods to reach the South and Darfur, even if these products first arrive in Khartoum.

But Szubin also acknowledges that the sanctions against the Khartoum government sometimes hurt the South. He says money destined for the South is sometimes “blocked” because it first arrives at banks in Khartoum. This triggers the sanctions, and the Southerners can’t access the funds.

But SPLM trade spokesman Deng Deng Nhial says this won’t happen when international banks begin operating in Southern Sudan.

Dagne says the US efforts to protect the “victims” in Sudan from the strict sanctions are “unprecedented.”

“It’s unprecedented in Congressional history where you post sanctions on a government, on a country – but then within the same legislative act, you provide a specific exemption within the same territory to those people who are the victims.”

Dagne explains that there are clauses within Washington’s Darfur Accountability Act that make it possible for Americans to provide help to Sudanese, despite the sanctions. The Act says the following: ‘Notwithstanding any provision of law, the President is authorized to undertake appropriate programs using federal agencies or direct support of indigenous groups, agencies or organizations in areas outside of the control of the government of Sudan in an effort to provide emergency relief, promote economic self sufficiency, build civil society, provide education and enhance rule of law.’

Dagne adds that the United States has provided almost three billion dollars in emergency relief to Sudan in the past three years.

“This is at a time when you look at the GDP of the government of Sudan, and when you look at the budget expenditure of the government of Sudan, where they’re building five-star hotels, that they’re not even interested in feeding their own population. So American taxpayers have to pay in order to keep the victims of Darfur alive.”

Dagne insists that sanctions aren’t a “magic pill” that will provide a direct path to democracy in Sudan and peace in Darfur, but says they’re a valuable strategy.

“Don’t assume sanctions will change the situation on the ground. Don’t assume sanctions will end the suffering in Darfur. Don’t assume that sanctions will save lives: assume sanctions will pressure governments,” he maintains.

Dagne’s convinced that while sanctions are an important tool leading to change in Sudan, it’s up to the Sudanese people themselves to exert pressure from within to secure greater freedoms for themselves, and to make sure that the 2005 peace deal is implemented.