U.S. Sanctions Against Khartoum Renewed by Obama—But his State Department works hard to minimize the significance of his action
By Eric Reeves
November 1, 2016 - Yesterday, in a development all too characteristic of Obama administration Sudan policy, President Obama declared that sanctions originally imposed on November 3, 1997 will be renewed for another year. Lifting the sanctions would be, within some political constituencies key to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, highly unpopular. At the same time, however, the Obama administration State Department worked hard to undercut the force of the President’s sanctions renewal. Although the full statement has not been posted anywhere on the U.S. State Department website (www.state.gov) as of this writing, key excerpts were reported by both Sudan Tribune and Radio Dabanga (links to their dispatches appear below). And yet a “google search” comes up empty when using the phrases reported by these two important Sudanese news sources in searching for the full State Department press release.
The statement reads in part, according to the two dispatches:
In a press statement from Washington D.C. on Monday, the Department said that on 3 November 2016, “consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), President Barack Obama will continue, for one year, the national emergency with respect to Sudan declared in Executive Order 13067. This is part of an annual process that began on November 3, 1997, when the President declared a national emergency with respect to Sudan.”
The statement points out that “this is a technical decision and part of a routine, annual process that does not prejudice the ability of the President to provide sanctions relief at any point in the future.
“The United States government remains committed to continued high level policy engagement with Sudan and has been quite clear with the Government of Sudan on the steps that need to be taken to secure economic sanctions relief. “We look forward to continued frank and frequent exchanges with our Sudanese counterparts that will hopefully lead us to outcomes both countries seek,” the statement concludes.
The key phrase here is of course:
“…this is a technical decision and part of a routine, annual process that does not prejudice the ability of the President to provide sanctions relief at any point in the future.” (emphasis added)
A merely “technical decision”? This suggests no sustained review of Khartoum’s domestic actions of this past year or in recent years. I have recently compiled an extensive two-part survey of those actions:
To suggest that an assessment of these actions is a mere “technicality” is callous beyond reckoning. In aggregate, these actions amount to continuing genocide in the Darfur region as well as in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Ethnically-targeted village destruction, aerial bombardment, rape, massive looting and pillaging, and violent land expropriation are the primary means by which Khartoum conducts its counter-insurgency operations in these long marginalized regions. A recent, lengthy, and highly authoritative report from Amnesty International makes clear that genocidal tactics in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur include the use of chemical weapons. Instead of labeling these actions the occasion for a serious re-appraisal of relations between Khartoum and Washington, the State Department declares merely that “this is a technical decision and part of a routine, annual process that does not prejudice the ability of the President to provide sanctions relief at any point in the future.”
Is this a mere legalism? Or, as would appear much more likely from others statements and actions, is this sending a signal to Khartoum that all is well (enough)? Here we should recall that in a press conference in November 2011—five years ago—a senior State Department official declared that Darfur was being “de-coupled” from the primary bilateral issue between Washington and Khartoum, cooperation in the provision of counter-terrorism intelligence. The word “de-coupled” was precisely that of the senior State Department official (unnamed in the official State Department transcript of the briefing).
The value in surveying the material I’ve provided in the extended compendia indicated above is that they make clear the Khartoum regime remains engaged in massive war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against its own people. Whatever the original reason for imposing sanctions in 1997 during the Clinton administration, or extending them in 2006 under the Bush administration, U.S. sanctions should always be in place against countries guilty of genocide—a crime of which regime president Omar al-Bashir stands accused, on multiple counts, by the International Criminal Court. Others within the regime have either already been or will be charged by the ICC with crimes against humanity and ultimately genocide.
The decision of the Obama administration—as voiced from two parts of the executive branch—is emblematic of the hypocrisy that has defined Obama’s presidency. A president who came to office in part by campaigning on the tragedy of Darfur—
"When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls …. We can’t say ’never again’ and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEd583-fA8M#t=15
—is leaving office with these words mocking any claim to moral integrity in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Obama should bear in mind the words he himself so unctuously uttered during his first campaign—and remember also his words of just last year about the conditions that foster terrorism:
“When people are oppressed and human rights are denied, particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of ministers from dozens of countries. “It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit. When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.” (White House transcript, 19 February 2015
And yet in late December 2011, Obama’s special envoy for Sudan at the time, Princeton Lyman, declared of an increasingly violent and repressive regime, so well described in these words of February 2015:
“We do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Asharq Al-Awsat, 3 December 2011 | http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=27543
What ghastly expediency and disingenuousness.
Obama’s administration has offered Sudan nothing but hypocrisy and bad faith. His shame will far outlive his presidency.
Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights