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U.S. hopes to enhance human rights and religious freedoms cooperation with Sudan: envoy

US charge d'affaires Steven Koutsis speaks on 11 July 2017 (ST photo)

January 29, 2019 (KHARTOUM)- The U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Khartoum Steven Koutsis has expressed his country’s desire to cooperate with Sudan on human rights and religious freedoms.

Speaking at a workshop on religious freedoms in Sudan on Monday, Koutsis pointed to Sudan’s cultural and religious diversity, saying Muslims, Christians and other believers live side by side and maintain friendships and mutual support.

He expressed hope that the outcome of the workshop contributes to enhancing the Sudanese-American cooperation on human rights, religious freedoms and humanitarian access to the needy population in war zones.

For his part, the director of U.S. and Europe department at Sudan’s Foreign Ministry Omer Ahmed called to activate the work of the non-Muslims committee and expand its activities across the country.

He pointed out that the workshop is being held within the framework of the ongoing dialogue between Sudan and the U.S., saying a number of issues have been discussed including religious freedoms in the law and jurisprudence, religious coexistence, construction of houses of worship and Christian schools holidays.

It is noteworthy that the workshop has been held under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry and the Sudanese Council of Churches with the participation of several academics, foreign embassies, religious scholars, United Nations and human rights groups.

In a statement last week, the U.S. Department of State condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Sudan and urged the release of the detainees. Further, it recalled that the normalization of bilateral relations including Sudan removal from terror list requires ensuring freedoms.

It stressed that a positive relationship between the United States and Sudan requires “meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights”.

In October 2017, the U.S. Administration permanently lifted 20-year-old economic sanctions against Sudan citing positive actions on humanitarian access and counter-terrorism.

The decision was in line with the “Five Track Engagement Plan”, in which Khartoum agreed to a cessation of hostilities with the armed groups, opened unfettered humanitarian access in the conflict-affected areas, agreed to support efforts for peace in South Sudan and developed cooperation with the U.S. to counter terrorism in the region.

However, Washington didn’t remove Sudan’s name from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In addition, it keeps in place targeted sanctions against individuals with arrest warrants related to atrocities committed during the conflict in Darfur.

Last November, Sudanese foreign minister El-Dirdeiry Ahmed and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan started talks in Washington on the normalization of bilateral relations and the removal of his country from the terror list which is the major obstacle in this respect.

At the time, sources close to the talks told Sudan Tribune the two sides agreed to develop a new plan labelled the “five-track engagement +1” to say it would include important parts of the previous five-track engagement that led to the lift of the economic sanctions.

The sources further pointed out that the focus in the new plan will be on human rights and freedoms, particularly religious freedom.

“So, this time Washington wants Khartoum to observe the international law and principles on this respects but also to amend its repressive and coercive laws,” the sources said.