A Permanent Lifting of U.S. Sanctions on Khartoum?

President Barack Obama provisionally lifted U.S. economic sanctions on the Khartoum regime by Executive Order on January 13, 2017; Obama cited “positive actions” and his UN Ambassador Samantha Power went so far as to declare that there had been a “sea change” of improvement in humanitarian access in Sudan. These sanctions were first imposed on the regime in 1997 and strengthened during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The Obama Executive Order stipulated the conditions for a permanent lifting of economic sanctions, which are essentially twofold:

[1] Improve humanitarian access in Darfur as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile (the “Two Areas”) and,

[2] End organized violence in the regions, including a halt to the indiscriminate aerial bombardment that has defined Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in Darfur for fourteen years and for over almost six years in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

How well has Khartoum done in fulfilling its commitments on these two critical issues? I will be issuing periodic “report cards” assessing the regime’s performance; this present “report card” focuses on humanitarian access in Darfur.

Ambassador Power’s claim of a “sea change” in improved humanitarian access is denied by every source with whom I have spoken within the broader humanitarian community. It is not credited by the U.S. State Department, although no correction has been offered—nor has the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) made clear how fundamentally false and dangerously misleading Power’s claim was. This seems perverse, given the use Khartoum will make of this falsehood come July 2017 when the decision to lift sanctions is supposed to be reviewed.

Human Rights Watch rightly called the Obama decision to lift sanctions simply “inexplicable.” There was much support for this view in the April 4, 2017 hearing by the Tom Lantos Congressional Human Rights Commission.

I will discuss in greater detail, when my focus is more particularly continuing violence in Darfur, the remarkably authoritative report from the Enough Project by the distinguished student of Sudan, Suliman Baldo:

“Border Control from Hell: How the EU's migration partnership legitimizes Sudan's ‘militia state,’" Suliman Baldo | The Enough Project | April 2017 | http://www.enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf | see particularly: The Political Economy of Violence in Sudan’s “Militia State” (page 12 ff.)

He makes a number of important observations about recent military history in Sudan, particularly concerning the creation of what he calls the “militia state,” which in many ways obviates the need for “military offensives” (by the Sudan Armed Forces, SAF) of the sort the Obama Executive Order stipulates. Even so it is worth noting a report yesterday (from Radio Dabanga) on aerial bombardment near Deribat in the Jebel Marra region of Central Darfur.

Let’s be very clear here: given the terms of the supposed agreement between Khartoum and the Obama administration on such attacks—and the threat such attacks pose to the permanent lifting of sanctions—no junior or local officer could have made the decision to launch the attack: the order could have come only from the most senior military (and hence political) leadership:

Bombing reported in Darfur's Jebel Marra | April 7, 2017 | DERIBAT

On Thursday afternoon, a Sudanese Air Force plane dropped three explosive barrels west of Deribat in Jebel Marra, without causing any human casualties. The three barrel bombs hit the area of Logi and killed a number of livestock of residents. The attack caused panic in the area.

Witnesses reported to Radio Dabanga that the plane had flown over Logi for a period of time before bombing the area. There have been no reports of aerial bombardments in Darfur's Jebel Marra in recent months: the latest bombing occurred in October and reportedly killed one man and scores of livestock in Deribat. In preceding weeks, renewed fighting had broken out between the Sudanese army and rebel SLM-AW combatants.

The former president of the United States' administration announced that Sudan has reduced military aerial bombardment in the Darfur region, one of the reasons why Barack Obama ordered the easing of financial sanctions against Sudan in the beginning of this year.


The Jebel Marra mountains are a site of regular clashes between rebel forces and government troops and militias. Ongoing aerial bombardments have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, with reports reaching Radio Dabanga of ‘empty villages’ being bombed. Some of the residents have fled to camps for the displaced while others find refuge in caves in the mountains.

Moreover, assaults on camps of displaced persons, almost completely defenseless, continue as they have for well over a decade. The attacks are increasing brazen, involve sanctioning violence against the camps by Arab militias, including the brutal Rapid Support Forces (RSF) highlighted in the recent Enough Project report as the beneficiaries of European Union support—and the regular military and security forces of the regime.

[Again, see “Border Control from Hell: How the EU's migration partnership legitimizes Sudan's ‘militia state,’" Suliman Baldo | The Enough Project | April 2017

| http://www.enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf ]

The Obama administration’s failure to include halting such attacks in the demands made of Khartoum was pure expediency in service of the ultimate goal: lifting sanctions so that Khartoum would become, putatively, more helpful in providing counter-terrorism intelligence. Of course one reason the regime is in a position to provide, at least potentially provide, such intelligence is reflected in the fact that it is one of only three countries in the world remaining on the U.S. State Department’s most current list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” a designation the regime has done a great deal to earn, and much of this recently (see | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1wk/.

That even attacks on camps by Khartoum’s regular military and security forces are apparently permitted under the terms for a permanent lifting of sanctions is nothing short of ghastly hypocrisy, something that defined the Obama administration’s Darfur policy from the beginning of the president’s first term (January 2009):

Security force ‘storms’ South Darfur camp | March 10, 2017 | NYALA

A joint force of police and security has stormed Kalma camp for displaced people in South Darfur, causing unrest in the camp and a number of residents to flee this week. Three vehicles with Dushka machineguns mounted on top entered Kalma, east of Nyala, at 3.30pm on Thursday, the spokesman for a Darfuri refugee association reported to Radio Dabanga.

Hussein Abu Sharati of the Association for the Displaced People and Refugees in Darfur said that another group of security agents had stormed the camp at 11am, using a tinted Land Cruiser. “Their arrival caused panic among the residents. “They did not notify UNAMID prior to their arrival,” he said, pointing out the camp administration has therefore submitted a memorandum to the peacekeeping force to condemn the incidents. The memo mentioned incidents in 2008, which claimed the lives of 37 people in Kalma. [See my article on this attack | https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122065894281205691 —ER]

Camp attacks

Camp El Salam in Nyala has witnessed a series of attacks by militants against the displaced people this week. Abu Sharati reported that at least eight people were attacked on the streets or inside their homes during robberies. Several mobile phones and money have been stolen from Abaker Yagoub, Mohamed Yassin, Hamad Ahmed and Suleiman Abakar, among others. The refugee association appealed to UNAMID to resume its patrols in and around El Salam and report abuses in the camps for displaced people to the Sudanese authorities.

The association considers the sudden arrival of joint security and police forces in the camps as a “masterminded” incident. Last month the South Darfur authorities gave the in