U.S. Sudan Policy Continues to be Defined by Disingenuousness and Distortion: Radio Dabanga’s interv

In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Dabanga published a week ago, the Obama administration’s third and final Special Envoy for the Sudans, Donald Booth, offered a reprise of much that has been reported about the decision by President Obama to lift longstanding U.S. economic sanctions on the genocidal Khartoum regime. The sanctions were originally imposed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and modestly strengthened by President George W. Bush.

I append the interview in its entirety below, edited only very slightly for formatting; however, I’ve also interpolated by own comments at various junctures, always in [brackets], blue italics, and followed by my initials, ER].

I would begin by noting the preposterous nature of the claim in the title to the Radio Dabanga dispatch: far from being “a start to address Sudan's human rights issues,” sanctions relief has produced nothing in the way of an improvement in the rights of Sudanese, or a diminishment in what is in fact intensifying repression. In the more than four months since President Obama signed the Executive Order lifting sanctions (pending a review of Khartoum’s adherence to various stipulations in July 2017), there continue to be massive human rights abuses, daily restrictions of freedom of the Sudanese press, and incarceration of human rights and civil society leaders, often in conditions that amount to torture under International Humanitarian Law. The most prominent human rights and human development leader currently incarcerated (at the notorious Kober Prison) is Mudawi Ibrahim, arrested in December 2016. Indeed, rather than releasing Mudawi, officials of the Khartoum regime brought capital charges against him one week ago, the day before Booth’s interview.

Human rights defender and human development advocate Mudawi Ibrahim was charged with capital crimes by Khartoum regime officials the day before Booth's interview with Radio Dabanga---does he care?

I have twice offered “report cards” on Khartoum’s behavior, judged on the basis of terms stipulated by the Obama administration for a permanent lifting of economic sanctions; on both occasions, the summary grade was a well-deserved “F” – failing.

A Permanent Lifting of U.S. Sanctions on Khartoum? Report Card Number One | April 8, 2017 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-22o

A Permanent Lifting of U.S. Sanctions on Khartoum? Report Card Number Two | May 11, 2017 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-238

The current assessment, represented in my interpolated comments, continues to be “F,” despite the disingenuousness and distortions in Donald Booth’s responses to Radio Dabanga’s questions.

Former Obama administration Special Envoy for the Sudans, Donald Booth

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Donald Booth: “Sanctions relief is a start to address Sudan's human rights issues” | Radio Dabanga | May 15, 2017

https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/donald-booth-sanctions-relief-is-a-start-to-address-sudan-s-human-rights-issues

Over the next three months, the United States will decide whether Sudan has made sustainable progress on certain areas and it will remove 20-year-old economic sanctions imposed on Sudan. “Given the level of trust that the US and Sudan were starting from, we needed to have areas where it would be as clear as possible if indeed the agreed objectives were being met.”

The prerequisites for the revoking in July, such as Sudan's ceasing of offensive military activity, were drawn up while Donald Booth was in charge as US Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. More access for humanitarian organisations in Sudan, halting support to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, collaboration in the fight against terrorism, and efforts to achieve peace in South Sudan, are the other four tracks. In the event that Sudan performs to the satisfaction of the US and sanctions are partially removed, Sudanese politicians said that this will improve Sudan's economy by easing cash transfers, investments, importing industrial equipment and ultimately raise the value of the Sudanese Pound.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Dabanga broadcast today, former envoy Booth expresses his view on the plan he worked on. “The five tracks are the beginning of a process, for the mutual confidence that was needed in order to address these very difficult issues of human rights and good governance.”

RD: Dear Ambassador Booth, what were your overall expectations when you started as special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan and what are your impressions now, concerning these both countries?

DB: “I left the job in mid-January 2017. When I started, President Obama gave me a clear objective to work towards. That was two countries, Sudan and South Sudan, at peace internally, with each other, and with the region.

[Both countries remain riven by conflict, violence against civilians, and with clear, indeed unambiguous past evidence of Khartoum’s support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/In Opposition in South Sudan—ER]

What I've seen in the past three years, we did manage to bring Sudan closer to peace.

[Given the levels of violence that continue, particularly in Darfur, the catastrophic “success” of Khartoum’s genocidal counter-insurgency in the region, and the threat of continued fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, this seems an absurdly premature assessment—ER]

South Sudan unfortunately is not any closer to peace, further away actually than when I started.

[The Obama administration, particularly under his first two Special Envoys for Sudan—Air Force Major-General (ret.) Scott Gration and Princeton Lyman—bears heavy responsibility (as does the Bush administration) for failing to respond to the obvious and growing crises that emerged following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005. The failure to secure a self-determination referendum for Abyei ensured the violence that began in May 2011 and has resulted in the de facto annexation of the region by Khartoum. Leadership, governance, oil revenue transparency, and capacity building were terribly and consequentially ignored for too long by both previous U.S. administrations—ER]

That's a very unfortunate development. We certainly worked very hard with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region and all South Sudan neighbours to try to put an end to the fighting. We had a peace agreement, which unfortunately the parties refused to implement. And now they're back fighting. The situation in South Sudan is indeed deplorable. The fighting is spreading to different parts of the country that had not been affected in the preceding years. The US and the region need to continue pay attention to this.”

RD: “People in Sudan expressed surprise to Radio Dabanga at the plan of the United States to lift economic sanctions on Sudan, seen as a reward for the situation.”

DB: “First of all, I would not characterise it as rewards.

[It matters not how Booth would “characterize” the radical policy shift: it is clearly a great reward, a potential financial and economic boon to a genocidal regime that is presently presiding over an imploding economy—the result of 28 years of gross mismanagement, kleptocracy, widespread cronyism, and multiple failures to invest in key sectors (e.g., agriculture) and infrastructure (e.g., provision of clean water to Sudanese citizens living outside the capital region—a failure that can presently be measured by the spread and persistence of deadly cholera—ER]

What we managed to do in 2016 was to initiate a process to achieve change that would benefit the people of Sudan.

[This is simply grotesque: judged by any metric, the people of Sudan not only suffer grievously because of the policies of the current regime but will continue to do so: the military/security budget far outstrips what is spent on education, medical services, job training, infrastructure (including provision if essential electrical services), and humanitarian assistance to Sudan’s own people. The people of Sudan are, overwhelmingly, convinced that only regime change will bring real benefits to them. See Appendix A for specific examples of what the people of Sudan suffer compared with the rest of the world—ER]

What will "benefit the people of Sudan" is an end to slaughter by the army and militias controlled by the Khartoum regime; here a victim of the January 1, 2017 "Nierteti massacre"...

The level of trust between US and Sudan was at a very low point.

[Sanctions were originally imposed on Khartoum because of its support for international terrorism, a business in which it was active with long-time partner Iran for many years after Osama bin Laden ended his four-year stay in Sudan in 1996. To this day, Sudan is one of only two countries remaining on the U.S. Statement Department list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism." Leaked (and fully authenticated) minutes from an August 31, 2014 meeting of the regime’s most senior military and security officials revealed clear involvement in terrorist activities and support for radical Islamic militants (e.g., “Libya Dawn” in Libya)—ER]

So we developed the five tracks plan, to try do begin to develop trust which could lead to positive changes. And the areas that we focused on that are areas that the US has long been focused on: a country at peace with itself. One of these tracks was to end offensive military operations, in part including aerial bombardment, which has been so horrific and harming innocent Sudanese. In achieving greater access of humanitarian assistance so that those Sudanese who need those humanitarian aid could be reached.”

“It was also, frankly, a way to address and improve what had been tense relations between Sudan and Uganda.”

RD: Recently Uganda and the US have ended a six-year search for warlord Joseph Kony and his LRA, because Kony apparently no longer leads his men and the threat to the region has diminished. Is helping to reduce support to the LRA included in the five conditions for Sudan because in fact, Kony is no threat to the region anymore?

DB: “No, not at all. The LRA and Kony killed and enslaved thousands of people throughout the region, and certainly terrorized people in the region. Removing him as a threat to the region was a priority for the [former US president] Obama administration. It was also, frankly, a way to address and improve what had been tense relations between Sudan and Uganda. So, in getting Sudan to cooperate fully in the efforts to remove Joseph Kony and the LRA as a threat to the region, we believed would be an important contribution to regional peace and stability.”

[As Booth well knows, Khartoum’s ending of its longstanding and well-documented support for a badly weakened LRA is not difficult: continuing support for Kony’s maniacal campaign of brutality and human destruction is simply no longer necessary for the regime, tactically or strategically—ER]

RD: Do you feel there is progress in the relations between Sudan and Uganda?

DB: “I know that during the period that I was envoy, there were, for the first time in a long time, there were high-level meetings between the leaderships of the two countries. And so that discussion, getting underway in itself, I think was positive. How that has continued now, I'm not in the position to know any details of.”

RD: One of the things human rights organisations, activists and observers felt was missing in the five track plan was a condition or discussion on human rights, religious freedom issues and basic good governance in Sudan.

DB: “Frankly, ending aerial bombardment, barrel bombs being dropped on civilian targets, and offensive military operations that displaced and killed and wounded civilians, we believe are a major human rights offence.

[Here we have a perfect example of a disingenuous refusal to answer the question posed to him: of course Khartoum’s military actions have consistently been gross violations of “human rights,” and indeed violations of international law that have seen various members of the Khartoum regime—including President Omar al-Bashir—charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes by the International Criminal Court. But Radio Dabanga is obviously asking about the right to public protest, freedom of the press, religious freedoms (e.g., the crackdown on Christians and Christian churches has continued apace since the Obama Executive Order of January 2017), freedom from discrimination, harassment, and violence suffered on the basis of African ethnicity. Not to answer this question forthrightly is the signature maneuver by Booth and his predecessors—ER]

Civil uprising throughout Sudan in September 2013 resulted in the Khartoum regime's issuing "shoot to kill" orders, a fact established by Amnesty International and the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies; hundreds were killed. Regime President Omar al-Bashir threatened to issue the same "shoot to kill" orders this past September, as civil society actions were again in the offing.

“So if you want to talk about protecting human rights, the basic right is that of life. We felt that that focus of the five-track plan had very much a human rights component to it. Secondly, the five tracks are the beginning of a process, for the mutual confidence that was needed in order to address these very difficult issues of human rights and good governance.

[By declaring that the “five-track plan” is the “beginning” of the process of rapprochement, Booth gives himself all the leeway he needs in dodging questions central to the current concerns of virtually all Sudanese—ER]

“And third, we had to pick areas in which we could both measure and achieve progress.

[This appears to be nothing short of a confession that the U.S. is powerless to make progress in the area of “human rights” as the term is commonly used—ER]

“Given the level of trust that we were starting from, we needed to have areas where it would be as clear as possible if indeed the agreed benchmarks were met. So that we would be able to have a very clear and mutual understanding. And we would not have--what happened in the past—where expectations had not been met as both sides had different interpretations of what would be done.

[This is more deeply disingenuous twaddle from Booth: the simple truth is the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime has never abided by any agreement with any Sudanese party—not one, not ever. Not to speak honestly and directly about this long and uniform history of bad faith is itself a kind of bad faith—ER]

“So I think we succeeded in this with the five track plan, in building that confidence that Sudan does take certain hard measures, like ending military actions against its own people—offensive military actions. That there will indeed be a response from the US, and that the US will keep its word in that regard.”

[The past four months have hardly been free of organized violence, especially by the Rapid Support Forces in Darfur; not to acknowledge this is to encourage Khartoum to believe that it will receive a “passing grade” from the U.S. on this count, despite the violence reported by Radio Dabanga, Sudan Tribune, and sources on the ground. Notably, nowhere in his interview does Booth mention the use of chemical weapons by the regime during its 2016 military offensive in Jebel Marra, conclusively established in a report on this brutal military campaign by Amnesty International in September 2016—ER]

The Amnesty International report cover page; below, two of the victims of Khartoum's use of chemical weapons in its 2016 Jebel Marra offensive, which figures nowhere in Booth's comments:

RD: How did the US government determine in 2016 that the situation in Sudan was suitable for a review of the five criteria for the possible lifting of economic sanctions, and how did you find whether Khartoum failed its commitment concerning the five tracks?

“There were very clear benchmarks. The US, during the period of the five-track plan's implementation at the end of my time as envoy, was very carefully monitored. We had regular consultations with the UN, international NGOs. We took all reports that related to potential violations of conditions of the five-track plan very serious. We investigated them to the fullest extent possible. We held bi-monthly meetings between the US government and the Sudanese government, to make sure that if there were problems, that they were corrected. In a monthly basis we met at ministerial level with the Sudanese government, to work out where there were any issues in the implementation.

[And this “careful monitoring” issued in a statement by then-Obama administration UN Ambassador Samantha Power, declaring in her final interview that there has been a “sea change” of improvement in humanitarian access in Sudan. Such an egregious falsehood—which Booth never corrected, even as the State Department has admitted there was no basis for such a claim—undermines completely Booth’s credibility here—ER]

Former Obama administration ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power: There has been a "sea change" of improvement in humanitarian access in Sudan (UN press conference, January 20, 2017)

“So, for example, the ability to monitor whether there was support to armed opposition in South Sudan, was very clear if it were happening or were not happening.

[Two points of note:[1] Khartoum’s support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/In Opposition became far too publicly known; [2] the destruction in South Sudan was so great from conflict between the SPLA/IO and the SPLA of the government in Juba, that the tactic of assistance was no longer necessary—ER]

This is true in all of the areas, with the possible exception of humanitarian access.

[There is still no explicit retraction of Samantha Power’s false statement about humanitarian access, a revealing omission—ER]

Here we recognized all along that there would be no on/off switch. We would not go from a system where there were a lot of restrictions to one which had complete openness. But what we saw over the course of the six months, of the five track plan, was a continued improvement, reported by those on the ground as we engaged the government in that part of the five track plan.”

[This stands in stark contrast to what I have heard from international humanitarian non-governmental organizations (INGOs) working in Darfur and (surreptitiously) in South Kordofan; here is an excerpt from an email to me by Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon working in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan:

“there's been absolutely no change in humanitarian access [in the Nuba Mountains—suffering under Khartoum’s humanitarian embargo for over five and a half years]. Not a single grain of sorghum nor one tablet of medicine has entered Nuba from any of the usual humanitarian agencies.” (email received January 17, 2017)

The most recent estimate by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is that 3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance (this leaves aside the 300,000 Darfuri refugees who remain trapped in eastern Chad because of ongoing insecurity in Darfur). The most credible report I have received from the INGO community operating in Darfur is that Khartoum continues to obstruct, in one way or another, humanitarian assistance to 30 percent of this population—almost 1 million human beings. Booth’s assessment is in this light simply preposterous—ER]

RD: Radio Dabanga has reported on military activities and aerial bombardments by Sudan that violate the conditions for the lifting of sanctions. US Congressmen, NGOs, and groups in Sudan voiced their concerns or held protests against your plan. What do you think the US will do in case of failure by Sudan?

DB: “The monitoring by the US Government is ongoing, and in July this year, the US Secretary of State will report on compliance on the five-track plan. The unlimited replication of the sanctions' executive orders—and those sanctions that had the broadest impact on the people of Sudan—will depend on that report. I certainly hope that the Government of Sudan will honour its commitment to the five-track plan so that those reports can be positive. And the sanctions executive orders can be lifted.”

[Booth declares this “hope” despite the abundant evidence that Khartoum is reneging on what are clearly the two key terms of the “five-track plan”: humanitarian access and an end to organized violence against civilians, even if by proxy militias—ER]

RD: The ruling National Congress Party and President Omar Al Bashir say that they have started change in Sudan with their National Dialogue. Do you feel that too?

DB: “There has been a dialogue but today it's certainly been too narrow.

[The truth is the there has never been any sort of “national dialogue,” which the regime has spoken of privately in the most cynical and expedient terms. It is not that the “national dialogue” has been “too narrow”: it is a foolish hope, based on the same misguided premises that were reflected in a statement by Booth’s predecessor, Princeton Lyman, over five years ago:

“We [the Obama administration] 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.” (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2011 | http://english.aawsat.com/2011/12/article55244147/asharq-al-awsat-talks-to-us-special-envoy-to-sudan-princeton-lyman)