Why is the US not cracking down on Sudan?

The Obama administration is seeking constructive engagement with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. Instead of kowtowing, Washington should intensify pressure on the government of Sudan.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir
Ashraf Shazly | AFP | Getty Images
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

Appeasement is strategically and morally flawed.

Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Rather than insist on accountability, the ICC shelved its investigation of genocide in Darfur because the prosecutor lacks support from the UN Security Council.

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Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti and Ibrahim Ghandour, Bashir's chief assistant, traveled to Washington to meet U.S. officials in February. In turn, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recently visited Sudan.

The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control recently amended Sudan's sanctions to allow exports of personal communications, including smartphones and laptops.

The U.S. appeasement policy coincided with the 12-year anniversary of Darfur's genocide. With an estimated 400,000 Darfuris dead, Darfur is the largest genocide of the 21st century.

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Recently, Bashir has launched new atrocities in Darfur. Human Rights Watch confirmed that 221 women and girls were raped in the Darfur village of Tabit by members of the Sudanese army in October 2014.

Since January, the Sudanese army and the Janjaweed militia have renewed their offensive in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. Thousands of civilians have been killed and displaced in the East Jebel Marra region of North Darfur. Military operations seek to pressure armed opposition movements ahead of elections in April.

Appeasement sends a message of impunity to Bashir. Sudan is contemptuous of demands by the international community. It ignored UN Security Council Resolution 1556 (30 July, 2004), which demands that the government disarm the Janjaweed militias and bring its leaders to justice in 30 days.

Darfuris are skeptical about the UN and its rhetorical resolutions. The United Nations and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is a disaster. UNAMID is the largest peacekeeping mission in the history of the UN. Not only has it failed to protect the people of Darfur. UNAMID cannot even protect itself. Government-sponsored militias have routinely wounded, killed, and abducted UNAMID personnel in government controlled areas of Darfur.

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Bashir will never willingly allow Sudan's peaceful transition to democracy. He amended Sudan's constitution, not as part of a reform process, but to enhance his power and strengthen the military's grip. In a cynical move, a recent constitutional amendment transforms the notorious National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) into a police force tasked with law and order.

Khartoum also fails the transparency test. Not only has it evicted 13 international humanitarian organizations working with the displaced peoples in the region. It prevents journalists from entering Darfur. NISS shut down 14 daily newspapers in Khartoum, in clear violation of the freedom of expression and press. State prisons are bursting with political prisoners as Bashir readies for one-man, one-party elections later this year.

Sudan remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. So, why is Washington relaxing its restrictions?

Bashir appears to have alliances with extremist groups in Libya, the Sahel region of Africa, Middle East and Iran. And U.S. officials have good reason to believe that Sudan is smuggling weapons to Hamas.

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Instead of giving breathing space to the government of Sudan, the United States should support the agents of change in Sudan — the Sudan Revolutionary Front and political parties. It should also expand assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, as well as civil society organizations — youth groups, women's groups, and union organizers who are trying to establish an inclusive, pro-democracy movement. The oppressed people of Sudan share values with Americans, especially a commitment to universal human rights.

Darfuris and other victims of Khartoum's aggression count on the West. They want Washington to hold the line on diplomatic and economic sanctions to change the behavior of Bashir and his criminal regime.

David L. Phillips is director of the program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Ahmed Hussain Adam is a visiting fellow at Cornell University. They co-chair The Two Sudans Forum.