A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on President Trump to delay permanently lifting sanctions on Sudan – a dictatorial African regime with which the former President Obama sought to build a relationship with during his final days in office.
A letter signed by 53 members of Congress urges the Trump administration to hold off on making any lasting decisions on the U.S.-Sudan relationship, especially as key foreign policy positions at the White House and State Department remain unfilled.
The case for keeping Sudan cut off is exceedingly clear to those who are concerned about the country’s atrocious human rights record, unrepentant history as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the fact that the country’s Islamist dictator – Omar al-Bashir – has been on the lam for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide for over eight years now.
“The Sudan government has one of the worst human rights records in the world,” the congressional letter reads. “Over the past thirty years, President Omar al-Bashir has presided over the murder and violent displacement of millions of Sudanese people.”
The reason this is currently being discussed is due to yet another parting gift from the Obama administration. In an executive order signed a week before leaving office, the 44th president also temporarily lifted sanctions on the country – sanctions which had been in place for 20 years.
The prior administration temporarily lifted the economic and trade blockade with the intention of trying to “normalize” relations with the regime, giving the next administration six months – until Wednesday – to decide whether the move should remain permanent.
“I did not support this executive order when it was issued by the Obama Administration and I don’t believe the actions of the Sudanese government warrant any sanctions relief at this time,” co-signer Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said in a statement.
“The reality is that violence and displacement at the hands of government forces still persists in Sudan, and there has been no credible, widespread evidence of increased humanitarian access to the abused populations.”
“Warming relations and lifting sanctions with a genocidal regime in the final days of President Obama’s term in office is not only deeply upsetting to rights advocates,” wrote Jewish World Watch’s Mike Brand in January, when Obama lifted sanctions. “[I]t is a slap in the face to all those who suffer under Bashir’s reign of terror, the hundreds of thousands who have been killed, and the millions who have been displaced.”
Off the Hill, other voices in the international religious freedom movement have been calling on the U.S. to reverse Obama’s softened stance and retake the harder line against the Sudanese government’s abuses.
In May, Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, penned a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to put the pressure back on Bashir, citing several abuses from recent memory alone:
Since South Sudan’s secession in 2011, USCIRF has documented a deterioration of religious freedom conditions year after year. During this period, the Sudanese government has arrested nearly 200 Christians, including 14 religious leaders. Of these detentions, three pastors were prosecuted on spurious capital charges, including waging war against the state and espionage.
Sudan remains one of 10 “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs) which the commission designates every year – putting it in the same league as other notorious religious oppressors like North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
More recently, a coalition of seven non-governmental organizations has also called on the State Department to take a serious look at Bashir’s various atrocities, urging that no sanctions should be lifted before the regime meets a long list of requirements.
“Sudan remains a disaster for religious freedom,” Travis Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told the Baptist Press. “The Sudanese government should not be rewarded with sanctions relief when so many are crippled under the oppressive status quo found throughout the country.”