Economic sanctions: the hypocrisy must stop

by Hervé Pugi.

For nearly two decades, Sudan has been under US embargo. The only result being to deepen the misery of the 39 million people of what was once Africa’s greatest country. From Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the United States has not stopped promoting and perpetuating a sanctions policy that is clearly unproductive. It is perhaps time for Washington to review its strategy…

« They started off accusing us of financing terrorism… They then talked about claims of genocide in Darfour… Then they demanded we withdraw from South Sudan. Which we did… Now they’re talking about respect for human rights. Fine… » No need to push the point home to draw sighs of exasperation from Makkawi Mohamed Awad. This experienced Minister of Transport spontaneously punctuates his diatribes with an ironic « Why these economic sanctions? I don’t know anymore », before buttonholing anyone who catches his eye with « And you, do you know? » At a time when warming diplomatic relations have allowed Iran and Cuba to come out of isolation, Sudan seems to have decided to break the wall of silence that has kept it locked in bleak oblivion.

The problem raised by the very concept of embargo lies in the relationship between achieving policy objectives and its real-life consequences. In concrete terms, the question is simply whether it is legitimate to entertain « breaking » a country and starving its people as the only way of saving it from the yoke of a « tyrant ». Make no mistake, that’s the issue in a nutshell. In any case, more so than just the personality of a Cuban revolutionary, an Iranian ayatollah or a Sudanese parachutist. We’ll come back to that.

Is it being an apologist for President al-Bashir to point out that in 19 years the only headlines not to have changed (or only slightly) are National Emergency with Respect to Sudan? Let’s dig deeper: Does Sudan support international terrorism? The US State Department’s Country Report 2014 (what could be more official?) gives us an entirely different story by praising a « generally cooperative partnership with the United States on counter-terrorism. In the past year, the government of Sudan has continued to support anti-terrorism operations to counter the threats to American interests and its personnel in Sudan. »

Khartoum a major financier of terrorism? “Sudan is no longer subject to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) monitoring for compliance with AML/CFT provisions.” In plain words, this announcement issued by the powerful G7 institution means that the country has been removed from the money-laundering blacklist. Hence, moreenlightened observers, see Sudan’s inclusion on the “States sponsoring terrorism” list – in the company of Iran and Syria – as, frankly, somewhat anachronistic.

As US officials well know. Their language has changed over time. Speaking at Harvard University on October 15, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry openly attributed Sudan’s removal from this blacklist to the changing situation in the Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur regions. Try to find any link with terrorism there… Less conciliatory, one of his colleagues pointed out: « There will be no fundamental change in our relations so long as the Sudanese government engages in guerrilla war against its people instead of searching for a political solution to put an end to conflicts. » This view pays scant regard to the process of National Dialogue launched mid-autumn, the mediation led by a high-level panel of African Union experts, and the agreements that led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

Washington is engaging in one-upmanship. It’s a habit. Stigmatized for having welcomed Osama Bin Laden to its soil (by the way, Khartoum had

offered a deal to hand him over to US authorities well before 9/11), Sudan was faced with demands to abandon national sovereignty over its rich southern region. A rare twist to the key principle of intangibility of borders. A precedent with as-yet unknown consequences in a pluralistic Africa. We could also easily see such sleight-of-hand at work, so to speak, in the issue of “genocide” in Darfur based on messages orchestrated by dubious religious splinter groups, misguided Hollywood actors and sloppy-thinking Paris intellectuals. We will address this question fully in a later Issue. Our editorial team is working on it…

Clearly though, we mustn’t be blissfully naive. No question of denying the Sudanese government’s responsibility for the situation in which the country finds itself immersed. The administration obviously has its faults and the present one has a raft of challenges to tackle going forward on key issues such as democracy and human rights. But isn’t that true (more or less) of the other 53 countries on the continent? And not just in Africa and not just in what some like to call the Third World? The West never fails to play the democracy chip, unfurl the democracy banner to mask its own brazenness. The same banner that the United States and its allies wave in the faces of those who refuse to be their accomplices. Because, more than any other consideration, it’s actually this rationale that the White House has been following to do its bidding so far.

A regime’s authoritarianism « has never bothered Washington, » says Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. « After all, the United States finances and arms Egypt, which is much more repressive today than under Mubarak’s dictatorship. » Case in point, he says, is the denunciation of systematic and flagrant violations of freedom of worship in Sudan, despite « these problems being even worse among our Pakistani and Saoudi allies ». Doug Barlow is not only a research fellow, he was also special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. Not the most conciliatory of profiles.

Of course, the transgressions of some do not (and should not) excuse those of others. Similarly, taking a stance against economic sanctions unilaterally imposed since 1997 does not mean supporting a particular regime. It just means following in the footsteps of the Jaziri Idriss. The Special Reporter to the United Nations Human Rights Council arrived at the conclusion that « the reality on the ground shows that these measures have no negative impact on officials or elites but only on innocent civilians ». For this respected UN diplomat there is no doubt: « All signs point to the fact that these mandatory measures run contrary to the stated objectives. » This sentiment is shared by the Sudanese and anyone who knows the country.

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