US to ease sanctions against Sudan

A UN vehicle visits Sudanese refugees to oversee a new cash assistance project implemented by the World Food Program at a UN refugee camp in the city of Nyala, in South Darfur, 9 January 2017Image copyright
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The US says Sudan has improved its access to people in need of humanitarian aid

The US is expected to announce the easing of sanctions against Sudan in response to what it said were positive efforts in tackling terrorism.

The change in policy is also expected to recognise apparent improvements in the humanitarian situation there.

Economic sanctions were imposed against Sudan after the state was labelled a “sponsor of terrorism”.

The penalties being suspended could be re-imposed if Sudan were seen to backtrack on any progress.

The actions recognised by the US include the state denying safe haven to South Sudanese rebels and improving humanitarian access to people in need.

Despite the move by the outgoing Obama administration, Sudan is expected to remain on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In 2009, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was indicted on war crimes charges, the first to be issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against a sitting president.

  • Sudan profile – Timeline

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

An important first step – by James Copnall, BBC Africa Editor

The US foreign policy establishment has been split between those who advocate greater engagement with Sudan, and those who believe it is morally wrong to deal with what they consider a genocidal regime.

Easing sanctions shows that the realpolitik wing – which in my experience has deeper knowledge of Sudanese affairs – holds the upper hand.

There are legitimate questions over whether Sudan has really passed the series of tests set by the Americans in areas such as stopping aerial bombardments, opening up the political arena to dissidents and improving humanitarian access to conflict areas.

However, it is clear that the sanctions, which have been in place for so long, have not brought about political change in Sudan and have hurt the people more than the politicians, a point made by Sudanese campaigners in recent months.

For Sudan, which is struggling with an economic crisis, the attraction of the policy change is obvious.

Questions remain.

Will the Trump administration continue this new policy left to them by Obama’s team? The religious right in the US is implacably opposed to the Islamists who run Sudan, and may try to exert pressure to reverse this decision.

And would the US really be prepared one day to fully normalise relations with Sudan if the ICC-indicted Omar al-Bashir is still president?

That’s for the future. For now, this announcement is an important first step towards a better relationship between the US and Sudan.

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