Sudanese Sanctions Lifted

By Javan Latson

For much of the nineties Sudan was very much an international pariah. The regime of President Omar Al-Bashir and the National Islamic Front tested the patience of its neighbors and the global community. The Islamist party was connected to various terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Jamaat al- Islamiyya. Sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council after the Sudanese government provided refuge for individuals who tried to assassinate Egyptian President Mubarak. This action, in addition to the regime’s support for armed rebels in Eritrea, Uganda, and Ethiopia, made other African states loathe any engagement with the Sudanese state. However, the action that sealed Sudan’s isolation was granting Osama Bin Laden refuge in 1991 following his expulsion from Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates were ideologically similar to the government in  Khartoum which had recently imposed Islamic law upon the citizens. Under the protection of President Al-Bashir, Al Qaeda flourished as it conducted bombings against US troops in Yemen as well as embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.This led to the Clinton Administration placing Sudan on the list of state sponsors of terror in 1993 and a trade embargo being created in 1997.

Twenty years after the creation of economic sanctions, the Sudanese government has reason to celebrate. President Trump officially terminated the embargo on October 12th marking the final stage in a diplomatic thaw that began during the Obama Administration. The gradual normalization of relations between the two states can be seen even further in the revised travel ban which no longer features Sudan. Proponents of this course of action argue that the sanctions have failed to drive any significant change and that the government has made significant strides in combatting terrorism in the region. However, this does not consider the possibility that ending the embargo will simply embolden a regime that frequently violates human rights.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is president in name only, and has ruled the country since he took power in 1989. He is not the only autocrat in the region nor is the only government leader that imposes authoritarian rule. The thing that differentiates Al-Bashir from the others is the fact that he is the only head of state in the world that is wanted for genocide. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court back in 2009. In addition to genocide, he is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. These allegations stem from the role President Bashir played in the tragic Darfur Conflict which killed over 300,000 and displaced over a million. The situation was so dire that then Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to it as genocide back in 2004, marking the first time the US Government has used this term in reference to a conflict. With Al-Bashir’s permission and support an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sudan’s black Christian and Animist tribes. Torture, subjection of women to rape, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and the intentional contamination of water supplies in non-Arab villages, are all crimes that fill President Al-Bashir’s resume. Human rights doesn’t seem to be a part of the African leader’s vocabulary as he frequently violates international norms without any fear of repercussion. Most recently Amnesty International published a report documenting the use of chemical  weapons by the government throughout 2016 that killed more than 200 people. More concerning should be the revival of the Janjaweed, which was rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces. An act of total defiance, this revival goes directly against a 2004 UN Security Council resolution that called for the militia to be disbanded. Instead, the name of the group was changed and it was incorporated into the state apparatus to personally serve the president.

It would be inaccurate to describe Al-Bashir as the only one responsible. Other prominent regime officials such as former minister of the interior Abdel Hussein and current governor Ahmad Harun currently face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their support and funding of the Janjaweed during their time in office. Without international sanctions in place there is a new opportunity for Al-Bashir and his cronies inflict more damage unless certain regulations are reinstated. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a part of the Treasury Department, has a list of individuals and companies referred to as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) . Under US law companies are prohibited from conducting business with anyone on the list making this an effective mechanism for targeting the wallets of key officials without negatively harming the populace. Some of the more notable names on the SDN list include Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. However if one were to search for President Al-Bashir they would not find his name listed on the sanctions list nor would they find Abdel Hussein. Two international criminals that are charged with crimes against humanities are somehow not listed. The removal of the embargo allows US companies to export goods to Sudan and make investments in the nation’s economy. On the surface it is hard to see how this is could have negative effects. Ironically, Sudan still remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror, which makes it hard for the regime to obtain foreign aid, blocks arms imports and exports, and restricts the importation of goods that could be used for military purposes. Though these measures are in place, the ability for the Sudanese government to earn revenue and reclaim frozen assets will likely just put money into the hands of the regime. Afterall Sudan was ranked the 6th most corrupt nation on earth out of 176 in the 2016 by the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Unless the aforementioned individuals are included on the SDN list they will likely receive a financial windfall that tightens their grip on society.

Sudan may not be exporting extremism as much as it did during the nineties, but the government is certainly creating an atmosphere of terror domestically especially in Darfur and the southern regions. Though the flames of the Darfur conflict have fanned out a bit Sudan is far from a pluralistic society. Freedom house has declared the African nation not free and Open Doors ranks Sudan as the fifth worst place in the world for Christians due to the Arab supremacist policies enforced by the government. The winners of this deal are not the people of Sudan but the government and companies that stand to benefit from the removal of restrictions. There’s a reason why Khartoum hired D.C. law firm Squire Patton Boggs LLP to lobby the government for $40,000 a month. No one seems to care that millions of dollars will be pumped into the hands of a genocidal authoritarian regime. The Trump Administration is happy Sudan has cut off ties with North Korea, the CIA is content with new partners in the counterterrorism efforts, and businesses are excited with potential profits to be made in oil possessing nation. Yet the plea of the oppressed falls on deaf ears.

While the World Watches: The Plight of the Rohingya

By Javan Latson

The Southeastern Asian nation of Myanmar (Burma) has been in the headlines… and not for the right reasons. The former British colony has had a very turbulent history rife with dictatorship, repression, and civil unrest. In 1988 people around the world watched as the citizens took a stance against the ruling military junta. Individuals like Nobel Laureate Aang San Suu Kyi became symbols of the country’s struggle for democracy and civil liberty. However, Myanmar has now joined the likes of Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur as ethnically targeted violence rages on in the border state of Rakhine.

The victims of these attacks are the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group concentrated in the poorest state in the nation. Members of this community trace their ancestry back hundreds of years ago to when large groups of Muslims came from present-day Bangladesh to what was then the Kingdom of Arakhan. For years the British governed the region as a part of India and during colonial rule, many Bengali workers were imported. As an Islamic community within a predominantly Buddhist state things have always been tense, but most attacks on the Rohingya refute their Burmese identity. In an effort to justify certain as illegal Bengali immigrants.

This xenophobic sentiment would soon gain a foothold within the government following Burmese independence in 1948. The Buddhist majority held some grievances against the Rohingya for their behavior during World War 2. This is because the group sided with England whereas the majority allied with Imperial Japan. Despite this, the Rohingya were mostly considered a part of Burmese society. It wasn’t until General Ne Win’s ascension to power in 1962 that things took a turn for the worse. With the backing of his military junta, General Win enacted policies that greatly restricted the rights of this minority community.  Three years into his reign all Rohingya language programs were removed from national television broadcasts despite the fact that ethnic minorities were granted slots to broadcast in their mother tongue. Removing the group’s presence from public media was one step, but it was the passage of the 1982 citizenship law that truly harmed the Rohingya community. This piece of legislation declared that the right of citizenship only belongs to members of the 135 ethnic groups recognized by the 1974 constitution. With the stroke of a pen, they became one of the largest groups of stateless people in the world.

Without the protection of the law, these individuals became increasingly vulnerable to extortion and abuse by their neighbors. Rohingya couples are prohibited from having more than two children, must obtain permission to leave their villages, and are denied access to higher education and certain professions. Just two years ago, when the world was praising Myanmar for finally having “free” elections, the Rohingya were stripped of their right to vote.  With this in mind, it is not surprising that there have been conflicts between them and the Buddhist majority. These clashes have left dark stains on Burmese history, especially during the events of 2012. Five Muslim men were accused of raping a Buddhist woman and this led to widespread violence. Radical figures such as Monk Ashin Wirathu fanned the flames of sectarianism through his fiery sermons that called for the Rohingya to be removed from the country to protect Burmese culture. When the dust had settled more than 280 people had died and thousands more lost their homes.

What happened in 2012 may have been detrimental, but what is currently happening is nothing short of a disaster. Following an attack by a group of Rohingya rebels in August, there has been widespread violence targeting members of the community. These attacks have been devastating and the main victims have been civilians. There have been reports of mass rapes, executions, and security forces working with local militias to burn down villages. More than one-third of the Rohingya community have fled the country since August with greater than 375,000 going to neighboring Bangladesh.  Over a hundred villages have been destroyed and there are even reports that the military has been installing landmines on the border to prevent them from returning.  This systematic oppression and persecution prompted the UN Human Rights Chief to label the situation, “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Yet despite the cry of human rights groups and the UN, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said virtually nothing about the situation. Kyi, who gained worldwide support for her stance against the military junta and whose efforts earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, has failed to take a stand.  She appears to be dodging the pressure for her to condemn what is going on and to at least call the issue what it is… a humanitarian disaster. It could be argued that she is acting in this way because of the heavy influence the military still has on the government. However, the same woman that defied the status quo earlier in life for the sake of her nation and endured house arrest, should have the courage to stand.  

The election of Suu Kyi in 2015 seemed to mark the beginning of a new era for Burma.  Impressed by the apparent reforms President Obama, via executive order, lifted all existing sanctions on the Burmese government. Yet despite the so-called reforms that have occurred, Burma is far from free. Weapons continually enter the country from Israel and China even in the midst of the atrocities that are happening to arm the Burmese Security Forces. This is not a wise course of action because a lack of response by the global powers on the behalf of the oppressed could potentially lead to radicalism within the Rohingya population. There have already been reports of Al-Qaeda calling foreign militants to take up arms in Burma, stating that the government should be “punished”. Situations like these play into the hands of extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda because it fuels the narrative of Muslims being oppressed by an infidel government. As observed in Afghanistan during the 70s, Bosnia and Chechnya in the 90s, and the current situation in the Philippines, there is a significant possibility for non-state actors to exacerbate the conflict.  As Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  It’s time for the global community to step up because if we don’t someone else will, and that someone may or may not share our same values and interests.