Testimony of Omer Ismail, Enough Project Senior Advisor, given on April 4th, 2017 before the U.S. Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on “Sudan: Human Rights and Sanctions.”
Watch the testimony here:
Co-Chairs McGovern and Hultgren, members of the commission, thank you very much for your ongoing commitment to the people of Sudan. Thank you for examining Sudan’s human rights record in the time that has passed since U.S. sanctions were eased in January 2017. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to describe the urgent human rights crises that continue to make life a living hell today for my family and friends in Darfur and for the many people whose existence is under siege today in so many different parts of Sudan.
On January 13 of this year, the Obama administration conditionally eased almost all U.S. sanctions on Sudan, claiming that the Sudanese government had made improvements in five tracks and arguing that the easing of sanctions would create incentives for the Sudanese regime to further improve conditions. There are three major problems with the Obama administration’s executive order to ease sanctions. First, it removed one of the greatest sources of leverage the U.S. government has to achieve its policy objectives with Sudan—at a time when the sanctions were beginning to work more effectively. Second, the executive order was issued at the end of the Obama administration’s tenure in office, and the Trump administration has not put in place the personnel needed to properly track and make use of the potential opportunity provided by the conditional easing of sanctions. Third, the Sudanese government had not made such meaningful progress on the five tracks to warrant an easing of sanctions, and the Sudanese government has not made further progress to justify further easing or lifting of U.S. sanctions.
Conspicuously absent from the five tracks were (1) improvements of the internal human rights situation in Sudan; and (2) the Sudanese government’s engagement in a genuine comprehensive peace effort to permanently end Sudan’s conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur.
This was a deeply flawed policy decision, in both design and execution. The five tracks lacked two vitally important elements. The easing of sanctions undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives and gives away the one point of U.S. leverage for nothing beyond potential short-term counterterrorism gains. The decision does nothing to address the structural issues in Sudan that have led to war, dictatorship, and further repression of many groups.
To pursue a more constructive approach with Sudan, U.S. policymakers should implement anti-money laundering measures and a modernized sanctions program that is targeted and robust enough to fundamentally change the calculations of Sudan’s ruling elite. U.S. leaders should create leverage to support revitalized efforts to bring armed and unarmed Sudanese parties together to end the war, create a new constitution, and construct a viable path to a more representative, inclusive, transparent government.
Bipartisan congressional leadership has always been essential in helping to shape U.S. policy with Sudan. Congress can now lead again in supporting new legislation that restores U.S. leverage with the Sudanese leadership through the use of financial pressure tools, particularly anti-money laundering measures and modernized sanctions, to support a revitalized comprehensive peace process in Sudan. Congress can also ensure that the Treasury and State Departments, along with other government agencies that administer sanctions and anti-money laundering statutes and programs, have the resources they need to prioritize implementation and enforcement of these financial pressure measures.
Policy need and recommendations
The U.S. government gave up diplomatic leverage in exchange for “positive actions” by Khartoum that have not materialized for most Sudanese people. Congress can do a great deal to help by taking the following actions:
1. Support efforts to revoke the executive order from January that eases U.S. sanctions.
2. Push forward legislation that that utilizes the policy tools of financial leverage and more robust diplomatic engagement in support of peace, counter-terrorism, religious freedom, and anti-corruption objectives. This legislation would include a modernized sanctions program that targets the assets of those in Sudan who are most responsible for atrocities, serious human rights violations, and grand corruption while minimizing bank de-risking and other adverse impacts on others. Modernized sanctions could target those connected to President Bashir and his network, the country’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), and particular sectors of the Sudanese economy most directly tied to violent conflict and corruption. Combining this type of sanctions programs with the use of anti-money laundering tools is essential. The Enough Project will be presenting such a proposal, and we are hopeful that the members of this commission will support strong legislation.
3. Ensure U.S. government agencies that conduct the investigations and enforcement of U.S. sanctions and anti-money laundering programs have the resources they need and the political direction to work on Sudan through the FY 2018 appropriations process. Without the resources to follow the money and the will to enforce sanctions programs and U.S. laws surrounding corruption, none of these proposals will be successful.
4. Press the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to more aggressively counter money laundering that involves members of the Sudanese regime and their corporate network by requesting under Section 314(a) of the USA Patriot Act that financial institutions report on transactions that may have involved the Sudanese regime. FinCEN could then also consider whether to declare elements of the regime’s activities as a “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the Patriot Act. In such a case, FinCEN would determine which of five “special measures” would best address this concern, including through additional information and reporting or termination of certain services. These measures should focus in particular on transactions in Sudan’s correspondent banking network involving suspicious activity with the country’s gold and weapons manufacturing sectors.
5. Urge the Trump administration to utilize the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which became law at the end of last year, thanks to the efforts of Rep. McGovern and other dedicated members, as another tool that can be used to place sanctions on corrupt Sudanese officials.
When the United States decided to ease sanctions, it did so at the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances. We can work together to not only reverse this decision but also improve the tools used to create leverage in Sudan so that we are not holding hearings on human rights abuses and violence in Sudan 10 years from now. The people of Sudan need your help to realize their dream of a peaceful, free, and democratic country where journalists do not fear imprisonment, religious minorities can worship without persecution, and citizens can choose their own leaders.