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Setting the Record Straight on Sudan Sanctions

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Setting the Record Straight on Sudan Sanctions

Posted by Enough Team on August 10, 2009

Setting the Record Straight on Sudan Sanctions

At a recent Senate hearing Sudan Special Envoy Gration asked Congress to help make his job easier by creating space on sanctions. Many observers interpreted these comments – especially in light of his more conciliatory approach towards Khartoum – as suggesting that sanctions against Sudan should be rolled back completely. Last week, the Special Envoy clarified his position, telling Reuters he was only requesting amendments to sanctions that prevent the United States from sending machinery needed for development projects in southern Sudan (and presumably other marginalized areas).

For the record, I – and I’m sure many other advocates – am happy to work with Special Envoy Gration, other government officials and American companies to refine the current sanctions regime. I worked for more than a year to advance the targeted divestment model which targets only a very small subset of international companies operating in Sudan and is, in our opinion, more effective than blanket divestment (a la South Africa). However, advocates need to see more progress from Khartoum before supporting a complete rollback of sanctions.  The Special Envoy’s remarks at the hearing and the news coverage following it highlighted the need to clarify the nature of U.S. sanctions on Sudan. Here’s a summary:

In 1993, Sudan was added to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism because of its support for al-Qaeda and the harboring of Osama bin Laden. As a result of that designation, the United States is prohibited from aiding the Government of Sudan directly, including by facilitating assistance to Sudan from international bodies like the IMF and World Bank. US entities are also prohibited from exporting a variety of dual-use items (mostly technology) to Sudan.

Comprehensive sanctions were imposed on Sudan in 1997, when President Clinton issued Executive Order 13067. This round of sanctions prohibited the import of Sudanese goods to the US and export of all U.S. goods to Sudan with the exception of humanitarian items. The executive order also prevented US nationals and businesses from conducting or facilitating business in the country unless granted an exemption by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the U.S. Treasury Department. While President Clinton’s stated reasons for the order included Sudan’s continue support for international terrorism, the order also cites the Government of Sudan’s human rights violations during the country’s North-South civil war.

Recognizing the difficulties comprehensive sanctions pose for development in the South and other marginalized areas in Sudan, Congress included provisions in the 2006 Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (DPAA) to amend the 1997 sanctions to include explicit carve-outs for marginalized areas. According to the DPAA and related Executive Order 13412, American individuals and entities may engage in business transactions with the Government of South Sudan and in southern Sudan, Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains State, Blue Nile State, Abyei, Darfur, and marginalized areas in and around Khartoum as long as that business is not connected to the petroleum sector. According to OFAC, with the exception of oil-related business for which there is a blanket ban, Sudan is now treated as two different countries – exempted areas and non-exempted areas.

Congress and past administrations have taken actions – with the full support of the advocacy community – to mitigate negative effects of sanctions and could explore taking additional actions based on Gration’s feedback. Sanctions themselves, however, are too important to abandon at this point. A recent OFAC study found that sanctions have “had a marked effect on the decision-making of the GoS, and have provided useful leverage to advance U.S. foreign policy in Sudan.” With so much left to be done, it makes little sense to yield that leverage until we see real changes in Khartoum’s policy.


Nina is the National Advocacy Coordinator for STAND, the student-led division of Genocide Intervention Network (GI-NET), and formerly served as the lead analyst for the Sudan Divestment Task Force at GI-NET. This is the first in a series of two posts on Sudan sanctions.