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Setting the Record Straight on Sudan Sanctions: Part II

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Setting the Record Straight on Sudan Sanctions: Part II

Posted by Enough Team on August 16, 2009

Setting the Record Straight on Sudan Sanctions: Part II

In the second installment of a four-part series on the nuts, bolts, and key questions on US sanctions toward Sudan, this post outlines the process of granting sanctions exemptions in order to export certain products—tractors, desks for schools, equipment to build roads—to southern Sudan, one of the most underdeveloped regions in the world.

Just to recap: During the question and answer portion of Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration’s much-discussed testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 30, Special Envoy Gration suggested that US sanctions were preventing the US “from doing the development we absolutely need to do,” particularly in southern Sudan (see this post for more on Gration’s comments). Gration drew criticism from advocacy groups, who argued that the Khartoum government had not taken sufficient steps to warrant such action. Days later, Gration told the press that his statements had been misunderstood, and that he did not support rolling back sanctions on Khartoum. In response to this back-and-forth I offered a basic explanation on this blog of the US sanctions regime on Sudan, highlighting the ways in which they are targeted to mitigate negative consequences for marginalized areas of the country.

This week, Gration issued a statement further clarifying his position, reiterating that sanctions against “key components of the government in Khartoum” should remain, but underscoring his concerns about the impact of sanctions on southern Sudan. He noted, “while the current US sanctions against the government in Khartoum explicitly exclude southern Sudan, in practical terms they do not.” In his statement, Gration reasoned that despite exemptions, large equipment needed for infrastructure development in the South is subject to U.S. sanctions because it must travel through Port Sudan and Khartoum.

In light of this latest development, here is some clarity on the current process for granting exemptions to the sanctions:

•    Since the passage in 2006 of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (DPAA) and accompanying Executive Order 13412, export restrictions no longer apply to southern Sudan or other specified marginalized areas. However, with the exception of items for humanitarian purposes, certain restrictions do still apply to goods shipped to these exempted areas across non-exempted areas of the country.

•    This explains to some degree the problem Gration has repeatedly described: heavy equipment destined for South Sudan—again, think tractors—must enter the country through Port Sudan and travel through Khartoum and is therefore still subject to US sanctions. Still, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), companies, and others can ship non-humanitarian items if they are granted a license by the Treasury Department.

•    The Treasury Department generally grants licenses to support US government policy, which means that licenses are granted to commercial businesses, not just NGOs, according to sources in the Department of Commerce, as it is US government policy to support development in the South. From what we’ve heard, this type of exemption request has an approximately 30-day turnaround time.

•    The above describes the case for most items. However, Sudan’s designation by the US government as a state sponsor of terrorism prevents US entities from exporting certain “dual-use” items to Sudan – that is, items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. This restriction applies to many “smart” devices and likely explains Gration’s remarks at last month’s hearing about the inability to import “Blackberry-like” devices for use by aid organizations. Exemptions can be granted for these types of items, but only for use by US government personnel.

According to sources in the US Department of Commerce, Khartoum’s expulsion of humanitarian aid organizations in March and seizure their of property has complicated this exemption process: The US government is hesitant to authorize shipment of “smart” devices to Sudan for fear that they will fall into Khartoum’s hands.

After several rounds of “carve-outs,” the sanctions regime is designed for flexibility to allow the US government to pursue its general policy aims toward Sudan, including development in southern Sudan. Even where restrictions exist, the need to wait 30 days for a license will likely not preclude achievement of these aims. Still, there may be a need to work out kinks in the process, and if his most recent statements serve as an indication, it seems that Gration may be willing to work with Congress to address these concerns without lifting sanctions against Khartoum, at least in the immediate term.

The issue of “smart devices,” which carry the most stringent sanctions, is closely tied to Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which I will explore in my next post.

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.