Sudan conflict: President Biden enables new US sanctions
WASHINGTON D.C. –
US President Joe Biden has called the violence in Sudan a ‘tragedy’, and signed an executive order on Thursday, paving the way for the USA to impose sanctions on “certain persons destabilising Sudan and undermining the goal of democratic transition”. The order extends existing sanctions but does not impose any specific additional sanctions at this time.
As pointed out by White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, however, “I wouldn’t read it as a warning… it’s the president setting up the proper authorities in case we want to use those kinds of tools.”
In a statement following the signing, Biden called the current conflict in Sudan “a betrayal of the Sudanese people’s clear demand for civilian government and a transition to democracy.”
Biden’s order expands the scope of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13067 of November 3, 1997 (blocking Sudanese government property and prohibiting transactions with Sudan), and expanded by Executive Order 13400 of April 26, 2006 (blocking property of persons in connection with the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region), finding that “the situation in Sudan, including the military’s seizure of power in October 2021 and the outbreak of inter-service fighting in April 2023, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the USA.”
‘It is the policy of the USA to support a transition to democracy and civilian transitional government in Sudan…’ – US President Joe Biden
In his statement, Biden said: “It is the policy of the USA to support a transition to democracy and civilian transitional government in Sudan, to defend such a transitional government from those who would prevent its initial formation through violence and other methods, and, once formed, to protect it from those who would undermine it. The USA, in cooperation with like-minded partners, will help such a transitional government, when formed, meet the needs of the Sudanese people and prepare for democratic elections.”
Washington imposed economic sanctions on the Sudan since 1997. They include a comprehensive trade embargo, and block the assets of the government of Sudan. President George Bush renewed the sanctions in April 2006 because of the conflict in Darfur, and ordered the “blocking of property of certain persons connected to the conflict”.
In 2014, President Barack Obama extended the sanctions, saying that “Khartoum continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of his country”.
In 2015, Washington came down hard on European banks that evaded their sanctions. In response, European and Saudi Arabian banks announced that they would stop their transactions with Sudan.
President Donald Trump renewed the US national emergency with respect to Sudan in 2017, saying that actions and policies of the government of Sudan “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the USA”.
Thursday’s executive order chimes with calls from the international community. Writing for Atlantic Council, Ernst Jan “EJ” Hogendoorn said that economic sanctions are an appropriate course of action to pressure the warring parties to cease fighting and hand over power to a civilian government.
“Now, it is not enough to simply call for a ceasefire and a return to negotiations because those outcomes could re-establish the fraught balance of power between the SAF and RSF,” the former senior advisor to the US special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan states. “Rather, international partners must increase financial pressure on the RSF, former Bashir-era government officials, and the SAF to change their political calculations at the negotiation table.
“Sudan cannot be stable if there are two armies and if former regime elites/Islamists are allowed to sow discord. International partners need to put coordinated financial pressure on RSF leaders to commit to integrating rapidly into the army and on former regime leaders to stop inciting violence; international partners should also put SAF generals on notice that they must honor their pledges to hand over power.”
After a distinct thaw in US-Sudan relations following the overthrow of the Al Bashir regime and a movement toward democratic transition, relations between Washington and Khartoum have been strained following the subsequent military coup d’état of October 25, 2021.
The USA suspended all aid to Sudan following the coup, stating that “the USA is pausing assistance from the $700 million in emergency assistance appropriations of Economic Support Funds for Sudan. Those funds were intended to support the country’s democratic transition as we evaluate the next step for Sudan programming.”
In 2022, the US Senate confirmed John Godfrey as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the USA to Sudan. Sudan had been served by a deputy ambassador, making Ambassador Godfrey the first fully ranked US ambassador to Sudan in 25 years.
On May 11, the US Senate passed a draft resolution “to condemn the military coup in Sudan and support the Sudanese people,” and the UK House of Commons also unanimously passed the non-binding resolution with a quick vote without any objections.
On March 23, the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a draft resolution condemning the military coup in Sudan and calling on the US administration to impose sanctions on those responsible for the coup.
The draft resolution came two days after the US Treasury imposed sanctions on the paramilitary Central Reserve Forces (popularly called Abu Teira) that stand under the command of the police, in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Act* on serious violations of human rights.
The Treasury listed the excessively violent repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests by the security forces as the main reason.
There have been wide calls for targeted US sanctions on the Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan and deputy Chairman Mohamed ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo for their involvement in serious human rights abuses following the coup.
In March, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on the Sudan Central Reserve Police (CRP, popularly known as Abu Tira) for serious human rights abuse yesterday. The Treasury listed the excessively violent repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests by the security forces as the main reason.
Last week, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against ‘Sudan companies with links to Hamas‘, with one financier, Hisham Younis Yahia Qafisheh, allegedly “operating and managing at least two Sudan-based companies, Agrogate Holding and Al Rowad Real Estate Development, in order to generate revenue for the Palestinian group.”
In November 2020, Sudan and the US signed a bilateral claims settlement to resolve “default judgements and claims based on allegations that Sudan’s prior regime supported acts of terrorism”. According to the agreement, Sudan had to pay $335 million, on top of approximately $72 million already paid, for distribution to victims of terrorism.
Sudan’s removal from the SST list, decreed in the dying days of the Donald Trump administration, was conditional on a bilateral claims settlement signed in November 2020 to resolve “default judgements and claims based on allegations that Sudan’s prior regime supported acts of terrorism”. Sudan had to pay $335 million, on top of approximately $72 million already paid, for distribution to victims of terrorism.
In exchange, after payment of compensation to the families of the victims of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, and the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Dar El Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi in Kenya, the default judgments and claims against Sudan in US courts would be dismissed, and Sudan’s sovereign immunities under US law would be restored to those enjoyed by countries that have never been designated by the US as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST).
*The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 authorises the US government to sanction foreign government officials worldwide who are deemed to be human rights offenders. Sanctions can include freezing their assets and banning them from entering the USA.