Sudan remains among 10 countries on a US blacklist for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom,” according to a statement issued by the US Department of State on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, announced in the statement that “on November 28, 2018, I designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Pompeo says that his department has also placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom,” and that al-Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa'ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban have been designated Entities of Particular Concern.
“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” he says, pointing out: “Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump Administration.”
Pompeo explains that “safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies. I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue.”
US National Emergency on Sudan
On October 31, the White House issued a notice the announced the continuation of the national emergency with respect to Sudan, in spite of a visit by a Sudanese delegation to Washington.
In the White House notice, President Donald Trump explains why despite recent positive developments, the crisis constituted by the actions and policies of the Government of Sudan that led to the declaration of a national emergency in Executive Order 13067 in 1997, an expansion of that order in 2006, has not been resolved.
“These actions and policies continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. I have, therefore, determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13067, as expanded by Executive Order 13400, with respect to Sudan.”
In November last year, President Trump also decided to continue the United States national emergency with respect to Sudan.
‘New phase’ in US-Sudan relations
In mid-November, the Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Khartoum, Steven Koutsis, held a press conference about the new phase which the USA and Sudan have entered in order for the country to be removed from the sponsors of terrorism list.
The US State Department recently announced its commitment to cooperate further with Sudan and to start the process to rescind Sudan's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Koutsis elaborated on the 'Phase II' framework for the bilateral cooperation.
“The completion of the Five Track Engagement Plan and the lifting of certain sanctions in October 2017 marked an important milestone in US-Sudanese relations. However, our progress thus far serves as only the first step in a longer road to improving bilateral relations.
“We have therefore launched the “Phase II” framework for our bilateral engagement, which is designed to expand our cooperation, facilitate meaningful reforms in Sudan, and achieve further progress in a number of areas of longstanding mutual concern.”
Koutsis said that the second phase has the potential to make the bilateral relationship more productive than it has been in 30 years. “Providing us an opportunity to expand cooperation and achieve improvements in a number of key areas of mutual concern, including the protection of religious freedom and other human rights.”
Phase two will also “serve as a mechanism for securing justice for victims of terrorist violence”.
In September, the USA decided to keep Sudan on its blacklist of states that sponsor terrorism, yet affirmed its positive rating of Sudan’s track record in combating terrorism.
Sudan has been on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism by the United States for more than two decades. In November 1997, Washington blocked Sudanese government property and prohibited transactions with Sudan, as it considered Khartoum an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the USA.”
About two decades later, in October 2017, certain economic sanctions were permanently revoked. The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced the amendment of the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations in the Federal Register, because of “Sudan’s positive actions [..].”
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is sanctioned by the letter of the Sudanese Constitution. However, the Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in the country. He pointed to the return of many South Sudanese Christian refugees to their country, after the secession of the south in July 2011.
Since that time, reports concerning discrimination and persecution of Christians, demolition of church buildings and schools increased.
In October this year, agents of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) held 13 Christians from a home they shared in Nyala. A priest was charged with apostasy – an offence that carries the death penalty in the Islamic country. Eight other Christians were forced to renounce their faith and return to Islam after alleged torture in custody.
In an article in October 2017, John Prendergast and Ian Schwab of the Enough Project highlighted a pattern of persecution of religious minorities throughout the country.
In July 2017, the Ministry of Education instructed Christian schools in the country to observe the weekend on Friday and Saturday, and operate schools on Sunday. A number of church buildings were confiscated and demolished, and at least eight church leaders were detained that year. In February 2018, riot police demolished the Evangelical Church in El Haj Yousif district in Khartoum North because “the church plot had been sold”.