Washington Lifts 20 Years of Sanctions on Sudan


The US is lifting most of the economic and trade sanctions it first imposed on Sudan two decades ago. However, Sudan will remain listed as a state sponsor of terror.

Washington lifts two decades old Sudan sanctions
Sudan welcome U.S. decision to end its 20-year economic and trade embargo as a positive decision but urges Washington to go further. (EBRAHIM HAMID / AFP)


The United States has lifted decades-old economic sanctions against Sudan even though it still considers the country a state sponsor of terrorism and despite the fact Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir still faces arrest on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

In July, Washington said a decision on whether to do away with the sanctions, which Barack Obama had suspended shortly before leaving the White House, would be delayed for three months. 

Khartoum’s recent move to end its support for North Korea seems to have tipped the balance in its favour and Donald Trump’s administration said there was now enough evidence of progress to justify the move.

The sanctions were imposed in 1997 when then-president Bill Clinton issued an executive order citing Sudan’s “continued support for international terrorism, ongoing efforts to destabilise neighbouring governments, and the prevalence of human rights violations.”

Including a comprehensive trade embargo and blocking the assets of Sudan’s government, they were expanded in 2006 to target individuals involved in the conflict in Darfur. The ICC’s charges against Bashir relate to acts, including murder, rape, and torture, committed by Sudanese troops in Darfur between 2003 and 2008.

Obama stipulated that the sanctions would only be ended if Sudan made progress in five areas: co-operation on counter-terrorism; resolution of the conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur; improving access to humanitarian aid; ending support to armed opposition groups in South Sudan; and addressing the threat of the Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

On Wednesday, Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz told the Reuters news agency that his country had “fulfilled all the necessary conditions relating to the roadmap and the US administration is a witness to that and therefore we expect the sanctions to be lifted.”

Khartoum had already won significant international support for this claim, with Israel and Saudi Arabia busy lobbying on its behalf. And back in July, the UN Country Team in Sudan, which includes all United Nations development and humanitarian agencies working there, called for Washington to take a “positive decision” on the sanctions, saying there had been a “marked improvement in humanitarian access over the past six months” in areas from where aid agencies had previously been restricted.

Some key figures in the UN, however, paint a less rosy picture. Civilians in Darfur still face “violence and criminality”, the UN’s then-head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the “widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions” as well as inter-communal violence over land, water, and other resources.

Human rights activists have warned that lifting the sanctions will embolden Sudan and other states to continue committing atrocities.

On Thurday, Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Jehanne Henry tweeted: “recent attacks on Darfur  Internally Displaced Persons and new political arrests. Has Sudan made ‘progress’ on human rights? ”

Henry’s tweet linked to a May position statement by HRW that criticised Obama’s 11th-hour suspension of sanctions for its failure to “identify clear benchmarks for progress or explicitly require improvements to the human rights situation before making the suspension permanent.”

Twenty years after the sanctions were first imposed on Sudan, “the human rights situation has not improved,” according to HRW.