Should the US Be Lifting Sanctions on Sudan?

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Outgoing President Barack Obama has eased economic sanctions against Sudan after six months of talks with Sudanese leaders. The White House says the move followed Sudanese help in combating terrorism. Sudan will have the sanctions lifted following a 180-day probationary period to see if their human rights record in parts of the country involved in civil war improves.

The final decision to relieve or continue to impose sanctions will rest with incoming President-elect Donald Trump. Trump’s transition team was involved in the six months of secret negotiations which led to the decision to ease the sanctions. That decision reportedly had Trump’s seal of approval.

The sanctions having to do with Sudan’s civil war, will remain in place. In addition, the lifting of the sanctions will have no impact on Sudan’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Read the US state department’s complete explanation of the sanctions against Sudan here.

Sanctions were originally placed on Sudan by President Bill Clinton in 1997 in response to Sudan sheltering Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from 1992 to 1996.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes he allegedly carried out in Darfur as part of the civil war there. At least 300,000 were killed and a further 2.7 million were displaced by Turabi’s militiamen since Darfur staged a rebellion in 2003.

Supporters of easing the sanctions argue that Bashir has taken steps to combat Islamist extremism by preventing Sudanese ISIS fighters from crossing into Libya and even stopped Iran smuggling weapons to Hamas via Sudan.


Question: Should the US be lifting sanctions on Sudan?


Sanctions against Iran have been in place for 20 years and Sudan’s problems remain. By giving Sudan something to lose, they incentivize engagement with the West. America can also tie further investment funds to improvements in fighting radical Islam and promoting human rights.

“They are using a carrot,” Magnus Taylor, Horn of Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, told The Telegraph. 

“For the last decade there has been a lot of stick and the stick didn’t work. The trouble with having pariahs is that it is very hard to have any meaningful engagement with them. So it is definitely time for a different strategy.”

Engaging in business activity within the country can lead to greater cultural exchange and thus to greater exposure to counter–extremist ideas. By contrast, cutting the country off from the world  simply isolates Sudan further and entrenches the power of its dictatorial government.



Lifting sanctions against a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism simply rewards bad behavior and provides no incentive to cease support for terrorism.

It sends a message to other regimes around the world that the United States is not serious in its quest to eliminate Islamism. It shows that America is willing to turn a blind eye to horrific human rights abuses.

America’s longstanding alliance with Saudi Arabia, despite that country’s global exportation of extremist thought funded by petrodollars shows that countries do not simply acquire American values by osmosis.

If the United States wishes Sudan’s government to abandon Islamism fully, they will have to be more robust in insisting that American economic relief is pegged on genuine and lasting progress.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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