Our reporters Bastien Renouil and Élodie Cousin return to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum six months after the United States lifted its economic sanctions on the poverty-stricken country. The sanctions crippled Sudan for 20 years, and now that they've been lifted, the Sudanese people are hoping for a new future. But despite the regime’s apparent willingness to increasingly adhere to Western demands and requirements, its dire human rights record has yet to improve.
Ever since then-US President Bill Clinton ordered the crippling sanctions in 1997, the Sudanese people have been waiting for the day they would be lifted. At the time sanctions were imposed, Sudan was a staunch supporter of al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, who lived in Khartoum between 1992 and 1996. When the sanctions were finally removed last October, thousands of Sudanese thronged the streets to celebrate the end of 20 years of hardship. Some even brought out the American flag to express their joy – a move that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier – even though the US has kept Sudan on its list of countries that financially support terrorism.
While former US President Barack Obama may have been the one to take the first steps toward lifting the sanctions, it was his less-popular successor, Donald Trump, who actually had them removed. In exchange for the gesture, Sudan has vowed to cooperate with American intelligence services in the US fight against terrorism.
The removal of the sanctions is expected to give Sudan’s infrastructure and business sector a much-needed financial boost: hospitals will finally be able to buy new, mainly American-made, equipment. For years, many Sudanese have had to travel to Cairo to receive satisfactory treatment. National carrier Sudan Airways, meanwhile, will once again be able to buy aircraft and spare parts from both Airbus and Boeing. Sudan’s export industry is also expected to flourish. The country’s ailing cotton crop, which was once one of Sudan’s main exports, will be able to pick up speed again.
Sending the wrong message?
But despite six long months having passed since the American financial barriers were removed, the Sudanese are still waiting for that brighter future to see the light of day. It will take time for the economic rewards to come through. But the most alarming issue is the regime’s continual record of human rights abuses. Several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, warn that the lifting of sanctions has sent the government the wrong message, with little or no incentive for one of Africa’s most repressive regimes to stop its harrowing abuses. Opposition leaders and human rights activists are still regularly thrown in jail and the country remains plagued by two of the bloodiest wars on the planet -- in Darfur and in South Kordofan. Omar al-Bashir’s regime has been accused of bomb raids killing thousands of civilians – some of whom are believed to have been executed with chemical weapons. The International Criminal Court has deemed such offenses crimes against humanity.
Although the lifting of sanctions may be giving the Sudanese some financial respite, the country still seems to be in for a long wait when it comes to improving access to civil liberties and human rights.