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US to ease decades-old sanctions against Sudan

October 6, 2017

The US says it will soon end tough sanctions on Sudan, giving it access to the global banking system. But President al-Bashir remains a war crimes suspect, and Sudan stays on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Shazly

The United States announced Friday that it would end its toughest economic and trade sanctions against Sudan in a week's time, citing progress the Khartoum government has made in fighting terrorism and easing humanitarian hardships.

Sudan has also agreed not to seek arms deals with North Korea. According to an unnamed senior US official cited by Reuters, the US does not believe Sudan has diplomatic ties with North Korea, and Washington does not expect that to change any time soon. 

Official news agency SUNA quoted a Foreign Ministry statement welcoming the decision: "The leaders of Sudan, the government of Sudan and the people of Sudan welcome the positive decision taken by American President Donald Trump of removing the economic sanctions completely."

Human rights groups opposed the deal, but it was a process that was started under former President Barack Obama.

The sanctions, which included a trade embargo and other penalties, have essentially cut off Sudan from most of the global financial system for the past 20 years.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir accused of genocide

"The United States has decided to formally revoke a number of economically focused sanctions on Sudan," a senior official told reporters, which was "in recognition of the government of Sudan's sustained positive actions in five key areas."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a statement saying the sanctions would come to an end next week.

Some of the sanctions date back to 1997 and were intended to punish the Sudanese government for the brutal tactics of its forces in a series of internal conflicts.

Explaining the end of the sanctions, US officials said the authoritarian regime had maintained a cessation of hostilities in Darfur and other old flashpoints.

Two blue-helmeted UN soldiers standing in an armored vehicle Darfur.
The UN mission in Darfur, SudanImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. G. Farran

Hunting the Lord's Resistance Army

The government in Khartoum has also been seen by the US to improve humanitarian access to former conflict zones and ended its attempts to destabilize South Sudan, which gained independence in July 2011.

Officials also pointed to improved US and Sudanese cooperation on counterterrorism measures, in particular the regional efforts to hunt down Joseph Kony's rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

Washington's decision marks a substantial turnaround for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his government, which once hosted Osama bin Laden.

Head shot of three blue-helmeted UN soldiers in Darfur.
UN soldiers in DarfurImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Price

But al-Bashir remains a war-crimes suspect. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges for allegedly orchestrating a mass killing in Darfur.

And Sudan is still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism along with Syria and Iran, which the Department of State alleges to have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism." This means the US ban on weapons sales remains in force, as do restrictions on US aid. Getting these sanctions lifted will require a separate review. 

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry said it was looking forward to building "a normal relation with the United States, but wants its name to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as there is no reason to have Sudan in that list." 

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 on charges of war crimes and genocide in his drive to crush the Darfur revolt. According to the UN, since 2003, when ethnic groups rebelled against the government, at least 300,000 people have been killed and over 2.5 million have been displaced.

Sudanese officials are also subject to separate sanctions as a result of human rights abuses during the fighting in Darfur. In 2016, rights group Amnesty International accused government forces of killing scores of civilians in at least 30 suspected chemical weapons attacks in a remote area of the country's Darfur region.

Sudan was one of seven countries on US President Donald Trump's travel ban, first issued in January. But last month the administration issued a new list, and Sudan was the only country from the original list to be freed from the ban.

Still, Republicans on Capitol Hill questioned the administration's decision, and human rights groups have condemned it outright.

bik/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)