This op-ed, co-authored by board member John Prendergast, originally appeared on The Hill.
Although Darfur’s atrocities are widely perceived to be a thing of the past, the UN announced in the last week that 138,000 Darfuris have been displaced by conflict since the beginning of the year, joining over four million Sudanese already displaced by ongoing wars in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan states. Sudan’s conflicts have produced the third highest prevalence of malnutrition globally, and European governments are so concerned about the influx of Sudanese refugees into Europe that the European Union last week donated $100 million to projects aimed at staunching the flow of those refugees.
Aid projects weren’t the answer to Darfur’s genocide a decade ago, and they certainly aren’t today. The drivers of displacement aren’t a lack of development. They are multiple concurrent internal armed conflicts, use of starvation as a weapon, the consolidation of a violent kleptocracy, aerial bombing of civilians, and the brutal repression of political opposition and civil society. The deadly status quo has held for years, defying resolution.
Scratch beneath the surface,and what is revealed is new leverage that presentstheObama administration with the opportunity to alter that status quo.Part of the problem is simply recognizing the opportunity.The other much more challengingpartis acting upon it in the last year of an administration facing a dizzying array of global and domestic challenges.
The regime in Khartoum has undermined every peace process aimed at addressingSudan’s internal conflictsin Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, as well as negotiations with unarmed opposition groups. Ituses these peace talks as a means to divide opposition and undermine progress towards an end to conflict, because leading regime figures have benefited financially from the state of insecurity and absence of rule of law which the Bashir regime has cultivated in its more than 25 years of violent, authoritarian rule.
Efforts to secure peace inSudanhave failed in the past in large part because of insufficient international leverage over theSudanesegovernment. New influence has emerged, however, as a result of new types of sanctions measures and tightened enforcement that were principally focused onIranbut had a spillover effect onSudan.Sudanhas been impacted because foreign banks moved to reduce their exposure torisky accounts and institutions in the wake of large fines paid for sanctions violations involvingIranandSudan. The chilling effect on the commercial activities, investments, and finances of leading regime military, security, and civilian officials has caused sanctions relief to replace debt relief as theSudanregime’s primary preoccupation.
Iran, likeSudan, had been the target of comprehensive U.S. sanctions for more than two decades, but it took a series of innovative, intensified, and targeted measures, principally from 2010to 2013, to finallycutoff Tehran’seconomiclifelines and push theIranianstoengage inserious negotiations. At the same time, Washington used a range of approaches to ease the burden of some of these pressures on theIranianpeople.Today,Sudanmore closely resembles the belligerent and uncooperativeIranof 2007to 2010: deserving of and susceptible tomodernized sanctions that can finally support an end to the regime’s violent kleptocratic behavior.
U.S. leaders should adopt elements of theplaybookused withIranthat are applicable to theSudanesepolitical and economic context and begin by immediately ratcheting up financial pressure and tightening sanctions enforcement onSudan, deploying modernized sanctions that more sharply targetthe military and financial assets ofthose most responsible for continuing conflict, atrocities, and mass corruption inSudan. At the same time, the Obama administration should quickly address the existing sanctions measures that have harmedthe medical, humanitarian, people-to-people, and academic sectors inSudan.
The United States should deploy this combination of tightened and eased sanctions measures to bring theSudaneseregime to a singular peace process that leads to a truly inclusive peace deal inSudan, the verified implementation of which would trigger the eventual removal of sanctions, debt relief, and normalized U.S. relations.
In their previous roles, President Obama, Secretary of StateJohn Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and UN AmbassadorSamantha Powerhelped focus attention on and advocated forceful responses to the genocide that was unfolding in the mid-2000s in Darfur. This violence has not ended, nor have the brutal attacks in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Suddenly, there is an opening that might allow space for a solution. Sudan is a place where this administration could make a real difference in the next nine months with a creative new policy gambit. The people ofSudanmay not have a better chance for peace for a long time to come.