Sudan in 2021: a human rights-focused roadmap for the Biden administration
In December 2020, the Sudanese transitional government celebrated the country’s official removal from the list of US terrorist sponsor states, nearly two decades after its initial inclusion. The delisting of Sudan — accompanied by a bridging loan the United States to clear Sudan’s arrears to the World Bank — paves the way for much needed access to debt financing and development assistance. As the Sudanese economy continues to flounder, with the soaring inflation and a 500 percent increase in electricity price marking the start of the new year, international funding will make a crucial difference in achieving economic stability.
This news is a welcome development for Sudan. In the coming months, much attention should rightly be paid to reforms aimed at eradicating corruption and strengthening the banking controls necessary to facilitate any increase in international spending in the country. But long-term peace in Sudan depends on both economic prosperity and social stability. For this reason, the emphasis on encouraging foreign investment and aid spending in Sudan must be matched by continued international support for human rights reforms.
Since the ousting of former President Omar al-Bashir in early 2019, the Sudanese transitional government has taken several encouraging steps to address serious human rights violations committed under the al-Bashir regime, including by criminalizing the practice of female genital mutilation, modifying the notoriously oppressive public order laws which governed the behavior of women and increasingly collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Yet serious human rights concerns continue to threaten Sudan’s democratic transition. Police, intelligence services and the Rapid Support Forces – a paramilitary force linked to gross human rights violations in Darfur and elsewhere – retain disproportionate influence in the country. Recent reports indicate that torture and enforced disappearances remain a tool to suppress dissent and sow fear in Sudan, and government forces continue to use Excessive force against peaceful demonstrators in the capital, Khartoum, and across the country. The planned withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur during the first months of 2021 raised fears of an intensification of armed conflicts; and indeed, in the first weeks of January, around 90,000 people were moved and several hundred injured or killed as a result of tribal violence in the troubled state.
In addition, widening divisions between the civilian and military components of the transitional government of Sudan will complicate any US intervention in Sudan. Some commentators in Sudan complain that the military wields greater decision-making authority than civilian technocrats appointed to represent a diverse and fractured coalition of opposition groups, and disagreements over policy approaches, including on key justice issues. transitional, have dumped in public view These last months. As a result, even seemingly good faith efforts by the civilian components to take essential steps, such as the creation of a Legislative Council, have yet to bear fruit. Frustrated by the slow pace of reforms and increasingly disappointed with the transitional government, Sudanese protesters have took to the street with renewed energy since December 2020.
To address these and other challenges, the Biden administration should prioritize linking financial assistance to the meaningful advancement of key human rights issues and, related, strengthening the civilian component of the government. transitional government of Sudan. Both direct technical assistance and debt relief funds should be calibrated to prevent the enrichment and strengthening of Sudanese military leaders, who control large portions of the debt. private sector, including in the lucrative mining industry, and have so far manipulated reform efforts to advance their business interests.
In particular, supporting the civilian leadership of the transitional government in carrying out its reform program and meeting the demands of the Sudanese people requires targeted assistance and sustained international attention on three priorities.
First, ensuring the accountability of those primarily responsible for the most serious human rights violations committed under al-Bashir remains a top priority. Some of these people left Sudan, making internal prosecutions impossible for procedural and due process reasons. Washington should put its diplomatic forces at the service of efforts to extradite such perpetrators, like Salah Gosh, the former head of the dreaded National Intelligence and Security Service, who was renamed in July 2019 as the General Intelligence Service, which would now be Egypt.
Human rights defenders continue to face significant obstacles in reaching victims of human rights violations in Sudan. For example, the continued efforts of local and international organizations to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) in upcoming procedures are hampered by security concerns and lack of access to Darfur and other states. The Biden administration – which is expected to take a gentler stance towards the ICC than its predecessor – is expected to pressure Sudan in key multilateral forums to open Darfur to the ICC and Sudanese militants. And the United States should seize the opportunity to demonstrate its renewed commitment to accountability for international crimes by supporting calls for al-Bashir to stand trial by the ICC, either in The Hague or through a hybrid court based in Khartoum.
The United States is also expected to provide technical support to ensure that the transitional government is prepared to fully investigate and bring to justice those involved in the murder and torture of demonstrators since late 2018, including perpetrators at the top of the chain of command. Currently, public prosecutors are tasked with investigating alleged violations on an ad hoc basis, but these prosecutors lack the necessary resources and technical capacity, and they rely on the families of victims to provide evidence. Instead, the United States should make a concerted effort to help the transitional government establish a special prosecution committee or specialized tribunal that is empowered to provide the families of victims with adequate reparations.
Second, the United States should encourage Sudan to ratification without reservations and implementation core human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is also part of it, but the United States would do well to ratify CEDAW first, before urging its foreign counterparts to do so. same.
Ratification of treaties is only the first step in a much longer process to bring Sudan’s national laws into line with international law. Where appropriate, the United States should offer technical advice and support in drafting implementing legislation, and it should fund civil society efforts to educate the general public about “know your rights” campaigns. and other local monitoring efforts to ensure greater treaty compliance. The training of the police, the security forces and the judiciary in international standards is also an important and indispensable measure to ensure respect for international law.
Third, the United States should pay attention to issues of representation in Sudan’s nascent democratic and civic space. Women and marginalized groups must be included in government and in all reform processes, at all levels, from consultation to implementation. Despite the essential role of women play during the 2018 and 2019 protests that brought about the end of al-Bashir’s regime, women were largely excluded from subsequent peace negotiations. Today, only two women sit on the Sovereign Council, Sudan’s military-civilian governing body with 11 members. Likewise, few women sit on the national commissions and committees formed after the 2019 revolution. Furthermore, although the Legislative Council and the Constitutional Court have not yet been constituted at the time of writing, it is unlikely that women are represented equally in both bodies. A democratic body that is not representative is hardly democratic.
Combating inequalities and ensuring the meaningful inclusion of victims in ongoing transitional justice processes requires the development of policies that improve participation in key governance structures. Donor attention in this area is essential. The United States should systematically integrate a gender perspective into all programming in Sudan, including all planned economic reform initiatives.
Early in his presidency, Biden and his team of foreign advisers have a window of opportunity to help Sudan make meaningful progress in necessary human rights reforms. The opening up of the Sudanese economy may herald a period of economic liberalization, but any progress on economic reforms must not come at the expense of human rights priorities. The Sudanese people have a vision for a new nation based on the rule of law, democracy and human rights – the Biden administration should take this vision seriously when considering any intervention.