Too Soon to Lift Sudan Sanctions

Refugees International strongly urges the U.S. government to postpone the permanent lifting of sanctions on Sudan, pending further progress by Sudan’s government on international humanitarian access and four other objectives described in Executive Order 13761 from January 2017.

The Government of Sudan’s progress on international humanitarian access to several areas of conflict, in particular, has been partial and reversible at best, with several reports of restrictions in the past six months.  These restrictions on access have serious and substantial impacts on the well-being of civilians, and come in the context of a long history of denying or delaying visas or outright denial of access to humanitarian aid organizations.  In short, Sudan must engage in more sustained, concrete steps before the United States act to permanently lift sanctions. 

“The Government of Sudan’s progress on international humanitarian access to several areas of conflict, in particular, has been partial and reversible at best…”

Moreover, we are concerned that the ability of the Trump administration to make a careful assessment of progress on humanitarian access, as well progress in the four other areas of concern (counter-terrorism cooperation, counter-LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) cooperation, cessation of hostilities in conflict areas, and ceasing support of South Sudanese armed opposition), is impacted by the absence of senior appointees at the State Department and National Security Council – and, in particular, a general deficit of those engaged on issues related to Africa.  

Finally, we strongly believe that the Trump administration must err on the side of caution, given the consequential nature of this decision and Sudan’s horrible history of human rights violations as well as violations of international humanitarian law. 

In light of all these circumstances, we fear that lifting U.S. sanctions now sends a very troubling signal to Sudan – and to the world – about the U.S. commitment to protection of civilians and support of human rights.

Eric Schwartz is the president of Refugees International and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.



On January 13, 2017, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order (EO) suspending most U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan for six months based on what the Order described as “sustained progress” made by the Sudanese government. Under the terms of the EO, the sanctions will be permanently lifted on July 12, 2017, if the United States finds that the Government of Sudan has sustained “positive actions” in five areas, as verified by a report to be written by the U.S. Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, Director of National Intelligence, and the USAID Administrator. The five areas are: (1) cooperation regarding counter-terrorism; (2) cooperation on countering the LRA; (3) cessation of hostilities in conflict areas; (4) ceasing to support South Sudanese armed opposition; and (5) humanitarian access.