Today, George Clooney and John Prendergast, co-founders of The Sentry, published an Op-ed on Time.com calling attention to a U.S. lobbying firm helping Sudan’s efforts to get U.S. sanctions lifted. “On July 12th, the Trump administration is due to decide whether or not to permanently lift comprehensive U.S. sanctions, which were temporarily paused in January by the Obama administration, that were originally imposed because of that government’s support for terrorism, commission of mass atrocities and perpetration of other fundamental human rights violations. Squire Patton Boggs is now lobbying the administration to permanently remove those sanctions, and in the longer term to try to clean up the regime’s image in Washington.”
According to the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the government continues “to arrest, detain, and prosecute Christian leaders.” The current criminal code calls for the death penalty for Muslims who convert to a different faith.
In a June 22 press release, USCIRF released a letter it sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to maintain sanctions against Sudan that are set to expire July 12 because the country has not “shown sufficient progress on allowing greater religious freedom.”
Ryan Boyette, a journalist and human rights advocate who has lived in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan for years, reports that two churches in the capital city of Khartoum have been bulldozed in the past two months. Two dozen more churches await a similar fate pending upcoming court cases.
For Ryan, who started the journalism organization Nuba Reports, much more than buildings are under threat. Reporting on religious freedom and other issues is not popular with the President Omar al-Bashir’s government, because where religious liberty is not granted, often there is no freedom of the press. In 2012, the military bombed Ryan’s house.
“I was there. My pregnant wife was there. Thanks be to God no one was hurt, but the shrapnel went through the roof of my house,” he said.
Disappointingly, recent evidence has come to light that President Bashir – an indicted war criminal and state sponsor of terrorism – has hired a major law firm in Washington D.C. to represent his government for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. President Bashir is trying to get the Trump Administration to continue a process started by the Obama Administration to remove sanctions on the Khartoum government.
Bashir has killed more innocent people than ISIS, and while the government has halted the bombing runs of innocent civilians, it has laid siege to the Nuba Mountains by cutting off the aid supplies and conscripting land. It is a quieter but no less deadly war. President Trump should not now surrender the policy leverage of sanctions. We know they are having an impact, because Sudan is trying to get them removed.
The sanctions, along with smart Sudan policy, could help steer that country to a place that honors human rights and religious freedom. Its people are ready. Ask President Trump to stop the process that will allow the sanctions against Sudan’s government to expire on July 12.
Former Congressman Frank R. Wolf
Distinguished Senior Fellow, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative