On January 13, citing progress on a series of policy benchmarks, Washington eased sanctions on Sudan even though the atrocities that had originally prompted them—the bombing of civilians, raiding of villages, denial of food aid, and possible use of chemical weapons—remain a central part of Khartoum’s strategy against civilian populations in Darfur and other conflict-torn regions of Sudan. In the early part of 2016, for example, the government launched an offensive against the Sudan Liberation Movement–Abdel Wahid, which caused significant civilian casualties and displacement and led to a number of human rights violations such as arbitrary arrest, detention, and the torture of political actors.
And yet the international community’s treatment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir today is a complete reversal from eight years ago, when the world was still reeling from the genocide in Darfur. Bashir was an international pariah back then. The International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued an arrest warrant in response to his genocidal actions in Darfur. The United States had ratcheted up sanctions throughout the administration of George W. Bush, who was then leaving office, and his successor, Barack Obama, had railed against the genocide in Darfur as a senator. In addition, most Middle Eastern governments were opposed to the regime in Khartoum because of its alliance with Iran.
Since then, the wars have only grown, engulfing the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions, and the Khartoum regime has cut off humanitarian access to these areas, which has left countless people without emergency aid for more than five years. Aerial bombing has continued against civilian targets, and Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army is still operating from Sudan. Meanwhile, numerous political prisoners languish in Sudanese prisons, corruption is endemic, and the economy is in shambles. Perhaps most galling of all, elements of the notorious Janjaweed militias, the main perpetrators of the earlier genocide in Darfur, have been incorporated into the government’s army and innocuously renamed the “rapid support forces.”