Why Trump was wrong to lift Sudan sanctions

Story highlights

  • Trump's administration has decided to lift the two-decade old sanctions against Sudan
  • Tom Catena writes about his disappointment that the sanctions have been lifted against Sudan despite not fulfilling conditions imposed by the Obama regime

Tom Catena is a doctor and missionary from New York. He's the only doctor permanently based in the Nuba Mountains for a population of more than half a million people. He is also the laureate of the 2017 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity.

The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN)I am deeply disappointed by the decision of the Trump administration to lift the two decades old sanctions against the Republic of Sudan.

Although the lifting of sanctions will hopefully offer some relief to the beleaguered poor of Sudan, I fear that it will only embolden and add a measure of legitimacy to a regime with a long track record of human rights abuses and atrocities committed against its own people.
I am afraid that this new found source of strength will make it more difficult to push the government to find a peaceful resolution to all of the armed conflicts within Sudan.
    Former President Obama signed an executive order in January 2017 temporarily lifting a few sanctions and paving the way for the possibility of a permanent lifting if the Khartoum government complied with several conditions over the ensuing six months.
    Dr. Tom Catena

    Military offensive

    These requirements included cessation of offensive military activity and aerial bombardment in the war zones of Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, cooperation on counter terrorism and improvement in humanitarian access into the rebel held areas.
    I can vouch for the fact that there have been no new offensives or aerial bombardments in Nuba since January.
    However, conversely, there has not been a drop of humanitarian aid reaching us here in the Nuba Mountains during that time period. Simply said, not all of the conditions have been met to justify a permanent lifting of sanctions.
    The Sudan government, through a major charm offensive has managed to pull the US into their court. Money better spent on assisting their own people has gone to high priced Washington lobby groups and PR firms.

    'Worst atrocity you never heard of'

    Although neither a politician nor an economist, as the sole surgeon in the region for the past ten years, I've had a front seat view to many of the atrocities occurring here since the outbreak of civil war in June 2011.
    Most of the goings on here have garnered little international attention -- often overshadowed by the conflict in Syria or the events coming about as a result of the Arab spring.
    In fact, New York Times Columnist Nick Kristof referred to the conflict here as 'the worst atrocity you've never heard of' after visiting the region in June 2015.

    Children maimed and killed

    I've seen far too many children maimed, killed and burned to death by Sudan Air Force aerial bombardments and Sudan army artillery shelling to stay silent. I've watched 30 children at our hospital alone die from measles, a preventable illness, because vaccines were not allowed into rebel held territory. Improved humanitarian access?
    We've just gone through a very difficult 6-month period of severe food shortages where most people were cutting back their food intake to one small meal per day. A recent survey done in Nuba showed the prevalence of global malnutrition in children to be at 24%.
    A small army of women were lined up at the hospital gates every day looking for food in exchange for work. We did what we could on our small scale but it was never enough. We used our own money to buy food from a distant market in order to feed our staff.
    The Nuba are an extremely tough and resilient lot and they've been through worse but is this any way to live your entire life?

    'We need peace'

    When I ask people here what they really want, they often respond that 'we need peace'. What is really needed in the Nuba Mountains, Darfur and Blue Nile is a real durable peace which addresses all of the root causes of conflict here -- everything from equal rights to marginalization to development.
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    To get this done, pressure on both sides is often needed to bring them to the negotiating table and make real changes.
    I'm afraid that the US government has lost some of its leverage with the Sudan government by the lifting of sanctions and the Sudan government no longer needs to behave well to get what they want.
    Perhaps I should let some of that Nuba eternal optimism wear off on me and believe that this new US engagement with the Sudan government will allow them to gently nudge them toward a peaceful resolution of conflict.