Home | News    Wednesday 27 May 2020

Sudanese officials brief U.S. Congress on ongoing reforms

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May 27, 2020 (WASHINGTON) – Senior Sudanese officials sat down on Tuesday with U.S. congressional staff to apprise them of the country’s situation on the economic and legal front more than a year after the regime of former President Omer Hassan al-Bashir was toppled in a popular uprising.

Sudanese ministers of Finance Ibrahim Elbadawi (L) and minister of Justice Nasredeen Abdulbari (R)

The private briefing was arranged by the Washington-based Atlantic Council and saw the attendance of the Minister of Finance Ibrahim al-Badawi and Minister of Justice Nasr al-Din Abdel Bari.

The think-tank said that the al-Badawi discussed donor financing and Sudan’s economic reform plan while Abdel Bari focused on the status of judicial reform, efforts to dismantle the previous regime and the negotiation of settlements with the U.S. and foreign victims of terrorism.

A source in the briefing said that the finance minister went to great lengths in order to explain the impact of Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism by the US and the need to move quickly to delist the East African nation.

Last week the US confirmed that a preliminary agreement was reached with Sudan to settle lawsuits related to the 1998 twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Nairobi.

"I can confirm that we have reached a common understanding with Sudan – and my words here are very careful – on the contours of a future bilateral claims agreement, on the contours of such an agreement," the U.S. Assistant Secretary of state for African Affairs Tibor Nagy told reporters.

"[T]his final agreement will reflect Sudan’s agreement to pay – it would include compensation in connection with claims relating also to non-U.S. nationals killed and injured in the embassy bombings," he added.

The disclosure came at the heels of a US Supreme court ruling that revived the possibility of collecting $4.3 billion in punitive damage claims from Sudan on the embassy bombings on top of another $6 billion awarded previously. The court this week also refused an appeal by Sudan to review the lower court rulings on its responsibility for the bombings and the liability it poses.

U.S. courts held Sudan liable because in the 1990’s it hosted al-Qaeda terrorists who carried out the attacks.

But representatives of African victims expressed outrage over the proposed settlement saying it treats them differently than American victims in terms of compensation.

One of the representatives by the name of Eric Sapp issued a statement yesterday slamming the provisional agreement saying that the deal brokered by the state department “would replace the Court judgments with a scheme that would allow Sudan to escape accepting responsibility for its role in the attacks and allow Sudan to pay victims and families only 1% of the total judgment”.

“[T]he new scheme would set up a discriminatory payment structure whereby Sudan would be allowed to pay victims based on their nation of birth, rather than the severity of the injury. This would allow Sudan to avoid paying 1/3 of embassy bombing judgment holders entirely and would allow Sudan to pay African American citizen victims 25x less of their judgment on average than white American victims holders”.

Al-Badawi told Congressional staffers yesterday that the country has little bandwidth to pay even the $300 million offered under the terms of the settlement let alone the billions ruled by the US courts.

It was hoped that the Arab Gulf states can be convinced to help Sudan pay all or part of the settlement amount but that attempt appeared to have failed as the global economy grapples with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked Sudan 1st in the world in its government debt to GDP ratio (ahead of Japan & Greece). Because of its long-standing arrears to the IMF & World Bank (WB) and the near $60 billion in external debt, Sudan is unable to obtain concessional borrowing.

The terrorism designation also obliges the U.S. administration to oppose any loans by international financial institutions to Sudan or debt relief despite being eligible for it under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) plan.

Sapp appeared to acknowledge what many observers assert on Sudan’s clear lack of ability to pay large sums of money but said they were willing to compromise.

“Victims have also offered to allow Sudan to extend out payment until after it is realizing the tens of billions of dollars in oil/mineral concessions following delisting from the SST [State Sponsor of Terrorism]”.

Adding to the complication is that Sudan has virtually no assets in the US that can be seized to satisfy the judgments.

Sapp also suggested that Sudan’s commitment to denouncing terrorism is questionable despite the ouster of the Bashir regime which hosted al-Qaeda saying that the government of Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok insists it bears no responsibility to the actions of the previous government.

But the senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Cameron Hudson blasted these assertions made by Sapp calling it part of a “growing campaign of misinformation from PR consultants and lawyers who are themselves looking to profit off of any settlement”.

“[I]mplying that Sudan will return to supporting international terrorism is in no way in evidence. I have written extensively on this subject and know that Sudan has been given a clean bill of health in ending support to terror and working with the US on CT [counterterrorism]” the former CIA intelligence analyst said on Twitter.

Hudson disclosed that the Kenyan and Tanzanian victims were already paid $500 million through a victim’s trust fund.

He went on to describe Sudan as “cash strapped” and “nearing bankruptcy” which according to him makes it unlikely that the victims “will ever be able to receive substantially more than what is currently on the table”.

“To be clear, I believe victims are due to their rightful amount and its not for me to say what that number is. But the legal precedent was used to determine payouts… attempts to vilify Sudan any further and suggest that its efforts are disingenuous or that it is getting off easy, ignore the unique moment Sudan finds itself in and the troubled history between our two countries. I hope politics and greed don’t derail a better future for all”.

Analysts worry that unless the U.S. moves to delist Sudan in the coming months, the transitional government formed under a power-sharing deal between the civilians and the military could quickly unravel throwing the entire country into turmoil.

Sudanese officials said last year they needed up to $5 billion to avert economic collapse. Since then, they have been struggling to contain worsening fuel and bread shortages linked to a scarcity of dollars and smuggling of subsidized goods, despite some aid from the Gulf.

The government last month said that the annual inflation rate has topped 80 % which is one of the highest rates in the world and has crippled spending power for most Sudanese.

Nearly 25% of the population need humanitarian relief with child malnutrition rates being on the rise.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last month that the impact of the worsening economic situation resulting from COVID-19 in Sudan is compounded by the effects of Sudan continuing to be on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

“The only way Sudan will ever be able to break out of this cycle of poverty and desperation is to be freed from the impediments of sanctions imposed at the time of the previous Government”, Ms Bachelet argued, saying if removed, the state would be able to “attract investment for its much-needed economic reforms and to fully access funds of the international financial institutions,” she said.

The U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton added Sudan to its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993 over allegations that then-President Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist government was supporting terrorist groups.

(ST)

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