It's Time To Panic About U.S. Sudan Policy

Bashir's crackdown is heading towards a catastrophe. Fear of the looming massacre may be the only way to stop it.

Posted by Mark Hackett on February 27th, 2019

December 19, 2018 will go down as a pivotal day in Sudan's long history. But the mass public protests that began against the Bashir regime on that day are coming under increasing threat. 

Over the past several weeks the protests in Sudan have grown larger, become more organized, and spread further across the country. Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir has overseen his vast network of oppressive security forces as they have shot unarmed Sudanese civilians, fired tear gas into hospitals, and arrested and tortured hundreds, if not thousands, of peaceful protesters, journalists, and doctors. 

The recent events unfolding in Sudan have garnered the most international news coverage on the governance crisis plaguing the country in several years. Largely lost in the mounting news coverage is a piece by New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, one of the few international reporters who has continually written and visited Sudan's conflict areas as the years have gone by. You can read the article here, but the title says it all: Marching Toward a Massacre.

Omar al-Bashir

As Kristof notes, he has personally witnessed the ruthless brutality of the Sudanese government, including the murder of children and the destruction of entire communities by Bashir's warplanes and militias. For those of us who have slipped into the genocide-ravaged regions of Sudan and witnessed the regime's crimes firsthand like Kristof has, our fear is that Bashir is about to unleash some of the violent tactics he has previously used against millions of Sudanese in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. Only this time it will be in Sudan's cities, where populations are larger and more concentrated, and where there is no armed opposition to provide some degree of protection to ordinary Sudanese who deserve real change.

Bashir Is Preparing For His Next Atrocity

We know the next massacre in Sudan is coming because Bashir and his enablers have always operated out of the same playbook. The dictatorship's targeted campaigns of oppression, wars, and genocides have never started overnight. The warning signs of the regime's next atrocity have almost always been apparent weeks and months before they began. Let me provide an example before returning to the current situation. 

In January of 2011, the Satellite Sentinel Project released the first satellite imagery showing the Sudanese government ramping up military deployments in and near the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan state, which sits just north of the Sudan-South Sudan border. In the coming months, more satellite imagery would be released showing further build-up and troop movements, as well as early government attacks on the Nuba people.

Six months of mounting warning signs later, the Bashir regime went on a three day targeted killing spree in the state capital of Kadugli. The mass grave sites Nuba victims were buried in remain under government occupation today, so it is still unknown how many hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed. Following the slaughter in Kadugli, the Bashir regime began a new, years long campaign to drive the Nuba people off their land through direct military attacks, blocking of humanitarian aid and media access to the region, and other similar genocidal actions. 


Today, similar warning signs that another atrocity is about to be committed are mounting at an alarming rate in major Sudanese cities, specifically in the capital of Khartoum.

On February 22 and at a press conference he was expected to announce his resignation at, Bashir instead declared a one year state of emergency, dismissed top government officials, and sacked regional governments. Bashir is refilling leadership positions with military men, an ominous sign that the regime's crackdown is about to worsen. 

Large contingents of government militia have been arriving in cities for weeks now, and that trend shows no sign of slowing down. Government attacks against unarmed protesters, be it in the streets or in their homes, have been taking place since December and continue to escalate. Just a few days ago, Bashir issued new emergency decrees that banned public gatherings and protests, placed bans on trading subsidized fuel products, and put new regulations on trading and transporting foreign currency and gold. Government forces now have free reign to seize property and raid homes without warrants. And the state of emergency means the regime can ban any civil society organization, which are at the heart of the protest movement, whenever Bashir wants. 

To make matters even worse, Sudan's public prosecutor is now authorized to set up new courts to deal with cases related to Bashir's state of emergency. Simply put, Bashir is escalating every tool in his arsenal to remain in power. It is only a matter of time before his escalation morphs into a catastrophe.

These are all signs that the regime's next mass atrocity against Sudanese citizens is imminent.

Bashir is systematically building up his government's capacity to attack the Sudanese people in cities by bringing in militia reinforcements, especially in Khartoum. Banning public gatherings is Bashir's attempt at giving himself permission to use force against the Sudanese people, who have only turned out to protest in larger numbers since the state of emergency was declared. A new court system that exists just for the national emergency can unleash harsher sentences against protesters and people the government views as their enemies. While Sudanese police and Bashir's various security forces have long operated with immunity from prosecution, there are already early signs that Bashir is allowing armed units even more leeway to go after unarmed protesters, and anyone else for that matter. 

Dozens of Sudanese protesters have already been killed by the Bashir regime, and many more languish in prisons and government "ghost houses." Based on the Bashir regime's long and well-documented patterns of oppression, it is clear that the worst of Bashir's crackdown is approaching. Bashir is making final preparations for his next atrocity. 


Time To Panic About U.S. Policy Towards Sudan

The window for the international community to stop the next regime atrocity is rapidly closing. For better or worse, the United States has long played a leading role in how the world has dealt with the Bashir regime. 

Since protests began, the U.S. government has been excruciatingly slow at increasing the amount and severity of public rhetoric about the current situation in Sudan. Bashir seems to be aware that, like the United States, the rest of the international community is several weeks behind in responding effectively to his government's actions. Hence the now rapid escalation of preparations he is making to retain his power through mass violence. Bashir knows that the longer protests continue, the more precarious his situation will become. 

Most recently, the U.S. government expressed "deep concern" about Bashir's actions. This comes on the heels of the U.S. government tying further normalization of the relationship between both countries to how the regime treats protesters. 

To be fair, these are small steps in the right direction. U.S. officials should be deeply concerned about where this is all headed. The United States should definitely dangle the prospect of freezing normalization talks in front of Bashir if he continues his current trajectory. But if these minimal efforts don't stop the coming massacre of Sudanese who have taken to the streets, none of it will have mattered. And, at least at this moment, it appears Bashir is not changing direction. He has been given no real reason to do so.


So far Kristof seems to be the only international journalist who has a good understanding of where this is all heading. Some may view his writings on the current situation in Sudan as alarmist. They are not. The current situation in Sudan has only slid into more dangerous territory since his article was published in January. If anything, Kristof's case for sounding the alarm is growing stronger by the day. 

It is time to panic about U.S. policy towards Sudan. Signs of a looming regime massacre of Sudanese are already in plain sight, and more continue to emerge. While many Sudanese facing the likelihood of being tortured and murdered by their own government is horrifying enough, the current situation is actually far worse than that. Bashir's brutality can very easily widen the fissures that already exist within his own government and the army. This could lead to a myriad of compounding, even more dangerous situations such as coup attempts, heavy fighting between government and government-aligned forces, and more. Bashir is trying to stack the deck so that he appears to be the only person who can keep Sudan from bearing the brunt of a complete governance collapse, and in so doing he knows he can save himself. 

At this point, panic is the only way the U.S. government will catch back up to confronting the growing threat the Sudanese people face from their own government. Panic is the only way to gain ground rapidly and prevent Bashir from fully stacking the deck in his favor. 


Where American Panic Begins

It all starts in Congress. Up until a few years ago, key Representatives and Senators have dug into how the State Department and White House have dealt with issues in Sudan, as well as helped to ensure that the most oppressed Sudanese have some support. Past Congressional efforts and their results have certainly been far from perfect, but it is clear that the Trump Administration is overdue in providing a comprehensive update to Congress on what is currently being done, what is most concerning to them, and where normalization talks stand with regards to Sudan.

That means offiicial committee hearings. The last time the House Foreign Affairs Committee had a hearing on Sudan was in April of 2017, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee even further back than that.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee needs to get much more aggressive in its pursuit of answers on current U.S.-Sudan relations. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should join the effort with their own hearing. And Senators and Representatives should be making a lot more noise on their own, both inside and outside of their committees, publicly and privately. American politics may be severely fractured at this moment, but committees and individual elected officials in an uproar is what will bring the Trump Administration to the table. Congressional panic is the first step to making sure that the aspirations of the protesters and oppressed in Sudan are heard in front of policymakers. Congressional panic is the battering ram that moves the process forwards on the American side. 

While it is ultimately up to the Sudanese people to take control of their own future, the United States can play a role in helping them achieve that. Bashir may be weaker and in more danger of falling than ever before, but that has made him even more dangerous. Protesters are rightfully backing him into a corner as they demand positive change, and history has shown us that Bashir will kill and oppress hundreds of thousands of Sudanese over far less. If the U.S. can play any tangible role in preventing the looming massacre and helping the Sudanese people achieve a brighter future through strong international diplomacy, now is the time to play those cards.  

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The people of Sudan are overcoming two of the greatest challenges facing humanity today: war and genocide. Operation Broken Silence is accelerating their ability to generate lasting change by funding storytelling and movement-building, education and emergency response, and grassroots advocacy programs. Here are a few ways you can join us:

1. Call Your Representative & Senators. Congress acts when you do. Call or write your Representative and Senators now with the below message or one similar to it:

Hello, my name is (insert name) and I live at (insert full address). I am reaching out today to ask what (insert Representative or Senator name) is doing about the current crisis in Sudan. Since December, the Sudanese people have been peacefully protesting and calling for the resignation of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's dictator for nearly thirty years who has also been indicted by the International Criminal Court for the genocide in Darfur. 

Rather than meeting the legitimate demands of the peaceful protesters, President Bashir has allowed his security forces to shoot live ammunition and tear gas into crowds, hospitals, and places of worship. He has also declared a one year state of emergency and banned Sudanese from exercising their basic rights. It now appears that President Bashir is preparing for even more violence against unarmed Sudanese citizens, just so he can stay in power. 

The Trump Administration has expressed concern about the situation and the Bashir regime's actions, but it has not been enough. There is still time for a more robust American diplomatic response to prevent further bloodshed and help the Sudanese people attain the positive change that they seek. 

Has (insert Representative or Senator name) taken any action on this issue? 

If one of your Senators or Representative is on a Congressional foreign affairs committee, mentioning that as an avenue for them to get involved is ideal as well. 

Not sure who your Representative and Senators are, which committees they are or assigned to, or need their contact info? Find your Representative here and your Senator here.

2. Join The Renewal. This is our family of monthly givers who support medical and education institutions seerving the oppressed Nuba people of Sudan. They give automatically each and every month, providing consistent support to the education and healthcare programs we empower. Monthly givers who donate $25+ a month also get free tickets to our two annual events! LEARN MORE »

3. Help Open A New School. When you make a one-time gift to the new high school we are helping to open in Yida Refugee Camp, your gift will be make a difference! GIVE HERE » 

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About Mark

Mark began working on Sudan issues in 2007 after an eye-opening conversation with a genocide survivor from Darfur, Sudan. Since 2011 he has overseen the steady growth of our organization. Today, he serves as our Executive Director.

Mark makes sure our on the ground programs stay on the rails and that our movement remains focused on our end goal of closing our doors one day. He’s one of only a few Americans to have visited frontline areas in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan during the war.

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