US Congress advances Sudan sanctions bill in rebuke to military

House of Representatives passes legislation that could sanction Sudanese military officials while condemning recent takeover

Sudan's Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan attends the conclusion of a military exercise in the Maaqil area in the northern Nile River State. AFP

The US Congress on Thursday advanced legislation to sanction anyone who undermines “the transition to democracy in Sudan” alongside a resolution condemning the October military takeover.

The Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives advanced both bills by voice vote without a single objection from any member.

“Make no mistake, there is strong interest throughout this Congress — in the House and in the Senate — to ensure that the United States plays a productive role in helping Sudan realise a civilian-led democratic transition,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks said during the votes.

“While Sudan’s military and civilian leaders reached a deal last month and resumed the democratic transition, let me be clear: those who seek to undermine Sudan’s transition to democracy, violate human rights and exploit this delicate political process will be held accountable.”

The Sudan Democracy Act, introduced by Republican Young Kim, would block the assets of anyone who interferes in Sudan’s democratic transition, threatens its stability, restricts freedom of expression or media access, engages in arbitrary detentions or torture, or misappropriates Sudanese state funds.

The bill does contain a caveat that would allow President Joe Biden to waive sanctions if he deems it to be in the interest of the US.

And the resolution condemning the coup, introduced by Mr Meeks, recognises Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his Cabinet “as the constitutional leaders of Sudan’s transitional government” while calling on the military to “immediately release all civilian government officials” and to lift the state of emergency.

It also calls on the military to “return to constitutional rule under the transitional constitution as the starting point for negotiations with civilians towards full civilian rule".

After arresting Mr Hamdok in October, Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan reinstated him last month while continuing to detain other high-profile civilian officials and civil society advocates.

One day after signing a deal with Gen Al Burhan, Mr Hamdok said the government would focus on rewriting Sudan’s constitution and holding elections on time.

But the Sudanese military has continued to crack down on pro-democracy protesters.

While the US cautiously welcomed Mr Hamdok’s reinstatement, Washington has not released $1 billion in Sudanese aid frozen by the Biden administration after the coup.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on the military to lift the state of emergency and release political prisoners.

The bipartisan legislation in Congress indicates that Democrats and Republicans are largely on the same page with the Biden administration, and the sanctions could provide the White House with additional leverage over the Sudanese military.

“The military detained civilian leaders, cut the internet and declared a state of emergency,” Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said during the votes.

“The Sudanese people are standing strong … They continue to risk their lives to peacefully protest and demand democracy.”

The committee votes pave the way for a full vote on the House floor.

Democrat Chris Coons has introduced similar sanctions legislation in the Senate and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez has introduced an identical resolution condemning the coup in the Senate as well.

Updated: December 9th 2021, 8:55 PM