Sudan Seeks Debt Relief

In an article published yesterday on ForeignPolicy.com, Sean Brooks, a policy analyst for the Save Darfur Coalition, argues that the international community should take advantage of Sudan’s need for debt relief to pressure the regime in Khartoum to improve its human rights record.  Sudan has amassed a debt of $23 billion, some of which has been used to purchase advanced military equipment, and Finance Minister Awad al-Jaz is scheduled to travel to Washington next month to discuss a debt relief package.  Mr. Brooks says that the US should rally an international coalition to condition the bailout on peace efforts in Darfur; the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan; fair elections in April 2010; and political reform that would make the government less oppressive.

Countries are right to criticize Sudan for its appalling human rights violations.  However, it will be difficult to compel Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party to change its behavior because Sudan has large oil reserves that many powers want access to, including China, Japan and European states.  The US is the only nation to impose meaningful economic sanctions on the brutal regime, and it is unlikely that others will join America and risk alienating Khartoum.

Furthermore, although al-Bashir seeks economic assistance from his creditors he will not do anything, such as expanding civil liberties or making peace with opposition groups, that could jeopardize his hold on power or undermine what he considers his government’s interests.  Although the price of oil is low right now, it will certainly increase significantly as developing countries continue to consume more and more resources and supply is unable to keep up with demand; so Khartoum is not under as much pressure to gain favors from the rest of the world as some might think.

It would be great for the cause of human rights if the international community were able to force Sudan to make peace and be less authoritarian, but unfortunately the prospects of success are low because of a lack of will in Khartoum and among oil-seeking nations that have the power to exert influence there.  The US should try to use carrots and sticks to affect change, but policymakers analysts and activists should not be overly optimistic that their efforts will bear fruit.

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