Aid workers lauded President Donald Trump's decision this week to postpone permanently lifting U.S. sanctions on Sudan as a win for civilians in the country who have suffered through a brutal civil war perpetuated by human rights abuses.
Tom Catena, the only doctor permanently based in Sudan's war-torn Nuba Mountains, said the delay will allow the administration time to evaluate whether President Omar al-Bashir's government has made measurable progress after years of war and abuses.
Before leaving office in January, former president Barack Obama issued an executive order temporarily lifting trade sanctions on Sudan during a six-month review process. The temporary sanctions relief was set to become permanent on Wednesday, but Trump issued a zero-hour executive order extending the deadline by three months.
The Obama administration pointed to improvements in counterterrorism efforts in Sudan as a justification for lifting the sanctions. Human rights groups opposed the decision and said al-Bashir had not made progress across all five areas of concern required for U.S. sanctions relief, which included providing humanitarian access to civilians and ending funding to Sudanese military forces, who have blocked aid.
Catena said any economic benefits resulting from the U.S. lifting sanctions would likely fail to help the civilian population and would instead line the pockets of government officials and military personnel in the capital of Khartoum.
"Any economic improvement in the North would not effect our economic situation here, we're totally cut off from the North," Catena told the Washington Free Beacon. "Our fear is an aid boost to the economy in the North will go straight to buying more weapons or providing more money for government forces to pay for military needs."
Within hours after the Trump administration delayed lifting sanctions, al-Bashir announced he was suspending talks with the United States intended to negotiate relief from American sanctions until Oct. 12.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges linked to the conflict in Darfur that killed over 480,000 people. Sudan has also been labeled a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993, a title shared only with Iran and Syria.
"I am very grateful that the administration postponed [sanctions relief] for three months, otherwise they would have been lifting sanctions on a genocidal government, a government that has blood on its hands, and I think that would have been a moral blot in U.S. history," said former Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), who co-chaired the Congressional Human Rights Caucus during his time in Congress.
Last week, a bipartisan group of 53 lawmakers sent a letter to the White House calling on Trump to delay the decision to permanently lift sanctions for a year until he had filled in key Africa appointments in the State Department and National Security Council. The president has yet to name a Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.