A country in which over 100,000 innocent men, women, and children have been driven from their homes this year, is pulling out all the stops to cozy up to United States. Many nations have tried to boost their public perception in times of war and oppression before. The only question now is will the government of Sudan succeed?
Over a decade ago, fighting began in Darfur, resulting in the deaths of 300,000 people and forcing 2.5 million from their homes into massive refugee camps, where they still live today. The tragedy faded from the public eye and while the killing continues today, the government of Sudan is capitalizing on the lack of public attention to pressure the United States government to remove sanctions, stall the court case against its President who is wanted on charges of genocide, and to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
And while they haven’t succeeded, they are making progress. Last year, the State Department met with top advisers to President Omar al-Bashir, Secretary of State John Kerry was in a group photo with Bashir, and Sudan threatened once again to defy his arrest warrant and step foot on U.S. soil.
These efforts aren’t new. Since 1993, the Republic of Sudan has been on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list and after the war began in Darfur, Sudan was slammed with crippling sanctions in the early 2000s. Soon after, Sudan began calling lobbyists for help. Robert Cabelly, a lobbyist who represented Sudan from 2005-2006 for $530,000 per year was indicted in 2009, and Robert McFarlane, former national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan, was investigated by the FBI after it was learned that the government of Sudan had brokered a $1.3 million deal with him.
In an effort to avoid possible allegations of breaking sanctions, the Sudanese government began seeking “legal counsels” rather than lobbyists.
Starting November 1, 2011, Washington-based attorney, Bart Fisher began a $20,000 per month contract with the government of Sudan, providing legal services. A day later, his wife received a purse and two candlestick holders from the government. Fisher received a license from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allowing him to serve as Sudan’s legal counsel. But, Rep. Frank Wolfe (R-VA) accused Fisher of acting as a lobbyist. Wolfe remarked that Fisher had sent him a letter urging for his support of the removal of Sudan’s sanctions, emphasizing “if that’s not lobbying, I don’t know what is.” Despite the criticism, Fisher continues to work for the Sudanese government.
Since 2011, Fisher has assisted Sudan with a petition to the State Department regarding the removal of Sudan from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism; a protest to the State Department in regards to the “unlawful” entry into Sudan of New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and NBC’s Ann Curry; resolving lawsuits against Sudan regarding sponsorship and backing of terrorist activities; and attempting to obtain licenses from OFAC to allow for the export of goods such as ethanol from Sudan to the U.S and the import of goods such as spare airplane and railroad parts from the U.S into Sudan.
And in 2016, Fisher has promoted debt relief for Sudan by providing informational materials to the House Representatives and various think tanks.
The genocidal actions executed by the Sudanese government has displaced millions, killed hundreds of thousands, and elongated the violence surrounding the ethnic and religious strife that has existed for over half a century. Stopping the fighting, finding justice for those killed and holding President Bashir accountable for his actions should be the only way the U.S. ever restores relations with the government of Sudan.
Mara Kessler is an intern at United to End Genocide and a student at McLean High School.