“Playing Politics with the Sudan Peace Act”
Eric Reeves [December 5, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The Sudan Peace Act—the only meaningful legislative response in the world to the most destructive civil conflict of our time—has been caught in a snarl of procedural politics in the US Senate. Different versions of the bill have been passed by the House and Senate, and thus must be reconciled in conference. The House has passed a conferencing motion by unanimous consent and already named a slate of fifteen conferees. But on November 29, the Senate Republican leadership refused to cooperate in a similar call for unanimous consent from Senate Democrats.
By all accounts, the real obstacle is one Republican Senator—Phil Gramm of Texas. Gramm objects to the key provision of the House version of the Sudan Peace Act, one that would deny US capital market access to foreign oil companies operating in Sudan.
These oil companies are directly complicit in the brutal reality of oil development in Sudan. Presently, oil development entails massively destructive scorched-earth warfare in the southern oil regions by the Khartoum regime (this has been authoritatively documented by numerous human rights groups, by the UN, and by countless news reports). The Khartoum regime, in turn, receives from the oil companies all Sudan’s portion of oil revenues. These revenues have been used to expand Khartoum’s military arsenal as it pursues a genocidal war against the people of the south and other marginalized regions of Sudan.
Senator Gramm is of course entitled to oppose such capital market measures, though it might be preferable if he were to articulate his reasons publicly rather than hide behind the cover of the Senate’s Republican leadership. At the same time, the Republican leadership in the Senate must decide whether they will permit Gramm to engage in his one-man obstructionist effort, or whether the will of the people will be done.
The House bill, which contains the provision Gramm objects to, passed by the extraordinary margin of 422 to 2 on June 13 of this year. The Senate bill, without the House amendment on capital market sanctions, passed unanimously some weeks later. Clearly, Congressional representatives of the American people have signaled that they wish to have a Sudan Peace Act. But because Gramm objects to the House version, he is prepared to block Senate action to reconcile in conference the key difference (on which there are some creative suggestions for compromise).
Gramm seems to have forgotten some of the reasons that the US has already imposed comprehensive economic sanctions on the Khartoum regime, sanctions that prevent any American oil companies from operating in Sudan. He seems to have forgotten that Khartoum is now perhaps best known for having hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda from 1991 to 1996. He seems to have forgotten that the connections between Khartoum and bin Laden and international terrorism were key in occasioning the 1997 Executive Order that banned all commercial and financial relations between Sudan and the US. And perhaps it’s also slipped his mind that Sudan remains on the US State Department’s very short list of nations sponsoring international terrorism.
But forgetfulness is not an excuse. Gramm must understand that the Sudan Peace Act, in particular the House version of the bill, takes aim not only at Khartoum’s support of international terrorism, but its campaign of domestic terror, which includes deliberate aerial assault on innocent civilians in the south as well as international humanitarian relief efforts attempting to aid this terribly stricken population. By working to deny Khartoum oil revenues and further development opportunities, the Sudan Peace Act would make meaningful peace negotiations much more likely, and make it harder for Khartoum to continue to expand its deadly military arsenal.
Gramm’s and Wall Street’s concerns are not irrelevant: capital market sanctions should be deployed as a foreign policy tool only in extraordinary circumstances, and only when all other tools have failed. But Sudan—with 2 million dead in 18 years of civil war (overwhelmingly civilians in the south) and another 5 million internally displaced or refugees—meets whatever threshold might reasonably be established. And in any event, this should be for a conference committee of Senators and Members of the House to decide, not Senator Gramm alone.
[coordinates for the Senate Republican leadership that permits Senator Gramm to continue to obstruct conferencing of the Sudan Peace Act:
Senator Trent Lott, Senate Minority Leader
487 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2403