Following a concerted campaign by religious liberty and human rights activists, President Bush signed the Sudan Peace Act on October 21.
Two million people have died and four million have been displaced in Sudan's 19-year civil war. The Islamic regime, whose power is centered in the north, is seeking to impose Muslim law on the mainly Christian and animist south. The regime has broken two truces since September.
Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy was jubilant about the new law, saying, "I believe the government of Sudan needed an incentive to understand we are serious about peace."
Other observers say the law will do less than advertised. The act (H.R. 5531) condemns human rights violations. It gives the Muslim government six months to begin negotiating an agreement with the rebels. If Sudan fails to negotiate in good faith or blocks humanitarian efforts, the President may choose among several actions: imposing sanctions (including an arms embargo), downgrading diplomatic relations, denying access to oil revenues, or blocking loans that come through international financial institutions. The act also authorizes $300 million in nonmilitary aid.
One of the bill's chief sponsors, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, said the law "will be a valuable tool for President Bush, and will aid international efforts to stop the bloodshed."
The administration opposed a stronger, earlier House version. That bill would have prohibited oil companies or their subsidiaries that do business in Sudan from raising money in U.S. capital markets. The regime uses oil money to strengthen its military (CT, Sept. 9, p. 19).
McDonnell said the act Bush signed "still has a lot of teeth." Serge Duss of World Vision told CT the act's four major sanctions make up for the loss of the capital-market restrictions.
But Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor who has monitored the legislation, told CT the language is ineffective. "Take the oil revenue sanction. There are no mechanisms detailed in it, nor do I envision any that would work."
McDonnell said the weakest part of the act is that the sanctions are at the President's discretion. But at the ceremony, Bush tried to allay fears that he would go soft on the regime.
"I will not forget Sudan," Bush said. "And if I do, I know that you will prod me."
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