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CRS — Sudan and South Sudan: Current Issues for Congress and U.S. Policy

November 5, 2012

Sudan and South Sudan: Current Issues for Congress and U.S. Policy (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has played an active role in U.S. policy toward Sudan for more than three decades. Efforts to support an end to the country’s myriad conflicts and human rights abuses have dominated the agenda, as have counterterrorism concerns. When unified (1956-2011), Sudan was Africa’s largest nation, bordering nine countries and stretching from the northern borders of Kenya and Uganda to the southern borders of Egypt and Libya. Strategically located along the Nile River and the Red Sea, Sudan was historically described as a crossroads between the Arab world and Africa. Domestic and international efforts to unite its ethnically, racially, religiously, and culturally diverse population under a common national identity fell short, however. In 2011, after decades of civil war and a 6.5 year transitional period, Sudan split in two. Mistrust between the two Sudans—Sudan and South Sudan—lingers, and unresolved disputes and related security issues still threaten to pull the two countries back to war.

The north-south split did not resolve other simmering conflicts, notably in Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan. Roughly 2.5 million people remain displaced as a result of these conflicts. Like the broader sub-region, the Sudans are susceptible to drought and food insecurity, despite significant agricultural potential in some areas. Civilians in the conflict zones are particularly vulnerable. Instability and Sudanese government restrictions have limited relief agencies’ access to conflict-affected populations. Humanitarian conditions in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have been at crisis levels for months, but an estimated half a million people remain largely beyond the reach of aid groups. Logistical challenges constrain the delivery of relief for those who have fled, primarily to remote refugee camps across the border in South Sudan. The harassment of aid workers is a problem in both Sudans, further hindering aid responses.

The peaceful separation of Sudan and South Sudan was seen by some players as an opportunity to repair relations between Sudan’s Islamist government and the United States. Those ties have long been strained over Khartoum’s human rights violations and history of support for international terrorist groups. Among the arguments in favor of normalizing relations with Sudan has been the notion that the United States has few additional unilateral “sticks” to apply against Khartoum, given robust sanctions already in place. Applying certain “carrots,” such as easing sanctions, might encourage further political reforms, proponents say. The Obama Administration sought to improve the relationship with Khartoum in 2011, given South Sudan’s successful referendum and separation from Sudan, and Sudan’s cooperation on counterterrorism. The U.S. effort has been impeded by ongoing reports of abuses, including allegations that Khartoum continues to commit war crimes against civilians. Some observers argue that improving the relationship would reward bad behavior. Relations are also complicated by the fact that several government officials, notably President Omar al Bashir, have been accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide at the International Criminal Court in relation to the Darfur conflict.

U.S. relations with South Sudan, which are rooted in years of American activism and disaster relief to the south during the civil war, remain close, though there have been signs of strain in 2012. The United States is the country’s largest bilateral donor, but the Administration has expressed concern over certain actions taken by leaders in Juba that have, in its view, further aggravated the relationship between the Sudans and the economic situation in both countries.

This report examines the shared interests and outstanding disputes between the Sudans after separation, and gives an overview of political, economic, and humanitarian conditions in the two countries, with a focus on possible implications for U.S. policy and congressional engagement.

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