• Gregory Turner

April and May News from Sudan

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the victims of the 1998 Kenya and Tanzanian embassy bombings, restoring the punitive damages awarded to them by the District Court. In 1998, Al Qaeda carried out attacks on the American embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. Plaintiffs, in the resulting cases, accused Sudan of assisting Al Qaeda. In the decision below, Federal District Judge John D. Bates found that Sudan provided "crucial assistance to Al Qaeda"[1] and applied the 1996 terrorism exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. On appeal, Sudan's question was the retroactive application of a 2008 amendment to the 1996 terrorism exception of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The exception states that a nation designated as a state sponsor of terrorism loses its immunity. Initially, the 1996 terrorism addition said that plaintiffs could not seek punitive damages as a result of an attack. However, Congress amended this provision in 2008 to include punitive damage awards. Sudan argued that this amendment could not apply retroactively to their role in the Al Qaeda attacks of 1998. The DC Circuit Court agreed with Sudan. However, the Supreme Court on Monday agreed with the district court and reinstated the district court's award of punitive damages. In an opinion delivered by Justice Gorsuch, the Court found that Congress intended for the 2008 amendment to apply retroactively[2]. The Court further found that this meant that the plaintiffs, in this case, could seek and win punitive damages for the past conduct of Sudan[3].

There are concerns that Sudan’s fragile democracy faces an enormous strain[4]. Both from its current COVID-19 response and ongoing peace negotiations. There are open confrontations between civilian officials and the military government. In late April, conflict occurred between the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok and the military governor of Khartoum, Ahmed Abdoun Hamad over a cancelation of Friday prayers due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19[5]. In May, activists threatened protests over an attempt to fire the current Minster of Health[6]. These incidents are symptomatic of further concerns by democracy activists within Sudan[7]. Activists worry about what the current lockdown status of Sudan might mean for their ability to protest. They believe current lockdowns place disadvantages on them and their ability to gather popular support[8]. They also worry that the military may use lockdown measures to legitimize a grasp for more power[9].

Yet, peace talks are proceeding in South Sudan despite these setbacks. The South Sudanese team leading the peace talks states that the first documents of the peace agreement between the Sudanese government and armed movements should be ready by June 20, 2020[10]. The team indicates its intention to begin talks on May 18 and set forth a negotiation plan for the next few weeks. Negotiations over national issues of concern to both groups will take place from the 18 to the 20 of May [11]. The intention is then to create a peace agreement matrix during early June. [12]. The remaining days will be a period of review, translation, and print[13].

Sources [1] Adam Liptak, Sudan Must Pay Billions to Terrorism Victims, Supreme Court Rules, N.Y. Times (May 18, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/us/supreme-court-sudan-terrorism.html [2] Opati v. Republic of Sudan, No. 17-1268, 2020 U.S. Lexis 2844, at *1 (Supreme Court May 18, 2020) quoted in Liptak, supra. [3] Id. [4]Mohammed Amin, "Playing with fire: Sudan revolution in peril as splits appear among its protagonists," Middle East Eye (May 19, 2020) https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/playing-fire-sudan-revolution-peril-splits-appear-among-its-protagonists [5] Declan Walsh, Concerns of a Coup Stir in Sudan as Capital Braces for a Virus Lockdown, N.Y. Times (April 17, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/17/world/africa/Sudan-coup-coronavirus.html [6] Mohammed Amin, Sudanese activists threaten protests if health minster fired, Middle East Eye (May 16, 2020) https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/sudan-health-minister-akram-altoum-threat-protests-civil-society [7] Amin, supra. [8] Walsh, supra. [9] Id. [10] New Deadline set for Sudan peace negotiations, Radio Dabanga (May 18, 2020) https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/new-deadline-set-for-sudan-peace-negotiations [11] Id. [12] Id. [13] Id.

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