US reinstates Sudan’s sovereign immunity

State sponsor of terrorism designation weighed on Sudan’s economy and restricted its ability to receive aid.

Some Sudanese officials said the legal peace legislation falls short of what the government wanted - full immunity [File: Sudanese Cabinet via AP]

The United States Congress has passed a bill that includes largely restoring Sudan’s legal immunity, days after the country was formally removed from the US list of states sponsoring terrorism (SST).

However, the legislation, passed on Monday, does include an exemption that allows lawsuits filed by the families of victims of the September 11 attacks already under way in US courts to move forward.

The state sponsor of terrorism designation, which was in place for almost three decades, had weighed on Sudan’s economy and restricted its ability to receive aid. For investors, the reinstating of sovereign immunity removes another layer of financial risk.

Sudan had been engaged in talks with the US for months, and paid a negotiated $335m settlement to victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998 who had been awarded much higher damages by US courts.

The Sudan sections in a massive bill including a coronavirus stimulus package passed includes $150m for naturalised citizens in the US embassy bombings.

It also includes $700m in economic assistance for Sudan, with $600m going to a government programme supported by the World Bank known as the Family Support Program and $100m to USAID for humanitarian assistance in the country.

Another $120m has been set aside for restructuring Sudan’s debt and $110m for debt relief.

The restoration of Sudan’s legal immunity unlocks opportunities for foreign businesses to invest in Sudan, much needed by the country which is going through economic turmoil with its currency in constant devaluation and rising inflation that is affecting the living standards of many families.

“Sudan is finally open for business,” Jalelah Sophia Ahmed, a Sudanese-American and co-chair of the Sudan Policy Network group which has been lobbying the US Congress on Sudan-related issues, told Al Jazeera.

“Right now, with the sanctions that were in place and the SST designation, companies could be held liable for doing business with Sudan. With legal peace granted, we will see business come to Sudan and invest in Sudan. That would create employment, reduce inflation.”

However, according to some Sudanese officials who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, Sudan’s legal peace legislation falls short of what the government wanted – full immunity.

“The Government of Sudan would like to point out here that the initial version that was submitted to the US Congress was to cancel all cases filed against Sudan under the Terrorism Act and to transfer the cases brought against Sudan in the events of September 11, 2001 – which began to be filed against Sudan since 2003 – to be in accordance with The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA),” according to a Sudanese justice ministry statement.

“But this matter met with strong opposition by two senators, driven by the objections of the lawyers of the families of 11 victims. The legislation that has now been passed has ruled that these cases will continue in accordance with the Terrorism Act, not the JASTA law, as Sudan requested.”

The bill will now go to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign.

Once official, Ahmed says Sudan will be able to focus on other issues that the transitional government needs to work on.

“The economy will open up in a way that will allow individuals to flourish,” she said.

“Then we can work on other issues that matter, issues like transitional justice.”

Source: Al Jazeera