Are OFAC embargoes truly worth the price in humanitarian costs?

I thought it might be time, to put the “legalities” of export controls aside, and instead, view these “controls”, whether they be BIS or OFAC’s, from the eye of the people that truly are affected-and I am not talking about American businesses, which though do have valid reasons to dispute unilateral embargoes placed by the U.S.

I am talking about Sudan-a topic that due to the Olympics in China, has finally, after years, taken the forefront of both the news and the people (although, history sadly shows, this is usually only temporary). My interest in Sudan began over a year ago, when I was requested to petition for a “humanitarian exemption” to OFAC and Department of State. As I often do, I threw myself into this project, though admittedly, from the eyes of an attorney. Yet, something occurred during this entire process-I guess it was after having read and poured through, literally, thousands of pages on Sudan, the atrocities being committed, and the unimaginable toll on the Sudanese people, especially in Darfur.

This “project” was based on granting relief to the region known as Southern Darfur, and in particular, the city of Nyala. After determining the number of refugees in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, the NGOs and U.N. efforts in addressing & servicing the needs of all these refugees, I became convinced that the world must be made aware of the situation in Sudan. Having had the ultimate privilege of personally working with the current U.S. Special Envoy and Ambassador to Sudan, Mr. Richard Williamson, and after meetings with the State Department and other government officials, I had “crossed the line”, and became emotionally involved in this case based solely on humanitarian needs.

Attorneys are taught not to get emotionally involved with a client and at times, with their case, but instead to work objectively for the best interests of the client. But who has been working for the “best interests” of the Sudanese? With current restrictions placed by the Department of Treasury and OFAC, it is nearly impossible to be granted an export license, even with the best intentions of a client wanting to assist and help the citizens of Sudan. The statistics speak for themselves: During the time period of October-December 2005, 233 licenses were issued by OFAC; during this same time period in 2007, only 100 were issued. A total of only 16 licenses were issued to Sudan-one of the largest humanitarian crises facing the world today.

Now, let us take a look at some other facts:

  1. ABC, NBC, CBS devote roughly 25,000 minutes to news yearly.
  2. During the entire year of 2004 (one of the heights in the crises in Sudan and the genocide that was unraveling before the world’s eyes), these 3 stations combined, dedicated a mere 26 minutes to Sudan-0.001 percent of their entire broadcasting combined!
  3. In 2005, 2 years into the genocide, NBC aired only 5 segments, CBS none, yet during this same time period, NBC and CBS aired over 300 segments on Tom Cruise’s romantic relationship with Katie Holmes and over 500 stories on Michael Jackson’s trial-65 times more segments were aired on celebrity gossip than on the genocide in Darfur and Sudan-an incredible statistic!

Thus, began the journey of reading and studying on the humanitarian crises, while at the same time, serving the needs and best interest’s of my client. After reviewing studies and reports, from NGOs, the U.N., World Bank, Unicef, and many others, I thought it would possibly impact Illinois citizens, if they were to “truly see” the number of casualties and refugees impacted. Thus, to comprehend the destruction and size of this genocide, the killing fields of Sudan must be put into a perspective that Americans can and will comprehend. Thus, taking the State of Illinois, and the most recent census statistics, I came to the following:

  1. At least, if not more, than ½ of Darfur’s population is now in refugee camps-roughly 3 million people. Realistic and conservative figures of the dead are 300,000. Many have met their demise at the hands of the Janjawid (“devil on horseback”), in such ways that are unimaginable, such as being thrown alive down water wells, burnt alive, and left for the vultures to feed upon their bodies.
  2. Now, to put the above into perspective, imagine the following-the top 6 cities in the State of Illinois (Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Naperville, Joliet, and Springfield) are living in the open or tents, with the bare necessities for living (i.e. water, extremely limited food; no medicine, no schools). Furthermore, if one were to take Naperville, Peoria, and Waukegan, Illinois and literally “wipe them from the face of the earth”, we will have slaughtered less human beings, than those killed in Darfur alone!

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege, and it is a privilege, to personally meet and speak with Mr. Paul Rusesabagina, over dinner. For those of us who have seen the film “Hotel Rwanda”, Mr. Rusesabagina was the real-life manager of the hotel depicted in that film. He personally saved over 1,200 people during the slaughter that engulfed Rwanda and its own genocide in 1994. I truly believe, I shall never meet a more humble and amazing man in this lifetime again! My wife and I spoke to him, about his family, kids, and two adopted nieces (orphaned due to the genocide), and of how some of his children are now studying in college here in America. I also spoke to him about his recent trip to Sudan, hearing a first-hand account of what is happening in Darfur-an amazing experience and conversation.

To say the least, my meeting with Mr. Rusesabagina motivated me even more, to try and raise awareness on this ongoing atrocity. If there is a difference we can make, by raising awareness as Mr. Rusesabagina has, than maybe, just maybe, this article will accomplish that. OFAC’s rules and regulations, including the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), has directly impacted the ability for U.S. companies to contribute, on a humanitarian level, to the current genocide. If we can strike a balance between such sanctions and the people it affects, we have a duty to do so, for the disenchanted people of Sudan will tomorrow be the very terrorists OFAC is attempting to stop, because with no where to go, and nothing to lose, anything and anyone is better than what the people of Sudan have today.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the attorney and do not represent the Firm’s opinion or position on Sudan. Written by: Christos Linardakis, Of Counsel to Braumiller Schulz LLP.

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