Members of Congress took the Obama administration to task in a hearing on “Human Rights in Sudan” last week. Perhaps a more fitting title, however, would have been “lack of human rights in Sudan,” as witnesses testified to the current devestating humanitarian crisis and Congress questioned whether the Obama Administration had an adequate strategy for addressing this predicament.
Since the crisis in Darfur was declared a “genocide” by the US government in 2004, Sudan has been enduring nearly ten years of conflict which has spread to attacks on civilians in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. However, the White House response is at best unclear and at times misguided, as evidenced recently by the invitation of Sudanese official Nafie ali Nafie, a known torturer to the United States. A State Department official announced at the hearing that the invitation has since been rescinded. But the hearing still leaves us pondering: Why are these atrocities still being committed and what can we do to effect change and promote a just and sustainable peace in Sudan?
On April 24 of this year, chairmen of the hearing, Rep. McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Wolf (R-VA) introduced the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act of 2013 in an effort to combat crimes against humanity in Sudan. The Act has received support from a broad audience, including fourteen major U.S. faith-based groups that came together to write a letter in support of the Act.
According to Rep. McGovern, in his opening statement, state-sponsored violence in Sudan has resulted in the displacement of over 2.3 million individuals, with 300,000 displaced since January, 2013, alone. Moreover, rampant famine and dire health concerns plague civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states. Such statistics, as well as experience on the ground, prompted the response of the second group of panelists at Wednesday’s hearing, who urged the White House to strengthen its policy towards Sudan, working towards the following goals as laid out by John Prendergast of the Enough Project:
- Promote a single comprehensive peace—as opposed to engaging in regional peace agreements such as the current initiative in Darfur—and support coalitions such as the Sudan Revolutionary Front in the peace process
- Provide assistance to the media in Sudan to assist with the spread of knowledge and the truth
- Support democratic governance by assisting dominant rebel groups in building capacity of their governance
- Enhance coalition building as deep divides will only keep the current government in place
- Build institutional capacity
- Appoint a Special Envoy to the region
Arguably the two most critical points emphasized by witnesses and reiterated by Congress during questioning are numbers one and six: a single comprehensive peace and the appointment of a Special Envoy. As mentioned by Rep. Wolf, “Sudan needs a Feingold [former U.S. Senator and new Special Envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes Region],” someone with the experience and will to follow through on a comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan. Moreover, we need to assess our choices in regard to dialogue with Sudan’s leaders, known perpetrators of violence. Indeed, the Nafie invitation raised tensions during Wednesday’s hearing. Rep. Wolf claimed that such a visit would be “immoral” as “the guy literally has blood on his hands.” However, a member from the State Department in the first panel defended the invitation, stating that he would engage in dialogue for peace anywhere. Yet, how can we ever hope for peace in Sudan without a Special Envoy specifically devoted to this task?
Sudan needs a comprehensive peace process supported by a Special Envoy to put an end to famine, health risks, lack of education and the displacement and deaths of millions. Urge our government to support such a process by sending a letter to your congressperson asking him/her to support the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act of 2013 now.