By Gary G. Yerkey
A coalition of leading human rights activists and scholars has asked that Congress press the Obama administration to end the growing humanitarian crisis in the largely Christian areas of southern Sudan, saying that the administration’s response to the crisis has been non-existent.
U.S. policy toward the continuing human tragedy in Sudan is “in the worst place it’s ever been,” said Mark C. Hackett, CEO and executive director of Memphis-based Operation Broken Silence. “It’s extremely disappointing.”
Hackett and other activists — at a Jan. 11 forum organized by the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. — said that they had spent Jan. 10-11 on Capitol Hill calling for the United States to intervene to stop the systematic attacks of villagers in the Nuba Mountains of southern Sudan by the forces of President Omar al-Bashir.
Reports from the region said the attacks have included government bombings of multiple Christian villages last month that have killed at least 11 people, as well as preventing international aid organizations from entering the region to provide food and medicine.
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said at the forum that an excellent opportunity to get through to the administration will present itself when Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) appears at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination as secretary of state. No date has been set for the hearing but it could be as early as this month.
Shea said that those concerned about Sudan should contact the offices of committee members to ensure that the issue is raised at the confirmation hearing. “Anyone with contacts on the foreign relations committee, now’s the time to use them,” she said. Kerry “needs to understand that there’s a constituency on Sudan.”
The attacks on Christians in southern Sudan through aerial bombings, forced starvation and targeted massacres have reportedly intensified since the territory seceded from Sudan in July 2011 and al-Bashir pledged to adopt a stricter version of Shariah and recognize solely Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
Last week, the Christian support organization Open Doors published its annual World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Sudan rose in the rankings from 16th in 2011 to 12th last year.
Hackett said the Obama administration has done nothing in the face of this tragedy. He said he sent a copy of his organization’s 45-minute documentary, Across the Frontlines: Ending the Nuba Genocide, to the White House but has heard no response.
Hackett said that activists have been particularly disappointed in the “silence on Sudan” from Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who earlier in her career had been singularly active on Africa-related issues, and Samantha Power, a senior adviser to the President and director of the Atrocities Prevention Board, whose book “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide won a Pulitzer Prize.
Hackett said the path to the administration may now have to run through Congress, where, he said, the campaign for U.S. action in Sudan is having a “slow effect.”
He said that Across the Frontlines — the result of a trip to Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, last June — attempts to put a human face on the suffering of the Nuba population. Several villagers interviewed by Hackett and his crew during the visit called on the United States to arrest al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal, saying that doing so is the only way to end the crisis.
Last August, under the auspices of Operation Broken Silence, 67 of the world’s leading experts on genocide from 10 countries sent a letter to President Obama and other administration officials calling on the United States to put an end to the humanitarian blockade in South Kordofan by immediately airlifting aid supplies directly to the war-affected areas. They noted that 200,000 to 300,000 people were taking shelter in caves and living off insects, tree leaves, plants and roots.
A “Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities” issued by President Obama in August 2011 said that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. … America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide. Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort.”