The humanitarian situation in Sudan will continue to deteriorate unless the Obama administration leads the international community in pressuring President Omar al-Bashir’s regime, regional experts said at a hearing Tuesday.
Several experts testified that hundreds of thousands of Sudanese civilians suffer from malnutrition and lack of access to clean water in a country torn by infighting between ethnic militias and indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns. The violence has displaced more than 300,000 residents of the western Darfur region this year, according to United Nations estimates. Bashir’s government routinely denies access to humanitarian aid organizations.
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President Barack Obama’s vow to assume a "leadership role" in stabilizing the country when South Sudan voted to become an independent nation in 2011 now rings hollow, said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, an organization devoted to ending genocide.
"Since then our policy in Sudan has just drifted. We issue these statements; we offer incentives for good behavior; we invite people who should not be here," Prendergast said at the hearing for Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
"If you don’t transform [the Sudanese government], we’re going to see instability."
Bashir’s government claims it is not involved in the attacks and that it can do nothing to stop them, but reports suggest otherwise.
Ali Kosheib, a militia leader tied to government forces and wanted by the International Criminal Court, was spotted by villagers near the April attacks in Central Darfur that killed more than 42 and destroyed more than 2,800 buildings, according to Human Rights Watch.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.) sharply criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate with the Sudanese government and its lack of support for a proposal to cut off aid to countries that allow Bashir to visit.
He called the administration’s initial decision to invite Bashir adviser Nafi Ali Nafi to Washington for talks "immoral." The visit was cancelled after an outcry from activists and lawmakers.
Larry André, director of the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, defended the administration’s initial position and pursuit of peace talks.
"We understand the passion; we understand the background of some of these leaders," he said.
"We have to do business in order to end the conflicts."
Wolf countered that those negotiations would not amount to much.
"History will judge, but frankly there will be no change if the current policy stands and you invite [Nafi] to Washington," he said.
Prendergast said the United States has other options, such as appointing a new envoy to Sudan and preparing the main opposition group, the Sudan Revolutionary Front, to guide a post-Bashir government and facilitate humanitarian assistance.
He added that the international community has neglected to act because of China and Russia’s commercial ties to the oil-rich nation.
"Another great populist push is needed and Congress should be a part of it," he said.
"[Sudan’s] people are coming together for a better future and we should stand with them."