Describing reports of atrocities coming out of South Sudan, U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) called Wednesday for immediate action to prevent a potentially massive genocide in the country.
“America helped give birth to South Sudan. We have a moral obligation to do something – and something bold.”
Wolf spoke at an April 30 news conference in Washington, D.C. Joined by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), he voiced alarm over reports coming out of South Sudan, and the lack of international response.
Wolf noted that Rwanda is currently observing the 20th anniversary of its 1994 genocide, in which approximately 1 million people were slaughtered in 100 days, “while the world stood idly by.”
He implored President Barack Obama not to allow the United States to again turn a blind eye, as “every indication points to the fact that the crisis currently unfolding in South Sudan is headed the way of Rwanda.”
Recalling his numerous trips to the region and his humanitarian work on behalf of the people there, the congressman said that he is currently “as concerned as I have ever been about the state of affairs in South Sudan and the potential for the recent violence to spiral into genocide – a genocide that could defy even the horrors of Rwanda given the oil reserves that are in play.”
He pointed to numerous media accounts of ethnic killings, sexual violence being used for revenge, civilians being targeted and slaughtered, massacres inside mosques and piles of dead bodies.
“Where is the urgency? Where is the outrage?” he asked.
South Sudan – which became a country in 2011 when it gained independence from Sudan – has enduring fighting for nearly six months, after a power struggle erupted between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, who was accused by the president of attempting a coup.
The conflict has been characterized as having both political and ethnic dimensions, and it is estimated that thousands of people have been killed and about 1 million have fled their homes since the violence began.
The town of Bentiu was captured by rebels April 15, and in the next two days hundreds of locals were killed, targeted for their ethnic origins and nationality, according to the U.N. Mission in South Sudan. That day, civilians who had taken shelter in a mosque were separated by ethnicity; some were escorted to safety, while more than 200 were killed.
Groups in refuge at a Catholic parish and at a hospital were also separated by ethnicity, and some of them killed.
In a May 1 news conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the gravity of the situation in South Sudan.
“(T)here are very disturbing leading indicators of the kind of ethnic tribal targeted nationalistic killings taking place that raise serious questions,” he said, “and were they to continue in the way that they have been going could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide.”
“It is our hope that in these next days, literally, we can move more rapidly to put people on the ground who could begin to make a difference,” Kerry added, saying that discussions with leaders of all involved parties, additional international peacekeeping troops, and consideration of sanctions against human rights violators are all tools in working toward peace.
In his remarks the previous day, Wolf had stated that “crimes have been committed by both sides” in the fighting.
“There are no angels in this conflict. There must be accountability for anyone implicated in these atrocities. We have the technology, the capacity and the eye-witness accounts to know who is involved and who is actively violating the cease-fire.”
Saying that he had been “heartened” by Obama’s rhetoric about Sudan during his 2008 campaign, as well as the human rights credentials of his foreign policy advisors, Wolf called on the president to take “bold action.”
He suggested that Obama send former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton “to help negotiate a lasting peace and to convey in no uncertain terms that the fate of South Sudan is a U.S. foreign policy priority.”
“Both of these men have done a great deal on this issue and have remained invested in Africa beyond their presidencies. This pair of statesman, hailing from two different parties, would send a powerful message to the warring factions … and would open immediate lines of communication at a pivotal time.”
While news coverage of the situation has been “sporadic, at best,” and many Americans likely remain unaware of what is occurring, Wolf said, “people who are in a position to help know what is happening.”
He observed that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has described South Sudan as being “on the verge of catastrophe.”
The country is enduring “what can only be characterized as an emergency situation in urgent need of high-level intervention,” Wolf emphasized. “But with the stakes as high as they are, the situation is simply not being met with the urgency it demands.”
The congressman pointed to an op-ed by South Sudan experts Eric Reeves and John Prendergast, who explained how the nature of the warfare in the country is leading to heavy casualties. In addition, they said, “the victors see military victory as justifying civilian slaughter of the predominant ethnic group of the opposing forces.”
Additionally, this mounting violence has interrupted the planting season, which could create a famine in the country, which Reeves and Prendergast predicted could lead to the starvation of up to 7 million people this fall.
“Will we see the content of the reports only after it is too late, when enterprising filmmakers and authors dredge up the documents and wonder why no one mustered the will to act?” Wolf asked, stressing the need for action immediately.
“The atrocities must stop. The suffering must cease.”