2 August 2013

South Sudan: Wolf Renews Call to President Obama to Immediately Fil Sudan Special Envoy Position

Washington, DC — Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime advocate for the people of Sudan and South Sudan, today said it was “indefensible” that the Obama Administration has failed to appoint a Special Envoy to Sudan, a position that has been vacant for nearly five months.

In a letter to President Obama today, Wolf said the situation in Darfur and other areas in Sudan is dire and getting worse, yet the administration has failed to address it despite nearly six years in office.

Wolf is the co-chairman of Congressional Caucus on Sudan and South Sudan.  He most recently visited South Sudan in February 2012, and was the first member of Congress to travel to Darfur in 2004.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Mr. President:

I have written you on more than one occasion about the persistent vacancy of the Sudan Special Envoy post, which has been unfilled for nearly five months.  This is indefensible given the current state of affairs in Sudan.

I enclose for your reference a recent piece that Sudan expert and advocate Professor Eric Reeves authored for the Washington Post.  He paints a grim picture about the situation in Darfur, lamenting that this genocide, which once captured our collective national outrage, now seems to have disappeared from public view leaving us with the misperception that the violence has subsided and the crisis resolved.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Reeves writes “...the slaughter has continued in Darfur: Some 500,000 people have died in the past 10 years from war-related causes. In 2009, as president, Obama again declared that ‘genocide’ was occurring in Darfur, yet little followed from this.”  He continued, “But the people of Darfur have been left defenseless largely because of an unforgivable lack of attention and leadership by the United States. The policies of Obama's administration have hardly matched his rhetoric.  Indeed, in a bizarre reprise of policies for which Obama had sharply criticized the Bush administration, on Nov. 8, 2010, senior administration officials explicitly “decoupled” Darfur from the largest bilateral issue between Washington and Khartoum: the latter's place on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.”

While Reeves' focus in the enclosed editorial is on Darfur—that region is far from being the only humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Sudan. Last year I visited Yida refugee camp in South Sudan.  I heard harrowing stories from a growing refugee population that had fled the Nuba Mountains, including indiscriminate aerial bombardments aimed at civilian populations, the use of food as a weapon of war, people driven from their homes and targeted for killing because of the color of their skin.  In short, I heard echoes of my time spent in Darfur as the first member of the House of Representatives to visit in July 2004.

Last year I offered an amendment to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill which would have cut non-humanitarian foreign assistance to any nation that allowed Sudanese President Omar Bashir, an internationally indicted war criminal, into their country without arresting him.  The amendment was adopted with bipartisan support by voice vote.

The amendment I proposed would have effectively isolated Bashir and made him an international pariah as is befitting a man with blood on his hands.  It is noteworthy that the amendment garnered the support of 70 prominent Holocaust and genocide scholars.  Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute, which initiated a letter of support to the administration from these scholars, said: “Halting aid to those who host Bashir would be the first concrete step the U.S. has taken to isolate the Butcher of Darfur and pave the way for his arrest.  If the Obama administration is serious about punishing perpetrators of genocide, it should support the Wolf Amendment.”

Sadly that support never materialized. In fact your administration actively sought to remove this language from the final bill.  Meanwhile, Bashir remains free to travel where he pleases, and the people of Sudan see no end in sight to their suffering and U.S. policy is in tatters.

The FY 2014 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which just last week passed out of the full committee, included language consistent with the amendment I offered last year.  In seeking to isolate Bashir, our options are limited but far from nonexistent.

Will your administration support this effort?  Will Bashir be made to face some modicum of consequence for his actions?  Will the special envoy position be filled before the fall?

Professor Reeves’ piece featured this quote from you: “We can't say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States, I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.” I wish, and more importantly the suffering people of Sudan wish, we had seen an ounce of that moral clarity and conviction since you took office.  Sudan has historically been a bipartisan issue.  We may be from different parties but I had thought, based on your campaign rhetoric, that this might be an area of common cause.

 Best wishes.

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