Washington, DC — Calls on President to Send Former Presidents Clinton and Bush to Region
Rep. Frank Wolf, (R-VA), long recognized as one of the leading voices in Congress on Sudan and South Sudan, today called on President Obama to send former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to South Sudan to help end the ongoing violence that is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda 20 years ago this month.
At press conference on Capitol Hill, Wolf relayed a conversation he had on Monday with an expert on the region who had just been in South Sudan, saying, "I heard of civilians, including women and children, indiscriminately targeted and killed. I learned of houses of worship turned from places of sanctuary to mass graves. I was told of ethnic divisions that now run so deep they could take a generation to heal."
Wolf also showed graphic photos of the atrocities, including one of a pile of bodies from the recent massacre in Bentiu. Wolf said he heard this morning that another attack in Bentiu could be imminent.
"Today, I stand before you 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," Wolf said.
Wolf said the United States has moral obligation to help. "America helped give birth to South Sudan," Wolf said. " . . . President Obama, you must not allow this to continue. Call on your predecessors to immediately engage in this crisis before more innocent blood is shed. Failure to act will be a stain on your administration's legacy and a blot on your conscience."
Wolf said sending Bush and Clinton to South Sudan would send the message that the fate of the country is 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," Wolf said. "This pair of statesman hailing from two different parties would send a powerful message to the warring factions, especially as it relates to South Sudanese President Kiir, with whom Bush and his team forged a lasting relationship during intensive negotiations involved with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and would open immediate lines of communication at a pivotal time."
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) joined Wolf at the press conference.
Below is the complete text of Wolf's remarks:
"This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which nearly a million perished in a horrific 100-day span while the world stood idly by. As has been documented in print and film, including in Samantha Powers' riveting book "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," cables were sent, reports of the violence and the targeting of innocents received, and yet the American foreign policy apparatus was largely consumed not with stemming the bloodshed, but rather with avoiding use of the word "genocide" lest it necessitate a response.
"And so many died.
"And, of course, there is the now notorious negligence of the United Nations in this regard which culminated in catastrophic moral failure on the part of the international community. Kofi Annan, then head of UN peacekeeping, was receiving on the ground intelligence from General Dallaire about the impending tragedy, and yet repeatedly refused to authorize Dallaire to seize known weapons caches until after it was too late. What horrors might have been prevented had Annan chosen otherwise?
"Fast-forward several years: President Clinton traveled to the Kigali airport and issued what has come to be known as the "Clinton apology" for failing to do more to stop the violence. Later, President George W. Bush famously wrote "not on my watch" in the margin of a report on the Rwandan genocide. No president, Republican or Democrat, wants atrocities to occur on their watch.
"I venture this much is true of President Obama. And yet, every indication points to the fact that the crisis currently unfolding in South Sudan is headed the way of Rwanda. In fact earlier today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, characterized South Sudan as "on the verge of catastrophe." But with the stakes as high as they are, the situation is simply not being met with the urgency it demands.
"It is time for bold action. President Obama should immediately dispatch former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to the region 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, especially as it relates to South Sudanese President Kiir, with whom Bush and his team forged a lasting relationship during intensive negotiations involved with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and would open immediate lines of communication at a pivotal time.
"I first visited Sudan in 1989, years before Darfur became a household word, and I have prayed for the day when the people of that long-suffering land would enjoy peace and representative government. I have been five subsequent times, most recently in 2012.
"For more than two decades a steady stream of Sudan activists, Lost Boys and Girls who resettled in the U.S., humanitarian groups operating in the region and others have visited my office. Whether it was the seemingly intractable war between the North and the South, the genocide in Darfur or in recent years the violence in the Nuba Mountains set against the backdrop of the birth of a new nation, I have followed events closely in that part of the world urging U.S. administrations of every stripe to engage vigorously in pursuit of lasting peace, justice and rule of law.
"While I did not support Obama's candidacy, I was heartened by his rhetoric on Sudan during the 2008 campaign. I took further encouragement from some of the individuals who joined his foreign policy team – senior advisors with strong human rights credentials and a stated desire to see the United States lead in the prevention of crimes against humanity and other atrocities.
"Sadly those words have not translated into action. Samantha Power, who rose to prominence for her reporting and work on genocide prevention, now represents the U.S. at the United Nations in New York. I wish her voice was stronger within this administration on this issue.
"Today, I stand before you 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.
"On Monday, I received deeply troubling reports from individuals on the ground about recent atrocities in South Sudan and the lack of an effective U.S. or international response. I heard of civilians, including women and children, indiscriminately targeted and killed; I learned of houses of worship turned from places of sanctuary to mass graves; I was told of ethnic divisions that now run so deep they could take a generation to heal.
"These reports coupled with a smattering of news stories from the last several months belie what can only be characterized as an emergency situation in urgent need of high-level intervention.
"Consider the following excerpts from media accounts:
"• Voice of America, April 21: "The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Monday accused opposition forces in Bentiu of carrying out targeted killings, including of children, and inciting 'vengeful sexual violence' against women after they captured the town last week from government troops…. UNMISS also said that individuals associated with the opposition have been using an FM station in Bentiu to broadcast hate speech."
"• The Washington Post, April 22: "Gunmen in South Sudan who targeted civilians, including children and the elderly, left "piles and piles" of bodies, many of them in a mosque and a hospital, the United Nations' top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday."
"• CNN, April 23: "South Sudanese rebels seized a strategic oil town last week, separating terrified residents by ethnicity before killing hundreds…Residents sought shelter in churches, mosques and hospitals when the rebels raided Bentiu town…"
"• Fox News, April 23: "As rebel forces entered Bentiu last week, residents were led to believe that by entering the mosque they would be safe…But once inside they were robbed of money and mobile phones and a short while later gunmen began killing, both inside the mosque and inside the city hospital…if you were not Nuer nothing could save you. The gunmen killed wantonly, including children and the elderly."
"• The Economist, April 26: "Even in a civil war that has been rife with atrocities, the scale of the massacre of civilians in South Sudan's oil hub of Bentiu on April 15 -16 plumbed a new depth of hell. The rebel White Army, so-called after the ash its fighters sometimes smear on themselves, killed anyone they suspected of supporting the government, including – it is reported – 200 people in a single mosque and others in churches and aid-agency compounds. Local radio broadcasts helped to stir up ethnic hatred and to direct the violence at perceived enemies of Riek Machar… No side is winning. Hopes of building a new country from scratch are drowning in blood."
"I have here photos which present a visual image, in some cases quite graphic, of what you have just heard described in words.
"The first several are from a mid-February attack in Bor. The final photo is from the more recent massacre in Bentiu earlier this month. We see pictured the "piles" of bodies described in the news accounts.
"Just this morning I received reports that another attack in Bentiu could be imminent. Where is the urgency? Where is the outrage?
"I read with great interest the recent statements by Kenya's president in which he said, "During the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, I expressed our region's disappointment at having done little to nothing at the time to end the slaughter of a million innocent human beings in Rwanda by a bloodthirsty cabal. I also pledged, in the name of Kenya and the region that we would never again allow a similar genocide to happen within our shores. I return to the pledge today because of what is happening in parts of South Sudan, we are outraged and gravely concerned at seeing the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians caught up in the internal conflict of the South Sudan Liberation Movement. We refuse to be witnesses to such atrocities and to remain helpless and hopeless in their wake."
"President Obama, this is happening on your watch. Will you allow it to continue? Will you too refuse to be a witness to atrocities?
"News coverage of these events has been sporadic, at best. While most Americans are likely unaware of the horrors being perpetrated in South Sudan, people who are in a position to help know what is happening. Cables are being sent to Washington. Talking points are being drafted at the NSC and Foggy Bottom. These events are not happening in a vacuum. 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?
"A joint op-ed piece yesterday by long-time South Sudan experts Eric Reeves and John Prendergast opened with the following: "…no civilians in the world are in greater danger than those of South Sudan."
"The pair continued, "Unlike the 'asymmetric warfare' to which we have become accustomed to hearing about (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur), symmetric warfare ensures heavy casualties in military confrontations. But victories and defeats now have more ominous consequences; for in South Sudan the victors see military victory as justifying civilian slaughter of the predominant ethnic group of the opposing forces. And with a terrifying momentum, ethnic slaughter leads to yet greater ethnic slaughter." In short, crimes have been committed by both sides. 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.
"Reeves and Prendergast further warned of looming famine given that planting season has already been disrupted with more than a million forced from their homes. Ominously, they predicted that as many as 7 million could face starvation this fall.
"The atrocities must stop. The suffering must cease. What is the end game?
"America helped give birth to South Sudan. We have a moral obligation to do something – and something bold. President Obama, you must not allow this to continue. Call on your predecessors to immediately engage in this crisis before more innocent blood is shed. Failure to act will be a stain on your administration's legacy and a blot on your conscience."