OHATCHEE, Al. August 12, 2011 — Last week, an emergency congressional hearing was convened by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was presided over by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.
The subject was the ethnic cleansing and humanitarian crisis of Sudan. Present at the panel were ranking member Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ), Representative Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) and Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
No one from the State Department appeared.
The witnesses were Rt. Reverend Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail, of the Anglican Diocese of Kadugli, Sudan; Bradford Phillips, founder and president of the Persecution Project Foundation and Sudan Country Director for Voice of the Martyrs; and Dr. Luka Biong Deng, Ph.D., president of Kush Inc. and a former minister of cabinet affairs for the National Unity Government and minister for presidential affairs for the Government of South Sudan. (Click here to read their opening testimonies)
“There is no justification in my mind for bombing Libya, while doing nothing in the Nuba Mountains,” said Phillips in his testimony, as he provided evidence of genocide against the Nuba peoples in the oil-rich region that lies on the border between Sudan and the new country of South Sudan.
“Based on the history of the [National Congress Party], and what we know about what they are doing today in Darfur, in Abyei, and in the Nuba Mountains,” Phillips continued, “it amazes me how the U.S. and the international community could tolerate these killers for so long, yet aggressively pursue other villains who have not killed 1/100th of the people for which Omar al-Bashir and his regime are responsible.”
Americans could easily be numb to distant Sudan appearing in the news. The African country has been brewing with dangerous conflict virtually ever since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1956. Darfur has become synonymous with suffering and chaos. What else is there to know or do about it?
The morning after the hearing, I had the opportunity to talk about this issue with Mr. Phillips, whose urgent plea for scrutiny and action was credited with initiating the emergency hearing on the situation in South Kordofan.
“There’s right now no humanitarian action to Southern Kordofan state, and there is a massive humanitarian crisis looming in the next 1-2 months because families – and women and children – are hiding in the caves in the mountainside of the Nuba Mountains because they’re afraid to go down into the valley and cultivate,” Phillips told me over the phone.
“They’re afraid to live in their homes. Many of their homes have already been destroyed.”
He described walking through a county “where every building, every home – it didn’t matter if it was a church or a medical clinic or a hospital or a private business – they were all destroyed by air strikes by MiGs and Antonov bombers that were sent specifically against civilian targets.”
Phillips was in Southern Kordofan the same time British journalist Callum Macrae was filming a documentary on the subject for Al Jazeera English:
The Nuba people are suffering persecution in their home state of Southern Kordofan, which is governed by Ahmed Haroun, the first Sudanese to be indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
In May, Haroun was installed as governor through a sham election by President Omar al-Bashir. Al-Bashir is also an indicted war criminal – reportedly the first sitting head of state to be issued an arrest warrant by the ICC, in fact.
But al-Bashir has remained strident and free regardless, and just earlier this week hosted Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, looking forward to stronger bilateral ties between China and Sudan.
We might have a tendency to stereotype the level of conflict taking place in the African region at stake. The suffering drifts at the back of our Western minds as some vague, endless tribal skirmish that can’t be helped much by outsiders.
In reality, the Nuba people’s enemies in this battle are enemies of our own.
“The problem is not among the Nuba people,” explained Phillips. “The Nuba people are united. The problem is not within Southern Kordofan state. The problem is coming from Khartoum, from the National Congress Party (which used to be called the National Islamic Front)…
“…More than 3 million people have died, and as a result of genocidal policies of Khartoum, by indicted war criminals, by people who are enemies of the United States in our War on Terror, by people that are either guiding members or closely linked to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
Phillips says the atrocities committed by al-Bashir and Haroun make Muammar Gaddafi “look like a choir boy.”
Al-Bashir’s political party is an ideological descendent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also has a long and influential history in the Sudan. When al-Bashir was indicted by the ICC a few years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the decision and has since endorsed him and other candidates in Sudanese elections.
“It’s not primarily a fight between two armies,” said Phillips. “For the most part, it’s a fight between Khartoum sending forces from outside into the Nuba Mountains to wipe out the indigenous African population known as the Nuba people.”
What has the United States’ position been thus far?
“So far what they have done at the level of the State Department is make a moral equivalency between the victims and the perpetrators of genocide, and that’s not acceptable,” Phillips informed me.
On the 9th of July, Christian and animist South Sudan gained independence and thus the status of the world’s newest state. This cause for celebration means things are going well and conflict is subsiding, right?
“I think what’s difficult and challenging right now for everybody, whether they’re just regular citizens or policy makers, is on the one hand, we do want to celebrate the independence of South Sudan,” Phillips told me.
“So for a lot of people, it’s hard to accept the fact that there’s still a problem in that region, in that country – and there are also so many other things going on in the world.”
But indeed there is still a problem. Unhindered war criminals on the loose have no intention of playing by the rules.
“And what [the NCP regime is] doing right now, now that they’ve lost the South,” said Phillips, “Bashir has basically told his constituents, ‘Yes, we have lost the South, but be assured that I’m going to strictly enforce Sharia law in the next new country,’ and with regards to the Nuba Mountains his words were, ‘If we don’t get them at the ballot box, we’re going to get them at the ammo box…we’re going to smoke them out of the mountains with our tanks and our horses and our camels.’
“And then he called upon the mujahideen forces to ‘clean up the rubbish.’ He referred to the African people – the Nuba people of Southern Kordofan state – as ‘rubbish.’”
What risks classifying you as “rubbish” in the eyes of al-Bashir’s regime?
“From all the testimony that I received of people that have survived some of the worst fighting and atrocities, the basic criterion that Khartoum is using to commit genocide is race and religion,” Phillips told me.
“If you’re an African, if you’re a Nuba – it doesn’t matter what your religion is or what your political affiliation is. You’re dead. You’re tortured and you’re killed. You disappear. There are mass graves.
“If you are affiliated in anyway with the Church or any other stripe of religion that is different from their brand of Islam, you’re dead.”
During the hearing on August 4th, Representative Wolf expressed hope that both the presidential administration and American churches would be moved to action, saying, “I think the church in the West really needs to do a better job of advocating for the persecuted church…the silence of the church in the West is absolutely incredible.”
Some might be wondering where the U.N. is in all of this.
That happens to be something the Nuba people have wondered as well. The UNMIS soldiers’ lack of help in such obvious tasks as removing and defusing bombs in Kadugli is bewildering. U.N. forces in other areas have been rendered ineffective.
Abdel Aziz Adam Al Hilu, Commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Southern Kordofan and former deputy governor and candidate against Haroun, has even said that the Egyptian U.N. forces are collaborating with the NCP.
What role should the U.S. play in this war that has been raging since the 5th of June?
“We don’t need to commit the same type of resources to solve this problem as they’re doing in Libya,” advised Phillips, “but what we do need to do is make a difference between the victims and the perpetrators of genocide…the U.S. government can do some things to let the government of Sudan know that they’re not going to tolerate air strikes on civilians.”
On August 4th, the White House released President Obama’s plans for “establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board” and a proclamation that “explicitly bars entry into the United States of persons who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights.”
What can American citizens do to specifically help protect the innocent that are being attacked in Southern Kordofan?
Phillips answered, “They can contact their congressmen and senators and they can direct letters to the Secretary of State, as well as to the President of the United States, and let them know that, ‘Mr. President, your Rwanda moment is happening right now in Southern Kordofan. This is your Rwanda moment. And you said ‘Never again’, and it’s happening under your watch. What are you prepared to do?”
Phillips pointed out a parallel that the president should recognize.
“President Obama campaigned very well on the issue of atrocities and genocide in Sudan, and he said that he would be in favor of enforcing a no-fly zone to stop the atrocities being perpetrated against the people in Darfur.
“Well, the same atrocities are happening in Southern Kordofan that happened in Darfur, and they’re being committed by the same people who did it in Darfur.”
Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 17 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Troy University.
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