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Benjamin C.
Democrat MD

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  • South Sudan

    by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

    Posted on 2014-01-09

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    CARDIN. Mr. President, I have taken the floor of the Senate--and when I was a Member of the House, the floor of the House--to talk about circumstances that are occurring somewhere in the world where people are being killed, displaced; people are being uprooted simply because of their ethnicity. Ethnic cleansing has occurred around the world. I have taken the opportunity to put a spotlight on it in an effort to say that the civilized world needs to bring an end to those types of crimes against humanity. I have used the opportunity as a member of the Helsinki Commission, and now as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, to point out what America's priority needs to be, and that is to be a leader in the world to prevent ethnic cleansing.

    Many of us believed, after World War II, that the world would never again allow circumstances wherein people were killed simply because of the ethnic community to which they belong. I have spoken about Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and Syria, and now we see the same thing happening again in South Sudan.

    I just came from a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was convened to discuss the crisis in South Sudan with two witnesses: the Honorable Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of African Affairs, and the Honorable Nancy E. Lindborg, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. These two witnesses were giving an update to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as to the circumstances in South Sudan and what we can do to try to bring about a resolution.

    I rise today to discuss the deteriorating circumstances in South Sudan. As some of my colleagues may know, ongoing political tensions between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and forces loyal to the former Vice President Riek Machar, coupled with preexisting ethnic tensions, erupted in violence the night of December 15. I join the President and Secretary Kerry in calling for an immediate end to the violence in South Sudan. Currently, it is estimated that nearly 200,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of the conflict, with another 32,000 having fled to neighboring States. The U.N. estimates that thousands of Sudanese people have been killed since December 15. Let me just remind my colleagues that three years ago today the people of South Sudan started a voting process that later that year led to their independence as the youngest new country in the world.

    Our U.S. Ambassador, Susan Page, has remained in Juba, along with a security detail and minimum key personnel. I thank her; it is very courageous of her to remain in South Sudan so we have our leadership on the ground to try to help the people. I applaud her bravery and sacrifice and those who are with her.

    The worsening violence has spurred a humanitarian crisis. The President has nominated Ambassador Booth to be our ambassador to that region to try to get a peace process started. He is currently in Ethiopia trying to get the international community to respond to a political solution to South Sudan. The international community has responded rapidly, including by working to significantly expand the size of the U.N. mission in South Sudan, but since the evacuation of foreign aid workers, most humanitarian agencies and the international NGOs are heavily reliant on brave South Sudanese staff who put their lives at risk to help their people.

    These are large numbers for the country of Sudan--the number of people displaced and the number of people killed. Let me share with my colleagues one of many examples of the crisis and how it has affected people in that region.

    I recently learned that at the onset of the December clashes, one local staff person from an American NGO was rounded up, along with seven members of his family, and taken to a police station in Juba. He ultimately escaped to the U.N. compound, but his family was killed, along with more than 200 others. He is from the Nuer ethnic group, which now lives in fear of ethnic targeting by members of the country's security forces from another ethnic group, the Dinka. Media reports also suggest that individuals in uniforms have entered the U.N. bases in several locations and forcibly removed civilians taking shelter there. On December 21, two U.N. peacekeepers were killed after a group attacked a U.N. peacekeeping base that was sheltering 20 civilians.

    There is no safe harbor today in South Sudan. The U.N.'s base can be overrun, and people killed because of their ethnicity. The international community must respond.

    I remain extremely concerned at the reports out of South Sudan, all of which suggest serious crimes against humanity are occurring in the country. The world cannot stand by and bear witness to another ethnic cleansing as we have seen in so many other places around the world. We must do all we can to ensure a peaceful resolution of the crisis and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in South Sudan.

    Our first priority is to get peace on the ground, to stop the killings, so people can live in peace. We need to work with the international community so humanitarian aid can get to the people who need it--and that is very challenging considering that international [[Page S197]] NGOs cannot operate today in South Sudan--and we must hold accountable those who have committed crimes against humanity. We have said it over and over, but unless we hold accountable those who have perpetrated these atrocities, we will see it again and again. U.S. leadership is critically important to make sure that we document what has taken place and that we bring to justice those who are responsible for the crimes that have been committed.

    There is no question that a solution to the crisis in South Sudan must be political and not military. We understand that. South Sudan again is at a crossroads, and after coming so far, it must choose to renounce violence immediately and pursue a path of peaceful reconciliation.

    I am encouraged that President Kiir and former President Machar have sent negotiators to Ethiopia to participate in mediation talks. While these talks are a good first step, in the interim the violence must end, and both sides must be committed to negotiating in good faith. It is my hope these talks can bring about the bright future so many South Sudanese aspire for. The people of South Sudan deserve to understand the true meaning of safety and security, of peace, and prosperity. The United States stands with the people of South Sudan through these difficult times. We must pledge to continue to support those who seek peace, democracy, human rights, and justice for all of the citizens of the world's newest nation.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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