The Ongoing Human Rights Crisis in Sudan

Ten years ago, the stark images of Darfur burned themselves onto the national conscience. After Sudanese-government aircraft bombed villages in Darfur, the Janjaweed, government-backed Arab militias, would sweep in to empty the land of people. They burned down villages and crops, poisoned wells, destroyed cattle, raped women and girls systematically, and killed civilians. The United States government called the state-sponsored atrocities a genocide. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the sitting head of state, President Omar al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in Darfur.

Now, a decade later, conflict in Darfur continues and the violence has spread across the country. Khartoum carries out armed campaigns against civilians in the southern border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, in the disputed oil-rich border territory of Abyei, and elsewhere. Sudan demands our attention not only as a matter of conscience and rule of law, but also a matter of national security and regional stability.

Since 2003, over 2.3 million Darfuris have fled their homes, including nearly 300,000 as refugees in Chad. Thousands of children born in these camps have never known another home. And the cycle of violence continues. In the first four months of 2013, over five times as many people had been displaced than in all of 2012. In one week alone in April 2013, some 50,000 Darfuris fled into southeastern Chad following fresh ethnic conflict. The refugees reported entire villages being burned and razed with many villagers killed.

In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, indiscriminate aerial bombardments are Khartoum's devastating signature tactic. Bombs destroy residential areas, schools and markets, health clinics and farm fields. Civilians have no warning of these attacks and flee for protection to caves in nearby mountains or to the bush. Children go without school, and villages are emptied of their people. The air strikes, combined with scorched-earth attacks and deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid, have led to chronic hunger and conditions conducive to famine. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated the human rights violations rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In short, displacement and destruction continue unabated in Sudan. The situation is complex -- there is inter-communal violence and fighting over resources. Rebel groups are not without blame, but the government of Sudan has committed the overwhelming number of abuses and crimes. At the heart of the violence and suffering lies an authoritarian regime led by Omar al-Bashir that turns the state's armed forces against its own people and wages cyclical campaigns of divide-and-conquer to ensure he remains in power.

The war crimes and massive humanitarian crises in Sudan affect not only regional stability but our own national security as well. As the Obama administration itself made clear when creating the Atrocities Prevention Board, the deterrence of genocide and mass atrocities is "a core national security interest and core moral responsibility." The U.S. has real national security interests to avert the factionalism, radicalism, and breakdown in society and security that we have seen in Sudan's Saharan neighbors, whether Libya and Egypt, Mali, or the worst-case scenario, Somalia.

In April, Congressmen Frank Wolf, Mike Capuano and I introduced the bipartisan Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act (H.R. 1692). Endorsed by a range of faith-based groups, human rights groups and humanitarian NGOs, this bill would create a comprehensive U.S. strategy to end serious human rights violations, instead of reliance on piecemeal negotiations that strengthen Khartoum's hand. It would provide accountability through a new broad-based sanctions regime and more effective enforcement. Much as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement did in ending the civil war between north and south Sudan, it would build the capacity of Sudanese to enact transparent democratic reforms. Finally, it would take steps to mitigate the lack of humanitarian aid throughout conflict-afflicted areas.

But it is also essential that the administration act to address the root causes of the conflict and its horrific human costs. The administration policy is stale. A replacement Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan still has not been named -- a situation needing immediate remedy.

Khartoum's campaigns of armed conflict and deliberate denial of aid everywhere in Sudan devastate entire communities and regions. We must act to end this cycle of violence. Three U.S. administrations, including President Obama's, have dedicated political capital, time, and resources to Sudan. Congress can do its part by passing H.R. 1692, but there is no substitute for reinvigorated leadership at the very highest levels, including under a high-profile Special Envoy, to facilitate comprehensive peace, democratic transformation, and real accountability in Sudan.