U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) took the mainstream media to task for poor coverage of what he called “a really big story” on Thursday, September 22, at a hearing before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) on human rights violations in Sudan. Wolf oversaw a morning of powerful testimonies about the National Congress Party (NCP) regime’s continuing atrocities in the Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan, Darfur and other contested regions. He reiterated the need to support Sudan’s marginalized people in their efforts to bring change and noted the lack of media attention to the aerial bombardment, extrajudicial killings, government-orchestrated starvation, and arbitrary arrests that have been taking place since the NCP launched its attack on the Nuba Mountains, June 5, 2011.
Witnesses at the hearing were in agreement that Sudan’s problem is the Islamist regime in Khartoum. The first panel was devoted to Sudan’s refugee crisis. Jana Mason, senior advisor, U.S. Government and External Relations for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, focused on Darfurian refugees who may have no home to return to, even if peace comes to Darfur. She said land ownership “was complicated.” But some describe the complication as Khartoum colonizing parts of Darfur with nomadic people groups from elsewhere in Sudan and the Arab world while continuing to perpetrate genocide on African inhabitants of Darfur.
Tom Andrews, former member of Congress and president of United to End Genocide, was the first witness on the second panel. Andrews, who has just recently returned from Sudan, called President Omar al-Bashir a “genocidal monster” and told of speaking to Darfurians who had sought refuge with the Nuba from Khartoum’s Janjaweed. These refugees now experienced new horror as Janjaweed galloped through Kauda, Kadugli and elsewhere in the Nuba Mountains with orders from al-Bashir to “sweep out the trash” and kill the Nuba “when you find them.” Andrews also spoke to Nuba priests who had fled to South Sudan, reporting house to house searches for Christians and supporters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) taking place. Christians are a special target of Khartoum in the Nuba Mountains and throughout Sudan.
Jehanne Henry, senior researcher on Sudan for Human Rights Watch, revealed that while U.S. response to the massacre taking place in Sudan was inadequate, it was more than that of the African Union and the U.N. Security Council. Neither of these agencies had yet even condemned Khartoum bombings. She also stated that there were reports of bombings and other atrocities taking place in Blue Nile State, another contested region, as well. Satellite photos from the Satellite Sentinel Project confirm these reports.
Omer Ismail, senior policy advisor for Enough Project, reported that the Satellite Sentinel Project had discovered “at least” eight mass graves in the Nuba Mountains. He urged Congress to look at the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and elsewhere in the larger context and “address the source, not the symptoms.” “The U.S. must listen and respond to the voices for change in Sudan,” he urged, noting that the same international community that became so heavily involved in Egypt and Libya because of government oppression “should have been there” for Sudan from the time of the genocide in South Sudan.
The final witness was Yasir Arman, secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). Commander Arman was the popular candidate for president of Sudan, who ran against al-Bashir until the SPLM-N decided to boycott the race to protest election fraud. Arman, a great example to all Sudanese, is a northern Arab who shares the vision of a new Sudan with freedom and equality for all, espoused by the late leader of South Sudan, Dr. John Garang de Mabior. Arman declared that al-Bashir is a terrorist, and although his terrorism “starts with the Sudanese people,” it goes “worldwide.” He revealed that over 140 leaders of the SPLM-N had been arrested and tortured, and that Malik Agar, the governor of Blue Nile State “had been sacked” and replaced by an NCP loyalist. But these besieged areas, in their resistance to the radical Islamists in Khartoum, are the “new South in the North,” Arman promised.
The high level of frustration among members of Congress was evident even as Congressman Wolf, the co-chair of the commission and a long-time advocate for the beleaguered Sudanese people, described the hearing as one of the best ones he has ever been to on Sudan (and he has been to many). Wolf admitted that he was still pessimistic about conditions in Sudan “until Bashir is taken to The Hague and tried.” He declared, as he had done at a previous hearing in August, that “until there is regime change, and Bashir is no longer in power, we will not see change in Sudan.”
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), co-founder and co-chair of the Sudan Caucus, also contrasted the situation in Sudan with the “Arab Spring.” “We are perfectly happy to shoot missiles at Gadhafi for threatening to hurt his people, but we are doing nothing about a government that has been killing its people for years!” he exclaimed. “None of us really understands why we are not doing more,” Capuano added.
As the hearing came to a close, Congressman Wolf searched the packed hearing room, demanding of the crowd, “How many of you are from the media?” He counted as five hands went up around the room in the Cannon House Office Building. “Of you five, are any of you from Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, or NBC?” he questioned further. Silence.
Wolf lamented that no one in the media had asked any of the Republican presidential hopefuls about Sudan in any of the debates, and since only answers to questions and no opening statements were permitted, it was hard to gauge whether or not there was any interest on the part of the GOP candidates. The congressman said he intended to send the testimonies from the hearing to the five major networks and urge them to air the views of the candidates on this important issue. Perhaps he should send copies to each of the candidates’ campaigns, as well, and seek a direct response.
Increased media coverage from all quarters would help build pressure for change in Sudan as it did for the “Arab Spring.” But the mainstream media that reported breathlessly each protest in Tahrir Square and each NATO air strike to aid Libyan “rebels” has been mostly silent about Sudan’s fight for freedom. It’s up to the rest of us to keep up the pressure.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).