On Wednesday April 27, board member John Prendergast testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations as part of a hearing entitled “South Sudan’s Prospects for Peace and Security.” Expert witnesses included Ambassador Donald Booth, Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Bob Leavitt, Deputy Assistant Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, Matt Wells with the Center for Civilians in Conflict, Luka Biong Deng Kuol with the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Augustino Ting Mayla with the Sudd Institute. Each spoke about the immense toll the ongoing violence since December 2013 has had on the South Sudanese population. Despite the recent return of former Vice President and Opposition Leader Riek Machar to Juba, the capitol of South Sudan, the situation on the ground remains horrific.
“After the eruption and during civil war, the greed at all levels has become the primary reproduction factor in sustaining and intensifying the conflict in South Sudan” – Luka Biong Deng Kuol
Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) presided over the hearing with Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA. Other Members in attendance included Representatives Daniel Donovan (R-NY), David Cicilline (D-RI), Sudan/South Sudan Caucus Co-ChairsMichael Capuano (D-MA) and Tom Rooney (R-FL), and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY). All demonstrated significant dedication to supporting the South Sudanese people and making a strong U.S. contribution to ending the violence.
Prendergast’s testimony illustrated how South Sudan has effectively been kidnapped for ransom by violent kleptocrats, and that the hostage takers so far have faced no meaningful consequences. The United States and broader international community now have an opportunity to help South Sudan change course—and the U.S. Congress has an important role to play. Prendergast additionally revealed information about Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, whose US-based firm Frontier Services Group (FSG) is shown to be conducting illegal business with the South Sudanese military.
“…the United States must lead the international community in building the leverage necessary to alter the calculations of the country’s leaders away from war and towards peace, from kleptocracy to good governance, from impunity to the rule of law. The surest way to build this leverage is by hitting the leaders of rival kleptocratic factions in South Sudan where it hurts the most: their wallets. This requires a hard target transnational search for dirty money and corrupt deals made by government officials, rebel leaders, arms traffickers, complicit bankers, and mining and oil company representatives.” – John Prendergast
The civil society witnesses, Wells, Kuol, Mayla, and Prendergast, all spoke about the need for sustained U.S. involvement and action, a call to which the members of Congress seemed eager to participate in. Prendergast specifically urged Congress to pass the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (H.R. 624), and to fully fund and resource agencies within the U.S. Government responsible for tracking financial crimes and enforcing action taken against those responsible.
South Sudan has been in conflict now for over two years. As Chairman Smith noted in his opening remarks, more than 2.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and more than 6 million people are in need of aid. The humanitarian toll on civilians has been massive, and with ongoing repression of media and civil society, this is a critical moment for the future of the nation. This timely hearing by the Subcommittee and expert witness testimony on the issues is a reminder of the important role Congress can play in supporting the South Sudanese struggle for peace.