Remarks of Representative Christopher H. Smith
Crimes Against Humanity in Sudan
May 27, 1999
by Center for Religious Freedom
Today's hearing is an inquiry into what may well be the most widespread, systematic, and brutal crimes against humanity being committed anywhere in the world today. We will hear testimony both from experts and from eyewitnesses about slavery, torture, rape, mutilation, and the systematic killing of almost two million people in what many believe to be a deliberate campaign of genocide against the black Christians and animists of southern Sudan.
Three years ago this subcommittee held the first Congressional hearing on the modern practice of human chattel slavery. Most of us had believed that this horrible practice belonged only to the past. But several of our witnesses at that hearing spoke of having seen it first hand, having spoken with slaves and with slave masters. The evidence has since been established beyond a shadow of a doubt --- in large part by the courageous efforts of Christian Solidarity International and other abolitionists who have purchased thousands of slaves and set them free. It is now clear that slavery in Sudan is substantially identical to slavery as it was practiced in other centuries. It represents the subjugation of one race and religious group by another. It also involves the grossest forms of degradation of women and children. This is not just forced labor or indentured servitude; it is true slavery, in which people are treated not as people but as things without souls. And it is also clear, as several of our witnesses will testify today, that slavery, the taking of slaves, and the slave trade are carried on with the active collaboration of the government in Khartoum.
The story of Sudan today, however, is not just about slavery. It is also about genocide. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which the United States signed 50 years ago and ratified in 1988, defines "genocide" as any one of certain acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such…." These acts include, among others, killing members of the group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. All three of these acts have been committed thousands of times over against the people of southern Sudan. So the only remaining question is whether there is genocidal intent — and the intentions of the Khartoum regime must be inferred from its actions. Although it might be possible to argue that the bombing of villages and the crucifixions and even the mass rapes may have been committed in an attempt to subjugate the people of southern Sudan rather than to destroy them, I can find no way to reconcile this argument with the hundreds of thousands of deaths in recent years from what Senator Bill Frist has called "calculated starvation." Why would Khartoum have engineered a famine in the south, and then imposed a ban on airlifts of food by United Nations agencies that had formerly been allowed to conduct such airlifts, unless it wanted to destroy the people of southern Sudan as a people — if not "in whole," then certainly at least "in part"? I do not believe we should use the term "genocide" lightly, but I cannot escape the conclusion that genocide is going on in Sudan today.
What can the people of the free world, and particularly the government of the United States, do about slavery and genocide in Sudan? We can begin by calling these things by their right names. If the Clinton Administration does not believe there is genocide in Sudan, it should clearly explain the basis for its belief. It should also indicate exactly what evidence it would require in order to come to the conclusion that these mass murders are being carried out with genocidal intent. But if the Administration does believe that people are being killed and injured by the thousands in a deliberate attempt to bring about their destruction as a people, it has both a moral and a legal responsibility to say so.
The second thing we must do is to start feeding the people who are starving, even if Khartoum denies permission. When the Soviet Union and its puppet government in East Germany blocked West Berlin, we did not ask their permission to begin the Berlin airlift. Yet this is the absurd situation in which UNICEF's Operation Lifeline must operate: it must get Khartoum's permission to deliver food and medicine to vast areas of the country over which Khartoum exercises no practical authority. We must deliver humanitarian relief to the people of these areas — either through a reformed Operation Lifeline or through independent NGOs — with or without the permission of the government that is trying to kill them.
We must also reinforce and intensify our economic sanctions against Khartoum — originally imposed as punishment for the Sudan government's sponsorship of international terrorism, but also justified by that same government's sponsorship of slavery, mass murder, and other grave crimes against humanity. I understand that the Administration now has under active consideration a proposal to exempt gum arabic from the ban against imports from Sudan. Adopting such an exception would send the message that we are willing to take action against slavery, genocide, and international terrorism only when such action does not hurt. Not only should we not weaken the sanctions, we should strengthen them to ensure that when Khartoum opens the new oil pipeline being built for it by western companies, it will not be able to buy an army with the power to crush the people of the south once and for all.
These are only first steps, but they will contribute to saving lives and perhaps to saving a whole people. In the end, the people of Sudan need what we all need: peace and freedom. These people have already learned the hard way that no peace will really last unless it is peace with honor and justice. It would be tragically wrong to impose a peace that merely takes away from the people of southern Sudan what they have gained on the battlefield, allowing the Khartoum government to consolidate its power and bide its time before engaging in yet another round of brutal repression. Peace in Sudan means self-determination for all the people of Sudan: the people of the South must have the right to choose, in free and fair elections under international supervision, between independence and integration into a new Sudan that is both free and democratic.
Before proceeding to our witnesses, I would like to add a special word of thanks to the Campaign of Conscience for Sudan, a mass movement spearheaded by Freedom House and its Center for Religious Freedom. The Campaign of Conscience was instrumental in planning today's hearing, and has been responsible - along with some of the organizations and individuals who will be testifying before us today--- for raise the consciousness of Americans and of decent people the world over about the terrible situation of the people of Sudan.
I look forward to hearing the testimony of our distinguished witnesses.