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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on prospects for peace and security in South Sudan:

“Thank you very much. Chairman Smith. As the Ranking Member of the full Committee, I want to, once again, thank you for calling this hearing and thank you for the good work that you do. 

“Ambassador Booth, Mr. Leavitt: thank you for your service and for your testimony today. You, the two of you know as well as anyone the dire situation facing South Sudan.

“Since the war broke out more than two years ago, both parties, parties on both sides, have committed gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law.  Approximately 16,000 child soldiers have been recruited, mostly by the rebel forces.  Ethnically-targeted rape has been prevalent on both sides.  And in February, government forces were involved in an attack on the UN Protection of Civilians camp in Malakal.  At least 30 internally displaced persons lost their lives in this attack, more than 120 were injured, and about one-third of the camp was burned to the ground.

“The humanitarian picture in South Sudan is truly catastrophic.  Nearly three million people are facing starvation, yet only 17 percent of the funding needed to respond to this crisis has been provided.  Amid these bleak reports, I was glad to hear that this morning, the United States announced more than $86 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help conflict-affected people in South Sudan.

“What makes this a crime and really a pity is that we had such high hope when South Sudan was formed and thought that that would be the beginning of a new era in the area.  Instead, unfortunately, things have gotten worse.

“Yet even those trying to provide relief face danger.  At least 52 aid workers have been killed since the onset of violence in December 2013.  And many others have been harassed, threatened, and in some cases, savagely beaten.  Humanitarian convoys are subject to extortion at multiple illegal checkpoints throughout the country, multiplying the cost of the humanitarian response the people of South Sudan desperately need.                 

“On top of everything, I have deep misgivings about the peace deal meant to put an end to this violence.  The peace agreement signed in August is a bargain negotiated by the political elites who created this conflict in the first place.  I fear that it essentially resets the political landscape to what it was at the outset of the conflict, and has little to do with the millions of people who have been affected.

“So we need to ask ourselves: what can we do to support reconciliation at the local and national levels to help prevent new flare-ups of violence?  This is especially important in light of the government’s decision to press ahead with the division of the country’s 10 states into 28 states—a move that has created localized conflicts in parts of the country that had been relatively peaceful.

“Moreover, I worry that warring parties are simply paying lip service to issues of justice, reconciliation, and accountability, thereby ensuring that the cycle of impunity will continue.  Contrary to the intent of the peace agreement, the man-made conflict in South Sudan is expanding.  And the country’s people, of course, deserve better.

“We know there aren’t a lot of good options.  But in my view, we should go forward with an arms embargo.  For months, the United States has considered such a measure to ensure compliance with the peace process.  However, the return of opposition leader Riek Machar to Juba yesterday, implementation of such a plan has lagged behind schedule.  All the while, the supply of arms and ammunition to both sides has prolonged and escalated this conflict. 

“I’m glad Mr. Machar has returned and consider this an important, but modest step forward.   Much more needs to be done, and I am concerned that more weapons entering South Sudan will only keep the parties from making further progress.  We shouldn’t think of an arms embargo as a point of leverage, but as a means by which to prevent further suffering. The UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan has endorsed this approach, and Ambassadors from Angola, Senegal, Spain, France, New Zealand, and the UK—all members of the Security Council—have indicated support.

“So this is clearly far from a solution, but I think it puts us on the right side of history and could help move this situation in the right direction.  I look forward to our witnesses, and see what they have to say about what they think can be done.  And again, I want to applaud our Chairman for shining a light on this difficult challenge. 

“I’m going to have to leave in a few minutes.  I have a longstanding appointment with one of the Ambassadors.  But, I will be reading the transcript of the hearing and will keep in touch with Mr. Smith and work together with him as we have for, for many, many years.  So, I thank you Mr. Chairman.  And I thank the witnesses as well.”