Written Testimony of Bradford L. Phillips President, Persecution Project Foundation
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission U.S. House of Representatives
“Sudan: Human Rights and Sanctions” Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 1:30pm 2255 Rayburn House Office Building , Washington, D.C.
Thank you, Representatives McGovern and Hultgren, and members of the committee, for the opportunity to submit my testimony into the record.
For the last 20 years I’ve been involved in relief and advocacy projects in Sudan, and for the last 12 years, I’ve lived in East Africa to facilitate this work. In 1997, I launched a project to mobilize Christians in America to intercede on behalf of the marginalized and persecuted in Africa. In 2000, I incorporated the Persecution Project Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization with the specific mandate to engage in “active compassion for the persecuted” in Africa, with emphasis on Sudan.
On July 4th, 2011, my colleague, Matt Chancey, and I flew into the Nuba mountains region of Sudan, and spent two weeks gathering testimony of survivors of a government-instigated massacre in the Southern Kordofan state capital of Kadugli, where thousands of Nuba residents are still missing to this day.
Several eye-witnesses told me residents were dragged out of the local UN compound and “slaughtered like goats” by Sudan’s secret police. This was before the world became accustomed to viewing such brutality from the likes of ISIS terrorists posting videos on YouTube.
When we returned from our trip, I was invited by Congressman Chris Smith and the late Donald Payne, Sr., to Washington to present testimony at an emergency hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. I shared what Matt and I saw and heard first-hand from the Nuba people at the beginning of a war that is now in its seventh year.
As a result of that July 4th trip, my organization launched a new campaign, savethenuba.com, to provide safe water, medical, and relief and shelter items throughout the Nuba mountains in the 16 of 19 counties where Nuba residents have been uprooted from their homes.
At the outset of the current war in the Nuba mountains, Sudan President Omar al Bashir ordered all foreign NGO’s out of the affected areas. This was part of a long-standing strategy of the NCP to use food and medicine as weapons of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Thankfully, some NGOs stayed behind. One of the organizations was Doctors Without Borders (MSF). MSF operated some small hospitals in remote areas of the Nuba. But over several months, the Sudan Air Force bombed those hospitals until MSF announced they would evacuate the area.
Our organization was then invited by the local community to support one of the hospitals and, thankfully, it’s still providing services today, despite the lingering threat of more bombardment.
Since 2012, NubaReports.org has documented 4,082 bombs dropped in the Nuba against civilian areas. Hospitals, schools, marketplaces, churches, and homes have been targeted. The apparent goal of the NCP regime is to starve people out or absorb them into government-controlled areas.
The aerial terror campaign has prevented cultivation and displaced entire communities. Towns have been evacuated, with residents now living in caves or refugee camps in South Sudan. What little infrastructure existed before the war has crumbled from a sustained government-imposed humanitarian blockade.
During the last six years of working in the Nuba, the main challenge we have faced, besides weather-related logistical problems, has been obstructionism by the NCP regime in areas we’re providing services. Khartoum wants to control all aid going into the the Nuba, because they view food, medicine and other basic services as a weapon in their jihad. The local Nuba people do not trust a regime which is bombing their schools and hospitals to suddenly begin delivering medical services to their children; and who can blame them?
When considering the current political situation in Sudan, and the posturing of the ruling party, it’s important to understand the historical context. The NCP regime was formerly called the “National Islamic Front.” It is responsible for the Kadugli massacre and the current war and humanitarian blockade in the Nuba and Blue Nile areas. It is also credited with the Darfur genocide, the sacking of Abyei, the millions killed and displaced during the war in South Sudan, the use of banned weapons (including the alleged use of chemical weapons) against civilian targets, the documented bombings of hospitals and schools, the arrests and arbitrary imprisonments of political opponents and activists, the closings of newspapers, the widespread looting of the public treasury and state-owned enterprises while citizens suffer, etc.
Now, the same regime is engaged in a “full court press” to normalize relations with the United States and International Community. The NCP’s interest in better relations with the West has nothing to do with a change of behavior or ideology, but in sheer survival.
Sudan’s national debt is out of control (over $60 Billion). The currency has been in a near constant state of decline. Prices on everything are going up, and political dissent is growing. President Bashir is desperate for cash. His internal wars consume as much as 70 percent of the national budget.
Any other kleptocratic regime would have likely collapsed and fled into exile by now. But Bashir has lately found his salvation from two primary sources: Internal “jihads,” and selling Sudan to the U.S. government as a strategic partner in the “War on Terror.”
In January 2016, President Bashir announced he was moving Sudan back to its Sunni roots, after a long affair with Shia Iran. Sudan’s alliance with Iran was a major roadblock in Bashir’s attempts to gain financial support from Saudi Arabia.
The “prodigal son” now safely back in the Arab Sunni fold, Bashir’s Sudan Armed Forces have become an ally in Saudi Arabia’s proxy war with Iran in Yemen, where it contributes its Air Force and even the dreaded “Janjaweed” militias, infamous for its war crimes in Darfur, South Sudan, Abyei, and the Nuba mountains.
The support of Bashir’s regime by Arab governments is disappointing but not surprising. But what is both surprising and disappointing is the “about-face” U.S. policy has made on its view of the NCP-led government, culminating in President Obama’s last minute order easing long-standing economic sanctions against Sudan during the closing days of his Administration. The move was seen by many Sudan-minded organizations as a betrayal of the Sudanese people.
The Obama administration claimed the decision to ease sanctions came from a “sea-change” of behavior from the Bashir government. This “sea-change” has been, in fact, “no change.” The months leading up to President Obama’s order were marked by fresh arrests, new massacres in Darfur, newspaper closings, continued bombing of civilian targets in the Nuba mountains, and even new allegations of chemical weapons attacks.
President Obama’s decision also ignored the fact that the bloodiest and most aggressive campaign in the Nuba Mountains took place during the spring of 2016. Several simultaneous attacks internally displaced 7,000 more families, primarily from communities which are home to large Christian and moderate Muslim populations who do not want to live under Sharia law.
The way the war in the Nuba functions is that most of the ground fighting and bombing takes place during the dry season, which is, broadly speaking, January-June. From July-December, the rainy season makes moving a large army on the ground impossible, and bombing from the air more difficult. There is, consequently, a comparative lull of fighting during the rainy season months.
When the Obama administration announced in January that sanctions would be eased, one reason provided was that the previous six months had seen a change of behavior from the NCP government. This rationale was completely disingenuous. Even with a seasonal lull in fighting, there were still many arrests, travel bans for political opposition, closings of newspapers, and fresh attacks in Darfur and the Nuba. And recently, as if to underscore this point, the government ordered the destruction of at least 25 churches in the greater Khartoum area.
The reality is, sanctions were eased because the Obama administration chose to reward Bashir’s government for cutting his ties with Iran and for the long-standing cooperative relationship the American intelligence services have had with Sudan’s secret police, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
Bashir’s NISS began sharing intelligence on selective extremist activities in Sudan and the region after 9-11. According to the Washington Post, the relationship between the CIA and the NISS grew to include training and equipping.
A few years ago, the main enemy of civilization was considered to be al Qaeda. Today, the villain du jour is ISIS. President Bashir has been able to deflect focus and attention off his own brutal and abysmal human rights track record by “joining the fight” against ISIS. But, again, Bashir’s vigilance against ISIS is not based on conviction, but sheer necessity.
If Bashir can maintain his legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, the political opposition in his own country (which is significant), won’t go anywhere. So the tragedy of American policy in Sudan is that our government is sacrificing the lives and future of the Sudanese people on the altar of political expediency— expediency of admittedly doubtful significance.
The leopard cannot change his spots, and in Bashir’s case, doesn’t want to change and can’t afford to change. After so many years of death, torture, rape, and theft, any loss of control would open the possibility of extradition to the Hague to face war crimes prosecution or internal prosecution for crimes under the Sudan constitution. For Bashir and his cronies, it’s all or nothing.
I believe the U.S. State Department is making a mistake providing more legitimacy to the NCP government of President Bashir. I believe Congress and the president are making a mistake by letting our intelligence services dictate American foreign policy. Intelligence is supposed to serve policy, not the other way around.
It is my belief that the president, Congress, and the people who elected both, are more interested in a foreign policy which sides with the victims of genocide and persecution, not one which legitimizes the perpetrators.
The U.S. has failed in its role as a major caretaker in Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. Rather than using diplomatic pressure to work towards a Sudanese-led democratization of power, which the CPA guarantees, U.S. policy is slowly but surely pushing major elements of Bashir’s opposition towards a “pariah status.”
Leaked minutes from an August 31st, 2014, meeting of President Bashir’s top military generals, advisors, and intelligence people revealed the government strategy of selectively sharing intelligence about Jihadist activities to the CIA in exchange for the U.S. government distancing itself from the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which is an alliance of several factions opposing Bashir’s NCP government.
General Yehya Mohammed Kheir, Minister of State for Defense, was recorded saying the following:
“We offer our cooperation with them [the U.S.] in the war against terrorism in exchange for their ceasing their support of the armed movements [the SRF] in the international forums.”
Here’s another quote:
“With the appearance of ISIS, Europe and America must cooperate with us for combating terrorism. This is where we can bargain the Sudan Revolutionary Front case.”
This comment was made by none other than Mohamad Atta, Director General of the NISS, who was recently invited to Washington, D.C., to meet with CIA and FBI officials.
Rather than using diplomatic and economic pressure to gain concessions by Bashir’s government on essential things like unrestricted humanitarian access to war zones in his country, the U.S. government is playing a dangerous game of politics with people’s lives.
The question must be asked: is it worth it? Is it worth all the death, destruction, suffering, misery, torture, and persecution of the Sudanese people in order for our government to score political points in the War on Terror?
Is it possible for America to fight “radical Islamic terror,” without supporting the Islamist terrorists in Khartoum?
I believe it is, because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it on the front lines of the wars in Sudan for the last 20 years.
In places like the Nuba mountains, the forces of extremism are being rolled back, not by bombs and bullets, but by the active compassion of the Nuba people. I see it specifically in the Nuba church, which has reached out to its Muslim and Animist neighbors in solidarity and peace. This “gospel message” of love and reconciliation is pulling formerly divided communities together and preventing the imposition of Sharia law, thereby constituting America’s “Fifth Column” in the War on Terror.
This is Sudan’s greatest contribution to making America safer: It’s not the Sudan government, but the Sudanese people it has tried to exterminate who are confronting the forces of terror every day. I believe it is high time America get back on the right side of this issue, and refuse “normalized relations” with terrorist regimes.
The Bashir government is a terrorist regime. It stays in power through terror, it has historically supported terror abroad—most notably in its long alliance with Iran—and its extremist sentiments at home have functioned as a factory producing jihadists who are found on battlefields from Afghanistan to Libya.
I hope Congress and the Trump Administration will learn from history, and adopt a Sudan policy which will keep America safe without violating American ideals through legitimizing a regime which is destined to occupy a prominent place in the dustbin of history.