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Engel Opening Statement, as Prepared for Delivery, at Full Committee Hearing: "South Sudan's Broken Promise?"

Washington, D.C.– Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, inserted the following statement today, as prepared for delivery, into the record on full Committee hearing “South Sudan’s Broken Promise?” 

The statement follows:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing, and welcome to our panelists.”

“In 2011, the people of South Sudan peacefully voted to establish the world’s newest country.  It was an achievement accomplished after decades of suffering and loss.  Now, only three years later, the country is threatening to tear itself apart from within.” 

“Following what the government of South Sudan is calling an attempted coup, the Vice President, Riek Machar became the head of an armed rebellion.  The country is now on the brink of a full-blown civil war, and facing a massive humanitarian disaster.” 

“I would like to take a moment to recognize and commend the speedy response by the U.S. government, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and other countries in the region.  Together, they have pushed the warring sides to the negotiating table and are working to bring an end to this crisis as quickly as possible.”

“The UN and other aid agencies are attempting to provide humanitarian aid to over 400,000 internally displaced people, 66,000 of whom have taken refuge inside UN compounds.  These relief efforts are taking place under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.  There are very few roads in the country, a limited number of aircraft, significant security risks, and a shortage of international staff due to evacuations.  The UN and all of the NGOs working to provide humanitarian assistance deserve our recognition and support.”      

“Despite the Herculean efforts of the international community, it’s clear that even more needs to be done to end the political deadlock and human suffering in South Sudan.  As we examine the crisis today, I believe there are two important questions for us to consider.” 

“First, what more can be done by the U.S. and other parties to end the fighting?   While all international partners have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in order to have real negotiations, neither side has heeded that message.  The U.S. and nearly all of our partners have called for the release of 11 political prisoners being held by President Kiir as a good will gesture, but that has not yet happened.” 

“Second, what steps must be taken to ensure that any ceasefire is sustainable?  It’s clear that the conflict is underpinned by a number of legitimate political grievances and any successful negotiation must address those issues.” 

“Regrettably, President Kiir has become increasingly despotic over the last year and a half, viewing any dissent as a personal challenge.  He has shut down all political avenues to resolve disputes and fired members of other political factions from his cabinet.  If a cease fire simply requires a return to the status quo, then we are likely to see a resumption of fighting sooner rather than later.”

“We must also take steps to hold accountable those who are responsible for the terrible violence.  Even if the Vice President was not attempting to stage a coup on that night in December, he is today the leader of an effort to overthrow the government.  Is that something that should be rewarded with a position in a new government?” 

“Since becoming an independent nation, South Sudan has sought to incorporate rebel groups into its military as a way of quelling dissent.  The result has been an oversized military riddled with child soldiers and human rights abusers.  We cannot simply sanction the re-incorporation of all combatants in the current conflict without seeking justice for the thousands of victims across the country.”

“I am very interested in the thoughts of our witnesses on how we can best strike a balance between restoring peace and ending impunity for crimes.  Why should rebel groups put down their arms if they know they will go to jail when they do?  We need to find a way to end the fighting without giving a free pass to the worst abusers.”  

“It is truly a tragedy to see a young country with such hope and promise descend into destructive chaos.  I regret that we have to hold a hearing on how to prevent South Sudan from becoming a failed state rather than on its accomplishments since independence.  But I hope that together we can come up with some new ideas on what the U.S. can do to help resolve this conflict and get South Sudan moving in the right direction again.”

“I’d like to thank the Chairman once again for holding this hearing, and I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.”

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