A young man from Sudan, Ker Aleu Deng, spoke eloquently. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) convened the hearing earlier this week of the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights to address Deng's situation as a "Lost Boy." Deng was recently rescued from slavery, his mother is still enslaved in the North. Every night she still sleeps, one hopes, in a garden to protect crops of her master. The barn with a grass roof where her son, Ker, once slept tethered to a goat between beatings and backbreaking work is empty now.
Deng was also blinded by his slave master. The people of Christian Solidarity International have a long history of helping slaves escape, find a more stable life, and occasionally they bring a gentleman like Deng to the world's attention. Sitting a few feet from him as he testified, with my teenage daughter at my side, I was entirely aware how blessed we are in the Untied States to have real freedom. Not only physical freedom, or the freedom to live and work as we choose, but spiritual and intellectual freedom as well.
The hearing began with testimony from Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the US Special Envoy to Sudan. Marginally more successful than his predecessor General Scott Gration, Lyman nonetheless gave a testimony that offered little promise about President Obama's commitment to ending genocide, mass atrocities and continued instability in Sudan. His answers about pressing for arrests of Omar al Bashir and other genocidaires indicted by the International Criminal Court and utilizing our position in the United Naitons Security Council to strengthen sanctions or take other actions, Lyman gave a beleaguered bureaucratic and process-is-the-problem answer.
When questioned by Rep. Smith directly about slavery in Sudan, and made aware that Ker Deng was in the room and how he came to be there, Lyman's answer was underwhelming. "...it is not only a tremendous human rights issue but it is a source of a great deal of lingering bitterness among communities that have suffered."
Smith and Representative Don Payne questioned the Ambassador, to little satisfaction. When confronted with the work of the Satellite Sentinel Project and the Enough Project, the myriad digital images from satellites that overlook Sudan, Lyman deferred. he dodged. A shorter version of his testimony: Mass graves? Don't know. Villages being razed? Don't know. Starvation as a result of the Khartoum regime's denial of aid? Not sure.
It was the most absurd testimony before Congress on human rights abuses I have ever witnessed. Lyman certainly knows better. The Satellite Sentinel Program's Co-Founder, John Prendergast, sat quietly behind Lyman waiting for his turn as a witness. Prendergast's work, repeatedly referenced by Smith, encompasses more than 25 years of field work, government service at the State Department and the National Security Council, and as a advocate who has inspired thousands of Americans to care about their fellow man. To be active agents of change.
The Satellite Sentinel Project is an inherently American success story. Essentially, Prendergast along with George Clooney, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, Digital Globe and others have privatized Statecraft because it became necessary. Inaction at the federal level, at the international level, forced men of good conscience to come together and forge a new path. They have documented many violations of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Mass graves, villages nearly destroyed, troop movements are de rigeur for the indicted war criminals in Khartoum.
Lyman's answers were troubling. And I remain concerned the policies of the Obama Administration continue to legitimize Omar al Bashir. An emboldened Bashir means more people will be victimized, more slaves will be tortured and held. Unfortunately it is not just inaction or inertia within the government. Andrew Natsios, a Bush Administration era Special Envoy to Sudan spoke out this week, "
No, I don't believe they are real graves. You see, I get my intel from other credible sources in the government and we have clearly determined that George Clooney's Sentinel Project is making false accusations. That's what they always do. It undermines all we have against Sudan."
The statement is bizarre on its face. He went on to discuss his conversations with Omar al Bashir. It's impossible to know what Natsios' intention is. I won't speculate beyond noting his comments were laced with envy, perhaps he misses being in the ring. One thing is for certain, not a single life in Sudan will be saved if the US Government continues to look away as genocide and starvation occur.
Jonathan Hutson of the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project responded to Natsios' critique. "It is perplexing that Natsios engaged in an unfortunate ad hominem attack and failed to get his facts straight about the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). What Natsios is calling into question is Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite images and eyewitness reports collected by the Enough Project. This evidence is supported by a UN High Commission for Human Rights report, which independently identified the same apparent three mass graves, based on eyewitness reports. Since the publication of the July 14 SSP report referenced by Natsios, SSP has identified an additional five sites containing apparent mass graves, including evidence of bodies wrapped in body bags or tarps and buried in mass graves. The US Government has never denied the existence of mass graves in South Kordofan and has in fact called for an investigation of these claims. If Natsios has evidence, then he should make it public in a transparent way, as SSP has done. SSP's evidence includes satellite imagery, eyewitness reports and still photos from on the ground, as well as documents from the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS), which admits to collecting bodies, wrapping them in white body bags, and burying them in mass graves. In addition, Al Jazeera has posted a video of the SRCS in action in Blue Nile State, wrapping dead bodies in white shrouds and transporting them in white trucks -- consistent with SSP's reports on SRCS mass burials in South Kordofan."
The politics and the endless machinations do little more than allow suffering to continue. President Obama has a moral obligation to lead. The responsibility to protect innocent life, especially as it costs us nothing to talk to our allies and friends across the globe, and convince them to stand with us against genocide.
Sudan and South Sudan stand at a crossroads. The United States has powerful diplomatic tools at our disposal. Enacting a no fly-zone or other measures can, and should, be on the table. But for those enslaved, those living in fear, the persecuted tribes, lifting the voice of the US Government is an act that brings hope. Exporting the most American of ideals costs nothing. Ker Deng's voice resonates here and in his homeland. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must reign.
Here and in Sudan.