I recently returned from several days in South Sudan -- specifically Yida refugee camp, where I encountered bone-chilling stories of the nightmare unfolding in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states just north of the border in Sudan.
In speaking with the refugees in the camp, I heard echoes of Darfur -- accounts of ethnic cleansing, mass murder and rape of innocent civilians in the region. As any Sudan watcher knows, this is familiar ground for Sudanese President Omar Bashir -- an internationally indicted war criminal.
There are 25,000 people and growing in the camp. Many of the women I met with recounted how their villages were pillaged and burned by uniformed Sudanese soldiers. They said the soldiers, armed with AK-47s and machine guns, would show up in trucks, tie people up and then execute them. They relayed stories of women and young girls being routinely raped. They lived in fear of daily Antonov bombing raids that indiscriminately shelled civilian populations -- a trademark of the Bashir regime. (Those same planes now fly over the camp, too.)
Time and again those I spoke with told me they were being targeted because of the color of their skin. One woman said: "It didn't matter if you were a woman, a child or a man. I can see that my color is black and that was the reason they were killing us."
The same woman also raised the issue of religion, saying that soldiers armed with AK-47s would come to their villages in trucks with machine guns in the back and say "we don't want anyone who says they are a Christian in this village."
To make matters worse, Bashir is using food as a weapon of war. Thousands of people who remain in the Nuba Mountains are facing near famine conditions. They have been unable to plant crops, having been terrorized by the bombing runs and now, with the rainy season rapidly approaching, Khartoum persists in restricting humanitarian aid access.
The refugees pleaded with me to take one important message back to America: bring Bashir to justice.
Warrants for Bashir's arrest were issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 and 2010 and it is time for a concerted, serious effort by leaders around the globe to hold him accountable. Bashir has left a trail of death and destruction in his wake -- and, as my trip made clear, persists in his murderous aims even today.
I can't help but recall that countries around the world went to great lengths to detain and try those responsible for the genocide in Bosnia and Serbia in the 1990s, including Slobodan Milosevik, the former president of Serbia. Yet today, years after the issuance of an arrest warrant from the ICC, Bashir travels around Africa and to China with virtual impunity. Unfortunately, it appears that ethnic violence in southern Europe is more concerning to the international community than ethnic violence in Africa.
Upon my return I issued a detailed "Trip Report" which included a series of policy recommendations. One of these recommendations is that no American tax dollars should be going to countries that welcome Bashir. Malawi is a prime example. It rolled out the red carpet for Bashir and yet it is a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recipient. Its compact is presently suspended in light of other governance concerns; it should be outright terminated. I have zero hope or expectation that Bashir will ever change. He has been a constant in all of the conflicts and misery that have plagued this land. His is a history of murder, broken promises and a shrewd manipulation of the international community. Especially in tight budgetary times, U.S. aid should be withheld from any country that allows Bashir to visit. He is an international pariah and should be treated as such.
In bearing witness to the experiences of these refugees, I marvel at the fact that Bashir and his government have a lawyer, Bart Fisher, representing them in Washington. It is inconceivable to me that a high-powered and well-connected Washington lawyer has been given the green light by the Obama Administration's Office of Foreign Assets Control, to represent Bashir and his government, the very people that are ordering the Antonovs to indiscriminately shell civilian populations -- wounding, maiming and killing men, women and children. It is a disgrace that this has been permitted to happen and it will be a blot on the record of this administration.
Because of the recent courageous reporting of people like New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and NBC correspondent Ann Curry, the plight of the Nuban people is starting to be more fully known. What remains to be seen is whether the world will act. How many people have to die before Sudan's latest nightmare ends?
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) is serving in his 16th term in Congress.