February 01, 2022

Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Full Committee Hearing on U.S. Policy Toward Sudan in the Wake of the October 25th Coup

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing entitled “Sudan's Imperiled Transition: U.S. Policy in the Wake of the October 25th Coup.” Testifying before the Committee were Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mary Catherine Phee; U.S. Agency for International Development Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman; International Crisis Group President and CEO Dr. Comfort Ero; and United States Institute of Peace Senior Expert for the Greater Horn of Africa Mr. Joseph Tucker.

“Al-Bashir’s fall, and subsequent progress on the transition, paved the way for me and other members of this body to take legal action to remove Sudan from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, and to support an overall thaw of relations between the United States and Sudan. The military’s brazen October coup has put that progress in jeopardy,” Chairman Menendez said, condemning the Sudanese military’s continued killing, torture, abuse, and detention of protestors and civil society activists, and noting his own legislative efforts to establish conditions that must be met prior to the United States restarting assistance to Sudan. “We have vital strategic interests in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea Corridor that will be difficult if not impossible to meet should Sudan’s transition fail. We simply cannot take that risk.”

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.

“Let me thank our witnesses for joining us today to discuss the crisis in Sudan. East Africa stands at a precipice. Three years ago, fragile transitions in Ethiopia and Sudan were once cause for cautious optimism. Today, conflict in Ethiopia—including the deadly siege of Tigray—and the October 25th coup d’etat in Sudan are cause for alarm.  

In April 2019, the Sudanese people peacefully and tenaciously ousted indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s brutal dictator for 30 years. Despite a violent response from his security services, through five months of sustained, widespread protests, the people of Sudan succeeded in their demands for a transition to democracy. Though the process was rocky, civilians were able to reach agreement with military actors on a transitional constitutional document which provided a timeline for a full return to civilian rule. 

Al-Bashir’s fall, and subsequent progress on the transition, paved the way for me and other members of this body to take legal action to remove Sudan from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, and to support an overall thaw of relations between the United States and Sudan.

The military’s brazen October coup has put that progress in jeopardy. The coup was the culmination of weeks of tensions between civilian and military members of Sudan’s transitional government. The military’s arrest and detention of Prime Minister Hamdok and other civilian officials, and the killing of dozens of protestors advocating for a return to civilian rule, has made it clear that military actors have little interest in ceding power and no fear of consequences for their actions. 

The United States, regional actors, and the international community must respond swiftly and decisively to help the Sudanese people put their country back on a democratic trajectory. While the United Nations Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) has indicated it will facilitate Sudanese-led talks among local stakeholders, it has no means to enforce participation, or to hold participants accountable for following through on commitments. 

Despite having publicly committed to dialogue to resolve the current crisis, the Sudanese military continues to kill, torture, abuse and detain protestors and civil society activists. Nearly 80 civilians have been killed by security forces since the coup, including a 27-year-old man just this past weekend. While a dialogue is necessary, there must also be consequences for those responsible for human rights abuses, and for those at the highest levels who have engineered the coup.

In that vein, I support the Biden administration’s decision to suspend $700 million in aid immediately following the coup. I also welcome the decision by the World Bank to suspend its own planned assistance. However these actions alone have proven insufficient to end the violence and forcing the generals to the negotiating table.

I am pleased that the Administration has taken a number of steps to increase its engagement on the crisis in Sudan, including selecting David Satterfield to succeed Ambassador Feltman as Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, and dispatching a seasoned Ambassador to serve as chargé d'affaires at embassy Khartoum until an Ambassador is confirmed. And I am pleased that the White House has finally nominated an Ambassador to Sudan. Given the current situation, I hope that my colleagues will join me in working to ensure that we move the nomination as expeditiously as possible. 

In the days to come, Congress will act as well. Ranking Member Risch and I are collaborating on legislation that establishes conditions that must be met prior to restarting assistance, that directs the Administration to rethink its assistance strategy, and which sets up a regime of targeted sanctions for those who undertook the coup and continue to undermine the transition to democracy and abuse human rights—thus far a critical missing element in the Administration response.

I hope during the course of your testimony you will discuss the following: What are the prospects for a return to civilian rule? What role are the African Union, Arab Gulf States and other regional actors playing with regard to supporting a return to dialogue and pressing military leaders to agree to yield power? What ‘consequences’ were you referring to in your tweet from a week ago, Assistance Secretary Phee and when does the Administration plan to impose them?

We have vital strategic interests in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea Corridor that will be difficult if not impossible to meet should Sudan’s transition fail. We simply cannot take that risk.

I’ll turn to Ranking Member Risch for his opening statement.”  

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