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Chair Cardin Urges Biden Administration to Address the Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan

WASHIGNTONU.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor welcoming the appointment of Special Envoy Tom Perriello, calling for international attention to address the urgent humanitarian need and pressing for accountability for human rights abuses by armed actors.

“I come to the floor today because we cannot be silent about Sudan,” said Chair Cardin. “We must hold those committing war crimes accountable. I urge the Biden Administration to take the critical diplomatic steps to end the conflict in Sudan.”


A copy of the Chair’s remarks, as delivered, have been provided below.

Mr. President, in 2018—as the Sudanese people took to the streets to demand change after decades of war—a young woman climbed on the roof of a car. Protestors captured the “Lady Liberty” moment. As she pointed her finger in the air, she read a poem that would become one of the slogans of the Sudanese revolution — “The bullets do not kill. It’s the silence of the people that kills.” It is silence that kills.

Mr. President, I come to the floor today because we cannot be silent about Sudan. We must hold those committing war crimes accountable. I urge the Biden Administration to take the critical diplomatic steps to end the conflict in Sudan. In 2018, when protestors brought down the brutal and genocidal regime, two thirds were women. They dreamed of a Sudan that was free of oppression, harassment, and sexual violence. A Sudan that would transition to democracy after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

But today, Sudanese women face the brute force of a vicious war between two armed factions—The SAF—the Sudanese Armed Forces. And the RSF—the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. Both committed abuses during the civil war in Darfur. In the last year, their actions have been absolutely brutal. They have killed detainees and indiscriminately bombed civilians. They have conscripted children as soldiers. They have looted supplies and attacked aid workers.

One woman told NPR, “If they couldn't steal it, they burned it.” They are targeting non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur just as they did twenty years ago. And last month, videos emerged of troops chanting ethnic slurs as they paraded the streets holding decapitated heads. According to the United Nations, 15,000 people were killed in just one attack. More than 8 million have fled their homes. 25 million—including 14 million children—need humanitarian assistance.

In addition, Sudanese women face the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war. A 21-year-old survivor said, “I can’t even count how many times I have been raped.” Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, have failed. Ceasefire after ceasefire, has been violated. In fact, the violence has intensified.

Last December, I called for a Special Envoy for Sudan in Senate Concurrent Resolution 24. I am pleased to see the Biden Administration has named former Congressman Tom Perriello as our special representative. I strongly urge the Administration to fully staff his office as quickly as possible so that Mr. Perriello can hit the ground running.

We’ve lost too much time as it is. Mr. Perriello has four Herculean tasks ahead of him. First, he must establish a single diplomatic forum to negotiate a ceasefire. We need one effort that involves African, Middle Eastern, and European partners along with partners from multilateral organizations. Second, he must bring warring parties to the table. The United States has imposed sanctions on the SAF and RSF. We need others to join us as we pursue additional targets. 

We must make it clear to the parties—and their foreign backers—that the cost of continued conflict is higher than the cost of coming to the negotiating table. In the past, Middle Eastern nations, Turkey, and even Russia have picked sides in Sudan. A recent United Nations report found evidence that the UAE was giving arms to the RSF. And according to Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources, Egypt is helping the SAF.

We must be clear—no nation should be providing arms or support to these groups. Third, the Special Envoy must galvanize the humanitarian response. The SAF is blocking cross border humanitarian assistance from Chad. And there are reports they are obstructing assistance to areas controlled by the other side. That must end.

At the same time, it is a moral stain on the international community that the UN appeal for Sudan is funded at just 4%. The United States is by far the biggest donor. We’ve put our money where our mouth is. Partners with interests in Sudan—including neighboring countries and especially those in the Gulf—need to do the same.

Finally, the Special Envoy must start the conversation about addressing impunity once and for all. Last year the International Criminal Court announced an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity. The United Nations Human Rights Council established an independent fact-finding mission to investigate abuses. On December 6, Secretary Blinken announced he had determined that members of the SAF and the RSF had committed war crimes. And that the RSF and allied militias have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

M. President, the sad truth is, what is happening in Sudan is in large part the result of a lack of accountability for previous abuses. Many of those involved in today’s conflict committed war crimes in the past and were never held accountable. Maybe things would be different if the former dictator al Bashir had been tried at the Hague. Maybe the SAF would have reformed if high ranking officers been held accountable for atrocities. Maybe the RSF would not exist if the Janjaweed had been accountable for their crimes in Darfur. Maybe General Hemedti had not be getting flown on an Emirati jet and welcomed by African heads of state—things might be different. One thing is for sure—such crimes must not go unpunished.

As Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will continue to fight for justice and a resolution of this conflict. So those who continue to commit war crimes in Sudan—know that we will keep fighting to bring you to justice, no matter how long it takes. To the women and young people across Sudan who dream of an inclusive political process with civilians in the driver’s seat—do not give up hope.

And to the international community, those in the United States who value human life and dignity, now is the time to step up. Now is the time to put an end to this cycle of violence that has plagued this region for generations. Now is the time to end the silence.