February 01, 2022

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Sudan's Imperiled Transition: U.S. Policy in the Wake of the October 25th Coup

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on U.S. policy in the wake of Sudan’s October 25th coup. The committee heard witness testimony from the Honorable Mary Catherine Phee, assistant secretary of State for African affairs, the Honorable Isobel Coleman, deputy administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Dr. Comfort Ero, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, and Mr. Joseph Tucker, senior expert for the greater Horn of Africa, U.S. Institute of Peace.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is a tough one.

“The 2019 revolution in Sudan marked a pivotal moment for a country at the crossroads of the Sahel, East, Central, and Horn regions of Africa. The end of the violent Omar al-Bashir regime was driven by millions of Sudanese through nationwide mass demonstrations demanding change – and change did occur, for a little while.

“Even though the military-led Sovereign Council had ultimate authority over the Sudanese state, the establishment of a civilian-led transitional government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hamdok, was a significant step toward achieving a new democratic Sudan.

“This government was by no means perfect. The civilian groups that influenced the revolution made missteps along the way, while old and new anti-democratic forces worked furiously to infiltrate and undermine the work of the transitional government. The Hamdok government also faced a severe economic crisis and deeply complicated political challenges.

“In the weeks before Sudan’s October 25 coup, I, along with other members of this committee, warned Sudan's military not to intervene in the efforts by Prime Minister Hamdok and his cabinet. However, the leaders of the Sovereign Council, Generals Burhan and Hametti, could not resist and removed the civilian government by force.

“While the administration has not wanted to characterize what happened on October 25 as a coup – that is indeed what it was. Foreign policy leaders released a bipartisan, bicameral statement calling what happened a coup, demanded that Sudan's junta restore its civilian leadership, and vowed to take action if they did not. We followed that statement with a concurrent resolution in both chambers, further outlining our concerns.

“The well-documented violence against civilians before and following the October 25 coup proves that Sudan's military junta is brutal, cannot be trusted, and is incapable of leading Sudan's democratic transition. While we may need to engage Generals Burhan and Hametti to find a path toward restoring civilian control, we must put them on notice.

“The United States must take action to hold the junta and other spoilers of Sudan's transition accountable. That is why my staff is working closely with the chairman’s office on comprehensive legislation to address this issue of accountability, but more importantly, to reshape our assistance and policy approach toward Sudan. The United States must continue to support the Sudanese people and Sudan’s pro-democracy forces.

“All totaled, the financial commitments made by Congress to support Sudan’s civilian-led democratic transition exceeded $1 billion. Congress also worked to help reshape the bilateral relationship by supporting debt relief, working with the State Department to meet conditions for removing Sudan’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, and restoring its sovereign immunity.

“I am concerned, however, by how the United States positioned itself before and following the October 25 coup.

“Looking forward, the United States must have a clear vision for what we would like to see in Sudan. We must be prudent with our tax dollars and with clear-eyed determination decide whether we should commit all this funding to Sudan while coup leaders remain in control of the government.

“The Biden Administration must also act urgently to help stem the tide of military coups occurring across Africa, not just in Sudan. If democracy is indeed a priority for this administration, it must view these coups as a trend that imperils the future of democracy in Africa and worldwide.

“Finally, I have consistently called for the appointment of an experienced U.S. ambassador to Sudan since Secretary Pompeo agreed to exchange ambassadors with Sudan in December 2019. I am pleased the administration is moving an experienced diplomat like Lucy Tamlyn to Khartoum as Chargé d'Affaires. But the two years we spent without a full-time ambassador in Sudan reflects a broader problem we must address: the low priority the State Department faces in filling positions – at all levels – for posts in Africa. I say that with full understanding of how difficult these posts are.

“In the days leading up to this hearing, the Biden Administration signaled to this committee its intent to put forward a nominee. Intent is good, action is better. We are still waiting.“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov. 

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