WASHINGTON – At a hearing today to examine the violence engulfing South Sudan, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called out South Sudanese officials for their government’s role in the harassment and targeting of humanitarian aid workers. Relief organizations are providing assistance to more than 1.6 million people who are internally displaced and 750,000 who have fled the country.
“I don’t know how you can come to a hearing like this representing the government of South Sudan knowing that we have expended $1.3 billion dollars on behalf of the people that you represent, and you’re targeting aid workers,” said Corker. “I would be embarrassed to be at a hearing like this.”
Deputy Assistant Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bob Leavitt confirmed the hostile environment for aid workers created by both pro and anti-government forces.
“There has not been positive rhetoric that accepts that aid workers are there to help,” said Leavitt. “The aid workers have been affected by both parties[,]…government and opposition forces.”
The committee also heard from U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth and a panel of representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including John Prendergast of the ENOUGH Project, Princeton Lyman of the United States Institute for Peace and a former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, and Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International. Among the recommendations proposed by the witnesses include sanctions to deprive the warring parties of weapons and resources, support for civil society and freedom of the press, and documenting evidence of war crimes.
The United States supported the establishment of South Sudan as an independent state in 2011 to help end a decades-long war that killed and displaced millions. In 2013, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar ignited a new civil war that is marked by ethnic hatred and the targeting of civilians. The U.S. has provided $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance over the last two years alone to help stem the worsening crisis. A fragile peace agreement signed in August has been undermined by continued violence blamed on both sides.