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 conflict in Sudan: options for an effective policy response. The witnesses included The Honorable Victoria Nuland, under secretary of State for political affairs, and Ms. Sarah Charles, assistant to the administrator of the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance at the United States Agency for International Development.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would certainly concur with your remarks. I think you were a little kinder than I am going to be, but nonetheless we have the situation before us.
“This is not a happy occasion. It’s disappointing that we are here today having this hearing. The humanitarian and security catastrophe playing out in Sudan was predictable. This committee has tried to ensure Sudan had the highest levels of attention from the State Department. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. I concur with the chairman that this is not an easy situation – there’s no question that things are difficult there. But we don’t have the luxury of just dealing with the easy ones.
“More should have been done more to protect the Sudanese people from the military junta. We should have done more to warn American citizens and position our diplomatic and humanitarian footprint to respond to the predictable scenario that we all saw unfolding.
“We have seen this movie before. As Sudan faces a potentially catastrophic civil war and state collapse, like those we’ve seen in Syria and Libya, urgent leadership by the United States and its allies is required. Certainly, the State Department is on the front lines of this.
“No one should be surprised that those involved in the Bashir regime’s genocide in Darfur 20 years ago refused to relinquish power. I am concerned the United States continues to partner with the same authoritarian actors in the region that have bargained away Sudan’s democratic future in order to secure their own interests.
“Even now, while we all hope current efforts in Saudi Arabia yield a real humanitarian ceasefire, we must also be very honest with ourselves about the motivations of some regional actors.
“In the four years since Sudan’s generals removed dictator Omar al-Bashir from power, a naive hope toward corrupt military leaders and their foreign backers has driven U.S. policy in Sudan. This approach has empowered Sudan’s strongmen while victimizing the Sudanese people and undermining the country’s democratic future.
“The Biden Administration has sanctioned only one Sudanese entity under Global Magnitsky. While President Biden issued an executive order last week, there were no designations with the announcement. Very disappointing.
“The U.S. has also not put its best diplomatic foot forward to deal with the problem. We did not name an ambassador to Sudan for more than two years after normalizing relations – during a critical time in Sudan’s transition. The U.S. embassy in Khartoum has also faced persistent understaffing and leadership challenges.
“Congress has spoken in a bipartisan manner with an unmistakable voice on Sudan throughout the post-Bashir transition: put the Sudanese people first and end the stranglehold of Sudan's security forces on the country. This administration, however, doesn’t seem to be listening.
“During our last Sudan hearing 15 months ago, I called for the administration to articulate a clear vision for what it wants in Sudan. I am still waiting.
“The administration must change not only the architecture, but also the architects of this policy. We need a policy that empowers the Sudanese people, weakens these generals, shuts off the foreign meddling and finance that empowers them, and leads a coalition of partners committed to putting Sudan’s democratic future first.
“We must end this cycle of doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, just as the chairman indicated, about how the administration plans to meet immediate needs in Sudan and make an urgent course correction in its Sudan policy.
“Before I close – I’d be remiss – I want to express my deep disappointment in your failure to respond to mine and many of my colleagues’ questions for the record in a timely manner. You last testified before this committee on January 26. After that hearing, as is usual, questions for the record were submitted because we have limited time at hearing. That was over a 100 days ago. I received answers to those questions for the record – do you know when? [Yesterday.]
“The delay in responding to these questions underscores serious doubts in my mind that the State Department puts any value on communication with Congress or holds respect for this committee’s oversight role.
“Some of the questions I submitted to you were actually about Sudan. Now, we get an answer over 100 days later – the day before the next hearing on this subject. I really feel that this demonstrates that the Department is just going through the motions to mollify this committee and continue on its happy way keeping us in the dark.
“I expect to receive meaningful explanation of why these QFRs took over 100 days to complete. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.