New satellite imagery and the testimony of a citizen journalist from Sudan got attention on Capitol Hill yesterday in a briefing highlighting firsthand accounts from the Nuba Mountains of the conflict-torn border region of South Kordofan.
The briefing was hosted by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan effort established in the U.S. House of Representatives to educate Members of Congress on human rights issues and advocate on behalf of human rights defenders world-wide. Thirty Capitol Hill staffers, State Department employees, and Co-Chairs of the Commission Congressmen Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and James P. McGovern (D-MA) attended the briefing.
Ryan Boyette, a citizen journalist and former humanitarian aid worker currently living and working in the Nuba Mountains, was the first to testify on a panel that also included the Enough Project’s Project Director of Communications Jonathan Hutson and Daniel Sullivan of United to End Genocide. A slideshow of powerful images played behind Boyette who brought a very personal perspective to the violence facing the Nuba Mountain region, a place he has called home for nine years.
“When fighting erupted in Kadugli, it erupted all over the place,” he said. “My house is on top of a mountain, so we can see planes passing over every day. And every day they’re coming and going from the North.”
Boyette and his team track the attacks, travel to bombed towns and villages, and report out to international news media and to the Enough Project.
He reminded those in attendance that the bombing continues to hit only soft targets (“There isn’t a military target for miles”), and that the region previously experienced this kind of targeted violence in the first and second Sudanese civil wars. “[The Nuban people] know who it is doing the bombing,” Boyette said, alluding to the Khartoum government. “They know that sanctions aren’t working, since it’s been years and they haven’t worked yet. It’s a big source of frustration.”
Over 210,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs, have been forced from their homes and are living in caves in the Nuba Mountains in areas controlled by the SPLM-North. Because of daily and unpredictable bombing raids, Nuba people cannot plant or tend their crops, which will make humanitarian conditions increasingly dire when the harvest season begins in November. In addition to these displaced people, Boyette said 14,250 refugees live in the Yida refugee camp across the border in South Sudan’s Unity state. The number of Yida refugees swells by some 300 every day, Boyette reported.
“In my opinion, the Bashir regime is going to fall. Right now there’s fighting in South Kordofan, fighting in Darfur, fighting in Blue Nile, and protest in Khartoum. It’s only a matter of time – Bashir’s regime will fall,” said Boyette.
Enough’s Jonathan Hutson followed Boyette’s testimony with an explanation of the Satellite Sentinel Project’s recent report, “In Close Proximity: Alleged Abduction, Detention, and Extrajudicial Killings by Abu Tira.” With the aid of a poster-sized DigitalGlobe satellite image, analyzed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Hutson showed visual evidence to clarify a previously vague U.N. report about abductions by the Government of Sudan’s Central Reserve Police, or CRP, of displaced people from the U.N.’s protective perimeter. Hutson showed that “what we’re able to do with satellites is contextualize and corroborate citizen journalist reports.”
Hutson called on the United States to impose sanctions on individuals who command and control the “Abu Tira,” another name for the CRP, by adding the names of their commanders and any assets that they own or control to the U.S. government’s Specially Designated Nationals list.
Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) stood to say a few impassioned words. He likened this moment in history to those of the Rwandan and Serbian genocides, and he drew parallels between al-Bashir and war criminal Slobodan Milošević, former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia who was indicted by the International Criminal Court.
Rep. Wolf thanked the panelists for their work on these issues but also called on the U.S. to step up and prioritize Sudan. Lauding the Satellite Sentinel Project, Rep. Wolf said, “Here you have George Clooney funding something that the State Department ought to be able to do.”