A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators wrote President Obama today expressing their concern over the escalating crisis in South Sudan.
The letter was signed by Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Coons (D-DE), Rubio (R-FL), Flake (R-AZ), Durbin (D-IL), McCain (R-AZ), Cardin (D-MD), Isakson (R-GA) and Kaine (D-VA).
In their letter, the senators write: "At this juncture, continued U.S. leadership is essential as the violence intensifies, with alarming reports of the targeting of civilians along ethnic and national lines and attacks on UN peacekeepers. The United States must take immediate steps to put South Sudan's leaders on notice that the status quo cannot continue."
The letter appears below.
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:
We are writing to express our grave concern about the escalating crisis in South Sudan. The United States has historically been a friend of the South Sudanese people, and U.S. support across multiple administrations was critical to laying the groundwork for their hard fought independence. We thank you for continuing that effort and welcome Secretary Kerry's travel to the region and the ongoing efforts of your Special Envoy, Don Booth.
At this juncture, continued U.S. leadership is essential as the violence intensifies, with alarming reports of the targeting of civilians along ethnic and national lines and attacks on UN peacekeepers. The United States must take immediate steps to put South Sudan's leaders on notice that the status quo cannot continue. We urge you to impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for continued atrocities and human rights abuses, work with our international partners to strengthen the mandate of the United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS), suspend security assistance, and hold President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar accountable for progress in peace negotiations and ensuring humanitarian access.
Since clashes erupted in December 2013, and despite the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement in January of this year, an estimated one million people have been displaced, thousands have died, and the UN Secretary General is warning of impending famine. This month has seen at least two massacres of innocent civilians, including children, and nearly 80,000 have sought shelter in UN compounds--and now some of these bases are under attack. As these unconscionable acts of violence continue, South Sudan's leaders continue to prioritize military gains ahead of the well-being of their people.
President Kiir and Riek Machar must genuinely commit to the peace talks and allow a broad set of actors to participate in the negotiations process, condemn reprisals, support the prosecution of human rights violators, and secure humanitarian access. To compel these actions on the part of South Sudan's leaders, we call on you to promptly designate those responsible for undermining peace and committing atrocities, including those in Bor and Bentiu, under the authorities granted in your recent Executive Order, and work to ensure the establishment of a multilateral sanctions regime through the UN Security Council. Further, in light of the role that security forces are playing in violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement, U.S. security assistance to South Sudan should be suspended pending the implementation of a ceasefire agreement and restoration of unfettered humanitarian access.
History has shown that South Sudanese leaders respond to a coordinated multilateral effort. We believe that begins with a robust UN peacekeeping operation with a clear mandate to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance delivery. We urge you to work with our partners in order to secure UN Security Council approval of a new UNMISS mandate with these elements at its core and to encourage the rapid deployment of troops, with the support of regional forces as necessary. We also urge you to continue pushing the international donor community to urgently and fully fund the humanitarian appeal for South Sudan as famine looms.
As you have said, the South Sudanese government has an obligation to ensure that the lives of their people and future of their young country are not marred by further violence. We look forward to hearing from you about the actions your Administration plans to take to hold the leaders of South Sudan to this critically important obligation. Our response in South Sudan is not only critical to resolving this crisis, but in sending the message that the targeting of innocent civilians and other atrocities will not be tolerated by the United States or our allies around the world.