CAPITOL HILL — Members of a U.S. Congressional human-rights panel are calling on Sudan to stop alleged state-sponsored violence and abuses against civilians. The government is fighting rebel movements in the western Darfur region and two southern states, and stands accused of a long string of rights violations, including alleged "scorched earth" tactics against villages in Blue Nile State. At a hearing Wednesday, the panel also examined U.S. policy on Sudan and how to best help suffering civilians.
Senior State Department official Larry Andre had strong words for the government of Sudan, saying the country is again the scene of horrendous human-rights abuses and widespread starvation.
"Sudan must stop bombing its own citizens and depriving them of humanitarian relief. The pathway to peace is open dialogue, democracy and respect for human rights. We are looking at ways to deliver that message directly to senior decision makers in Khartoum," said Andre.
Witnesses at the hearing said five million people in Sudan are now in need of humanitarian assistance, and called on the government in Khartoum and all of the groups involved in the armed conflict to allow unfettered access for relief groups to provide food and medical aid to civilians.
Ken Isaacs, vice president of the humanitarian group Samaritan's Purse, recently traveled to Sudan. He said tens of thousands of people are suffering.
"People are terrorized and they are living like animals. They are living like animals in rocks and in caves and they are eating leaves and bugs," said Isaacs.
Wednesday's hearing was held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan panel in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Some lawmakers criticized President Barack Obama and the State Department for inviting a senior Sudanese official, Nafi al Nafi, who was involved in the genocide in Darfur, to come to Washington for talks. The commission's co-chairman, Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, was outraged.
"And you are inviting a genocidal person to Washington! I mean, he is going to drive right by the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial," said Wolf. "It is immoral!"
Andre explained that the State Department has now withdrawn its invitation to the Sudanese delegation because the planned visit was linked to Sudan's respecting the peace agreements with South Sudan, which he said Khartoum is now violating.
He said most people now in power in Khartoum do not have a very nice past, but Washington needs to talk to them to try to help suffering civilians.
The commission's other co-chairman, Democratic Congressman James McGovern, said he is also happy that the planned visit is now off. But he reserved his criticism for countries like Iran and China, which he said are funding Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
"I am not quite sure what it is, but there ought to be some sort of consequence to those countries that welcome him to their countries for visits, and that supply him arms," said McGovern.
Human-rights activists testifying at the hearing called on the U.S. Congress to keep the spotlight on the plight of millions of innocent civilians in Sudan.