USAID - U.S. Agency for International Development

06/14/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/14/2024 15:05

Administrator Samantha Power and Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Press Availability on Sudan

MODERATOR: Thank you to all the reporters who are joining us this morning. Today's call will be on the record and we will begin with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. Ambassador, over to you.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much, and good morning everyone. I want to start by thanking all of you for joining me and USAID Administrator Samantha Power for this call this morning.

I'm sure many of you have already read Declan Walsh's urgent news reporting on Sudan. It tells of the market in Khartoum. Once one of Africa's largest cities, now a graveyard - of homes burned, businesses looted, churches punctured by artillery fire, of hospitals strained to the point of collapse, patients crowded two to a bed, and of the hunger and starvation, the risk the reality of a famine.

As hard as these stories are to read, the truth is, we need far more of them. We need the world to wake up to the catastrophe happening before our very eyes. Samantha and I have spoken often about our visits to refugee camps along the Sudanese border in Chad last year. And it really is hard to imagine how these camps, even then crowded to capacity, are now teeming with even more refugees.

Ethnically-motivated massacres in West Darfur at the end of last year - coupled with a dire food security situation, the starvation exacerbated by the SAF closure of the critical Adre border crossing - having forced thousands and thousands more to flee their homes.

You all know the numbers. There are nearly 25 million Sudanese people living in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection. That's roughly the population of America's ten largest cities combined. We've seen mortality projections estimating that in excess of 2.5 million people, about 15 percent of the population in Darfur and Kordofan - the hardest hit regions - could die by the end of September.

This is the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet. And yet, somehow, it threatens to get worse. As the rainy season approaches, the Tine border crossing offered by the SAF - already insufficient to meet needs and already suffering from obstruction - will soon become impassable. And over the last month, El Fasher - once one of the last safe havens for civilians has been bombarded by airstrikes and indiscriminate shelling.

And we know that the situation has become increasingly deadly for humanitarian workers - as Samantha will discuss in just a few minutes. Since the start of this conflict, we've called on the international community to give more, to do more, to care more.

And I'm grateful that just yesterday, the United Nations Security Council came together to adopt a resolution demanding an end to the siege and offensive in El Fasher. The resolution calls for the immediate localized ceasefire in and around the city, demands that civilians are protected, and it calls on the Secretary General to recommend what measures should be taken in order to protect the population. It also demands that humanitarian aid is allowed to flow freely into Darfur and across Sudan in accordance with international law, and that includes reopening the Adre border crossing to allow critical food and medicine to make it into Sudan.

The SAF has a chance to do the right thing. And it is imperative that they do just that. Most of all, this resolution urges an immediate cessation of hostilities across the country, leading to a sustainable resolution to the conflict. The resolution is necessary but let me be clear, it's not sufficient. And as I said in the Security Council yesterday, if the warring parties do not respect international humanitarian law, and facilitate humanitarian access, the Council must consider all tools at our disposal, including authorizing aid to move from neighboring countries.

In addition, more must be done to compel the warring parties to stop the fighting and get back to the negotiating table, as well as urge outside supporters prolonging this conflict and enabling these atrocities to stop sending weapons to fuel it.

Samantha and I have a critical partner in the work of Tom Perriello, the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan, who's working around the clock to silence the guns and drive parties toward a ceasefire. This isn't just the moral imperative. Already, this crisis - this senseless war - between two generals has spiraled into a regional war, drawing in multiple countries on each side of the battlefield. Neighboring countries like Chad and Ethiopia, Egypt, and South Sudan are struggling to keep up with the immense needs facing refugees within their own borders. And the destabilization within Sudan, including the likelihood of state fracture, and factionalization offer a toehold for extremist groups threatening not only the country and region, but the entire world.

There is tragically much more I can say on this topic but to provide a deeper dive into the humanitarian situation, I'm pleased to turn it over to my friend and colleague, Samantha Power.

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for your vital advocacy and leadership. I know we're eager to get to questions, I'll be as quick as possible. And thank you, Linda, for your work, securing that Security Council resolution. As we all know, the Security Council doesn't agree on much these days but to see it come together so forcefully to try to secure a halt to the fighting and the killing around El Fasher is really, really important.

So this is the single largest humanitarian crisis on the planet. And the hunger data that we are looking at right now suggest we are facing a crisis that is comparable to and potentially worse than the famine that killed a quarter of a million Somalis in 2011. I would add that the most worrying scenario would be that Sudan would become the deadliest famine since Ethiopia in the early 1980s. I'm sure you remember that well.

In the face of grave needs, humanitarians - and I should stress most of them Sudanese aid workers, Sudanese nationals, Sudanese volunteers - they're doing heroic work to respond. Famine wards filled right now with children dying of hunger, humanitarians are organizing quasi soup kitchens to get hot meals to people in need. With nearly 12 million people displaced in Sudan and to neighboring countries, they are searching for a safe place - to humanitarians are helping them find shelter. People are searching for urgent medical care. Because as many as 80 percent of hospitals in conflict zones are non functional. It is humanitarians again, who are getting medicines helping transport patients to the few remaining operational health centers, or performing medical treatments on the spot.

The point to stress here is that instead of supporting this life saving work by humanitarians and by Sudanese volunteers, the RSF and the SAF are actively thwarting it, in complete contradiction and opposition to their public commitments. Since the start of the conflict, fighting has killed at least 22 aid workers and injured dozens of others. Although we are almost positive that this under represents the severity of the harm being inflicted on humanitarians.

In the past week, an aid worker died from a bullet wound after transporting a patient to a maternity hospital in El-Fasher. Eight volunteers were killed by RSF shellfire while working in a charity kitchen in the city - that's just in the last week. To sustain the war machine responsible for the atrocities that Linda just described, the RSF has been systematically looting humanitarian warehouses, stealing food and livestock, destroying grain storage facilities, and wells in the most vulnerable Sudanese communities. The SAF completely contradicts its commitments, and its responsibilities to the Sudanese people by having shut down cross border access from Chad at the Adre crossing, which is the main route for assistance to enter the Darfur Region where the already immense scale of suffering is going to worsen without an immediate surge in humanitarian assistance - that cross border access is key. Cross line assistance, moving goods from staff to RSF territory or vice versa is almost non-existent.

So the really clear message here is that it is obstruction, not insufficient stalks of food that is the driving force behind the historic and deadly levels of starvation in Sudan. That has to change immediately and again, the UN Security Council came together to send that message yesterday. The SAF and RSF have to stop blocking aid and support a surge of humanitarian assistance to prevent the deaths of millions of Sudanese people.

To support that surge, I am announcing today that the United States, through USAID and the Department of State, we will provide more than $315 million in additional humanitarian assistance to support the people of Sudan. We are incredibly grateful to our brave partners, UN agencies, NGOs, locally-led Sudanese response efforts, who continue to put themselves at risk to save lives. We will continue to advocate both for their ability to operate and for their protection. And of course, for the protection of all civilians in Sudan.

The United States will continue to be the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Sudan response, having provided more than a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance in the past two years, but honestly, we need others to step up their efforts as well. Some of you may remember that two months ago, the world came together in Paris and pledged approximately $2 billion to support the Sudanese people. But the UN reports that it still only received 16 percent of their humanitarian appeal.

With the suffering of Sudanese worsening by the day, countries need to urgently make good on these pledges. It is time for partners around the world to stand with the people of Sudan. And it is long past time to the obstruction and the attacks on civilians and humanitarians to stop.

Thank you and look forward to your questions.

HOST: Thank you, Administrator, and thank you Ambassador. And I'll ask the moderator to call on our first question.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for doing this. Could you give an update on what the latest is on efforts to revive ceasefire talks? The Army last month rejected negotiations. Has there been any movement on this since then? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much. We have been pushing for the talks to resume. Because we know that there is no acceptable military solution to this conflict. And the two sides of the party have to go back to the negotiating table. I will say that we have been disappointed with the delays in beginning the talks and we continue to be committed to supporting the ceasefire talks between the parties.

You may have heard that Secretary Blinken spoke with General Burhan in late May, and he pressed him to end the conflict and for him to resume his participation in the negotiations that were taking place under the Jeddah Platform. Burhan did not agree to that at the time. But we're continuing to press them to go back into formal talks so that they can work to prevent future atrocities.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for this briefing. Well, why don't you expedite the action to the Security Council because it's very clear that both sides don't respect the international human rights law. So why don't you put a proposal on the table?

And my second question, do you have a mechanism in mind about the cross border aid - is like maybe the Syria model cross border with Turkey that used to be functioning? Not anymore? Is this maybe a good example to force for Sudan across the border with Chad? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me start with the first part, Nabil. As you know, we passed a resolution yesterday, and the resolution was supported by 14 members of the Council, Russia abstained, and the resolution does call for an immediate ceasefire. And it does call for the Secretary General to become more active in terms of recommending what measures we - what measures should be taken that will lead to the protection of civilians.

So the resolution - it hasn't been 24 hours yet. But it does urge an immediate cessation of hostilities. And we're looking at how that leads to sustainable resolution of the conflict. But, again, we did - we were very clear. And I was clear in my statement, that on the humanitarian side, we're prepared to look at other options that will facilitate humanitarian access, and the Syrian model is exactly what we were thinking.

But if I could ask Samantha to talk, maybe spend a few moments to talk a bit more about what we are doing along the border to get more into Sudan.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Absolutely, thank you, Ambassador.

So first, we should not even be having a conversation about what method we need to use to get through to people who are on the brink of starvation. You know, the fact that the Note Verbale, that the Sudanese authorities had issued - that the General Burhan had issued - was revoked is really, what puts us in a situation where we now have to scramble to figure out how to get food across the border. I will say USAID is the largest donor to meeting humanitarian needs here, and looking at what is the right combination of partners to deploy and to fund and to resource because there are very, very brave partners that are still moving assistance across the border.

But, as your question implies, what we would really like to see is UN partners being able to do that as well, just as, as you referenced, was able to occur in the Syria context, because the Security Council was able to come together. We have pressed General Burhan and others around him - senior leadership in the kind of quasi military council to, with a pen stroke, make it possible for UN actors to move that assistance across the border. We have gotten mixed signals and the clock is ticking - the clock is long ticked. So we as, again, a very significant funder of the humanitarian effort, have to look at which partners can move across the border, just as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield looks in New York as to what is possible in terms of the Security Council.

But I want to just make sure that everyone, even though is not following the conflict that closely understands, we will not avert a humanitarian catastrophe without being able to move assistance at scale via the Adre crossing. And so all the pressure should be on the SAF and on General Burhan with a pen stroke to allow food and other forms of assistance to cross at Adre immediately.

QUESTION: Oh, hi. Thanks both for doing this. The RSF seem to be pushing ever deeper into El Fasher at the moment. I'm just wondering, what is your estimate of how long the Sudanese military can hold out? How far away are we from the city falling, do you think?

And secondly, there's been quite a lot of focus recently on the role of foreign sponsors in the war, particularly the UAE on the RSF side. What is your assessment of how much pressure on UAE or other foreign actors can achieve at this point in terms of persuading the RSF to pull back from El Fasher? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Sure, and let me just start, Declan by thanking you for the article that you that you published in the New York Times. We need to see that kind of reporting, and I really appreciate your making the effort to do that. You know, on when the city might fall, I'm not a military strategist. I know that both sides are fighting aggressively and the civilian population is suffering.

There's no military solution to this war. What is going to happen is more people will die, more people will suffer, and the humanitarian situation will continue to get worse. When the city will fall, I can't really comment on. I'm just hoping that the fighting will stop.

And on outside external actors, interference and support for the RSF - but also for the SAF. We have been very, very clear with those actors that they should cease their support for this war. It is only exacerbating and prolonging the conflict, and it's making the situation more dire for the people of Sudan. The UN has issued a very, very strong statement in that regard. We have engaged with the parties - we've engaged with UAE, we've engaged with, with others. We know that the Russians and and the Iranians are also providing support for the SAF. So, both sides are getting this outside support and we're pressuring all sides to discontinue.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: And I'll just add Declan, thank you also, and please thanks to your photographer too, for the images that he or she was able to capture on that visit - really important and powerful.

I would just add a little bit of context for the potential fall of El Fasher. I mean, clearly, the RSF is on the march, and where the RSF has gone in the Darfur area historically, and in this conflict, mass atrocities have followed. And we are extremely concerned about, you know, attacks against specific tribes, rooted in the equivalent of an ethnic cleansing mentality. And, again, in keeping with the history where the Masalit people in particular, but as well the Zaghawa and the Fur were targeted, and so many people have sought shelter in El Fasher, whose villages in surrounding areas have been attacked.

We have concerns that not about the fall of the city in the abstract, but about what happens to civilians if that city falls entirely under the control of the RSF that have this history, and for whom there has been no accountability for the mass atrocities and the mass graves that have been created up to this point.

So that's just to underscore Linda's point, and the importance of the world coming together yesterday, to call for a halt in fighting knowing what the human stakes will be with regard to those actors who are supporting the belligerents in this conflict. You're absolutely right that, you know, to simply press the parties is not going to be sufficient given the vast number of funders and armors, you know, including member states of the United Nations who are providing weapons and resources.

We have raised our concerns about reports of UAE support to the RSF with Emirati officials. I have done that myself, as has Secretary Blinken and others. I would note that provision of arms into Darfur would constitute a violation of the UN arms embargo for Darfur that was established, again, more than two decades ago. And that is something really important for external funders and armors to bear in mind.

I would also note that, you know, the United States has issued 16 sanction designations so far, including last week, sanctioning a number of RSF-affiliated countries in the UAE. But if they're, you know, again, there are multiple member states of the United Nations that are fueling this conflict with weapons and funding. And yesterday's resolution was a really important show of unity to those countries that that just has to stop.