The Nuba people of Sudan’s Southern Kardofan region are being systematically exterminated in the midst of a developing genocide described as “the world’s next Rwanda.”

Several issue-area experts testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee today, asserting that Sudanese military forces under the command of President Omar Al Bashir are targeting civilians – particularly women and children – with both ground and air assaults in an effort to eradicate the Christian and ethnic Nuba populations. The move also aims to diminish capacity and support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has taken up arms in opposition to the violence.

The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights called today’s emergency hearing to “expose ethnic cleansing of the Nuba people… and [to reveal] how the crisis will negatively impact the new nation of South Sudan created only last month.” The meeting was held despite the August recess and Congressional fatigue from this week’s crisis debt-ceiling vote. Somewhat ironically, the Obama Administration also chose today to announce the birth of its new Atrocities Prevention Board.

The Subcommittee hearing came on the heels of various reports in the international news media describing ongoing “horrific” violence and human rights violations in the region. On June 5th Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) began the aerial bombardment of civilian targets followed by the house-to-house mass extermination of Christians, Nubans and SPLM by Sudan’s Popular Defense Force (PDF) – described by some as the “Al Qaeda of Sudan.”

Bradford Phillips, president of the Persecution Project, Rt. Rev. Andudu Adam Elnail, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Kadugli, and Luka Biong Deng, president of Kush Inc., each testified before the Subcommittee regarding the continued violence and its humanitarian repercussions. The testimony was peppered with graphic stories of torture, extra-judicial killing and rape – some of which seems to have been committed with UN complicity.

Mr. Phillips, who just returned from the Nuba mountains, received reports from survivors there that Egyptian peacekeepers stationed outside of the state capital (Kadugli) allowed government forces to enter the their base and separate Nubans and SPLM supporters from other civilians seeking shelter there. Sudanese forces then murdered them outside of the mission’s gates.

The three witnesses also testified that the escalation in violence is directly linked to the disputed gubernatorial appointment of Ahmed Haroun, who like Bashir, is wanted for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court. In a recent open letter to the UN, Bishop Elnail recently declared that, “once again, we are facing the nightmare of genocide of our people in a final attempt to erase our culture and society from the face of the earth.” For his part, Mr. Phillips estimated that one half of the Nuban population has been exterminated by Northern military leaders since the 1980s.

But today’s hearing revealed another, quieter point of concern: the developing humanitarian crisis.

As strafing and high-altitude bombing drive civilians into nearby caves, important agricultural plots have been left untended. Widespread food shortage and infrastructural destruction, coupled with mass internal displacement, are expected to contribute to a humanitarian emergency that Mr. Phillips characterized as “slow motion genocide by design.” In July, the UN estimated that 73,000 persons had been displaced in South Khardofan, while testimony today placed that number in the hundreds of thousands.

Today’s testimony constitutes the strongest call to date for a US response to the Sudanese aggression. Phillips, Elnail and Deng each demanded Congressional support for the recognition of a humanitarian emergency, the establishment of a no-fly zone in the region, consultation with the State Department, and further efforts to bring Bashir, Haroun and other guilty members of the National Congress Party to the Hague.

If nothing is done, violence in Southern Kardofan threatens to destabilize recent political independence in neighboring Southern Sudan, drawing it back into a state of active conflict with the North.

Credit for Congressional attention to the crisis is owed to Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). His decision seems to have been the result of brief, intense consultation with three non-governmental organizations founded by Bradford Phillips and Jason Jones: The Persecution Project Foundation, HERO, and DigDeep Water. Several US agencies declined invitation to the hearing, though the Chairman made it clear that he would reconvene the Subcommittee as soon as the State Department or US Aid wished to respond to the allegations.

Congressional involvement seems to have calmed concerns that the US might be reticent to further commit itself in the Sudan since Southern independence on July 9th. US involvement would be critical to any solution, since the Bush Administration brokered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) there in 2005. It remains to be seen, however, what further response today’s hearing will generate. As Mr. Phillips warned – though the worst damage is being mitigated by popular uprisings on the ground, without external support the conflict may soon become a bloodbath.

-George McGraw