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Secretary of State Blinken has accused warring factions in Sudan of war crimes

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to go back to the situation in Sudan, where an ongoing conflict has receded from the spotlight in some ways as the world's attention has moved to the Middle East. The latest assessment of the U.N. Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, says conditions there are deteriorating as fighting grows in scope and brutality. Thousands have been killed in the ongoing civil war which erupted in mid-April, and nearly 6 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Yesterday, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, accused both sides in the conflict - the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, and the Sudanese Armed Forces - of committing war crimes. An analysis by the State Department also determined that the RSF and its allied militias have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Blinken called on the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces to stop this conflict now.

For more on this, we are joined now by Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She is the United States ambassador to the United Nations. We actually reached her in Namibia. Good morning, Ambassador.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, Michel. It's great to be here with you.

MARTIN: Thank you for joining us, even though this is a difficult topic. So what does this determination of war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing actually mean? Will those accused face specific consequences?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, look, first and foremost, Michel, it really was crucial that we acknowledge the gravity of the atrocities that are being committed by both sides. So we did a very careful review to come up with this determination. And I think it's really important because as the International Criminal Court prosecutors, who also announced that war crimes had been committed - as they start to look at how they move forward on this, they have the information that they need. They have our designation to hold both sides accountable.

MARTIN: As briefly as you can, you mentioned that this had been carefully evaluated and reviewed and investigated. Can you just briefly tell us how?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we have our lawyers who are engaged on this, looking at the information that is being provided both through public sources but also interviews with individuals who have been victims. You saw it for yourself when you traveled with me to the Sudan border on the Chad side earlier, a few months ago. So it includes a lot of work, a lot of evidence, a lot of interviews to make this determination and to put the facts out so that the determination can be supported.

MARTIN: Yeah. To that, we'll just remind people, you know, a small group of journalists, including a small group of us from MORNING EDITION, joined you, as you said, on - in September on a trip to the Chad-Sudan border. And we saw - you know, many people were reporting atrocities that they had seen or been - or experienced. And we saw this massive refugee camp that - this massive makeshift refugee camp right on the border. How has the situation evolved since then?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It's continued to deteriorate, as you reported from UNHCR. So I think it's more important now that we continue to work to hold those who've committed these acts accountable. We're still seeing people cross the border. We are still seeing people who have been victims. And it's also important that we press those outside of Sudan to stop arming and providing material support to the two parties. It really is important that this conflict ends and we move toward a civilian government.

MARTIN: Well, one of the reasons that you went - and you made this very clear - is that this conflict has often been described as the forgotten war. Do you think the Israel-Hamas War and also the ongoing war in Ukraine affected those efforts?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I - you could say that, but the fact that you're reporting on it today and I went there a few months ago - we have not forgotten the situation in Sudan. We can focus on more than one crisis at a time. And this crisis - 6 million people have been displaced. Thousands of people have been killed. We can't ignore this crisis, and those responsible have to be held accountable.

MARTIN: So to that end, then, let's turn to the other major story that has captured all of our attention. You know, as the U.N. ambassador - as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, you have a front-row seat to the discussions about the Israel-Hamas war at the Security Council. I want to ask you about U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' decision to invoke Article 99, calling on the Security Council and the international community to demand a humanitarian cease-fire. What's the U.S. position on this? Does the U.S. support this?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we're aware of the secretary-general's letter. And, you know, as has been the case from the start of this conflict, we have remained closely engaged with the United Nations and other partners in the region, and we are the largest supporter of humanitarian assistance. We've supported the humanitarian pause, which ended a few days ago, but we're also continuing to work with the parties in the region, with Egypt and Israel and the U.N., to find a path forward, to continue to get humanitarian assistance in, to get hostages out and to move toward a process that will lead to a two-state solution that will allow...

MARTIN: So I take it the answer is no. I take it the answer is no, that the U.S. is not supporting this action.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, we are - the secretary-general has the authority to issue these letters, and we're going to work - continue to work with the U.N. to find a path to address concerns that he and others have raised.

MARTIN: Well, we only have about a minute left. But, you know, as you're certainly well aware because you travel frequently and you're in touch with, you know, people all over the world, given - you are certainly aware that the rising death toll in Gaza is a matter of great concern to people all over the world. And is there any other step that the U.S. is willing to take to address this that you can tell us about?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, you heard the vice president say over the weekend that the scenes of suffering and death in Gaza are disturbing. And so we're doing everything possible to address that, and we will continue to do that until this comes to an end.

MARTIN: Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the United States ambassador to the United Nations. We reached her in Namibia. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for talking with us once again.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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