U.S. must assert leadership on Darfur
October 24, 2006
The United States and the international community are failing the people of Darfur. More than three years into the crisis in western Sudan, and two years since the White House recognized it as genocide, the situation there is worse than ever.
The Sudanese government has launched a new offensive, displacing thousands more civilians from their homes. The death toll now approaches half a million people.
The escalating violence is fueling the world's worst humanitarian crisis and obstructing efforts of international agencies to reach those being victimized.
The United States has shown some leadership in response to this crisis. It has offered generous humanitarian assistance, and it has engaged in diplomatic initiatives to broker peace between the Sudanese government and the rebel groups in Darfur. Over the past two years, senior Bush administration officials have repeatedly claimed that Darfur is a White House priority.
But the genocide continues. And the people of Darfur still have no meaningful protection in the face of the ongoing pillaging, rape and murder.
The African Union mission in Darfur is overwhelmed and under-resourced, and it has long been clear that a more robust response is needed to stop the genocide and protect the people.
At the end of the summer, the U.N. Security Council finally authorized a peacekeeping force for Darfur. Unfortunately, the Khartoum government -- which is carrying out the devastation with the help of armed militias, known as the janjaweed -- opposes the peacekeeping force, and has stalled its deployment.
The United States holds the key to breaking the deadlock.
The recent appointment of a U.S. special envoy to Sudan is one small step. But the Bush administration can do more.
It can begin by galvanizing international support. The United States should use its leverage with Sudan's main allies -- China, Russia and Qatar -- to enlist their support to pressure Khartoum to accept a U.N. force in Darfur.
The U.S. government should encourage other countries to enact comprehensive bilateral sanctions against Sudan, as the United States has had in place since 1997. Such sanctions could preclude investment in Sudan's growing oil industry.
For its part, the United States should not allow its covert intelligence-sharing relationship with Khartoum to undermine its commitment to the people of Darfur. Washington can't credibly condemn Khartoum one day and then meet with high government officials the next. Protecting the people from genocide should be the top priority in the U.S. policy toward Sudan.
The Bush administration should push for new sanctions against senior Sudanese officials responsible for the continuing violence in Darfur. And it should offer information to the International Criminal Court in its proceedings against those charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity there.
In the past, U.S. pressure on Sudan has yielded results.
In 1996, the U.S. government used political pressure to force Khartoum to expel Osama bin Laden from the country. It also pushed Sudanese leaders to come to an agreement on its long-running peace process with rebel groups in southern Sudan.
The Sudanese government wishes to strengthen its ties and ultimately normalize relations with Washington. For this to happen, the U.S. government must make clear that the future of U.S. relations with Sudan depends on Khartoum's cooperation with the international community.
Darfur's genocide requires urgent and resolute action now.
Ann-Louise Colgan is director of policy analysis and communications at Africa Action, the oldest Africa advocacy organization in the United States (www.africaaction.org). She can be reached at email@example.com.