Obama Administration Fields Questions on Sudan

 

A version of this post originally appeared on the SDC/GI-Net blog.

At the risk of patting the movement on the back, Sudan activists have had a pretty good month.*

A hard-fought, year-long campaign for a free, fair, and credible referendum for South Sudan culminated an overwhelmingly peaceful vote for independence, in part due to high-level, deep engagement by the Obama administration, something activists had been focused on throughout the year.

Of course, as responsible advocates, we have to wonder: Did our advocacy really make the difference? This week, we may have gotten our answer.

Tuesday night, activists were able to get a question answered in a White House panel following the State of the Union address. CNN.com reported:

When asked if the United States would remain engaged in Sudan following the recent referendum on secession in southern Sudan, Rhodes called the question a good one for the forum of young people.

He noted that the issue “simply would not have the attention it has” without pressure from young people, nongovernmental organizations, religious groups, and others.

“We see it as a kind of bottom-up activism that can help advance a more responsible U.S. foreign policy of the United States” while also helping the people of Sudan, Rhodes said.

If that tip-of-the-hat wasn’t enough, in Thursday’s live webcast interview with Denis McDonough (posted below) included a question on Darfur from Foreign Policy Magazine’s Josh Rogin. Of course, Rogin had some help with the question: It was submitted through Facebook by Sudan super activist and head of Stop Genocide Now, Gabriel Stauring, who recently returned from a trip to Darfur refugee camps in Chad.

Gabriel’s question:

The administration invested heavy diplomatic resources towards a successful referendum in South Sudan. As all attention was on North/South issues, the government of Sudan increased its use of violence to achieve its goals in Darfur. With conditions on the ground being the true measure of policy effectiveness, what is the administration ready to do now to bring true and lasting peace, protection, and justice for the people of Darfur? I recently returned from visiting Darfuri refugee camps in Chad. Darfuris feel abandoned by an administration that is loaded with people that have made strong statements and promises regarding their commitment to peace in Darfur.

McDonough initially bristled, citing the administration’s investment seeing through a successful referendum over the past several months, as well as their ongoing commitment to peace in Darfur.

“I think the President feels like the Sudanese both north and south, but Sudanese generally have made important progress over the course of the last few weeks. As we looked toward the referendum, we all worried that it wouldn’t happen. It is important to recognize that we did invest with our partners in the region, specifically UK and Norway, each of us invested a lot in this referendum. I think it’s incorrect to suggest that we focused on north/south at the expense of Darfur….As Khartoum and Juba understand we’re watching, we’re going to hold them responsible to their obligations, they are deterred to taking efforts they may have in the past.”

While McDonough did not offer specifics on the administration’s plans for Darfur, he did give a breakdown of his private meeting with Sudan Foreign Minister Karti: 25 percent North-South issues, including Abyei. The remainder of the time, he said, was spent discussing Darfur.

McDonough also addressed the possible removal of Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list, which he said would only happen if and when Bashir’s government (a) recognized the results of the referendum; (b) fulfills its obligations in relation to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; and (c) is proven not to be supporting terrorist activity for six months. Ostensibly, this would be determined sometime this summer, in conjunction with the declaration of South Sudan as an independent country.

Watch the interview at WhiteHouse.gov (Gabriel’s question comes at approximately 29:40 minutes in):

*I should note that as Sudan activists, we’re not even close to satisfied. We have a long road ahead of us to continue to promote peace for all Sudanese. Visit SudanActionNow.org to learn how you can help.

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