IT HAS BEEN 18 months since the United States concluded that genocide was taking place in Darfur. Yet President Bush, the only president to declare an ongoing genocide since the term was coined 50 years ago, has done little to stop this crime against humanity.
Why not? The answer may lie in the complex story of Salah Abdallah Gosh. Gosh isn't exactly a household name, but there are two groups of people for whom his name is exceedingly important: U.S. counterterrorism officials and victims of atrocities in Sudan.
Sudan's slow-motion ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur has elicited an equally slow-motion international reaction, which has almost no impact at all. A U.N. Security Council deadline demanding Sudanese action has been reached without an adequate response from Khartoum. The international response to the horrors in the western region of Sudan remains appallingly ineffectual.
Donors have woefully under-resourced the humanitarian campaign. Their aid is frequently held up by Khartoum, which capriciously cites security problems it itself created by turning loose the Arab Janjaweed militias against the African Muslim population of Darfur.
It's the end of the dry season offensive in Sudan - the government's helicopter gunships are blowing bombs and bullets into southern villages, while the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) conducts ground raids on the oil industry infrastructure that helps pay for the government's helicopters. Relief agencies, banned from many areas by the government, are begging for access to deliver food aid to a million people dependent on them for survival. More bodies are added to the shocking two million victims of violence and famine in Sudan's 19-year civil war.
NORTH DARFUR, Sudan While Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several members of the U.S. Congress were in government-controlled areas of Darfur a few weeks ago, I crossed into Darfur's rebel-held territory. This is the part of Sudan that the regime doesn't want anyone to see, for good reason.
I saw numbing evidence of the ethnic cleansing campaign pursued by the government of Sudan in this Muslim region, which is populated by Arabs and non-Arabs. In response to a rebellion begun by primarily non-Arab groups in early 2003, the regime armed the Janjaweed militia, giving them impunity to attack. Burned villages confirmed harrowing stories we had heard from Darfurians who were lucky enough to make it to refugee camps in Chad.
Early in his first term, President Bush received a National Security Council memo outlining the world's inaction regarding the genocide in Rwanda. In what may have been a burst of indignation and bravado, the president wrote in the margin of the memo, "Not on my watch."
Five years later, and nearly four years into what Bush himself has repeatedly called genocide, the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region is intensifying without a meaningful response from the White House. Perhaps Harvard professor Samantha Power's tongue-in-cheek theory is correct: The memo was inadvertently placed on top of the president's wristwatch, and he didn't want it to happen again. But if Bush's expressions of concern for the victims in Darfur are genuine, then why isn't his administration taking real action?
Sudan's peace process is in trouble. The latest in our regular online series on under-reported conflicts, in association with the International Crisis Group, sets out a new agenda to end Africa's longest-running war.
Until recently there was hope across Sudan that a peace deal could be reached to end one of the world's longest and most brutal wars - the conflict between the Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum and rebel forces of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM). But last month President Omar al-Beshir told the Kenyan-based mediation team to "go to hell", refusing to accept their draft peace settlement. If the mediators didn't come up with a "reasonable alternative", he said, "they will have to dissolve the document in water and drink it."
STATEMENT: ICC Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan
March 4, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC – The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, a historic action that marks the first time the tribunal has acted against a sitting head of state. The charges stem from a July 2008 request by ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and include crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The warrant specifically did not include the charges of genocide requested by the Chief Prosecutor last July.
The Enough Project issued the following statement in response:
"The International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omer al-Bashir provides an unprecedented opening, making Sudan's prospects for peace riper than they have been in memory,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project. “How the Obama administration handles this immediate foreign policy challenge will have a major impact on the outcome. It is crucial for the new president's team to clarify to Arab states, China and others that the U.S. policy objective is a just and durable peace for Sudan.”
John Norris, The Enough Project’s Executive Director, added, “This message should be heard loudly and clearly around the globe: If you kill, maim, and rape your own citizens, there will be a cost for your actions. I hope other tyrants and warlords around the globe are taking note. Slobodan Milosevic, Charles Taylor, and now, President Bashir were only willing to learn the hard way. There are now millions of activists around the United States that expect the Obama Administration to make both peace and justice a priority in Sudan.”
The issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudan’s sitting head of state for crimes against humanity offers the Obama administration a chance to catalyze multilateral efforts to bring about a solution to Sudan’s decades-long cycle of warfare. One of the crucial missing ingredients to conflict resolution efforts has been some form of accountability for the horrific crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by the warring parties in Sudan, primarily the Khartoum regime.
President Obama should now take a number of key steps, including:
· Working with the U.N. Security Council to support targeted sanctions against those most responsible for violence in Sudan and imposing a comprehensive arms embargo against the Government of Sudan;
· Making the United Nations Mission in Darfur effective, with a robust force on the ground in Darfur with a competent lead nation and a clear command-and-control structure;
· Working closely with interested parties with leverage in Sudan and the region, especially China, the United Kingdom, France, and key African countries, to coordinate efforts on peace efforts, the protection of civilians, and accountability;
· Countering continued violations by Sudan on the UN ban on offensive military flights in Darfur; and
· Appointing a senior Special Envoy to not only address the situation in Darfur, but Sudan’s multiple conflicts and their regional dimensions.
Visit the Enough Project’s blog, Enough Said, for updates on this issue.
The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. Enough is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Founded in 2007, Enough focuses on crises in Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, northern Uganda, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. To learn more about Enough and what you can do to help, go to www.enoughproject.org.
For the past year, the international community has shamefully acquiesced to the crimes against humanity occurring daily in the Sudanese province of Darfur.
"Janjaweed" militias, Arabs backed by the Sudanese government, are continuing to conduct mop-up operations against non-Arab villagers in a massive ethnic-cleansing campaign in the region. The current conflict flared early last year when two rebel groups in Darfur attacked government forces. The swelling crisis could leave hundreds of thousands dead in the coming months.