If Sudan's genocidal president, Omar al Bashir, was watching the recent presidential debate, he was probably not happy with what he heard. Both candidates affirmed their belief that in the case of genocide, and specifically the Darfur genocide, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.
During the debate, this crucial topic was raised by moderator, Tom Brokaw. "Let's see if we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there's a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security," he stated.
According to John Norris, Executive Director of Enough, the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity, the candidates responses on this subject were "encouraging," especially in contrast to that of our current president to this same topic eight years ago. In the 2000 debate against Al Gore, Bush's stance was that the Rwandan genocide, which killed over 600,000 people, had not merited intervention, a position which "shocked the consciousness of a lot of people," stated Norris. In contrast, he said, "these candidates recognize that sovereignty doesn't allow nations to terrorize its own citizens without consequences."
Next week, Norris's organization, Enough, together with the Save Darfur Coalition and Genocide Intervention Network will release a strategy paper titled, "Letter to the Next President: Peace Surge for Sudan." The paper will outline recommendations for the next administration to turn this strong talk into concrete action to bring peace to Darfur and the entire country of Sudan.
During the debate, both presidential candidates acknowledged the moral imperative of acting in the face of genocide. "We may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake," stated Obama. "If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in? If we could've stopped Rwanda, surely, if we had the ability, that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act. So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible."
Similarly, McCain stated, "The United States of America, Tom, is the greatest force for good, as I said. And we must do whatever we can to prevent genocide, whatever we can to prevent these terrible calamities that we have said never again." Later, he added, "I may have to make those tough decisions. But I won't take them lightly. And I understand that we have to say never again to a Holocaust and never again to Rwanda."
In the vice presidential debate, both candidates had also expressed zero tolerance for the genocide in Darfur. Biden voiced his support for a no-fly zone, US leadership of NATO action, and a US "movement" to provide the UN/AU joint peacekeeping mission there with the desperately needed helicopters that the international community has been unwilling to supply. Palin concurred with Biden's remarks and specifically supported the no-fly zone.
She also stressed the importance of state divestment from companies that help to fund the genocide in Darfur saying that "as individuals, and as humanitarians and as elected officials, we should do all we can to end those atrocities in that region of the world." Palin now supports legislation in Alaska to prevent the state's pension money from underwriting this genocide. If her state passes such legislation in its next session, it will become the 28th state to divest from Sudan.
The VP candidates' comments apparently struck a nerve within the genocidal Khartoum regime, since it quickly turned up the volume on its propaganda efforts and sharply criticized Biden and Palin for supporting a no-fly zone over Darfur. If Bashir thought that this PR offensive would subdue the anti-genocide campaign rhetoric, he was wrong. Admirably, McCain and Obama kept up the pressure during their next debate.
Now, the challenge for either candidate, if elected, will be to follow this encouraging rhetoric with action. According to Eric Cohen, chairperson of the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, there are a wide range of key issues which will need our next president's immediate attention. "They should specifically address issues such as the no-fly zone, UNAMID support including helicopters, multi-lateral sanctions, divestment, and support for the ICC indictment of Bashir," stated Cohen.
Norris, at Enough, concurs that these are among the many Sudan-related issues which the next administration will face. "The overarching objective is to advance the peace process to achieve a peace deal for Sudan as a whole. To do this we will need to commit diplomatic, political and perhaps even military resources to achieve a durable peace." Detailed recommendations for the next administration will be covered in the Enough strategy paper to be released next week.
In recent months, the situation in Darfur has become increasingly grave. The government of Sudan has launched repeated attacks on civilian camps for internally displaced persons. Additionally, the UN's World Food Program announced that escalating violence may force it to stop food deliveries leaving millions without assistance.
The recent onslaught of government-sponsored violence seems likely to continue unabated since civilian protection is Darfur is nearly non-existent. In spite of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1769 which approved the first joint UN/AU force and the UN's largest peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) on July 31, 2007, the mission there remains woefully understaffed. Perhaps even worse, contributing countries, including the US, have not provided the urgently needed helicopters and other equipment which could make surveillance and protection a reality.
The Darfur genocide recently entered its sixth year. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed there, even by the most conservative estimates. The United Nations puts the death toll at roughly 300,000, while the former U.N. undersecretary-general puts the number at no less than 400,000. Up to 2.5 million Darfuris have fled their homes and continue to live in camps throughout Darfur, or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic.
John Prendergast, co-authored by Emmanuelle Chrique
A century ago almost to the day, a rag tag collection of human rights activists, concerned citizens, and politicians were able to cause enough of a commotion internationally that they forced a greedy Belgian king to give up his personal ownership of an entire country in Africa. The country was the Congo, and King Leopold's slave-raiding depredations had cut Congo's population in half - nearly 10 million people - in his quest to extract rubber, ivory and other valuable minerals from the country.
100 years later, the world is at it again. Our computers, soup cans, cell phones, diamond earrings, gold rings and dozens of other everyday products can be traced to mines in the Congo, where precious minerals are extracted in one of the most violent places on the face of the earth to satisfy our consumer demands.
And just like a century ago, people of conscience all over the world must raise their voices against the horrors being perpetrated in the Congo to feed the electronics, jewelry and other markets.
To that end, the Enough Project is launching the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign, which aims to protect and empower Congolese women. Why? Because in a truly tragic turn, Congolese women have become the principal targets in the continuing conflict in eastern Congo. With the highest rates of violence against women globally, eastern Congo has become the most dangerous place to be a woman on the face of the earth.
As an actor and an activist, we are joining forces to become part of what hopefully will become a movement to protect and empower the women of the Congo. Anyone can join. We need people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, in order to bring the necessary influence to bear on our elected officials to actually make a commitment to end these terrible crimes against humanity.
As part of the campaign, the Enough Project is kicking off a speakers' tour on college campuses across the country, and working with Eve Ensler's V-Day and STAND to help students conduct their own Congo Teach Ins on campus. From engaging in letter writing campaigns and petition drives to hosting house screenings of films about the Congo or blogging about the conflict, there will be many ways to get involved. You can start by signing the petition to the president at www.raisehopeforcongo.org and then send it to your friends and family members. Post it on your Facebook or MySpace page. If we can make enough noise, we will get the attention of the new president of the United States. And we will ask for a commitment from him to help lead a global effort to end the violence against women in the Congo.
Rape as a tool of war has been used before in other conflicts. But never like this. It is being perfected as a tool, without repercussions for the perpetrators. If we let it happen in the Congo, where next? We must take a stand for the women of the Congo, and for the future of our common humanity.
Following last weeks posts about rape in Congo, wanted to highlight a story that appeared a few days ago in Newsweek, including testimony from two women - Marie and her grandmother Berthe - raped by soldiers in the Congolese Army:
"The soldiers told me to carry bananas for them into the hills. When we got to the hill, one of the soldiers pushed me to the ground. He put the blunt side of his machete on my neck and the handle of his rifle on my chest. Then he raped me. When he was finished, he called the other soldier and he raped me too. Then they told me I could go. As I fled, they shot their rifles into the banana plantation. I fell to the ground, pretending I was dead. They then left and I ran back to my family.
"The Tutsi soldier came inside and told me he was going to have sex with me. I asked how he could sleep with someone my age. To save myself, I told him I had AIDS and I begged him to let me go. But he refused. Later that night, six other women I know were raped. We don't know who was responsible. Since I was raped, my husband has rejected me and I've been weak and traumatized. But what worries us most is hunger and sickness. I don't know how much longer we'll last."
According to the most recent statistics from CARE, over 400 women are raped a month. As mentioned in an earlier post, though, these numbers barely convey the brutal reality. As Elisabeth Roesch, the Gender and Advocacy Advisor for CARE in the Congo, explains:
"We know rape is typically under-reported, and feel that this number doesn’t even come close to reflecting the actual number of cases – the actual number is unimaginable. With this recent fighting, we won’t know the full extent right away, because there is such stigma around sexual violence
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has also warned of increasing attacks against women living in displaced person camps: "Women and girls are forced to leave the camp in search of additional firewood, food and income for their families and these daily chores expose them to sexual violence."
An article in Australia's The Age newspaper provides a look at the long-term trauma associated with rape, including the story of a woman in eastern Congo who has dedicated her life to helping fellow rape-victims.
Finally, there are ways we can help:
The international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign started on November 25th. The Center for Women's Global Leadership has produced both a guide to getting involved for new activists, as well as a list of ten ways that everyone can engage. (Other resources are available here.)
The Enough Project recently launched the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign, to protect and empower Congolese women and girls facing the scourge of rape. To take action, see here.
We each play a role in the conflict in Africa because our demand for electronic resources is what fuels it and guns from our country perpetuate it. Therefore, we should each play a role in peace.
John Prendergast discussed the need for a mass movement of people in the United States who want to stop genocide. It is up to us to put political pressure on Congress and the president to act. We must use our political voice. When we raise our voices in unison, it makes a difference.
Prendergast outlined several things each American can do to bring peace to the region, which could save millions of lives, and it would only take about fifteen minutes. Start by just trying one of the following:
Join the anti-genocide movement. Sign up for an organization like Save Darfur, STAND, or Enough. These organizations lobby members of Congress, and have power simply because they have a large number of people behind them. It is free and easy, and even if you don't read the emails they send you, you are helping just by being on the list.
Call Congress and/or the White House directly. They tally up the number of calls they receive. There is even a special phone number for this issue: 1-800-GENOCIDE. You can call as many times as you want.
Get in touch with members of Congress. For California Senators: Click here to email Barbara Boxer. Click here to email Dianne Feinstein. Click here to get information on how you can write to your representative in the House. According to John, if you don’t vote or write to the people you vote for, you don’t really exist in the system. We elect them and are their bosses, so they listen to us.
Write to your local media or call them. Tell them that you want to see more news about what is going on in war-torn places like Africa. We are their bosses also, because we buy their newspaper.
The biggest changes have come about because of large-scale people’s movements. Think about the abolitionists, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and others. Now is time for an anti-genocide movement. This may be the most compelling moral issue of our time, according to John. We must raise our voices to stop the first genocide of the 21st century. This is our chance to prevent the deaths of millions of people.
The AP recently reported on an interesting story about the Somali community in Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Young Somali men in Minneapolis have gone missing in recent months, and some members of the Somali community fear the youths are being recruited to return to their homeland to fight with terrorist groups.
One of the men who disappeared from Minneapolis is believed to have killed himself in an Oct. 29 suicide bombing in northern Somalia, according to a U.S. law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. That official confirmed that the FBI and Justice Department were investigating.
Another U.S. law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities are calling it one of the first instances in which a U.S. citizen has acted as a suicide bomber.
The Oct. 29 bombings included a series of five seemingly coordinated attacks in the breakaway republic of Somaliland and in Somalia's Puntland region. More than 20 people were killed.
''We're aware of the circumstances in Somalia right now and the events of the Oct. 29 bombings. And we are aware that a number of individuals from throughout the U.S. and Minneapolis have traveled to Somalia to potentially fight for terrorist groups,'' said Special Agent E.K. Wilson, an FBI spokesman in Minneapolis. He did not confirm or deny whether there was an ongoing investigation.
Members of the Somali community in Minneapolis said small groups of young men have been disappearing from Minnesota over the last year. Anywhere from 15 to 20 have left Minneapolis in recent months, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.
. . .
Some members of the Somali community in Minneapolis are concerned that the young men are being recruited to go to Somalia and fight. The impoverished nation on the Horn of Africa is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has not had a functioning government since 1991.
''It has to come to an end right now,'' said Jamal. ''It has to stop. ... We have so many families grieving. We don't want any more kids to get brainwashed and programmed.''
Jamal and Ahmed said it is suspicious because someone is providing money and transportation for the men to fly from Minnesota to Africa.
''My nephew, he doesn't have money for a ticket,'' said Ahmed. ''None of these kids do.''
Jamal said he hopes the situation isn't a black eye for the state's Somali community, which the U.S. Census numbered at more than 24,000 in 2006. Local activists claim the actual number is higher than that.
''We hope that this won't be an issue where the community will be looked at differently,'' Jamal said. ''Somalis at large are very peaceful people. ... We don't want the Somali community to be looked at as a group of suicide bombers.''
Might the U.S.'s recent intervention in Somalia have been relevant to this story? How could you report an entire story on Somali migrants' return to fight in their home country and fail to mention the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of the country two years ago?
There had been signs before the invasion that the U.S. was planning to get entangled in Somalia again to unseat the Muslim-led transitional government:
More than a decade after U.S. troops withdrew from Somalia following a disastrous military intervention, officials of Somalia's interim government and some U.S. analysts of Africa policy say the United States has returned to the African country, secretly supporting secular warlords who have been waging fierce battles against Islamic groups for control of the capital, Mogadishu.
. . .
Leaders of the transitional government said they have warned U.S. officials that working with the warlords is shortsighted and dangerous.
"We would prefer that the U.S. work with the transitional government and not with criminals," the prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, said in an interview. "This is a dangerous game. Somalia is not a stable place and we want the U.S. in Somalia. But in a more constructive way. Clearly we have a common objective to stabilize Somalia, but the U.S. is using the wrong channels."
. . .
Analysts said they were convinced the Bush administration was backing the warlords as part of its global war against terrorism.
"The U.S. relies on buying intelligence from warlords and other participants in the Somali conflict, and hoping that the strongest of the warlords can snatch a live suspect or two if the intelligence identifies their whereabouts," said John Prendergast, the director for African affairs in the Clinton administration and now a senior adviser at the nongovernmental International Crisis Group. "This strategy might reduce the short-term threat of another terrorist attack in East Africa, but in the long term the conditions which allow terrorist cells to take hold along the Indian Ocean coastline go unaddressed. We ignore these conditions at our peril."
. . .
"George W. Bush, we welcome the Americans. But not to back warlords. We need the U.S.A. to help the young government," said Isak Nur Isak, the district commissioner in Waajid. "We won't drag any Americans through the street like in 1993. We want to be clear: We don't want only food aid, but we do want political support for the new government, which is all we have right now to put our hopes in. We can't eat if everyone is dead."
Predictably, Bush ignored the naysayers. As USA Today reported in January 2007:
The United States has quietly poured weapons and military advisers into Ethiopia, whose recent invasion of Somalia opened a new front in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.
A Christian-led nation in sub-Saharan Africa, surrounded almost entirely by Muslim states, Ethiopia has received nearly $20 million in U.S. military aid since late 2002. That's more than any country in the region except Djibouti.
Last month, thousands of Ethiopian troops invaded neighboring Somalia and helped overturn a fundamentalist Islamic government that the Bush administration said was supported by al-Qaeda.
Predictably, Somalia is now embroiled an ongoing conflict and chances of reconciliation grow slimmer each day. From the State Department's own website earlier this month:
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including northern Somalia. On October 29, 2008, terrorists launched several coordinated and near-simultaneous attacks involving multiple car bombs against local and international targets in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland. There is no U.S. Embassy or other U.S. diplomatic presence in Somalia. Consequently, the U.S. government is not in a position to assist or effectively provide services to U.S. citizens in Somalia.
Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia have demonstrated their intent and capability to attack air operations at Mogadishu International Airport. Kidnapping, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents and threats to U.S. citizens and other foreigners can occur in many regions. Inter-clan and inter-factional fighting flares up with little or no warning. Unpredictable armed conflicts among rival militias are prevalent in southern Somalia, particularly in and around Mogadishu. This has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Somali nationals and the displacement of nearly one million people. In December 2006, Ethiopian military forces entered Somalia in support of the Somali Transitional Federal Government. The continuing Ethiopian military presence and support for the Transitional Federal Government has heightened tensions among rival political and clan factions within Somalia.
Systematically turning Muslim-led countries into failed states is not only terrible foreign policy, it is terrible counter-terrorism policy. The exodus of young Somalis to go fight in their homeland should be seen as evidence of this.
Policies like these are in part the product of ignorance and prejudice among the governing elite which led the Bush administration to profile Muslims in another failed, legally suspect counter-terrorism initiative called Operation Front Line in 2004, and then lie about it to the public.
As the son of a Muslim who lived in a majority Muslim country as a child, I hope that Barack Obama has the good sense to change this disastrous course.
I worry he may not, given his ill-considered comments supporting hypothetical military strikes in Pakistan.