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Bush Highlights Plight of Darfur on International Human Rights Day


U.S. President George Bush says he is frustrated by the lack of United Nations action to help the suffering people of Sudan's Darfur region. The president highlighted their plight on International Human Rights Day, marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The president met at the White House with a woman who has become a symbol of the fight for human rights in Darfur and a tireless advocate for the people of the war-torn region.

Halima Bashir is a doctor who ran a clinic in Darfur. She became aware of the rapes of girls at a nearby school when they were brought to her for treatment. The girls, some as young as eight, were assaulted by members of the government-backed Janjaweed militias. Dr. Bashir made their story public. When she did, the Janjaweed came for her.

She was kidnapped, tortured and gang-raped. After she escaped, she wrote a book about her experiences titled Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur. President Bush called her a "brave soul."

"She has witnessed violence, deprivation, and she carries a message of a lot of people who want our help," said the president.

During a brief session with reporters, Mr. Bush said he assured her that even in these tough economic times, the United States will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Darfur. He said he also expressed his frustration with the pace of action at the U.N.

"The United Nations must expedite sending troops, peacekeepers, to provide security for the people," said Mr. Bush. "That's what they want. They want to be able to have a secure life, and we will help."

President Bush did not refer directly to the charges leveled against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court, which has accused him of a campaign of rape, murder and deportation in Darfur. But Mr. Bush left no doubt he believes the Sudanese leader bears responsibility for the violence.

"It is very important for President Bashir of Sudan to know that he cannot escape accountability," said President Bush, "that if he so chose he could change peoples' lives - the condition of peoples' lives - very quickly."

Halima Bashir listened quietly, and then responded in a very soft, low voice. She was covered from head to foot in a bright cotton cloak. The White House said she wanted to shroud her identity from her enemies.

"I am very happy, because now the Darfur victim's voices are heard in the White House," she said.

She said the people of Darfur have endured five years of bloodshed. She said they do not need to wait anymore, they need action.

Later in the day, Mr. Bush conferred with bloggers who are writing about human rights abuses around the world. Bloggers from Burma, Iran, China, Cuba and Belarus joined him at the White House, while those in Egypt and Venezuela participated via a video link.

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