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Darfur Survivor Shares Human Rights Day Message at White House Observance

Representatives of a broad coalition of Darfur activists across the United States are pushing for a diplomatic peace surge to end the violence in Sudan’s western region.They accompanied Sudanese physician Halima Bashir to the White House for Wednesday’s observance of International Human Rights Day.A war victim herself, Dr. Bashir treated assault and rape victims at a clinic she ran in Darfur until 2005.Advocacy director Sam Bell of the Genocide Intervention Network says that it is important for Halima Bashir and other witnesses to the Darfur atrocities to meet with presidents and international policymakers.He says that sharing their first-hand accounts of the genocidal horrors faced by hundreds of thousands of displaced war victims is the best way to get world leaders to understand their message and take stronger action to end the crisis.

“You really need to let Darfuri war victims tell their stories.And those stories need to be able to influence policymakers.We need to listen to these people, but not just listen – internalize and act on their message,” he said.

Dr. Bashir authored a book on her Darfur experience, Tears in the Desert.Wednesday, she told US President George Bush that Darfur war victims attach great significance to the International Criminal Court’s pursuit and prosecution of Sudanese war criminals.Bell said she also asked Mr. Bush to step up the peace process during his final weeks in office and to remind the incoming Obama administration of the importance of bolstering the Darfur peacekeeping force.

US anti-genocide groups, while appreciative of the Bush administration’s strong stand against the Khartoum government, say they are also hopeful about President-elect Obama’s moves to pressure Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to end the violence.Sam Bell of the Genocide Intervention Network says the coalition is pleased so far with Mr. Obama’s foreign policy appointments.

“Barack Obama himself has been very outspoken about not only his concern for what’s going on, but the high priority Darfur will have in terms of his foreign policy goals.And he’s backed that up so far by appointing Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, who have been outspoken advocates of very specific measures that are very tough on the Sudanese government.And one of the problems we’ve had over the last four or five years is that no one has been able to call the Sudanese government’s bluff to effectively push them to change their behavior.And we hope that the new Obama foreign policy team with the president leading will be just the team to do that,” he said.

While aware of the need to keep up the pressure on Khartoum, Bell says Darfur rights groups, including the Enough Project of the Center for American Progress, the Save Darfur Coalition, and the Genocide Intervention Network anticipate that the new US foreign policy team will pursue plans for a so-called “peace surge” to bring about an end to the conflict.

“We want robust diplomacy to bring all the sides, including the government of the Sudan to the table to hammer out a negotiated solution to the crisis so that peacekeepers can do their jobs, so that people can return home.And the only way we’re going to get that peace deal is if we’re willing to get tough with Khartoum and they see the peace deal as their best option going forward,” he noted.

In 1994, the Clinton administration was criticized for failing to act during the genocide in Rwanda.With the return to power of key Clinton advisers who servedduring that time, Sam Bell points out that the new administration will be judged by its policy experts’ ability to learn from past mistakes and make better decisions in the future.

“I think that there are two ways to see this.One is that we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes we made in Rwanda because we’ll have all sorts of other pressing concerns, Iraq and Afghanistan at the top of the list.The other is: people learn from past experiences, and a lot of the people who are coming in to these high-level positions, specifically Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, have talked very openly about their regrets about inaction during the Clinton years while the Rwandan genocide was ongoing.So that gives us some hope, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a done deal.And the American people still need to put pressure on the Obama administration and its foreign policy nominees to make sure that those words are actually translated into actions,” he said.