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
“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.