U.S. policy toward Sudan and international efforts to devise a lasting and effective solution to the situation in Darfur are receiving attention from the Congress this week. Two House of Representatives committees and one Senate panel are looking at Sudan, as well as U.S. support for international peacekeeping.
The hearings come a week after the fifth anniversary of resolutions passed on July 22, 2004 by the House and Senate declaring that genocide was taking place in Sudan.
Less than two months later, then Secretary of State Colin Powell concurred with Congress that genocide had been committed in Darfur, responsibility for which he said lay with Janjawid militia forces supported by the government in Khartoum.
The Obama administration has faced criticism that it has been slow to formulate an effective strategy toward Sudan and the situation in Darfur.
On Thursday, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration will have an opportunity to lay out administration thinking and plans when he appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A former envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice testify to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health about peacekeeping operations and the status of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman discussed the hearings in an interview to be broadcast this Saturday on VOA's Press Conference USA.
"A lot of resources have been put into trying to deal with this issue," said Howard Berman. "They have not worked as well as we would have wanted, and we have to find ways to sharpen our effort, we have to change what is going on, we have to protect the victims in Darfur and other parts of Sudan."
A resolution in the House of Representatives says that despite Congress's genocide declaration five years ago, the United Nations and countries with significant influence in Sudan, including China and certain Arab League nations, have yet to take significant action.
As the House debated health care reform on Tuesday, Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, rose to address the situation in Darfur.
"I rise today to draw awareness to the unconscionable human tragedy that is still taking place in the Darfur region," said Gwen Moore. "It has been five years since the U.S. Congress declared genocide in Darfur but thousands continue to perish."
Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sponsored the resolution which urges the U.S. and other nations to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Darfur and full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). In a statement supporting the measure, she said the U.S. must re-focus efforts on Darfur, and said Congress will not rest in pursuit of full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The resolution also calls for governments to provide sufficient resources to support deployment of a fully-constituted African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). And it urges parties to the conflict in Darfur to stop attacks on civilians and humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, and fully commit to finding a political solution.
When he goes before the Senate committee on Thursday, U.S. envoy to Sudan Gration will likely be asked about the status of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended decades of conflict between the North and the South in Sudan.
Also likely to come up will be the tense state of affairs between Sudan and Chad which hosts about 250,000 refugees from Darfur. Chadian rebels have used Sudanese territory to launch attacks on Chadian government forces, disrupting humanitarian operations.