'Once Again' in Darfur
Here we are again, and again, and again. It is not a new message or a new concern. People have been suffering, starving, raped, beaten and killed year in and year out. There are those who have committed years, entire lives, to the cause. They have preached, they have marched, they have sung, they have divested, and they have been arrested to make their voices heard. Politicians, celebrities, faith leaders, and activists have joined together to stand up and speak out. The campaigns have gone on so long and the education so effective that 58 percent of Americans can now locate this remote country on a map. But, "never again" has turned into "once again," and history repeats itself with genocide in Darfur.
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Over the past few weeks, 13 international humanitarian organizations have been expelled from Sudan at the dictate of Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan. These actions came soon after the International Criminal Court handed down an indictment of al-Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. As a result, 1.1 million Darfuris are without food, 1.5 million without health care, and more than 1 million without access to clean drinking water. If there was any doubt as to whether or not he was truly acting in the best interest of his people, his use of food and water as weapons of war show that he just does not care about the people of Darfur.
Over the past month, officials have spoken to me about invoking Article 16 of the Court's statutes which would allow the U.N. Security Council to defer proceedings for a year or even more. They argue that this would allow the Khartoum government to take positive steps forward in taking care of its people and moving toward peace. With the expulsion of these humanitarian organizations, al-Bashir has shown that he has no interest in the well-being of the people of Darfur or in bringing piece. These actions show that once again there comes a time when a political leader has so violated standards of international law and morality that he should no longer be treated as a sovereign, even in his own country, but as a criminal. Actions like this show that he should no longer be president, but prosecuted and brought to justice like the international fugitive of the law he now is. If he was serious about peace and progress, the first thing he should do is welcome the aid organizations back into his country, and without that he has ensured that this warrant will be pursued.
Thursday morning, a small group gathered in the Rules Committee meeting room of the Capitol building. Congressmen and women, activists, faith leaders, and celebrities spoke to express our outrage at the flagrant disregard for human life, but press was sparse at the event. AIG bonuses were the headlines of the day. Certainly, that is a revelation worthy of our anger, but in the midst of our financial concerns, we must remember the lives of the millions killed over the past 20 years and the hundreds of thousands of deaths that will come with the support of the Khartoum government.
Where do we go from here? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in response to the expulsion of aid groups,
The real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in these camps.
We all must ask ourselves what more we can do as we escalate our own response to this offense to our faith and our conscience. The president took a step forward by appointing a new special envoy to Sudan, General J. Scott Gration, but that is not enough. Congresswoman Donna Edwards said it this way at the press conference: "It is not just by our appointments but by our actions that we need to show that what Khartoum has done is unacceptable."
Again, and again, and again. The unacceptable has been accepted, atrocities have been ignored. When the dust clears and the bodies are buried, burned, or left to rot in forsaken camps, the whole world will mourn for what has been done. But, what Sudan needs is not apologies in the future, but hope today. Until the killing has stopped and peace restored, Sudan needs people of conscience across the world who will stand in solidarity today, tomorrow, and the day after that