The Sudan Peace Act, signed into law last fall, was not only a victory for a grassroots movement of churches and human rights organizations. It was also a sign that there might yet be hope for Sudan.
Sudan has been in civil war since 1989, when the extremist National Islamic Front (NIF), based in the North, usurped power through a military coup. The war has been mostly one-sided, since the North has tremendous technological and economic advantages. The NIF regularly bombs and raids villages in the South, capturing women and children as concubines and slaves. NIF forces also burn crops and force residents out of farming areas to promote "ethnic cleansing" through famine. More than 2 million Sudanese have died and more than 4 million are displaced. In 2000, the U.S. Holocaust Museum issued a "genocide warning" for Sudan, the first time it has done so for a country outside of Europe.
In response to the suffering, individuals and religious and human rights groups in the United States and Canada began protesting and lobbying their governments. The movement overcame intense State Department resistance to get passage of the Sudan Peace Act. The act downgrades diplomatic relations with the NIF, opposes international loans, seeks a U.N. arms embargo, and initiates the formation of multilateral efforts to deny the NIF access to oil revenue. These terms come into effect six months after any time the NIF decides to abandon peace talks. The bill also authorizes $300 million in humanitarian nonmilitary aid to southern Sudan. It is not perfect: Many are concerned that the act allows U.S. funding for the southern Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement, which could fuel the conflict rather than encourage a negotiated peace.