U.S. government can do more for Darfur

Brandon Eck

For over four years, the Sudanese government has systematically supported a brutal killing campaign of its own people in the Western region of Darfur. Government- sponsored militia groups, known as Janjaweed, have destroyed villages, raped women and murdered civilians. The statistics are mind-numbing: as many as 400,000 people have been killed, 2.5 million have been displaced and approximately 90 percent of the villages in the country have been completely destroyed. The most frightening component is that the situation is actually getting worse, and humanitarian aid workers are being forced to leave the camps.

Darfur is the 21st century’s first genocide. Pressured by activists across the country, the United States has taken valuable steps in an attempt to end the conflict. In July 2004, the U.S. Congress recognized the breadth of the crisis by declaring the situation in Darfur to be genocide – the first time our government has made such a declaration while the tragedy was still unfolding. The unanimous vote in both the House and the Senate seemed to demonstrate a genuine commitment to our often-made, never-kept pledge of “never again.” President Bush followed the resolution with his own proclamation of genocide only a month later. Too often, though, this rhetoric is not translated into real action.

Words are not enough to save the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians at risk in Darfur. Action is needed, and it is needed now. Many citizens and members of Congress blame the Bush administration for a lack of leadership, and some of this criticism is justified. Despite the appointment of a special envoy to Darfur, the administration has not consistently made stopping genocide in Darfur a top priority on its international slate. But Congress has also drastically failed the Darfurians. To be fair, it has appropriated funds for humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, passed resolutions urging the president to take more action and sent letters to the United States, United Nations and international officials regarding the genocide. It is clear from the gruesome situation on the ground in Sudan, however, that Congress can do much, much more.

Our community’s own members of Congress have fallen woefully short of providing Darfur the attention it needs. According to DarfurScores.org, a project of the Genocide Intervention Network and STAND, Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania has received an “A” for efforts to end genocide, but a couple of our public representatives in the states where the majority of our students reside – Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – carry grades of “C” or lower on their respective report cards. Action already taken by our elected officials is one step in the right direction to help end the conflict in Darfur, but we need more support and more legislators pushing for more action to end this conflict. Legislators can take immediate action in the coming months to help promote real peace in Sudan. They can improve their grades on stopping genocide and take real steps to end the genocide.

Firstly, Congress must secure enough financial support to bolster the existing African Union peacekeeping mission. Although the A.U. mission must be replaced by a U.N. force, it is currently the only force protecting civilians. At least $180 million in additional funds is needed to protect civilians.

Secondly, Congress must help to ensure taxpayer dollars are not being used to support the atrocities in Darfur. Genocide is an expensive venture, and the Sudanese government is using revenues from foreign companies to help fund its military campaign in Darfur. Divesting from these companies is an effective method of placing economic pressure on the Sudanese government. Congress must support federal protection for divestment from companies doing business in Sudan.

Thirdly, Congress needs to ensure Darfur becomes a top priority of our country’s lawmakers. Congress should constantly speak out, engage the president, talk to constituents and do all it can to end the genocide. Only an increased commitment from the U.S. to end the genocide can help save lives.

In 1994, the Rwandan genocide occurred in the space of 100 days, as 800,000 Rwandans died while the international community stood idly to the side. The genocide is a large stain in world history, and President Clinton has referred to it as his biggest presidential blunder. Sadly, many have called Darfur a “Rwanda in slow motion.” Yet ironically, the situation does provide an inkling of hope. While 400,000 have already lost their lives, countless more can be saved. If we act now, we can end genocide, and we can ensure that a future generation of Darfurians can take leadership in providing for a new future in Sudan. What will the history books say about our efforts in Darfur if we do not act now?

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Brandon Eck is a guest columnist for The Villanovan. He is a senior biology major from State College, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]