05.03.07

Burr: Time to Act in Darfur

On May 5, the world will recognize the one year anniversary of the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement by the government of Sudan and the Sudanese Liberation Army. But instead of celebrating an end to the violence and a return of Darfurians to their homes, the killings, rape, and genocide have continued in Darfur.

On April 18, President Bush, in remarks at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., announced new steps the United States is prepared to take if Sudan's President Bashir does not end his government's explicit support for the genocide in Darfur. The President called on Bashir to allow the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur, end his government's support for the Janjaweed militia that is carrying out the majority of the attacks, and allow desperately needed humanitarian aid to reach the three million Darfurians who rely on such aid for their daily survival.

If Bashir does not do so in a "short period of time," President Bush stated that he will tighten U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan, more aggressively enforce existing sanctions, target sanctions directly at individuals responsible for the violence, and prepare a new UN Security Council resolution addressing the situation.

But this is not the first time we have given Sudan an ultimatum. On November 20, 2006, Andrew Natsios, the President's Special Envoy to Sudan, gave Bashir a deadline of January 1, 2007, to take action to admit UN peacekeepers into Sudan or face "Plan B." Four months have passed since that deadline expired, and despite Congressional calls for action, no steps were taken to back up our threats. I would be surprised if Bashir takes us seriously this time either.

Despite this effort and the efforts of the international community, not only has the violence continued, but the government of Sudan is going to even greater lengths to carry out the atrocities. The New York Times recently described how the Sudanese government was violating the arms embargo by painting military aircraft white like the UN and using them to funnel arms into Darfur. Providing weapons to murderers is not the action of a government that is working to end genocide.

Despite the evidence to the contrary, the international community continues to allow Bashir to lead us by the nose. The day before President Bush's remarks at the Holocaust Museum, Sudan said it would allow 3,000 UN troops as part of a "heavy support package" into Darfur. Reports of this development led to guarded expressions of hope throughout the foreign affairs and international aid communities. But this is the fourth time Sudanese President Bashir has agreed to let UN peacekeepers into Sudan, and on all three previous occasions, he has gone back on his word.

The time for negotiation and deal-making with Sudan is over. It is time for the international community, led by the United States, to take concrete action to end the atrocities in Darfur.

It is time for President Bashir to make a decision. He can either join with the world's leaders and end genocide in Darfur, or continue down the path toward complete isolation from the international community. It is time Bashir's own political future was linked to that of the six million Darfurians who do not know if they will live to eat their next meal.

It is time for Russia and China to join the international community as partners instead of as spoilers in the UN Security Council. By providing arms and buying Sudanese oil, both Russia and China have directly contributed to a prolonging of the conflict and countless deaths.

Additionally, it is time to strengthen and enforce the arms embargo, begin targeted sanctions, and enforce the already-agreed to flight ban over Darfur.

The world is at a crossroads in Darfur. We can wait until another wave of killing sweeps across Darfur to take action. Or we can take steps now to prevent another holocaust. If a year from now we are asking whether Bashir's most recent ultimatum has expired, it will have been too late and this question will have already been answered.

It is time to act in Darfur.