Published November 10, 2008 @ 10:02AM PST
The Save Darfur conference in Washington, DC this weekend was dominated by talk of shaping the Darfur agenda in the new Obama-Biden Administration. Given both President-Elect Barack Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden's stated commitment to ending the genocide in Darfur, as well as to renew American diplomacy and world leadership after years of noncooperation with the international community, the U.S. political transition represents a real opportunity--the first in a long time--for activists to change U.S. policies towards Sudan.
But as was frequently stressed at the conference, this will be no easy task. Conflict resolution in Darfur is itself a bit of a diplomatic nightmare, and Obama will face a variety of other challenges once in office. The lunch plenary of the Save Darfur conference, in conjunction with the STAND student conference, urged activists to use our voice to ensure that Darfur remains a priority for the new administration.
The panel of speakers--including Jerry Fowler and Amir Osman of Save Darfur, Omer Ismail of ENOUGH, and Sam Bell of the Genocide Intervention Network--identified several key priorities for activists and the new adminsitration:
- The U.S. needs to lead the international community in developing a sustained, comprehensive initiative to bring peace to all of Sudan, including Darfur--to end the genocide, rather than continue to manage the consequences. Without attacking the root causes of Sudan's multiple, overlapping conflicts, the genocide in Darfur and instability in the rest of the country will continue indefinitely. The U.S. spends over $1 billion a year in Sudan, but as panelist Omer Ismail asked, "To what end? At the end of the day, the genocide is continuing into its sixth year, with no end in sight."
- With support of the Arab League, African Union, China, and Russia, the Government of Sudan is far from isolated. Accordingly, the U.S. needs to work with a variety of world leaders--not just France and the UK--to push Khartoum into a meaningful peace process. According to Amir Osman, many individual African states are displeased with the AU's support of Khartoum. Additionally, the Chinese will support the position of African states. The U.S. should use its new diplomatic clout in Africa, under Obama, to engage leaders in Sudan's immediate region as well as throughout the continent in seeking a comprehensive solution to the genocide in Darfur.
- The U.S. should support the investigations of the International Criminal Court, which create an important point of leverage over the Government of Sudan. Khartoum understands the consequences of a possible indictment of President al-Bashir--as evidenced by their ardent effort to suspend the proceedings.
Many other policy points were addressed, but the crux of the issue is the need for a comprehensive solution crafted and implemented in coordination with the international community, and particularly leaders in Africa. If African states are on board, Khartoum can no longer accuse the U.S. of pursuing a hidden neo-colonial agenda. And with any hope, China might also fall in line, and Khartoum will become increasingly isolated and forced to negotiate.
As Osman said, "President Bush called it genocide, but didn't end it." Now it's time to end it, and it's not overly idealistic to say we stand a real chance.
[Photo: Barack Obama visits with Sudanese refugees at a camp near Guereda, Chad, during a trip to Africa. (Pete Souza/Tribune / September 2, 2005)]