The Conflict in Darfur

By Representative Joe Schwartz–MD

Those with Armenian–Jewish–and Cambodian heritage–among others–understand all too well what happens when good people remain silent and allow atrocities to continue unabated. On April 30–2006–they were among the thousands who attended a rally in Washington DC for those affected by the strife and unrest in Darfur. Although many at the rally had divergent political and economic views–tragic situations have a unique way of compelling many people to speak with one voice.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003–when rebels launched attacks seeking greater political autonomy. In response–Sudan’s Islamic government dispatched troops and pro-government militias known as the Janjaweed to quell the uprising. The militias embarked on a campaign of terror–killing–and raping civilians mostly from ethnic groups.

On occasion–the conflict in Darfur has been labeled as a fight between Arabs and black Africans. Yet–the truth is more complicated in that African and Arab identities are often indistinguishable in Sudan. In fact–the true division in Darfur is between ethnic groups–divided between herders and farmers. The dialect of its members and whether they tend to the soil or herd livestock is the true determinant of whether an individual is identified as "African" or "Arab."

Despite any real ability to distinguish between bloodlines–this 3-year-old conflict is responsible for the deaths of at least 200,000 people and for causing more than 2.5 million to flee their homes and seek shelter in refugee camps inside Darfur or to neighboring Chad. In the last month alone–more than 60,000 people have been forced to evacuate.

While the United States has been a leader–providing over $1.3 billion a year in humanitarian assistance–we must continue to actively express our disapproval and outrage at those who condone the genocidal actions of the Janjaweed and their associates. For this reason–I supported HR 3127–"The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act," approved 416-3 on April 5–2006 in the House of Representatives.

HR 3127 directs the President to deny visas for entry into the US of any person responsible for acts of genocide or crimes against humanity in Sudan. This bill authorizes the President to reinforce the deployment and operations of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Darfur–and directs the President to instruct our US Ambassador to NATO to lobby for a NATO peacekeeping force in Darfur. In addition–the bill encourages the President to consider pushing for an expansion of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission already in Sudan supporting the north-south peace agreement.

Given the authorization provided by HR 3127–I also voted in favor of the 2006 Defense Supplemental bill that specifically included $303 million for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur. This money will be used to sustain and expand the 7,700-member AU mission–supported by US and NATO logistics–surveillance–and airlift.

Finally–I signed a letter to the Secretary of State along with 119 other members of Congress urging her to appoint a special envoy to Sudan. As the letter states–I am concerned that there is not a single person whose sole responsibility is to monitor the situation in Darfur and Southern Sudan and answer directly to the Secretary of State. I believe the appointment of a special envoy with a clear mandate–who has the ear of the Secretary of State–will communicate to the Sudanese government and the world community the seriousness of our government’s intent to see the suffering in Darfur ended.

While the pressure being placed on the government of Sudan and the three rebel factions may yet yield a peaceful result in Darfur–it will not come easily. Mediators from the AU have already had to extend the deadline for agreement on a peace settlement in order to bridge the gap on the issues of reintegration and disarmament–as well as on wealth and power sharing.

There is no doubt that there are going to be some extraordinarily difficult challenges–but it is not too late for appropriate and constant pressure to convince the Sudanese government to do the right thing–to cease the mindless and brutal genocide in Darfur–and to bring some order and tranquility back to that part of Africa.

To its credit–the administration has dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick to Abuja–Nigeria–where negotiations are being held to encourage a successful end to the horrific situation in Darfur. Success in this effort is a must.

Representative Joe Schwarz is a Congressman representing Michigan’s 7th District.


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