Obama’s time to act on Darfur is now

BY BETH UREEL | MARCH 25, 2009 7:30 AM

There is a crisis occurring in Sudan, and many Americans are unaware of it. More than 300,000 Darfurians have died; up to 2.5 million have been displaced. The situation in the Darfur region of Sudan is getting more desperate by the day. As a global leader, and member of the United Nations, we have an obligation to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

During the recent presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to take action. It is clear that our government has a lot on its plate right now, but we cannot keep watching the Sudanese government continue to commit genocidal acts. In the past month, Sudan has seen its president, Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity and al-Bashir retaliate by expelling 16 aid groups from Sudan. So far in his presidency, all Obama has done is appoint a U.S. envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, last week.

In 1951, the United Nations met at the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust. According to the doctrine that came out of this, “genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law that [the members] undertake to prevent and to punish.” The United States has made poor choices regarding this doctrine in past circumstances, and we must learn from our mistakes.

During former President Clinton’s first term, the Rwandan genocide occurred; the United States did not hurry to call it “genocide,” because U.S. officials knew if they did, they would have to act to stop it. In a PBS interview, several members of Clinton’s Cabinet said the U.S. inaction is one of their greatest regrets. In both the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, people speak the same lines, “Never again.” And now here we sit idly while genocide threatens to claim the lives of an entire culture.

We are still part of the United Nations, and the Genocide Convention still applies. Former President George W. Bush, President Obama and other prominent political figures have all called what is occurring in Darfur GENOCIDE. Because this word has passed through their lips, the United States has a responsibility to uphold the doctrine we signed. We must make this crisis a priority, or we risk yet another human-rights failure.

Sudan will continue to act in this manner for as long as its leaders think they can get away with it without being penalized. China is essentially financing the Sudanese genocide in Darfur because of Sudan’s oil; according the Save Darfur Coalition, “China is Sudan’s largest bilateral trading partner” with more than two-thirds of Sudan’s total exports going to China. The United States, China, and other members of the United Nations must pressure Sudan to end to its atrocities. According to USA Today, during the campaign, Obama said, “The United States had a ‘moral obligation’ to stop the killing in Darfur, which he called a ‘stain on our souls.’ ”

It is easy to distance ourselves, to push the news stories out of our minds. We think we are not directly affected. We fail to realize that many of Darfur’s refugees come to the United States; they become our neighbors and friends. According to the Sudanese American Association (Iowa), in 2002, there were roughly 400 Sudanese refugees in the Iowa City area alone, and the number continues to rise. It is no longer enough just to condemn the Sudanese government for its actions and appoint a U.S. envoy to the region.

One person alone may not be able to end the genocide occurring in Darfur, but we each have a responsibility to speak out. I encourage you to take a stand. Write to your congressperson and the president. We must tell them how we feel. We must persuade President Obama to uphold his promise to make this a priority. We must stand by our vow: Never Again. Urge Obama to give Envoy Gration support by way of access to pertinent information and financial/nonfinancial resources. Urge him to get tough on China. The United States owes more than $1 trillion to China, so we have avoided any type of concrete pressure on China regarding Sudan thus far — this is not acceptable.

The United States has shown remorse and regret based on our inaction in previous similar situations, so why do we not help this time? Why do we not come to the aid of our neighbors and friends — refugees who come here asking for our protection, asking the United States to help put an end to genocide? We must stand up for human rights for our Sudanese friends, neighbors, and their families — we need to live by our promise: Never Again.

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