2 March 2005

Sudan: Rights-Sudan: U.S. Congressional Leaders Seek Urgent Moves On Darfur

Washington — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is calling for immediate action by the administration of President George W. Bush and the U.N. Security Council to stop the violence in Darfur.

Senators Jon Corzine and Sam Brownback, who led the successful effort last summer to enact a resolution finding that Khartoum and Arab militias, called Janjaweed, in Darfur were committing "genocide" against the African population in the region, introduced the Darfur Acountability Act (DAA) Wednesday, along with six other Republican and Democratic senators.

The Act, which is non-binding, calls for a new U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against the Sudanese government; the extension of an arms embargo against unofficial groups in Darfur to Khartoum itself; a freeze of assets and the denial of visas to those responsible for the killings; enhanced support for an African Union observer mission in the region; the appointment of a presidential envoy for Sudan; and the imposition of a no-fly zone over Darfur.

"We do not have days or weeks to spare when millions of lives are in jeopardy," said Brownback, leader of the Christian Right faction in the Republican Party. "We cannot grant the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed more time to execute the African tribes in Darfur."

The action comes as a Bush administration effort to get a new resolution on Sudan and Darfur through the Security Council has stalled as a result of differences, with its allies in the European Union (EU) over whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a regional African court should be given jurisdiction for investigating and prosecuting the crimes against humanity perpetrated during the two-year-old conflict.

It has also been stalled over threats by Russia, which sells substantial amounts of arms to Khartoum, and China, which has made large investments in Sudan's burgeoning oil sector, to veto a resolution that would impose economic sanctions or an arms embargo against the regime.

These impasses have fueled growing frustration in Washington, where an unusual coalition of Christian fundamentalists, human rights groups, and liberal Democrats have been pushing hard on both the administration and on Congress for tougher measures to stop the violence which has resulted in the deaths of least 70,000 and, according to some recent estimates, more than 300,000 Darfurians, the vast majority of them, Muslim Africans.

"The Corzine/Brownback bill is animated by an appropriate frustration with U.N. inaction and Bush administration indecision," said Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor and well-known U.S. activist on Sudan.

"But it simply does not address the critical issues before the international community," he added, noting that the resolution is non-binding and does not add much to existing legislation.

In particular, it does not call for toughening the mandate of the AU observer force, which now numbers just over 1,500 out of 3,000 approved by the Security Council last September, to enable it to forcefully prevent attacks on civilians in Darfur instead of just monitoring them.

Nearly two million people have been uprooted since Khartoum launched its counter-insurgency campaign against the African Darfurians in early 2003. While 200,000 fled across the border into Chad, the remainder is displaced, many of them in camps controlled by the army or the Janjaweed, whose members are recruited from the Arab population in Darfur.

"Will we protect the many hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur who are at risk of violent attack by Khartoum and its Janjaweed allies?" he asked, noting that "the AU is transparently inadequate to the task, though there is no willingness by its political leadership to say as much."

The latest developments came as Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a video-taped interview with the top Janjaweed leader in Darfur, Musal Hilal, conducted last September.

The tape, in which Hilal insists that the Janjaweed took orders directly from army military commanders, contradicts the government's assertions that it had no control over the militias.

"All of the people in the field are led by top army commanders," Hilal says on the tape. "These people get their orders from the Western command centre, and from Khartoum."

"Musa Hilal squarely contradicts the government's claim that it has 'no relationship' with local militias," said Peter Takirambudde, director of HRW's Africa division. He said the government has long insisted that it is strictly "neutral".

"We now see that the two parties responsible for crimes against humanity in Darfur are pointing the finger at each other," Takirambudde noted.

Like Amnesty International and a special U.N. commission that released its report last week, HRW has said it does not yet have enough evidence to conclude that the government's action amounts to "genocide", although there is no question that massive human rights abuses have been committed by both government forces and the Janjaweed.

To the frustration of some activists, the Bush administration, which recently sent a new charge d'affaires to Khartoum to head its embassy there in part to reward the recent peace agreement between the government and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), a southern insurgency that fought Khartoum for 21 years, has not yet applied all of the bilateral sanctions against the government that Congress authorised last fall.

In particular, it has failed so far to publish a list of individuals in the government and the Janjaweed whose assets Congress asked to be frozen. In addition, the administration has not asked the Security Council to modify the AU force's mandate to include protection of civilians.

And, given its strong antipathy to the ICC in The Hague, the U.S. has devoted considerable diplomatic energy to trying to persuade its European allies to go along with a plan that would create a special new African court, alongside the existing tribunal on the genocide in Rwanda, to prosecute cases on Darfur.

Reflecting the split between Democrats and Republicans in Congress on the ICC, the latest resolution by Corzine and Brownback attempts to finesse that issue, calling for the abuses in Darfur to be referred to a "competent international court of justice."

In a detailed poll released Tuesday, the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that 60 percent of the public believes Darfur should be referred to the ICC, even when the administration's rationale for opposing the tribunal are explained to them.

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