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Bi-partisan panel hosts Darfur press conference

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Bi-partisan panel hosts Darfur press conference

Posted by Meghna Raj on March 22, 2009

Bi-partisan panel hosts Darfur press conference

A press conference on Capitol Hill this week drew a powerful line-up of prominent Darfur advocates from Congress, faith-based and secular organizations, and Hollywood to jointly denounce Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s expulsion of aid agencies from Darfur and discuss the way forward. The panel unanimously declared that Bashir has now made himself culpable for the additional lives that will be lost as a result of the aid gap.

“Bombs from the air and bullets even from close range can miss, but starvation hits everyone,” said Enough advisor Omer Ismail.

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel for the Religious Action Center, noted the tragedy of the fact that Darfuri men, women, and children who had managed to survive Khartoum’s aerial attacks and the Janjaweed’s attacks on the ground now face starvation and mass sickness as camps begin to cope with severely reduced services.

Numerous speakers said that if meaningful action weren’t taken to stop Bashir, he would continue to take steps to assert his authority, with devastating consequences for his people.

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) described a meeting he had a few years ago with the Sudanese head of state and likened him to Joseph Stalin. The Congressman said that Bashir was singularly concerned about U.N. sanctions against him and added that Bashir was visibly annoyed when Smith asked if he had ever been to the camps to see the effects of his actions. 

Members on the panel seemed generally pleased that President Obama had selected retired Air Force General Scott Gration to be the Special Envoy to Sudan, but emphasized that Gration must act effectively and expediently.

As John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project put it: “President Obama needs to walk, chew gum, and whistle all at the same time in Sudan.”

Congress was well represented on the panel, making it clear that representatives are heeding the calls of their constituents to make Darfur a priority. Now that activists have Congress’ ear, it’s crucial to keep the pressure on.

Participants at the press conference included:
U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA)
U.S. Representative Jim Moran (D-VA)
U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ)
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)
U.S. Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD)
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Maria Bello, Activist and Actress
Jerry Fowler, President, Save Darfur Coalition
John Prendergast, Co-Founder, Enough Project
Omer Ismail, Advisor, Enough Project 
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Reverend Jim Wallis, President and Executive Director, Sojourners