As the longtime chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is often one of the first in Congress to speak up on the Senate floor or in committee hearings about issues related to African conflicts and humanitarian situations. This week, he delivered a powerful message to activists that drew on the experiences from his own life that compelled him to focus on the world’s gravest crimes against humanity, and he implored activists to once again raise the alarm for the situation in Darfur and for a comprehensive strategy for Sudan as a whole.
Speaking at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience policy conference, Senator Feingold discussed his own upbringing in the synagogue and reminded conference attendees that learning about the history of the Holocaust should not be where one stops. He told of his own inspiration to take the knowledge of the past and translate it into a commitment to progressing social justice and civil liberties. “Genocide and mass killings are among the greatest stains on our collective conscience,” he said, and pointed to activism as a key factor in pushing policy makers in the United States to care about Darfur.
Senator Feingold expressed the need for the U.S. to lead the international community in negotiating a viable peace in Sudan. He laid out what he thinks are the most important steps forward for President Obama and the newly-appointed Special Envoy Scott Gration.
First, the immediate humanitarian situation must be addressed. The U.N. estimates that the government of Sudan’s expulsion of international aid organizations in March will leave one million in Darfur without food, potable water, and health care in May. Feingold said that the international community must see that these gaps are filled to prevent the death of innocent civilians by starvation, a weapon not unfamiliar to the Sudanese regime. He also pointed out that the U.S. and its allies must develop a contingency plan to deal with the potential mass exodus of people from internally displaced persons, or IDP, camps within Sudan to refugee camps in neighboring Chad. Without this plan, Feingold said, we can plan on watching the situation "spiral out of control and further destabilize the region."
Feingold also emphasized the fragile nature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, between northern and southern Sudan, highlighting the urgent need for the United States and partners to focus on the agreement as an integral part of the comprehensive peace process. Senator Feingold warned that if the CPA collapses, the world will be “faced with a return to a war that is likely to be brutal and relentless.”
In closing, Senator Feingold challenged the hundreds of activists in the audience to continue to call attention to Darfur so as to ensure that policy makers sustain the political will to see Sudan through to a peaceful resolution.
Together, let’s make this century the one in which we finally give meaning to that phrase: ‘never again.’ Nothing could give greater honor to the millions of innocent children, women and men who have died over the years in genocide and mass atrocity.