Yesterday, Dr. Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani—a top advisor to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who also manages the “Darfur dossier” for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party—criticized President Barack Obama for calling the Darfur conflict a “genocide.” President Obama referred to the conflict as genocide on his first trip to Africa, during his speech to the Ghanaian parliament last Saturday in Accra. As John Norris noted on our blog yesterday, President Obama said:
When there’s a genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems – they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response.
AP reports today that Dr. Ghazi called President Obama’s remarks “regrettable.” No news on the English language wires yet on the details of Dr. Ghazi’s statement, but on their face, Dr. Ghazi’s remarks remind me of an argument made by Andrew Natsios in his Washington Post op-ed prior to last month’s conference on implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement convened by U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration in Washington. Natsios wrote:
U.S. use of the term "genocide" is reducing our diplomatic options. In the face of genocide, the United States could hardly act as a neutral mediator. No politician wants to explain why he or she remained complacent in the face of slaughter.
Clearly, President Obama disagrees with Natsios’ assertion. The president has repeatedly taken pains to identify Darfur as genocide while also asserting the responsibility of the United States to galvanize a global response to such atrocities, and to hold African governments to account to bring these atrocities to an end.
Dr. Ghazi and former Special Envoy Natsios may lament the use of the term “genocide” when referring to Darfur, and they may say that it complicates efforts to build an international coalition for comprehensive peace in Sudan. But President Obama is rightly taking a stand in holding the Sudanese government responsible for its actions past and present as his administration works simultaneously on the dual tasks of CPA implementation and the Darfur peace process.
Furthermore, the use of a term is not what is impeding progress on CPA implementation or peace in Darfur; the actions of the Khartoum regime are stalling progress. As John Norris noted in a response to Natsios’ op-ed on our blog, the root cause of the diplomatic impasse on Sudan is the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur, not the use of the term "genocide." President Obama deserves credit for calling a spade a spade, but it remains to be seen whether the president’s strong rhetoric on Sudan will be followed by equally effectively policies to resolve Sudan’s multiple crises.
Photo: Dr. Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani, via Sudan Tribune