In a strongly worded letter to President Obama, a group of grassroots Sudan activists is calling for Major General Scott Gration to be “relieved of his duties” as special envoy to Sudan. While the Enough Project has not called for the special envoy’s removal, it is interesting that frustration with General Gration has reached such a palpable level in some quarters that these groups see him as part of the problem in Sudan. The letter from the activists decries what its authors call an unduly “conciliatory approach” to the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum by the special envoy.
Some of the concerns also relate to what sounds like a disastrous interaction between General Gration and members of the Darfuri Diaspora during a meeting in Washington. The activists claim that during the session, Gration argued that the Sudanese government did not intend to kill civilians in Darfur and that the hundreds of thousands who died there over the past seven years were largely collateral victims of aerial attacks. The letter notes:
Mr. President, as you know, it is well documented that Janjaweed militia were paid by the Government of Sudan to kill civilians, burn villages and rape women. The Government of Sudan intended to wipe out Darfuris which is why you have rightly called the ongoing crisis genocide. Furthermore, Darfuris state they want nothing more than to return to their villages in safety and begin to rebuild their lives after so many traumatic years in the camps. Their land has been stolen from them and re-occupied. They also believe President Omar-al Bashir, indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Darfuris, is seeking to use the elections–which have no chance of being free or fair–to legitimize his and the NCP’s rule.
Some may say that General Gration is better than no envoy. We disagree based on the lack of trust in General Gration, and therefore, the United States, by the Sudanese; the lack of progress in several items on his agenda; and the severe deterioration of conditions on the ground in both Darfur and Southern Sudan.
The merits of whether Gration should step down aside, what is perhaps most striking is that what should be fairly routine interactions between the special envoy and the Diaspora, Congress, the media and activists continue to generate controversy and genuine unease with the direction of U.S. policy. The fact that no clear statement or new direction appeared after the recent deputies meeting on Sudan only adds to the concerns that the U.S. policy toward Sudan lacks a fundamental coherence.
The full letter signed by 36 grassroots organizations from across the U.S. and their press release is available here. With apparently no prior knowledge of the letter, a State Department press secretary yesterday responded to a question in the press briefing by saying that Secretary Clinton and President Obama have confidence in the envoy and touting the fact that Gration is currently traveling in Sudan and neighboring Chad.
Photo: U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, Maj. General Scott Gration