I remember reading Samantha Power’s book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Her frustration at the lack of U.S. action in the face of human suffering was palpable and understandable. She examined cable traffic and State Department press guidance which eliminated any doubt that the horrors taking place in countries like Rwanda were unknown to policymakers like U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
Have we learned nothing?
Today in Sudan we see unfolding before us what can only be described as a recurring nightmare in that country: a genocidal government hell-bent on maintaining its grip on power, treating civilian populations as mere collateral damage.
And in the face of these murderous policies in Abyei and Southern Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains, the White House’s first public statement on the conflict came late on a Friday evening. Press statements released at 7:35 p.m. Friday in this town communicate volumes about the priority or lack thereof of the matter at hand.
Two weeks ago, with news reports of a rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan I wrote to President Obama urging him to act swiftly to dispatch former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Sudan to attempt to secure a peaceful resolution of the crisis and salvage the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the weeks remaining before South Sudan becomes an independent nation.
Not only is engagement at the highest levels needed, but that engagement must include sticks. We have seen time and again that dangling carrots before an indicted war criminal will never yield the desired result.
My sense of urgency is even greater today.
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with a young man who was an intern in my office. He’s been living in Sudan for the last two years engaged in humanitarian and development work. He was back in the States briefly but was in close contact with folks in Sudan, including in areas that are presently cut-off from the rest of the world.
What I heard from these sources is bone-chilling: Door to door targeted killings of SPLM supporters…mass graves…Antonov bombers indiscriminately shelling civilian populations. In short, tragedy of the highest order, unfolding right before our eyes.
And now, news reports indicate that the Chinese government, a long-time supporter of Khartoum, will welcome President Bashir to Beijing later this month. The two countries reportedly hope to discuss how to consolidate their “traditional friendship." I have seen first-hand the fruits of that “friendship”—the planes, helicopters and arms supplied by the Chinese government to Khartoum. There’s a reason that the 2008 Beijing Olympics were also called the “Genocide Olympics.” Asked about this upcoming visit, the State Department spokesman commented, "China shares our interest in peace in Sudan." This is wishful thinking at best, and hardly sends the needed message to China, namely that their overtures to Bashir, particularly at this juncture when once again he has blood on his hands, is unacceptable.
Last week, my good friend Chris Smith, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, convened a hearing titled, “Africa's Newest Nation: The Republic of Southern Sudan.” The committee heard from several distinguished witnesses including Roger Winter, former special representative on Sudan at the U.S. Department of State.
The panelists made a variety of policy recommendations for the administration’s consideration in the hopes of stemming the killing and averting a massive humanitarian crisis. I pray they will be given every consideration.
We must not delay… Lives hang in the balance.