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HuffPo Op-ed: On Our Watch

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HuffPo Op-ed: On Our Watch

Posted by John Prendergast on May 2, 2013

HuffPo Op-ed: On Our Watch

This op-ed was co-authored with Rep. Barbara Lee and originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

As we gather to mark April as Genocide Awareness month, to recognize atrocities across the world and throughout history, it's important not just to recognize the past, but to learn from it.

Ten years ago this month, the international community joined together to bring the world's attention to brutal attacks that led to the deaths of 300,000 men, women, and children, and the displacement of a further 4 million. These attacks were perpetrated by the regime headed by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir against his own people in Sudan's Darfur region

We have called attention to these atrocities for years, but the nightmare for the people of Darfur isn't over.

On June 24th, 2004, the Congressional Black Caucus, Leader Pelosi and others stood united and introduced H CON RES 467 and declared that genocide was occurring in Darfur, Sudan and that the Government of Sudan was responsible. Three months later, Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly declared that genocide had occurred.

But even after those formal declarations, the international community failed to act decisively to stop it. If we had acted then, we could have saved innocent lives. But we now have an opportunity to learn from that mistake of inaction. If we do the right thing now, we can help end the suffering, violence, and insecurity that tragically continue to plague the region to this day.

The same Sudanese government, ten years later, continues to have a violent, deadly grip on the region. The government has obstructed U.N. peacekeeping forces, and refused to prosecute individuals charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It has blocked international aid, used aerial bombardment against civilians, and has even extended its attacks on civilians beyond Darfur.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the only sitting president with an outstanding arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, continues to defy the international community and evades arrest.

The U.S. government, in partnership with the U.N. and other international actors, should mark the tenth anniversary of the Darfur genocide by continuing to move forward toward accountability and justice for all the people of Sudan who have suffered under the Bashir regime.

In addition to supporting existing humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, there are further steps the U.S. can take to close the chapter on these horrific events in Sudan, but also ensure that it never happens again.

Appoint a high level U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. Expanded senior U.S. leadership will be required to help construct a comprehensive and credible peace process in Sudan. The U.S. can help build leverage in support of peace and justice objectives.

Support Bashir's arrest. Failing to arrest Bashir is a major factor enabling the atrocities happening today in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Arresting Bashir would show the next would-be tyrant in Sudan — or anywhere else — that accountability is real and justice will catch up to them.

Buttress democratic institutions and civil society. The U.S. should lead the international community in committing resources to support Sudanese individuals, organizations and institutions in building the change they seek. Fostering democratic institutions and building a strong civil society will help ensure that these atrocities never happen again.

Ten years after the beginning of the Darfur genocide, the time for U.S. leadership is more important than ever. Worthy goals include ending the government-sponsored violence in Sudan, protecting civilians in Sudan and South Sudan, promoting democratic transformation in both countries, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access for those in need, and bringing the perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities to justice at the International Criminal Court.

We must finish what we started in Sudan: help to end the war, bring Bashir and other war criminals to justice, and ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the U.S. Representative from California's 13th Congressional district. She sponsored legislation recognizing acts of genocide in Sudan, and has traveled to the region three times.

John Prendergast is the co-founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity affiliated with the Center for American Progress. He is author or co-author of ten books, including New York Times bestseller, Not On Our Watch.

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Photo: Refugee children in Djabal Refugee Camp, Chad (Omer Ismail, Enough Project)