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The Hill Op-ed: Renewing Congress’s commitment to peace in Darfur and Sudan

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The Hill Op-ed: Renewing Congress’s commitment to peace in Darfur and Sudan

Posted by John Bradshaw on March 13, 2013

The Hill Op-ed: Renewing Congress's commitment to peace in Darfur and Sudan

Editor's Note: This op-ed, co-written by John C. Bradshaw and Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia’s 5th District and president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, originally appeared on The Hill's Congress blog.

Ten years ago this month, brutal attacks by the Government of Sudan against the people of Darfur first began to reach the world's attention. With over 300,000 dead and 4 million people displaced, it is past time for Congress and communities of conscience to address the root cause of atrocities in this long-suffering country – an unrepresentative regime that rules by repressing its own people.
As news of the horrors taking place in Darfur began to spread through Washington in 2003, members of Congress were quick to demand action, calling for U.S. sanctions to be placed on responsible Sudanese government officials.  Congress showed leadership by declaring the "atrocities unfolding in Darfur" to be genocide in a concurrent resolution in July 2004, two months before Secretary of State Powell publicly declared that a genocide had occurred. Despite global attention, some of the most organized advocacy efforts of our time, and swift action from Congress, the U.N., and other leaders in the international community, violence and insecurity continue to plague the region to this day.
Those Darfuris lucky enough to survive still suffer in fear. Fighting in North Darfur in late January added another 100,000 civilians to the ranks of those forced from their lands. This is on top of the nearly 3 million civilians who remain displaced in the region and in refugee camps in neighboring Chad.  
What has become increasingly clear over the past ten years is that the conflict in Darfur cannot be viewed in isolation from Sudan's other conflicts or even its policing tactics within the capital of Khartoum.  Government forces honed the tactics that they used to perpetrate genocide in Darfur in Southern Sudan during the country's protracted civil war and continue to employ them today against civilians in Sudan's southern region, specifically South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, in the east, and in the disputed border region of Abyei.
All of these internal Sudanese conflicts share the same underlying causes, the most significant being the central government's marginalization of Sudan's peripheral populations. Khartoum has continually denied these populations a meaningful right to participate in government, which has traditionally led them to resort to violence as a means of voicing their grievances and protecting their interests against a repressive regime, perpetuating the cycle of violence that has plagued Sudan for decades.
The piecemeal peace processes that the international community has used to address Sudan's conflicts have continually failed because these processes have not addressed the most significant underlying driver of conflict in Sudan: the lack of a representative central government. As long as a central government in Khartoum fails to represent the interest of all of Sudan's regions, including Darfur, then the government will continue to repress any of their own citizens who oppose them, most notably those living in the peripheries of the nation. Such a truly representative central government can only follow from a real democratic transformation of Sudan's political life. A government that includes political opposition parties, civil society, representation from the peripheral regions, and moderate elements of the ruling National Congress Party will be in a position to resolve long-standing conflicts and bring peace to Darfur and all of Sudan.
The U.S. Congress should carry through on the concern and commitment to Darfur that was initiated in 2003. While change in Sudan must come primarily from within, the U.S. and other international actors must support Sudanese efforts for peaceful democratic transformation. To this end, Congress should ensure that adequate funding is allocated for democracy and governance programming designed to build the capacities of civil society organizations, including women's and youth groups, and opposition political parties working for a peaceful transition. Congress should, as well, encourage Secretary of State John Kerry to increase U.S. engagement with Sudanese opposition parties and civil society groups working for democratic change, while, simultaneously, widening and deepening dialogue with factions within the ruling National Congress Party, as they will also be crucial in any potential transition to democracy. Like other countries in the region, Sudan deserves a chance to experience its own version of the Arab Spring, which, with the appropriate international support, can lead to a truly representative and open government. The Congress and the Administration should commit to help make this happen.

The conflict in Darfur began 10 years ago. To commemorate the anniversary—remember the lives lost, acknowledge the continuing struggle of the displaced, and recognize the ongoing effort to establish justice and find peace amid ongoing conflict—Enough and its partners will mark 10 days of activism. Please visit and share the special site with your friends. Read the rest of the blog posts in this 10-day series.