My Turn: Prevent Sudan genocide; give humanitarian relief

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2004

With attention focused on our own national, state and local disasters - hurricane destruction in Florida, wildfires around the state and country, and our own devastating Juneau fire - a terrible crisis is occuring in Sudan which cries out for our urgent action. Just as we respond to our immediate neighbors and friends, our sisters and brothers across the oceans are in desparate need of our help. We have seen the gruesome and tragic pictures on the evening news. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has issued its first ever genocide emergency.

The emergency in Sudan's western region of Darfur presents the starkest challenge to the world since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. A government-backed Arab militia known as Janjaweed has been engaging in campaigns to displace and wipe out communities of African tribal farmers.

In Darfur, western Sudan, 1,000 people die every day, and that number is rising. More than 1 million Darfurans have been bombed and burnt out of their villages, their crops and water supplies destroyed. Actions taken by the U.S. and the international community have not yielded satisfactory results. However, additional urgent action by governments and the United Nations to address this crisis CAN stop this genocide.

Concurrent resolutions introduced in the House and Senate declaring that the atrocities unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, are genocide and calling on the U.S. to lead the international community in an effort to prevent further genocide, passed both houses of Congress on July 22. By labeling the situation genocide, the U.S. would be required by law under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to take appropriate action to prevent further killing and bring the perpetrators to justice. On July 30 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1556, calling on the government of Sudan to live up to its commitment to protect its civilian population, to disarm the Janjaweed militias and facilitate international humanitarian relief. It authorizes initiatives to halt the killing, provide humanitarian aid to those in need, and to create safe political space so that dialogue between the parties can commence. The resolution also stops arms supplies (to everyone but the government), endorses monitors on the ground, urges other international support, encourages political negotiations, and commits the Security Council to meeting again in 30 days to consider 'measures under Article 41' (essentially sanctions) if Khartoum doesn't comply.

But we must not wait for a legal determination of genocide to ensure a massive worldwide humanitarian response and call to end the violence and investigate crimes against humanity. Those states which have ratified the 1948 Genocide Convention have the moral and legal obligation to take action in Darfur, and to do it now. The people of the Sudan cannot wait until after Labor Day. The Save Darfur Coalition of over 70 faith-based humanitarian and human rights organizations have issued a unity statement and call to action. They are calling "on people of conscience everywhere to take any and all actions permitted by each individual's or organization's abilities and constraints to:

• encourage worldwide efforts to stop the displacement and end the crimes against humanity.

• demand massive worldwide governmental humanitarian support and access to match the need.

• help in the relief efforts by supporting organizations giving aid.

• promote efforts to rebuild villages and return the displaced.

• call for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Alaskans need to urge Rep. Young and Sens. Stevens and Murkowski to thank the president for seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Darfur, and at the same time urge the administration to call the situation in Darfur by its rightful name: a genocide, and to take a lead in monitoring the efforts of the government of Sudan to the UN to accomplish the steps called for in UN Resolution 1556. The U.S. needs to deliver on its pledge of $300 million in humanitarian aid. Our congressional delegation needs to keep the pressure on the president while they are on recess. The situation in Darfur is dire; international action must be taken now.

The Save Darfur Coalition has identified Wednesday, Aug. 25 as "Sudan: Day of Conscience." On that day, communities across North America are urged to engage in interfaith activities - involving individuals and representatives of all faith communities and nonsectarian groups - designed to raise public awareness about the horrific situation in Darfur and to demand that the international community take immediate and effective action to stop the atrocities, assure that humanitarian relief reaches all those in need, and help the actors in the conflict to reach a comprehensive political settlement.

• Amy Paige is a Juneau resident.

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