The genocide in Darfur continues to weigh heavily on my heart. After months and months of talk, it is increasingly clear that there are no real strategies for peace among any of the major players.
Last week, there was a glimmer of hope when New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, visited Khartoum on a trip sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition. In a meeting with President al-Bashir, Richardson was able to secure his agreement to a 60-day cease-fire, which is intended to stop the violence in the short term and create a window for further negotiation. And while al-Bashir remained unmoved in his objection to the U.N. peacekeeping force authorized in August of last year, there were some indications he might allow U.N. personnel and equipment. Richardson also reported that al-Bashir is aware of, and deeply affected by, his unfavorable international reputation. This is a testimony to the reach and influence of the growing grassroots movement to end the genocide.
The cease-fire was welcomed by many, including the World Evangelical Association, whose International Director Geoff Tunnicliffe said, "We applaud this significant step toward peace in Darfur. We truly hope this process will lead to end the suffering of the people in Darfur." That is what we all hope and pray. But only a few days later, news stories reported that the Darfur rebels say the Sudanese government has bombed their area despite the truce, although the report was denied by the government.
And, yesterday in Nairobi, ]13 U.N. humanitarian agencies released a Joint Statement on Darfur. They noted:
Access to people in need in December 2006 was the worst since April 2004. The repeated military attacks, shifting frontlines, and fragmentation of armed groups compromise safe humanitarian access and further victimize civilians who have borne the brunt of this protracted conflict. In the last six months alone, more than 250,000 people have been displaced by fighting, many of them fleeing for the second or third time. Villages have been burnt, looted and arbitrarily bombed and crops and livestock destroyed. Sexual violence against women is occurring at alarming rates. This situation is unacceptable. Nor can we accept the violence increasingly directed against humanitarian workers. Twelve relief workers have been killed in the past six months - more than in the previous two years combined.The statement concluded:
If this situation continues, the humanitarian operation and welfare of the population it aims to support will be irreversibly jeopardised. ... The humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population ...
Just before Christmas, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and I met with Bobby Pittman, the National Security Council's director for African affairs, on behalf of Evangelicals for Darfur. Mr. Pittman was positive and responsive as we urged that the administration move quickly from words to strong, real, action. He assured us of the president's commitment on this issue, and readily agreed that much more needs to be done. We then discussed a series of strong steps: Maximum political and diplomatic pressure should be used to force Sudan to accept additional peacekeepers. Efforts to secure the cooperation of other key National Security Council nations must be increased. Strong actions should be taken against Sudan, including rigorously enforcing sanctions, and targeting sanctions against top government officials. Stronger actions could include a no-fly zone over Darfur and a possible naval blockade. We had complete agreement that only a large and strong multi-national peacekeeping force, with the authority to use "all necessary means," would suffice to end the genocide in Darfur - and that Sudan must be compelled to accept it.
We stressed the importance of making Darfur primary in the president's State of the Union address, with clear words about what we - and the world - will DO in the face of Sudanese intransigence. Deadlines have come and gone, with no real change. The State of the Union should mark the moment for the kind of commitment that is necessary to save Darfur. Next Tuesday, as President Bush delivers his speech, I will be listening for action. For God's sake, save Darfur.