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Neither Candidate Has Done Enough To Help Darfur Victims

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According to statements made by Senators John McCain and Barack Obama in a questionnaire recently released by three leading Darfur activist organizations, both US presidential candidates are committed to bringing a swift end to the genocide unfolding in the Darfur region of Sudan. Yet, as this first genocide of the 21st century continues into its sixth year, words are cheap.

Both McCain and Obama have promised "unstinting resolve" in pursuing an end to the Darfur genocide if elected. However, we have yet to see either of these US leaders, one of whom will become our next president, flex his political muscle to bring relief to the millions of victims suffering in Darfur today.

These innocent victims cannot wait until January 2009 before the United States musters the political will to act. In recent weeks, the situation in Darfur has become increasingly grave. The government of Sudan has launched repeated attacks on civilian camps for internally displaced persons including one on September 10 at the ZamZam camp and one at the Kalma camp on August 25. Additionally, the UN's World Food Program announced that escalating violence may force it to stop food deliveries leaving millions without assistance.

The recent onslaught of government-sponsored violence seems likely to continue unabated since civilian protection is Darfur is nearly non-existent. In spite of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1769 which approved the first joint UN/AU force and the UN's largest peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) on July 31, 2007, the mission there remains woefully understaffed. Perhaps even worse, contributing countries, including the US, have not provided the urgently needed helicopters and other equipment that could make surveillance and protection a reality.

In the midst of this grave humanitarian crisis, neither Senator McCain nor Obama have stepped forward to co-sponsor Senate Resolution 660 which was introduced September 15 by Senators Bill Nelson and James Inhofe along with sixteen other co-sponsors. This resolution is a clear bipartisan statement which denounces the flow of weapons to Sudan. It calls on arms suppliers--particularly China and Russia--to cease their sales immediately, as "continued sale of arms to Sudan under these circumstances violates the United Nations arms embargo imposed by Security Council Resolutions 1556 and 1591." Co-sponsorship of this resolution by Senators McCain and Obama would send a clear signal to the governments of Sudan, China and Russia that the new president of the United States will not look away while the world community fails to protect the people of Darfur.

Further, neither candidate has spoken out in support of the International Criminal Court's prosecution of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide. Bashir has launched an aggressive propaganda campaign to escape justice, including blackmailing the global community by threatening to expel UNAMID peacekeepers if the ICC issues a warrant for his arrest.

To encourage the candidates to speak out on this issue, Darfur activists launched an e-petition campaign, a related Facebook page, and sent an open letter to the candidates, signed by 33 Darfur advocacy groups from across the country. The letter and e-petition call on the candidates to speak out against any delay in the International Criminal Court's prosecution against Bashir on charges of genocide. Neither candidate has responded.

Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. Words like "unstinting resolve" are meaningless unless accompanied by action. Both candidates seek to portray their judgment and courage as fit to lead our country and serve as an example to the free world. As leaders, they should use the spotlight of the campaign to speak out against the genocide in Darfur. The millions of victims of what the UN has often called the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet cannot wait until January 2009 for our next president to act.


This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the policy differences between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. If you have a policy expertise and would like to participate, please see Calling All Policy Gurus.