During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing she said she would prioritize the Darfur crisis and jolt the world community into action. "There is a great need for us to sound the alarm again about Darfur," she said. "It is a terrible humanitarian crisis compounded by a corrupt and very cruel regime in Khartoum."
Now, if ever, is the time for the United States to clearly and decisively sound that alarm. On Sunday, the UN confirmed that an aerial bomb attack by Sudanese government planes on Muhajiriya, a town in southern Darfur, killed and wounded civilians on Saturday. Air attacks in Darfur are forbidden under a 2006 peace deal and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Credible sources from within Darfur also report rapidly escalating and widespread violence against civilians in recent days. One version is that in North Darfur, there have been bombings near Anka and heavy Janjaweed attacks, and that in South Darfur there were Janjaweed attacks and even attacks on civilian villages using Sudanese tanks.
As previously threatened by Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, this violence comes in advance of his indictment on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC.) In a matter of weeks, the ICC is widely expected to issue a warrant for his arrest. The ICC prosecutor has charged him with ten counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Bashir has repeatedly threatened violence against civilians and is now carrying out these threats. He has also stated that he will completely block humanitarian aid if the warrant is issued. The potential for massive loss of life is enormous.
The Obama administration must not let Bashir's new attacks go unchallenged. Instead, it should quickly and decisively address the escalating violence in Darfur ahead of the ICC indictment. The president should issue immediate warnings to Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party specifying the consequences of further attacks. His team should also immediately prepare an emergency response plan to address the violence if it continues.
This week, grassroots activists from across the country have launched a call-in campaign to the White House asking Obama to take these two crucial steps to protect civilians in Darfur.
An open letter to the president issued on January 22 by Enough, the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity, and the Save Darfur Coalition, said in part:
"President Obama should not wait until the arrest warrants are issued, but rather task a senior official to immediately inform the Sudanese regime of the dire consequences that would result from any disruption of humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts. Beyond that, President Obama should lead an international peace surge for Sudan, aimed at ending the war in Darfur and implementing the North-South peace deal."
In Clinton's confirmation testimony, she said, "We have spoken about other options, no-fly zones, other sanctions and sanctuaries, looking to deploy the UN/AU force to try to protect the refugees but also to repel the militias," she said. "There is a lot under consideration," she added.
Madame Secretary and Mr. President, the time for consideration has passed. With 2.7 million displaced Darfuri people vulnerable in IDP camps, at least 300,000 already killed, and new assaults on civilians rapidly escalating, the United States must respond immediately to Bashir's very credible threats of "more violence and blood." If we don't, the blood will be on our hands as well.