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Remembering the Holocaust, Obama Must Act for Darfur

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Today Darfur activists from around the country, joined by actress Mia Farrow, sent an open letter to President Obama expressing concern about the administration's lack of action to end the Darfur genocide and bring peace to Sudan. The letter coincides with Obama's keynote address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Annual Days of Remembrance Ceremony. This year's theme is "Never Again: What You Do Matters."

The letter recommends that the Obama administration:

1) Embark on a public diplomacy blitz to ensure that as many countries as possible will demand that humanitarian aid be unfettered by politics with a focus on isolating President al- Bashir for starving his own citizens, 2) Conduct a private diplomatic effort to explore how governments could downgrade relations with Sudan's indicted president and eventually end his 20-year presidency and 3) Forge a coalition that can both negotiate with and pressure Sudan to seek peace in Darfur as well as implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which provides a framework for a democratic Sudan but is at risk of collapse.

These recommendations were originally outlined in an April 12th Wall Street Journal op-ed by John Prendergast and Jim Wallis.

The letter describes the ominously deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur since the Sudanese government expelled 13 humanitarian aid agencies. Since then, Darfuris in IDP camps have died from meningitis, children have died from malnutrition, pregnant women lack medical care, and shelters in camps were burned. The rainy season has started, and in some camps thousands live without the shelters destroyed by rain and wind.

The day-to-day plight of Darfuris is chronicled in a moving blog by Mohamed Suleiman, a US-based Darfuri who is in ongoing contact those suffering on the ground.

On April 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that Sudan's expulsion of aid groups from Darfur has put the lives of more than 1 million people at risk and increased the potential for instability in the region.

Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, Obama's Special Envoy to Sudan, has said that chances were "not very high" that the expelled aid workers would return. He is also reported to have discussed the possibility of normalizing the Sudan-United States relationship.

The letter to President Obama states,:

You, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Rice, and other members of your Administration acknowledged before your election that a very different approach was necessary to end the Darfur genocide. Notably, in April 2008, in response to the reports of Bush Administration offers of normalization talks to the GoS, you stated, '"This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments." Your remarks gave hope to Darfuris that as President you would take decisive action.

The letter concludes,

We respectfully request that you make it a top personal priority to escalate US action and leadership to do whatever it takes to bring peace and protection to Darfur. Never has it been more true for Darfur and for all of Sudan that "what you do matters."

FULL TEXT OF APRIL 23 LETTER

April 23, 2009

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President, United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Today you will deliver the keynote address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Annual Days of Remembrance Ceremony. This year's theme is "Never Again: What You Do Matters." The undersigned, representing organizations and individuals from all over the United States, write to you with concern about what your Administration is doing to end the Darfur genocide and bring peace to Sudan.

Today is also the 93rd day since your inauguration as President, after pledging as a candidate to "make ending the genocide in Darfur a priority from Day One," of your Administration.

Today is also the 49th day since Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir expelled 13 humanitarian aid agencies from Darfur and other regions of Sudan. Since then: Darfuris in IDP camps have died from meningitis, children have died from malnutrition, pregnant women lack medical care, and shelters in camps were burned. The rainy season has started, and in some camps thousands live without the shelters destroyed by rain and wind. Several aid workers have been kidnapped; at least two remain in captivity and are reportedly ill. The Government of Sudan (GoS) executed nine Darfuris accused of killing a journalist after a "trial" condemned by Amnesty International. Sudanese NGO workers are reported to have been harassed, detained and tortured by GoS forces attempting to force their silence. Please see www.WhileWeWaitSudan.org for daily updates directly from Darfuris.

Today is also the 36th day since you appointed Maj. Gen. Scott Gration as your Special Envoy to Sudan. In one of his first public statements he observed that chances were "not very high" that the expelled aid workers would return. He is reported to have discussed the possibility of normalizing the Sudan-United States relationship and to have admitted upon his return from Sudan that he obtained no concessions.

You, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Rice, and other members of your Administration acknowledged before your election that a very different approach was necessary to end the Darfur genocide. Notably, in April 2008, in response to the reports of Bush Administration offers of normalization talks to the GoS, you stated, "This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments." Your remarks gave hope to Darfuris that as President you would take decisive action and lead the international community in finally taking effective measures, such as those you had advocated for years.

Last week, upon General Gration's departure from Sudan, a Darfuri resident in the U.S. and a tireless advocate for his people stated,

"The U.S.A. in the eyes of the Sudanese is losing its strength. Not the military strength, but the moral strength. The election of Obama gave hope to many victims that finally their prayers were answered. Today the mood is sadness and disappointment in Darfur because America seems back to the 50s and 60s when it sponsored many dictators. Today the mood is jubilation and relief in Khartoum also because America is back to the 50s and 60s when it sponsored many dictators and allowed them to wheel and deal with Washington."

We respectfully urge you to take the course recommended by Jim Wallis and John Prendergast on April 12 at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123958504474112427.html:

(1) Embark on a public diplomacy blitz to ensure that as many countries as possible will demand that humanitarian aid be unfettered by politics. The focus should be on isolating President al- Bashir for starving his own citizens -- as he has done before in Southern Sudan, leading to the deaths of two million people there -- and on ensuring that aid is no longer subject to deadly restrictions.

(2) Conduct a private diplomatic effort to explore how governments could downgrade relations with Sudan's indicted president and eventually end his 20-year presidency. There must be a consequence for orchestrating violence. There also must be an end to the cycle of impunity that has allowed 2.5 million people to die during Bashir's presidency.

(3) Forge a coalition that can both negotiate with and pressure Sudan to seek peace in Darfur as well as implement the existing peace agreement for the South.

If the GoS does not take concrete measurable actions in a very short period of time to restore the necessary humanitarian aid, engage in meaningful peace talks, disarm and disengage the Janjaweed militia, and genuinely implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, we respectfully request that you make it a top personal priority to escalate US action and leadership to do whatever it takes to bring peace and protection to Darfur.

Never has it been more true for Darfur and for all of Sudan that "what you do matters."

Very truly yours,

American Jewish World Service
Ruth Messinger
New York, New York

Americans Against the Darfur Genocide
Nikki Serapio, Director
Berkeley, California

Armenian Assembly of America
Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director
Washington, DC

Armenian National Committee of America
Aram Hamparian, Executive Director
Washington, DC

Be Their Messenger
Leah Nuckolls, Founder
Gilbert, Arizona

Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Executive Director
Oakland, California

A Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action
Roz Duman, Founder/Coordinator
Denver, Colorado

Darfur Alert Coalition
Ali Dinar, President
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Darfur and Beyond
Cory Williams, Co-Founder
Phoenix, Arizona

Darfur Leaders Network
Mastora Bakheit
Fort Wayne, IN

Darfur People's Association of New York
Bushara Dosa, President
Brooklyn, New York

Darfur Rehabilitation Project
Fatima Haroun,
Philadelphia, PA

Darfur Women Action Group
Niemat Ahmadi
Washington, DC

Dear Sudan, Love Marin
Gerri Miller, Co-ordinator
Marin, California

Defend Darfur Dallas
Laura McCarthy, Director
Dallas, TX

Fur Cultural Revival
Portland, Maine

Genocide No More-Save Darfur
Marv Steinberg, Coordinator
Redding, California

Idaho Darfur Coalition
A.J. Fay, Co-founder
Boise, Idaho

Humanity United
Pam Omidyar, Founder and Board Chair
Redwood City, California

Investors Against Genocide
Eric Cohen, Chairperson,
Boston, Massachusetts

Jewish World Watch
Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, Executive Director
Los Angeles, California

Kentuckiana Interfaith Taskforce On Darfur
Bob Brousseau, Founder
Louisville, Kentucky

Keokuk for Darfur
Julia Hays, Director
Keokuk, Iowa

Kol Shalom, Community for Humanistic Judaism
Diane Koosed, Darfur Action Group coordinator
Portland, OR

Lane County Darfur Coalition
Roz Slovic, Coordinator
Eugene, Oregon

Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur
Susan Morgan, Director of Communications
Boston, Massachusetts

Mia Farrow

Michigan Darfur Coalition
Charlton Breen, Coordinator
Birmingham, Michigan

New York City Coalition for Darfur
Sharon Silber, Co-founder
New York, New York

People's Union of Darfur
Musa Ishag Abdou
Washington, D.C.

Phoenix Save Darfur

Jessica Couleur, Founder
Phoenix Arizona

San Antonio Interfaith Darfur Coalition
Susan Smylie, Coordinator of Advocacy
San Antonio, TX

San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition
Martina Knee, Member, Executive Committee
San Francisco, California

Save Darfur Washington State
Deborah Jones, President
Seattle, Washington

Stanford University STAND
Angie McPhaul, Advocacy Coordinator
Stanford, California

Stop Genocide Now
Gabriel Stauring, Director
Los Angeles, California

Sudan Unlimited
Esther Sprague, Founder
San Francisco, California

The Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan: The National Network
Julie Hines Mabus, President
Jackson, Mississippi

Use Your Voice to Save Darfur RI
Sandra Hammel, Director
Providence, Rhode Island

Westchester Darfur Coalition
Roberta Roos, Coordinator
Westchester County, New York

World Relief Organization
Elgasim Salih, President
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania