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Sudan: A Moral Failure in the Making for the United States

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This weekend, President Obama's Special Envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration, said that the elections slated to begin in Sudan in less than a week will be "as free and fair as possible." His choice of words was astonishing for its moral equivocation.

For those who follow Sudan and are aware of the numerous ways that these elections have already been corrupted beyond repair, it is clear that Gration's statement needs to be completed to be accurate. For example, the elections will be as free and fair as possible given that the only viable candidate is an indicted war criminal. Or that they will be as free and fair as possible given that millions of citizens will not be able to participate due to a flawed census and security concerns, or that they will be as free and fair as possible given that there has not been freedom of assembly or freedom of the press during the campaign.

The long list of systemic problems in the electoral process have been comprehensively enumerated by independent experts at such reputable organizations as the Carter Center, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch.

On Monday, the Obama administration updated its position stating that it would support a "brief" delay in Sudan's elections set for next week if it would help resolve complaints about the electoral process. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said:

The government of Sudan must also insure that all voters are able to participate in the election by improving conditions on the ground, including in Darfur and elsewhere, and by providing meaningful access to polling places. In the end, we will judge these elections based on whether they reflect the will of the Sudanese people and whether they meet international standards for elections. And we are currently seeing disturbing trends in both areas.

While this new language is a step in the right direction, it still smacks of disingenuousness. The "disturbing trends" mentioned by Crowley have been evident for months and the systemic flaws in the credibility of the election are far too great to be fixed during a "brief delay," even if the government of Sudan were to cooperate, which it likely will not. It is simply not possible for the millions of people trapped in insecure and repressive IDP camps in Darfur to participate in the elections and thereby have their collective will fairly represented.

Previously General Gration said that the elections are a step toward democracy for Sudan. Instead, these elections are a total travesty of democracy. While many Sudan advocates have questioned Gration's suitability for this post and have called for his replacement, it is now clear that since his management of U.S. policy has not been re-directed, the Obama administration must approve of providing political cover for an indicted war criminal. With the support of the United States, Omar al-Bashir, the man most responsible for millions of deaths in Sudan over the last 25 years, will likely soon be legitimized as President of Sudan through this "democratic" farce.

An April 5 article in the Sudan Tribune states that, "The remarks by the US official [Gration] shocked many in Sudan particularly those opposed to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) who felt that the world power has betrayed them." The article goes on to quote a 26-year old student in Khartoum by the name of Khalid who said:

So he went to the Election Commission and they assured him that they are fair and unbiased. It is like asking a thief to swear he is honest and then believing him. The US wants the [National] Congress Party to stay in power because they are the only ones who are willing to give them concessions. Obama turned out to be no different from Bush. We, the ordinary Sudanese will pay the price for this selfish policy.

In the midst of this travesty of justice, a group of prominent anti-genocide and human rights organizations are calling for Congress to step up its oversight of the current U.S. Sudan policy. The group has launched a social media campaign to encourage leading members of Congress to privately and publicly engage with the Obama administration on Sudan. As part of the effort, concerned citizens are writing to the four members of Congress who oversee the foreign affairs committees in the House and Senate and have the power to shape U.S. policy -- Senators Kerry and Lugar and Representatives Ros-Lehtinen and Berman -- and asking them to press the Obama Administration, both privately and publicly, for more accountability on how the current U.S. policy toward Sudan is affecting millions of innocent civilians on the ground.

"At this critical moment for Sudan, Congress should hold the administration responsible for faithful implementation of the Sudan policy released last October," states Sam Bell, Executive Director of the Genocide Intervention Network.

Similarly, Robert Lawrence, director of policy for the Save Darfur Coalition, said in a Voice of America article that his group is urging the United States and the international community not to legitimize Sudan's presidential election. "We believe the election is not going to be free and fair, and it's not even going to be credible, and the last thing we want is for the results to legitimize the dictatorial rule of President al-Bashir who is the overwhelming favorite obviously to win re-election," he said.

During the presidential campaign Obama called the Darfur genocide a "stain on our souls" and vowed to end it by "pressuring" the Sudanese government. Instead, he has chosen to lead an Administration of which Bashir brazenly brags, "Even America is becoming an NCP member. No one is against our will."