In 2006, President Obama made a promise to the people of Darfur: "We can't say 'never again' and allow it to happen again. As President of the United States, I don't intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter."
Well, Mr. President, that's exactly what's happening right now in Darfur. And, it's getting worse.
What has been the Obama administration's response to the escalating violence against hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Sudan? To the impunity of Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir who is wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court? It welcomed a top advisor to Bashir to the State Department to meet with administration officials. Secretary of State John Kerry literarily stood behind Bashir, posing for a photo at a conference in Cairo. As the United States chaired the UN Security Council, the United Nations announced its plan to shrink the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
Meanwhile, Darfur is suffering a massive increase in violence. Last year in Darfur over 3,000 villages were destroyed and 450,000 people were forced from their homes. The result? 4.4 million people in Darfur are in need of lifesaving humanitarian aid.
This is what happens when you ignore the people Darfur. Now, as the United States looks away, the UN is making plans to abandon the people of Darfur altogether.
Sudan's President Bashir has asked for an end to the UN peacekeeping mission. Without action by the United States and the Security Council, the mission will end in just a few short months. This will mark the next tragic step in the removal of protection for civilians in Darfur and the few remaining international witnesses, just as state sponsored violence and displacement escalate.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) needs to be not only renewed but held accountable and strengthened. On paper, the Council has given UNAMID a strong mandate, backed by the strongest authorizations of the UN, including the use of force to protect civilians. But in reality, Sudan has been allowed to intimidate UNAMID and there has been little accountability from the international community when the mission fails to report or act to protect civilians.
The United States and the rest of the UN Security Council should support the mission so that it no longer cows to the Sudanese government's desires for it to withhold information and fail to act to fulfill its mandate of protecting civilians. The way to address problems with peacekeepers is not to play into the hands of the perpetrators of murder and to remove the last line of defense for civilians, but rather to reinforce the peacekeeping mission so it can carry out its mission.
Speaking before hundreds of thousands on the National Mall, then Candidate Obama said, "Today we know what is right and we know what is wrong. Silence, acquiescence, paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong."
Silence, acquiescence, and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong. With millions of lives at risk, President Obama, the Unites States and the world cannot abandon Darfur again. The lives of untold numbers of innocent people stand in the balance. Again.