Sudan Bombs While White House Talks

For those of us who follow events in Sudan, where the South recently voted to secede from the North and the ongoing genocide in Darfur continues into its eighth year under the watch of the international community, the stream of news reports on Thursday, January 27 was particularly noteworthy for its extreme contrasts.

In the afternoon, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough answered a question about Darfur in a roundtable discussion on foreign policy issues which was streamed live via The White House website. As President Obama's White House point person on Sudan, McDonough's strong words regarding the United States' continuing focus on the genocide in Darfur struck all the right notes. McDonough stressed that in his recent meeting with Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti, 25% of the time was spent discussing North/South issues while 75% was spent on Darfur. McDonough said, "We're not pulling any punches" in ongoing diplomatic efforts and described Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as "outraged" over the lack of sufficient access for peacekeepers in Darfur. Most importantly, he made it clear that the U.S. will "hold Khartoum and Juba responsible for their international obligations."

Hours later, AFP reported:

The Sudanese army threatened to "burn to the ground" makeshift camps for people left homeless by the eight-year-old conflict in Darfur in a tense standoff with peacekeepers, UN sources said Thursday..."The commander said he was going to burn down all the makeshift camps in the area if the peacekeepers don't stop interfering in the government's internal affairs," a UNAMID source told AFP.

This AFP report came on the heels of an earlier report that day from the Sudan Tribune:

Internally Displaced Persons from Darfur told Sudan Tribune that the recent violence displaced thousands of people as the government troops and militias continue to harass the civilians and burn their villages. A female teacher from Tabit reached by Sudan Tribune after their arrival to Zamzam IDPs camp near El-Fasher said since the bombing of 25 January, the villagers, 17000 families, fled to Zamzam, and Rwanda camps near Tawilla. "People are homeless in the valleys and roads as the army block the roads," she said, adding "this is the new policy of peace." A local chief from Al-Salam IDPs camp told Sudan Tribune that the Sudanese troops burnt down seven villages in the area located south-west of El-Fasher on the period of Saturday to Tuesday of this week.

The following day, the state department announced that Special Envoy Scott Gration will "make his third visit to Darfur in the past two months to discuss the potential initiation of a consultative peace process based in Darfur."

So in spite of McDonough's tough talk regarding holding Khartoum responsible for its international obligations, the United States, under the misguided direction of Scott Gration, plans to support the "domestication" of the Darfur peace process as proposed by the government of Khartoum? Why would we agree to turn over control of peace negotiations to a government currently engaged in bombings, village burnings, and obstruction of peacekeepers? Why would we support such a colossal abdication of the international community's responsibility to protect innocent civilians? Why do President Obama and Denis McDonough enable Scott Gration to continue to take U.S. Sudan policy down the wrong path?

Louis Charbonneau of Reuters in his astute analysis of the current state of U.S. Sudan policy titled, "Darfur: Africa's latest neglected conflict," writes:

John Prendergast, a former U.S. State Department official and co-founder of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group, said the world's approach to Darfur needs a complete overhaul. "The entire policy construct on Darfur has to be wrecked and rebuilt," he told Reuters. "The peace process has failed, and out of the ashes a new approach needs to be forged, one in which the U.S. is much more directly involved."

Prendergast's assessment is correct. In addition to direct involvement, let's hope that the U.S. will also take concrete steps to ensure that violence against civilians is no longer tolerated, that access for peacekeepers and the media is no longer obstructed and that the basic human rights of three million displaced Darfuris are no longer ignored.