Kentucky Can Make a Difference in Darfur
Kentucky Can Make a Difference in Darfur
The U.S. Must Raise the Stakes for Sudan’s Coup Leaders
The U.S. Must Raise the Stakes for Sudan’s Coup Leaders
Op-Ed / Africa

Kentucky Can Make a Difference in Darfur

It is difficult to comprehend the scale of human suffering in the Darfur region of western Sudan until you speak to the survivors of this vicious conflict. We have both been to Darfur and heard some of the thousands of agonizing stories: a young girl raped at knifepoint as she tries to collect firewood; a woman forced to watch her child thrown onto a fire; a man who pleaded for help because that the situation on the ground could not improve unless the “international community—and especially President Bush” paid more attention to Darfur.

The good news is that the president’s recent statement calling for the United States to increase its engagement is an indication that he wants the US to play a more active role in protecting civilians in Darfur. As chairman of the Senate’s State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Kentucky Senator and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell must support the president’s call for action.

Civilians have been under direct assault in Darfur for more than three years. The crisis erupted into full-scale conflict in February 2003 and has been deteriorating significantly over the past six months. With more than two million people living in displaced persons camps and completely dependent on the international community for basic services, the humanitarian situation remains precarious. Attacks against civilians are unrelenting, humanitarian access is inconsistent, and thousands of people are still fleeing their villages in search of greater security.

While diplomatic efforts by the US and others resulted in a ceasefire on April 8, 2004, it has been violated consistently since day one by all parties to the conflict. Nonetheless, within this hostile environment, international donors helped the African Union (AU) to establish a force to monitor the ceasefire.

Even though the current force of 7,000 AU troops lacks the mandate, troop strength, and capacity to sufficiently protect civilians, AU forces have had a positive, albeit limited, impact in the areas where they are deployed. Nonetheless, a transition to a more robust peacekeeping operation is absolutely essential. The Bush administration is now leading the effort to transition the African Union force into a more robust UN peacekeeping mission, but donors must maintain support for the current forces to prevent security from deteriorating. Right now, increasing violence in West Darfur has forced many relief agencies to withdraw staff, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without life sustaining assistance.

Over the past two years, Congress has ensured critical resources so the Bush Administration can support the AU force by appropriating nearly $164 million to the AU in Darfur. Yet despite the worsening situation, the administration did not submit necessary paperwork for an additional $50 million in the 2006 budget. Nor did legislators take initiative to include funding even after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a letter requesting them to do so. Despite President Bush’s recent statements to double the number of troops in Darfur, the administration’s 2007 budget request does not earmark any money for peacekeeping in Darfur.

In the coming weeks, however, lawmakers will have an opportunity to correct this omission. At a minimum, they must support the $123 million designated for the AU mission in Darfur in the FY06 supplemental appropriations request. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator McConnell has previously supported the US government’s significant contribution to peacekeeping in Darfur. Now, more than ever, the senator’s voice and leadership are essential to ensure these vital resources are passed. In doing so, Senator McConnell will send a clear message that the United States has not abandoned Darfur’s civilians in their hour of need.

The current AU mission is only a temporary solution to the civilian protection crisis in Darfur: a political settlement with appropriate security arrangements and compensation for victims of this conflict is necessary. However, civilians will be even more vulnerable to attack if the AU mission runs out of funding and cannot do its job. Hundreds of thousands of people are living on the knife’s edge in Darfur, and residents of Kentucky 7,000 miles away must urge Senator McConnell to prevent this nightmare from getting even worse.

Contributors

Former Research and Advocacy Manager
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Sarah Magnon
Former Policy Adviser for Humanitarian Response at Oxfam America

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