Obama administration must act now to stop Darfur’s genocidal mastermind, Omar al-Bashir

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Two priests I met this summer in Juba, South Sudan had narrowly escaped South Kordofan.  They reported that Sudanese Armed Forces and allied militias were going door to door, targeting people based on their religion and the color of their skin. They spoke of churches being burned and looted. One church was hit by a bomb as Antanov planes, the same used to terrorize the people of Darfur, launched indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.

The attacks continue. Bashir has also refused to let in desperately needed food, water, medicine and fuel. International aid NGOs have been tossed out. In July food stocks were already running low, trade routes were blocked, and no new aid was being allowed in, leaving at least one million innocent people at risk in South Kordofan alone.  And more recently, his forces have begun attacks in Blue Nile.

Right now, Bashir is feeling no pain for all the pain he is inflicting on innocent men, women and children. The Obama administration is largely standing by with only tepid words and no action to change the course of action in Sudan. That must change.

There are a number of steps that need to be taken starting now:

First, the United States should expand sanctions on individuals responsible for atrocities throughout Sudan. Anyone who commits heinous crimes must be held accountable regardless of where in Sudan these atrocities take place.

Second, make saving lives in Sudan a high priority in our dealings with other nations – particularly those that can exert the most leverage on Bashir. We need increased and coordinated sanctions by the international community.

Finally, the United States should spend political capital to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution that: expands individual sanctions for perpetrators; expands the existing arms embargo on Darfur to incorporate all of Sudan; expands the mandate of the International Criminal Court to cover the entire country; and authorizes an international civilian protection force with the resources and mandate to accomplish its mission.

Some have suggested that a military approach is called for.  I understand why – things are getting increasingly desperate for the next victims of Bashir’s killing machine. But there are important reasons not to.  Aid groups have expressed strong concern about the impact this kind of intervention would likely have on the most desperate civilians, arguing that for them, a bad situation could become significantly worse. And experts, including Richard Downie at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, have suggested that providing weapons will likely “trigger an even more hostile response… the last thing Sudan needs is an arms race.” 

The fact is that there are real and meaningful steps that our government can take to hold a mass murderer accountable and save lives. The Obama administration is failing to do any of them.

Congress, which is holding its second hearing in three weeks on Sudan, should consider and pass legislation that would mandate increased U.S. sanctions and push the Administration to advance policies that will hold Bashir accountable for his actions.

Despite the many reasons it’s convenient to look the other way and focus on our many domestic priorities, we cannot stand quietly aside while genocidal monsters inflict unspeakable crimes against untold numbers of innocent people.
 
Tom Andrews is a former member of Congress and current president of United to End Genocide -- the organization formed by the recent merger of Save Darfur Coalition and Genocide Intervention Network.