Darfur Action: After the Rally

This past Sunday, April 30, 2006, I took part in a momentous event in the name of ending the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The crowd of nearly 75,000 men, women, and children from all over the U.S. and even parts of Africa, assembled on the National Mall that beautiful spring day to chant and cheer with resounding enthusiasm as Members of Congress, celebrities, religious leaders, student and community activists spoke of the critical needs in Darfur and gave suggestions for ending the genocide. It was an overwhelming sight to look out from the stage at the faces of people united to bring more attention to the ongoing atrocities going on half a world away. I was reminded of previous marches on Washington when people stood for peace and justice for all.

This type of action raises awareness but after the cameras disappear and the crowd disperses, the real work must continue. Two years ago on June 24th, I stood with the Congressional Black Caucus and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to introduce H CON RES 467, declaring that genocide was taking place in Darfur. While it deeply concerns me that almost two years later the genocide rages on, I am encouraged by the groundswell of community action against the atrocities. We are at a critical juncture where American citizens are engaged. Religious groups are holding fundraisers and teach-ins. Student groups are demonstrating on college campuses and at high schools around the country. Communities are holding awareness-building events in private homes and exhibits of Darfuri childrens' drawings. All of this is important and aids our work here in Congress.

There is also a strong divestment movement sweeping the country. My brother, Assemblyman William Payne introduced the nation's first state divestment bill requiring state pension funds to be withdrawn from companies doing business in Sudan. The bill, modeled after the divestment bills which helped bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa, targets multinationals. U.S. companies are already banned from operating in Sudan thanks to a litany of congressional and Executive Order sanctions applied against the Government of Sudan in Khartoum for its brutality against the people of South Sudan during the 21-year conflict which ended in January of 2005.

Due to recent action in the New Jersey Assembly's Budget Committee, chaired by my brother, the state will divest completely by June 30th. a major accomplishment. Illinois and Oregon also have divestment laws and other states are following suit. Several universities including Harvard, Stanford, and the University of California have divested and more are on the way.

A growing number of Members of Congress are pushing for a measure passed in the House recently to be signed into law. HR 3127 seeks to hold Sudanese government officials and Janjaweed commanders accountable for their involvement in the genocide. As the chief cosponsor of this legislation I was able to successfully negotiate into the bill several key provisions. Perhaps the most notable is that which keeps all current sanctions against the Government of Sudan in place until the genocide is ended, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South is fully implemented, and a just and lasting peace is secured for all of Sudan.

The question on everyone's lips is what to do now to end the nightmare. The Congressional Black Caucus has called on President Bush to push through the Security Council a resolution authorizing a robust force of United Nations troops to assist the 7,000 African Union troops. These African soldiers have been all alone for about a year in Darfur without the proper mandate or adequate resources from the international community. We have also called for a just peace agreement to emerge from the peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria. So far, neither of these has been attained.

We must not forget that while we consider what to do, the situation on the ground is worsening for the innocent people affected by the crisis. An estimated 400,000 have already died, over 2 million have been displaced internally and several hundred thousand have fled into eastern Chad. The fighting has followed those who took refuge across the border and last month it spread as far as the capital city, N'djamena, where armed groups supported by Khartoum staged a foiled coup attempt to oust President Deby. Communities in the Central African Republic along the Chad border are now being displaced as well. Meanwhile, the fragile peace between North and South Sudan hangs in the balance as the CPA languishes unfulfilled. The crisis will continue to grow in magnitude and human casualties throughout the region until decisive action is taken to hold government officials accountable and disarm the Janjaweed.

Last month marked the twelve year commemoration of the Rwandan genocide. We could have stopped it in April of 1994 when General Romeo Dallaire sent a red alert to United Nations headquarters. Instead more than 1 million people were brutally murdered while the whole world watched the gruesome tragedy unfold on television. For over ninety days we did nothing. In Darfur we've waited three years and done not enough. We failed the people of Rwanda. Let us end the devastation in Darfur in memory of the lost souls of Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Auschwitz, and Armenia. We must not fail again.