Darfur: Looking Forward

 

Darfur: Looking Forward

October 11, 2007

The news from the ground is bleaker than ever. The United Nations reports that the number of displaced people in Darfur is at its highest level yet and expected to rise. The already over-crowded camps continue to grow; since the beginning of the year, over 170,000 people have been displaced, some for a second or third time. Ongoing bombing by Sudanese government forces, attacks by militia, fighting between rebel groups and increasingly violent inter-communal clashes all contribute to the widespread insecurity.

Heavy rains are flooding the makeshift shelters of refugees, spreading malaria and further hampering the efforts of aid workers. For the first time since late 2004, malnutrition rates in many camps now exceed the emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.

Despite such overwhelming suffering, the people of Darfur have not lost hope. Thousands cheered the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as he made his first visits to the camps. He urged the international community to bring lasting peace and security to Darfur as quickly as possible.

Countries have offered a sufficient number of infantry troops and police for the newly-authorized U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur (UNAMID). However, critical personnel, equipment and support operations are still lacking. UNAMID will formally take over the African Union mission at the end of this year, but full deployment of the 26,000-strong force could take many months longer. It will require the full cooperation and engagement of the international community to ensure that this happens swiftly and that attempts at obstruction by the Sudanese government are met with immediate consequences.

More than a year after the signing of the failed Darfur Peace Agreement, peace talks between the Sudanese government and rebel groups are now set to begin at the end of October. It will take the active, committed involvement of the U.S. and other stakeholders to help create a comprehensive settlement that addresses the needs of those affected by the conflict.

In the meantime, the U.S. Senate may consider a measure to dramatically increase economic pressure on the Sudanese government. The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act (H.R. 180) would prohibit U.S. contracts with foreign companies that help to fund the Sudanese government’s genocidal campaign. This legislation passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bi-partisan support in July and was introduced into the Senate in August, but objections from the Bush administration and a few powerful senators are preventing the legislation from coming to a vote.

American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger recently returned from the Darfur-Chad border, where she traveled as part of a delegation with Dream for Darfur. The group recently released a report from this mission , titled “Genocide in Slow Motion: How Darfur’s Refugees are Dying a Protracted Death.” The report details their observations on the situation of people living in the camps, and outlines recommendations that the international community must take to end the genocide. Click here to read the report in full.