Reforming U.S. food aid policy is just one way that AJWS works to ensure that the United States promotes the rights of the world's poorest people. In 2011, our staff in Washington, D.C., made their presence known on Capitol Hill. Together with our supporters they conducted nearly 100 lobby visits, asking members of Congress to prioritize human rights when they shape our laws and policies.
AJWS's advocacy in 2011 spanned a range of issues, most notably Haitian earthquake relief and peace in Sudan—two arenas where we have been able to significantly shift U.S. policy in order to promote human rights.
In Haiti, the U.S. has spent more than $2 billion dollars on disaster relief since the earthquake in 2010, but hasn't really listened to what Haitians on the ground need. Until AJWS and our allies brought Haitian civil society leaders to Washington in March of 2011, key State Department officials responsible for Haiti relief had not consulted with Haitian grassroots leadership to get a local perspective on how to respond. There was also little accountability for how the aid was being spent in Haiti—whether it actually reached the people who needed it most.
AJWS has committed to change this. In 2011 we hosted and chaired the Haiti Advocacy Working Group ("the HAWG"), a network of 30 advocacy organizations that have come together to raise up the interests and voices of Haitian civil society organizations in Washington.
In March 2011, AJWS and the HAWG organized an advocacy week for nine Haitian grassroots organizations that were able to advocate effectively for greater aid accountability and for grassroots participation in the reconstruction process. The Haitian groups met with over 34 government offices (including the State Department, USAID, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and at least six members of Congress). And their voices were heard! A month later, a bill that would force the U.S. government to be accountable and transparent about its aid in Haiti passed in the House. Since then, it has been successfully passed out of committee in the Senate.
By helping local people speak up about how they want their country to recover and develop, the lobby week had a positive boomerang effect back in Haiti. Empowered by their experience in Washington, AJWS grantees and other Haitian civil society organizations organized a conference in Port-au-Prince to address the ongoing post-earthquake housing crisis. The HAWG made sure that U.S. Congressional staff attended, and AJWS hosted a reception where our grantees held an in-depth working session with U.S. legislative advisors.
In January 2011, the people of South Sudan voted in a referendum to secede, marking the successful culmination of years of advocacy and the end of more than 20 years of civil war. But in the months leading up to the official split in July 2011, violent skirmishes broke out in contested border regions, placing hundreds of thousands of people in peril and threatening the entire peace process.
As a leader in the U.S Sudan advocacy community, AJWS worked to protect the rights of Sudanese people caught in the crossfire and ensure that secession moved forward peacefully. We were invited to brief Senate staff after the referendum and, with three of our allies in the Darfur movement, we hosted a Congressional reception where nine members of Congress from both parties spoke and heard speeches and policy recommendations from Ruth Messinger, AJWS's advocacy staff and leading Darfur advocates.
To spread our message further, we hand-delivered ads to the entire U.S. Congress. Visiting all 535 members of the House and Senate, AJWS and our supporters urged our government to pressure Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir to stop perpetrating violence along the disputed border. We held multiple meetings with U.S. ambassadors to Sudan and members of Congress and mobilized the Jewish community to send thousands of letters and e-mails to President Obama.
As a member of the Sudan Now coalition, we created an online video ad that garnered 3.2 million views and helped raise awareness about what was at stake for the Sudanese people on both sides of the border.
Throughout 2011, AJWS also continued to advocate for Darfur. We have sought a peaceful resolution for the more than three million displaced Darfuris whose humanitarian crisis has continued for more than nine years. Shortly after the referendum, our Huffington Post op-ed on Darfur was viewed by 50,000 people. AJWS co-authored "A Road Map for Peace in Darfur"—a policy paper that we promoted in Congress with our allies—and co-authored an op-ed in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's home paper with Episcopal bishop David Jones, to sound the alarm on the prospect of renewed hostilities.
Unfortunately, that peace has been challenged by renewed fighting along the border in recent months. The efforts of AJWS and the advocacy community continue to play a critical role in ensuring that the new violence has been met with a serious international response, including humanitarian aid for civilians, diplomacy to resolve the conflict and a renewed push in the U.S. Congress for further sanctions against perpetrators of violence. The fact that the U.S. hasn't given up on this troubled region, staying the course until peace is secure, is a testament to the power of advocacy to effect change.
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Inspired by Judaism's commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.
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