American Jewish World Service Calls On Bush to Address Darfur in State of the Union

AJWS President Ruth Messinger to Bush: We Need a Plan!

New York, NY; January 28, 2008 — American Jewish World Service today urged President George W. Bush to use his State of the Union address to provide a concrete plan for ending the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

AJWS, along with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Union of Reform Judaism and other members of the Save Darfur Coalition, have led efforts to mobilize the American Jewish community and others in the international development, human rights and faith communities to push for passage of state and federal divestment legislation and to increase U.S. international funding for humanitarian assistance and peace-keeping.

Over the past five years, the crisis has driven more than 2.5 million people from their homes into camps for refugees and internally displaced persons and left more than 400,000 people dead.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir continues to thwart deployment of the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and only 9,000 of the scheduled 26,000 peacekeepers are currently on the ground. Just one week after the U.N. took over the African Union mission in Darfur, the Sudanese army fired upon a clearly marked UNAMID convoy. In addition to this direct assault on peacekeepers, the government of Sudan continues to create roadblocks to the force’s full deployment, such as restrictions of troop movements, communications, equipment and national composition of the force. Sudan’s obstruction and a lack of heavy equipment contributions are putting the UNAMID mission at risk of failure. As such, the force would be unable to carry out its mandate to protect civilians and the humanitarian workers trying to deliver food and medical care to the camps.

In the past year, attacks on aid workers increased by 150 percent. Pervasive insecurity, coupled with the government of Sudan’s lack of cooperation, threaten the delivery of humanitarian aid with dire consequences for civilians. The percentage of malnourished children in Darfur has risen above the U.N. “emergency threshold” from 12 percent in 2006 to 16 percent in 2007. The U.N.’s World Food Program reported that it was unable to reach 106,000 civilians in December. Humanitarian groups fear that the rate of deaths due to starvation and disease will increase rapidly if the situation in the camps does not improve quickly.

In light of these realities, the United States can and must do more to stem the violence. In his State of the Union address, the President should, at a minimum, make the following commitments:

  • Support a dramatic increase in humanitarian and emergency assistance. These accounts are chronically under-funded during the regular budget cycle–year after year, the President’s budget request includes insufficient funding for the accounts and Congress fails to sufficiently remedy the problem during the appropriations cycle. In FY09, the President must request and Congress must appropriate no less than $1.7 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA), $100 million in Emergency Migration and Refugee Assistance (ERMA) and $607 million in International Disaster Assistance (IDA). Adequate funding of these accounts is critical to providing sufficient food, health care, shelter and other basic needs to the growing numbers of displaced people in both Darfur and Chad. Both the Administration and Congress are responsible for this shortfall and need to increase funding immediately.
  • Pay the U.S. share of costs for all U.N. peacekeeping missions, including UNAMID, and fully fund back dues owed for U.N. peacekeeping operations. In the FY09 budget, the U.S. must appropriate $550 million for UNAMID and a total of no less than $3.1 billion to cover both the total U.S. share of all U.N. peacekeeping missions in FY09 and U.S. arrears owed for past missions.
  • Encourage allies to contribute much needed troops and heavy equipment, such as 24 helicopters which are the minimum number required for UNAMID to operate effectively. Without this equipment, UNAMID will have limited rapid-response capabilities and will be unable to reach many areas of Darfur in need of protection.
  • Commit a full-time Special Envoy and full-time diplomatic team in support of a renewed peace process for Darfur and ensure implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan. At present, the U.S. has only a part-time special envoy with no full-time staff in the region, indicating a low-level of U.S. commitment to the peace process. This is unacceptable.
  • Implement the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act to the full spirit and letter of the law. President Bush needs to ensure enforcement of the bill’s key provisions, including the prohibition of federal contracts with companies involved in Sudan’s booming oil, power, mineral and weapons industries. This is one of the most effective tools at our disposal to increase the economic pressure on the government of Sudan.
  • Pursue multilateral sanctions on Sudan and strengthen the arms embargo through the U.N.

“As President Bush enters his final year in office, he should be very concerned about the legacy he leaves behind,” said Ruth W. Messinger, President of AJWS. “History will judge the extent to which he exercises moral leadership in stopping this genocide from continuing on his watch. The time to act is now. And the President must use his State of the Union address to lay out, before the American people, his commitment to ending this epic tragedy.”

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