J.B. Wogan
By J.B. Wogan June 15, 2012

Some progress, but violence continues

In his Blueprint for Change in 2008, Barack Obama outlined his foreign policy strategy in Darfur, which promised "immediate steps to end the genocide.” His plan involved pressuring the government and rebel forces to halt the killing and open up Darfur to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping troops.

A quick history: Starting in 2003, the Sudanese government hired Arab militiamen to wage war on non-Arab insurgents, which transformed into a broader campaign against non-Arab African farmers and their villages. The result was thousands of civilians raped and tortured, more than 300,000 dead and 2.7 million people driven from their homes. The Bush administration called it a genocide, as did U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Under President Obama, the U.S. did take immediate steps on Darfur: It appointed both a special envoy for Sudan and a senior advisor to the envoy on Darfur issues; it announced a new "carrots and sticks” plan that would strike a balance between incentives and sanctions, with a new emphasis on diplomacy; it negotiated a return of some NGOs to the region; and it maintains a host of ongoing economic sanctions against Sudan.

But have conditions improved under the Obama administration? As evidence of progress, the foreign policy experts we interviewed pointed to U.S. support of the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, which includes a ceasefire agreement and a comprehensive plan for peace. The government in Khartoum and one rebel army signed the agreement, though the United Nations Security Council and U.S. State Department have said that the agreement won't be fully effective until several other prominent rebel armies in Darfur stop fighting and join the pact.

The Sudanese government has already violated components of the agreement, such as an arms embargo and a requirement to lift a state of emergency in Darfur that enables the government "to detain perceived opponents for long periods without judicial review, often subjecting them to ill-treatment or torture while in detention," according to reports by Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch. Eric Reeves, an English professor at Smith College who studies and writes about Sudan, calls the peace agreement "completely disastrous.”

Most official sources say that the genocide has ended, though many humanitarian groups say there are still atrocities that don't quite qualify as a systematic genocidal effort by the government.

Human Rights Watch alleges continuing crimes against humanity, including government soldiers raping displaced women and children. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Courts, noting that Khartoum has a history of covering up crimes against humanity, said there was no reason to believe the genocide has stopped. And the United Nations Security Council, which does not use the word "genocide,” maintains sanctions against Sudan because individuals affiliated with Sudan's government "have continued to commit violence against civilians and to impede the peace process” in Darfur.

In 2009, former U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration said there were still "remnants of genocide,” but not a "coordinated effort” by the government to kill civilians. That contrasts with the term "ongoing genocide” used by President Obama and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice earlier in the same year.

We checked with Jennifer Christian, the Sudan policy analyst for the Enough Project, a progressive anti-genocide policy think tank and non-governmental organization, working out of Juba in South Sudan. She said she hadn't seen anything to indicate that genocide continues in Darfur, though she said there is still a humanitarian crisis. We also spoke with Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign policy think tank.

"The conflict has not ended in Darfur, but it's at a lower ebb. The violence is lower,” he said.

In 2011, the African Union – United Nations Mission in Darfur reported a decline in ethnic violence and a decline in overall deaths from the previous year. Another sign of improvement: About 150,000 displaced people have returned to their homes, according to the United Nations Office for Coordinated Humanitarian Affairs.

Still, no one disagrees that fighting continues, both skirmishes between rebel armies and the government, but also between tribes. As recent as April, Rice said she was concerned about escalating violence in several regions of Darfur.

The U.S. government "has definitely taken steps forward. Is (the situation) where it needs to be? No. It isn't a completed task,” said Emily Fertik, a spokeswoman from the State Department's Office of the Special Envoy for the Sudans.

The same could be said about access for international forces. Much of Darfur remains off limits to humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers. On its "Sudan: background" page, the U.S. State Department describes the Sudanese government as only "somewhat cooperative" in removing bureaucratic impediments to deliver fast and effective aid. Doctors Without Borders, the only medical non-governmental organization in the Jebal Si area of North Darfur, suspended operations in May after months of restricted travel and access to medical supplies.

About 1.7 million Darfuris remain displaced from their original homes and reside in camps. About three million people in Darfur currently rely on food aid. About four million Sudanese suffer from some level of food insecurity, the majority living in Darfur. Such conditions led Richard Williamson, a former U.S. envoy for Sudan, to label the situation a "genocide in slow motion.” Act for Sudan, a coalition of American citizens advocating against genocide and mass atrocities in Sudan, calls this combination of displacement and famine a "genocide by attrition.”
So in rating this promise, we see progress. Genocide, under the international legal definition, appears to have ended. The U.S supported the 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, it appointed a special envoy, negotiated a return for some NGOs, and continued economic sanctions.

Still, violence persists, international aid is still blocked in critical parts of the region and there are credible allegations that government-sponsored crimes against humanity continue.

For now, we rate this a Compromise. If readers have additional information or analysis they'd like us to consider, please e-mail us at [email protected]

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan January 4, 2011

Obama administration efforts continue, slowly

When people know they're being watched, they're more likely to behave appropriately. A human rights group hopes to apply that principle via satellite surveillance to the conflict in Sudan. And they have a high-profile advocate: The actor George Clooney.

Clooney appeared on ABC News' This Week with Christiane Amanpour to discuss the Satellite Sentinel Project, which will monitor movements of troops and paramilitary groups in Sudan in the days leading up to voting on whether southern Sudan should seek independence from the rest of the country. Clooney appeared with John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project.

Guest host Jake Tapper reminded them that President Obama campaigned on "ending the genocide in Sudan and getting tough with the government in Khartoum. Very briefly, George and then John, has President Obama kept his promise?"

"Yes, he has," Clooney said. "It's a tough one to keep, you know? It's a very complicated situation. It is going to get a lot more complicated. We met with the president. The president seems to be very much on top of the issue. And our job is to keep the pressure on to make sure that there's no slippage in that at all."

Prendergast was less definitive. "Well, this is President Obama's moment," he said. "You know, the United States is the biggest actor in Sudan. We can have a major influence on whether or not a deal is struck between the North and the South to prevent a war, and we can have a major influence on whether human rights violations continue in Darfur. That's going to take presidential leadership. He's become engaged now. We'll see if he can bring it that last mile."

The interview on This Week prompted us to look again at our rating of Obama's promise. The last time we checked in on this one, we rated it In the Works.

As discussed in the interview, Sudan has a major referendum scheduled for Jan. 9. It's widely expected that people in the oil-rich southern region will vote to split from the north. The Obama administration has been pressing the federal government based in the northern city of Khartoum to accept these results peacefully. Clooney's monitoring project is intended to prevent violence in the lead-up to the vote.

Darfur, though, is not part of the southern region. It's located in the west and would remain part of Sudan regardless of the vote. Violence in Darfur has been much reduced since the worst of the killings occurred in 2003 and 2004, but it is not peaceful. The New York Times reported in August that violence was on the rise in 2010, and deaths in 2010 could exceed the 832 violent deaths reported in 2009. On Dec. 25, the special representative for the African Union and the United Nations joint operations in Darfur expressed "deep concern over reports of continued fighting on the ground, particularly in Dar al-Salam and Khor Abeche."

Criticism continues that the Obama administration has been too soft on the government in Khartoum, offering incentives for a peaceful split with the south. "The international focus on potential bloodshed as Sudan moves toward its January referendum is understandable. But while we worry about the impact Sudan's division may have on the rest of the world, Darfur gets the short end of the stick," wrote Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow with the Century Foundation, in a critical op-ed in the Washington Post.

Still, the Obama administration has done some concrete things. In November, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., traveled to Sudan with two Obama administration officials -- Scott Gration, Obama's special envoy for Sudan, and Michelle Gavin, a senior member of the National Security Council staff -- to press the administration's case.

"Darfur remains a critical issue to the U.S. relationship with the government and to the future of Sudan," Kerry said in a statement after the trip. "I made clear in every meeting that many steps on the road to improved relations could only be taken with real progress in achieving lasting peace and security in Darfur."

Gration made another trip to Darfur in December. An additional official, Dane Smith, was named a senior adviser on Darfur to intensify efforts. On Dec. 16, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that Darfur "remains a top priority for the United States. This is reflected in the recent appointment of Ambassador Dane Smith as our Senior Advisor on Darfur. We remain seriously concerned by the violence and humanitarian needs in Darfur, as well as the lack of accountability. At the same time, all states must redouble their efforts to stem the flow of arms into Darfur and faithfully implement the U.N. sanctions regime."

We see evidence that the Obama administration is pressuring Sudan to stop violence in Darfur. It's not clear that the pressure is effective. Until we see more definitive evidence on which way Darfur will go, we're leaving our rating at In the Works.

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan June 19, 2009

Obama promise on genocide in Darfur is still in the works

We've received several e-mails from readers who say President Barack Obama isn't keeping his promise for rapid action on ending genocide in Darfur.

Since Obama took office, he has taken some actions to halt genocide in the Darfur region of the country of Sudan. On March 18, he appointed retired Air Force Major Gen. J. Scott Gration as his special envoy and ordered up a new policy review for the region. Raised in Africa and fluent in Swahili, Gration was an early adviser to the Obama campaign on national security issues, and traveled with Obama to Kenya in 2006.

Since being named envoy, Gration has gone on three major overseas trips. He visited Sudan, traveling to Darfur, Juba, Abyei and the capital of Khartoum. He also did a tour of Sudan's regional neighbors, visiting Doha, Qatar; Cairo, Egypt; and N"Djamena, Chad. Finally, he visited London, Paris and Beijing. Gration will attend a major conference next week aimed at maintaining peace between warring factions within Sudan.

The readers who e-mailed us, though, are impatient. Gration's language in negotiating with Sudan has been too accommodating, they say. The policy review has still not been made public, even though it has been in the works for several months. And Obama hasn't used the bully pulpit to personally talk enough about Darfur.

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes on March 4. Bashir responded by kicking out humanitarian groups that were offering aid to about 2.5 million refugees inside Sudan. Those groups are starting to re-enter the country, but progress has been slow.

We asked Alex Meixner, the senior director of policy and government relations of the Save Darfur Coalition, an advocacy group that promotes peace and stability in Darfur, if he thought Obama was shirking his promise by not taking decisive enough action on Darfur.

"The tough thing here is this," Meixner said. "Obama and the Unites States don't have the power unilaterally to make everything better. Almost all the tactics that will build toward a solution require multilateral action."

Meixner praised Gration for working long hours and traveling so much. The peace conference next week is important, and the policy review will be another significant marker, he said.

Meixner said he would be watching for depth and scope in the policy review, particularly how it lays out both carrots and sticks for dealing with the regime in Khartoum. The Obama administration needs to get other countries to join in a credible threat of economic sanctions against the Sudanese government, he said. Getting the international community on the same page in terms of messages to Sudan would be another good step.

If Obama introduces the policy review personally, that would also be a good sign, Meixner said. If it's introduced by a low-level State Department official at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, not so much.

"It will be apparent if there is a full effort or not," he said.

As for the genocide, Meixner said that mass killings have stopped for the time being. But the government is still trying to keep people in refugee camps so it can repopulate abandoned villages with its supporters, and intermittent violence and rapes continue to be reported.

Gration, the envoy to Darfur, addressed the concerns about Darfur during a State Department news conference on June 17 by reiterating the goals of the Obama administration: "We want to make sure that this situation is stabilized, and so we"re taking efforts to make sure that the humanitarian assistance is there, that we"re able to facilitate and help coordinate a cease-fire, an end of hostilities, and then we want to make sure that there"s political processes in place in Darfur and these other places, so the will of the people can be brought and so that they can have democratic principles and mechanisms."

Obama's last remarks on Darfur himself were when a reporter questioned him on the matter in Germany on June 5, 2009.

Obama said the United States had been working "diligently" to get humanitarian groups back into Darfur and mentioned its efforts on peace conference between the Khartoum government and rebel groups. "So we've been very active on this issue," Obama said. "It may not have received the attention in the press that some of the other issues have, but we are spending a lot of time trying to make sure that we make progress and that the people of Darfur are able to return to their homes and live in peace."

We understand readers' concerns that Obama's promise was for swift action in Darfur. But it seems to us that the administration is still moving toward fulfilling the promise. Gration's work, while not universally praised, appears to be ongoing and substantive. So for now, we leave this promise In the Works.

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley March 31, 2009

Special envoy to Sudan sent to restore aid, explore peace talks for Darfur

On a day when the headlines were dominated by stories about President Barack Obama's plan to reshape the auto industry, Obama took some time on March 30, 2009, to weigh in on Sudan.

"Obviously on a busy news day, I wanted us to make sure that we weren't losing sight of something that has been an ongoing international crisis, and that is the situation in Darfur," Obama began. "As many of you know, there has been a longstanding humanitarian crisis there, prompted by displacement and genocide that has been taking place. There have been a series of negotiations around resolving this crisis in Sudan. It has not gotten resolved, and it is now worsening."

Obama said Gen. Scott Gration, his special envoy to Sudan, will travel to Africa to address the crisis related to "the Khartoum government's expulsion of nongovernmental organizations that are providing aid to displaced persons inside of Sudan. And we have to figure out a mechanism to get those NGOs back in place, to reverse that decision, or to find some mechanism whereby we avert an enormous humanitarian crisis."

Gration also will be assigned to "reinvigorate the North-South agreement, make sure that it's implemented in an effective way, and that we are also exploring a mechanism whereby we can get talks between rebels and the Khartoum government that could help, once and for all, resolve the Darfur situation."

"This is going to be a very difficult task," Obama said. "It will be a time-consuming task. We don't expect any solutions overnight to the longstanding problems there." But, he said, there is a "bipartisan interest on the part of members of Congress around this issue — that I actually think that America can speak effectively with one voice and bring the moral and other elements of our stature to bear in trying to deal with this situation."

Obama said Gration would return and "report to me very shortly about what he's found there and additional steps that we can take to deal with this situation."

This is just an early step in what Obama acknowledges will be a long and difficult task. But the remarks show the issue is on the president's radar, and that he is committed to taking action toward trying to resolve the situation. In other words, this one is In the Works.


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