IV: U.S. Can Do More to Stop Genocide in Darfur
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Jan. 3, 2006
U.S. Can Do More to Stop Genocide in Darfur
Interview with Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
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In December, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice urgently requested that Congress provide $50 million to support the African Union observer mission in Darfur, Sudan. But the GOP-controlled Congress declined. The $50 million would have funded about one-third of the monthly cost for the peacekeepers. The European Union has provided most of the remainder.
Since a Darfur rebel group began fighting the central Sudanese government in 2003, up to 200,000 black Africans have been killed by the Sudanese government or their allied Janjaweed Arab militia. During the conflict, an estimated 200,000 people in Darfur have died due to the lack of food, water and disease. Another 2.5 million have become internally displaced, and 200,000 to 300,000 are living as refugees in neighboring Chad. Those who have been displaced, both inside and outside the country, are totally dependent on international aid.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, about the current situation in Darfur, the U.S. response, and why he's hopeful that things will improve in the new year.
SALIH BOOKER: Sadly, the Congress, nor the administration, quite frankly, simply place that much of a priority on ending the genocide in Darfur. There’s a lot of rhetoric on the subject, but in terms of taking the practical steps necessary to provide protection for the several million people in Darfur who are completely vulnerable to the ongoing violence, they just haven’t taken the practical steps. And so, the fact that the State Department asked for this money, and Congress didn’t provide it, simply reveals that both sides had other priorities and neither side made it an urgent matter. And that $50 million would have represented only about a third of the monthly cost of the observer mission; it’s somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 troops right now.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Has the African Union mission been effective at all in minimizing the violence?
SALIH BOOKER: The force has been helpful in the limited areas where it is in providing some security to the large numbers of internally displaced people. But it doesn’t have a mandate for protection; it doesn’t have a mandate for peace enforcement or peacekeeping -- it is simply an observer mission. So the demand right now from people in Darfur and supporters around the world is to turn that African Union force into a U.N., blue-helmeted peacekeeping operation, and give it a mandate to protect civilians, and give it reinforcements, i.e., troops from other countries who are willing to contribute, including other African countries but also countries outside of Africa. There is already a U.N. peacekeeping operation in southern Sudan that has some 4,000 troops from countries around the world and it’s also been suggested some of that force could be relocated to Darfur where the urgency is much greater, the violence is ongoing and there’s a greater need for physical protection. The violence has not really been influenced so much by the presence of the A.U. observers as by the decision of the Sudanese government. In other words, in the first part of this genocide, if you will, the government slaughtered some 400,000 people -- half of them directly in violence, the other half because of the conditions created died due to disease or starvation. There are now 2.5 million people in these camps for internally displaced people.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you think the Bush administration is doing anything right, since Condi Rice strongly pushed for that $50 million in aid?
SALIH BOOKER: I think the problem with the Bush administration is that, rhetorically, it has made these bold pronouncements; it acknowledged that genocide was occurring in Sudan over a year ago. But then it’s failed to act; it’s failed to show the courage of its convictions. It hasn’t provided any real international leadership at the U.N. Security Council when it’s had an opportunity. So we’ve been pushing for the U.S. to provide that leadership that’s needed to get a resolution to have a United Nations Chapter 7 peacekeeping operation, that would be a mandate to protect civilians, to use force if necessary, and such a mandate could be given to the A.U., which would then become an expanded U.N. operation. We believe, finally, that the Bush administration may use February, when the U.S. chairs the Security Council, as an opportunity to introduce and gain passage for such a resolution, and that’s what our activities have been focusing on.
BETWEEN THE LINES: How much do you think the issue of Darfur has reached Americans’ consciousness?
SALIH BOOKER: There are thousands of people around the country who are writing letters to the editors of their own newspapers because this has been one of the strategies of the movement to end genocide in Darfur, is to get local media to pay greater attention. So I would say, comparatively, there has been a high level of attention to Darfur on the part of print media and editorial boards -- less so in the case of mainstream television news. You have, in the United States, a very strong interest in Darfur on the part of a really broad and eclectic constituency -- everyone from evangelical Christians to the Jewish community to African Americans involved in political activism. Students have really taken up this challenge of working to end this genocide in Darfur and what the U.S. appropriate role should be. But in the final analysis, there hasn’t been enough pressure to get the politicians to do what’s absolutely necessary, and that’s just because they don’t think it’s as much a priority as it should be -- which is highly contradictory, given this acknowledgement, publicly, that genocide is taking place, this unique crime against humanity.
Contact Africa Action at (202) 546-7961 or visit their website at http://www.africaaction.org.
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Jan. 6, 2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.