Last Chance for Darfur: US Congress presses Obama to act

A group of 120 legislators are calling on President Obama to use his final months in office to "exercise leadership" on human rights abuses in Sudan. They want the president to use targeted financial measures against Sudanese leaders to force them to stop killing their citizens. Members of Congress have signed a letter reminding the president that Khartoum continues to bomb and starve its unarmed civilians in violation of international law, Sudan's own promises and multiple UN resolutions.

Before he was elected, Senator Obama condemned the Sudanese regime for deliberately attacking its own people in what he called a "rolling genocide." The congressional letter notes that although media attention has lapsed, the killing continues, causing massive displacement - another 1.7 million people according to USAID- and a humanitarian crisis in which the UN says 5.4 million are in need of aid. Conflict has spread from Darfur to other marginalized regions of Sudan, with an estimated 4,000 bombs dropped on South Kordofan and Blue Nile since 2012.

Sudan experts have warned that while Khartoum systematically bombs farms, making it impossible to plant and harvest, the Sudanese people face starvation. USAID's Famine Early Warning System reports almost 4 million people at crisis levels of food insecurity. The congressional signatories warn, "While we welcome the fact that the United States remains the largest supplier of humanitarian aid to Sudan, those efforts are hollow if that aid cannot get to the people who need it most, or if the conflict continues to rage on indefinitely."

The legislators continue, "We urge you to enhance the U.S. approach to this conflict, and re-prioritize peace, accountability, and protection of civilians in Sudan in your last year in office." In particular, the members of Congress are urging the Obama Administration to "enhance the current sanctions regime so that it is focused to impact the calculations of the Sudanese regime's top-level officials, by targeting top level officials, financial institutions and other facilitators of the conflict." They call for US leadership in persuading the Arab world to use its influence with the Khartoum regime, and to press the gold industry to designate Sudan's gold exports as conflict-affected. Gold is a top revenue earner for the Sudanese government after the secession of South Sudan deprived the regime of oil proceeds. The bulk of gold is mined in the conflict region of Darfur and its extraction bears the hallmarks of grave human rights abuses.

In 2003 the US made the determination that genocide was occurring in Darfur, and although the UN has not been counting the number of dead, it estimates 300,000 have died. The Sudanese leader, Omar Bashir, was indicted on charges of genocide in 2010. Human rights groups accuse his regime of pursuing a racist agenda, trying to purge the country of non-Arab and non-Muslim ethnic groups.