Hopes for Sudan 'quickly dimming' as U.S. stance 'wanes,' rep says

Baptist Press

12/16/2009 4:45:16 PM - Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (BP)--Members of Congress and a bipartisan commission have called on the Obama administration to take decisive action regarding what they described as an emboldened dictatorship in Sudan.

The House of Representatives members, as well as commissioners of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), called for more engagement from the top of the administration after Khartoum's extremist Islamic regime cracked down on members of the opposition party in the National Assembly and peaceful protesters.

According to reports, at least two top officials of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the primarily Christian party based in the southern part of the country, were arrested. Police beat demonstrators during the Dec. 7 arrests. Also, Sudanese forces fired tear gas into a crowd of about 200 and made dozens of arrests of people calling for democratic reforms outside the parliament building Dec. 14, according to the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The actions call into question full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that closed a two-decade-old civil war between the Arab Islamic north and the mostly Christian south, said advocates for religious freedom and human rights.

"The time has come for Secretary Clinton and President Obama to personally and actively engage on Sudan," Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., said in prepared remarks Dec. 15.

When the CPA was signed in 2005, Wolf said, "Hopes were high for a new Sudan. Sadly those hopes are quickly dimming as President Bashir becomes further entrenched and principled U.S. leadership on Sudan wanes."

A delegation of USCIRF commissioners was in Sudan when the Dec. 7 crackdown occurred. The commissioners met with SPLM officials, who reported on arrests and beatings of themselves and supporters, according to a USCIRF news release. The actions took place after SPLM office holders sought to give a memorandum to the speaker of the National Assembly urging votes on legislation needed to implement the CPA, USCIRF reported.

"The ruling party's lack of good faith and fair dealing on CPA-required agreements in recent months has reached a new low," said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo, who led the delegation to Sudan Dec. 6-10, in a written release. "We watched the CPA being hijacked in front of our eyes."

Their observations on the trip Leo said, led them to believe the lack of action by U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration and others has prompted a bold response from the ruling National Congress Party.

"Leadership will come only from the top, and many of the officials we met were urging the Commission to take home a plea for greater U.S. strength and pressure on recalcitrant signatories," Leo said. "We call upon Secretary Clinton in the next two weeks to send a strong message to the CPA signatory parties, as well as the international community, by personally standing with the peace process and seeking to re-establish a level playing field for fair and full implementation of the CPA."

Obama named Gration, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, in March to serve as the U.S. representative in the effort to gain peace in Darfur, the country's western region that is engulfed in a government-backed, genocidal campaign, and to produce complete implementation of the CPA.

Under the peace agreement, elections are scheduled for next April, but Khartoum's recent actions have called into question the capacity for those to be free and fair, critics said.

"The CPA is not up for renegotiation," Wolf said. "But the burden for action, the weight of leadership, now rests with this president and this president alone.

"This softening in the U.S. posture has not gone unnoticed," he said. "In recent written testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, the top investigator said, 'In contrast to that leadership of 2004 and 2005, the United States appears to have now joined the group of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions protect Darfurians."

During the last six years in Darfur, Khartoum military forces and Arab militias supported by the government have instituted ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in the killing of about 400,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping, according to USCIRF. About 2 million Sudanese are homeless in Darfur and another 250,000 are in refugee camps in Chad and the Central African Republic, USCIRF has reported.

While Darfur's crisis involves conflict between Arab Muslims and African Muslims, the civil war of more than 20 years that ended in 2005 involved a campaign by the Khartoum regime against Christians and animists in southern Sudan, as well as moderate, African Muslims.

Sudan is one of eight regimes designated by the Department of State as "countries of particular concern," a label reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.

USCIRF is a nine-member panel selected by the president and congressional leaders. It reports to the White House and Congress on religious freedom overseas. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is a USCIRF commissioner.

Two congressmen from New Jersey -- Democrat Donald Payne and Republican Chris Smith -- joined Wolf at a Dec. 15 news conference calling for U.S. action on Sudan.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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