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Sweet Column: Shameful lack of action on Darfur genocide bill

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today's column...

There's no excuse.

A bill dealing with the ongoing genocide in Darfur is languishing in Congress. It's a sorry example of how hard it is to get something done in Washington even when every major player is on the same page.

There are epic battles in the House and Senate and White House over polarizing issues that go on and on with no permanent resolution. Look no further than the recurring questions of drilling for oil in Alaska or making certain federal tax cuts permanent.

In this case, however, there is almost unanimous agreement between the Bush administration and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans when it comes to condemning the murderous regime in Sudan. Still, Congress has yet to send a Darfur Peace and Accountability Act to President Bush.

On June 30, 2005, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) introduced H.R. 3127. The House, on a 416-3 roll call, approved the "Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006'' on April 5.

It's an important piece of legislation for Hyde, who is retiring after this term and he has put a priority in getting it to Bush's desk to sign. He would have liked to have the legislation completed before last Sunday's "Save Darfur'' rally on the National Mall.

The ranking Democrat on Hyde's panel is Hungarian-born Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who knows too well what happens when the world remains silent.

On July 21, 2005, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) sponsored a version of the same legislation, S. 1462, considered so noncontroversial that it passed with the unanimous consent of Senate GOP and Democratic leaders on Nov. 18, 2005. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) signed on as a co-sponsor.

There are no major differences between the House and Senate approaches, at least no gulf that should be impossible to bridge.

Since the bills were introduced in 2005, the situation on the ground has changed for the worse. So far, between 200,000 and 400,000 people in Darfur, in western Sudan, have died and more than 2 million driven from their homes.

The Darfur accountability bills deliver a variety of diplomatic slaps to the Sudanese government.

The genocidal conflict started in 2003, when the government-backed Arab Janjaweed militias launched wholesale attacks against ethnic Africans. On Sept. 4, 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word genocide in describing what was occurring while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Since the introduction of the bills in 2005, portions of the legislation had to be rewritten to reflect that African Union troops on the ground need to transition to a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Bush is calling for the deployment of a NATO force to work with AU soldiers.

Staffers on the House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations committees and State Department aides are negotiating to finalize identical language in the bills and expedite final passage.

There is a question of whether the Janjaweed militias should be classified as a terrorist organization, and therefore subject to certain sanctions.

The House bill has language dealing with divestment; the Senate is silent. But nothing in the pending measure pre-empts any state laws dealing with divestment; Gov. Blagojevich signed almost a year ago a bill halting any State of Illinois investment with a company doing business with Sudan. Divestment should not be a roadblock issue.

The biggest issue is, in a sense, a technicality. The devil is in the details. The United States wants to provide humanitarian assistance to the semi-autonomous southern regional government of Sudan, to help implement a peace agreement covering certain areas. Capitol Hill staffers are working with the State Department on language that delivers assistance to the area while somehow not seeming to hand a gift to the Sudanese rulers in Khartoum. No one wants a repeat of the Iraq oil-for-food scandals.

I'm told that the triangulation between the House, Senate and State Department should be worked out in a few weeks.

Bush sent Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick to peace talks in Nigeria and a deal seemed possible Wednesday. There are a lot of moving parts in this situation, but Zoellick's progress should not delay firming up a deal on the Darfur Act.

There is a strong will. Hopefully, soon, there will be a way.


8 Comments

Wonderful column. I am a strong supporter of Senator Jacqueline Collins, D-16 who sponsored the Illinois Darfur divestment bill. Illinois was the first state to do so. Now that is a politican we should be supporting...one who knows how to put values into action.
Warmly,
Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman

1) I had the opportunity to see the preview of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" and to hear directly from former Vice President Al Gore. This is a must see movie. It will electrify you but hopefully will move you to action. http://www.climatecrisis.net/ When you pray, move your feet. 2) Impeachment is not just for blowjobs anymore. Impeach Bush. www.votetoimpeach.org

Regarding Darfur, sadly we cannot save the world.
We are stretched way too thin now.

As a citizen of the world, not just this country, I believe it is our duty to help other nations who are having domestic problems...not just the ones with oil.

I totally support helping settle the problems in Darfur before more people are murdered.

Anyone who calls themselves a Christian supports our helping Sudan.

i had the personal joy of working directly on the rally as the director of outreach. the response in attendance at the rally was remarkable. a crowd of more than @75,000 (contrary to what the press reported) to stood up against the genocide occurring daily in Darfur. It is time for the congress to move. we do not need endless discussions with no results. thousands more will die if we do not act now.

cheryl benton

I would like to informs the congress of the United state of America to considered the conflict in the province of Darfur region is not just as civil war any more. America should have taken action immediately because innoccence people were dying every day.

manjala Koch from Ottawa

There has been so much senseless bloodshed on the Continent of Africa over the last decades in particular. Hopefully, the World is not too insensed by the frequency of it all to respond with an abundance of love and compassion to the Darfur region in Sudan and send help from the UN as well as African neighbors on the Continent most URGENTLY!

Thanks you Chicago rally organizers. I came all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan. ..over 3 and a half hours each one in one day. You are awesome. I am spreading the word north!

For 4 years organizations have been thoroughly involved in trying to see some progress in Sudan. However, where is the governmental support from the more wealthy western countries? It is the fact that the Sudan has oil and does business with big countries(China)... Oil is ruler of the planet. Who cares if a half a million people die so long as we have oil...
I am outraged. What can we do as a world community to help these poor people in the Darfur region and get governments involved?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 4, 2006 6:24 AM.

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