By Marloes and Judith Sijstermans, student anti-genocide activists
When U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice (Class of ’86) returned to Stanford to deliver the 2010 commencement address, she urged graduates to work towards positive change in the world. This week, she has backed up those words.
When General Scott Gration, US Special Envoy to Sudan, proposed a policy towards Sudan that would sideline Darfur completely, Rice spoke out as the lone dissenting voice defending millions of Sudanese people. Activists around the country have joined Rice in standing against the proposed plan, which continues the use of only positive incentives rather than consequences in dealing with Khartoum. Anti-genocide activists, including us students, are calling for President Obama to live up to his promises and to make this critical choice a positive turning point in Sudan policy. He has said, “I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.”
But Gration’s proposed plan for Sudan does just that. This new policy proposal deemphasizes the genocide in Darfur and contains few solid consequences. Like the World War II era policy of appeasement, Gration supports positive incentives for the Sudanese government if the January referendum goes smoothly. However, negotiation with Khartoum has proven to be an ineffective method in curbing violence, genocide and, corruption.
This year’s April elections were neither fair nor free, reelecting Omar al Bashir through a flawed and corrupt process. The Sudanese government has broken peace agreements time after time, and the violence and destruction continues in Sudan.
While there is a time and place for policies of appeasement, the Sudanese government has been unresponsive to these policies and thus, Gration’s proposal this week is severely out of sync with what the people of Sudan need. President Obama himself has said that if engagement has been shown not to work then, “We’re going to have to apply additional pressure on Sudan in order to achieve our objectives.” Engagement has not worked. In making his choice between Gration and Rice’s proposals this week, President Obama should live up to his promises. The United States must pressure the Sudanese government; incentives have not worked to quell the atrocities occurring in Sudan.
Additionally, while the January referendum is a very important part of Sudan policy, the new proposal focuses too singularly on the referendum. The referendum is an important moment in Sudan and it speaks to those southern Sudanese people who fervently want independence. It does not, however, address the ongoing violence in Darfur, the millions of people in IDP camps around the country, and the Sudanese government’s culture of impunity. Focus on the referendum does not ensure a safer Sudan for all Sudanese, and this is the problem that Rice’s dissent seeks to address.
In neglecting to pay adequate attention to the human rights atrocities, Gration turns a blind eye to some of Sudanese president Omar al Bashir’s worst offenses, which the ICC has quantified as three counts of genocide and seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. US policy cannot reward Bashir any longer. President Obama must live up to his very own convictions, that “we can’t say never again and then allow it to happen again.”
This week we face a turning point in Sudan. We must make the situation in Sudan a priority and call on our leaders to do what is right. As Susan Rice noted in June, “Things get better because we make them better; and things go wrong when we get too comfortable, when we fail to […] seize opportunities.” This may be the best opportunity we have to improve the situation in Sudan.
Marloes is a senior at Stanford and Judith is a freshman at Berkeley. They are sisters and members of the group STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, which advocates on issues relating to genocide and mass atrocities around the world.