Sunday, February 25, 2007

U.S. Slammed for Backing off 'Genocide' Charge

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 15 (OneWorld) - Human rights groups spoke out this week, condemning the United States Special Envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, for claiming the crisis in Darfur no longer constitutes genocide.

"The term genocide is counter to the facts of what is really occurring in Darfur," Natsios told a gathering at Georgetown University February 7th.

The statement shocked many observers since both President Bush and the State Department have used the term "genocide" to describe the situation in western Sudan.

Since 2003, the Sudanese military and its allied militias have killed at least 400,000 people, while more than 2 million innocent civilians have been forced to flee their homes and now live in camps in Sudan and neighboring Chad. More than 3.5 million men, women, and children are now completely reliant on international aid for survival.

Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, campaigners argue, has the world seen such a calculated campaign of displacement, starvation, rape, and mass slaughter.

"Activists across the country are outraged by Natsios' denial of genocide in Darfur," Marie Clarke Brill of the group Africa Action said in a statement. "The death toll is mounting, and the U.S. must act now to stop the escalating violence by the Sudanese government and to provide protection to civilians and humanitarian operations in Darfur."

Brill's group is concerned that Natsios' statement marks a shift in U.S. policy and is an attempt to provide cover for his government's failure to convince Sudan to allow a stronger international peacekeeping force into the country. Africa Action has said the U.S. government holds the most sway with Sudanese officials and therefore is uniquely obligated to pressure Khartoum on peacekeeping.

Activists point out the killing continues unabated despite ongoing negotiations with the Sudanese government in Khartoum. On Wednesday, the United Nations Mission in Sudan reported that fresh violence has displaced at least 110,000 people in southern Darfur since December.

"Up to this week there is [still] bombing of civilians, so the lack of security still prevails," Dr. Ali Ali-Dinar told OneWorld. The native of Darfur is Outreach Director for the University of Pennsylvania's Africa Studies Center and runs the Web

"Civilians still face continuous harassment," he said. "They're still in their camps. It's still not safe to go back. So the ingredients are still there. Just because [U.S. envoy Natsios] mutters that there is not a genocide doesn't mean that one isn't going on."

Recently, an African Union military mission in Darfur was bolstered by United Nations blue berets, but Ali-Dinar said that hasn't done anything to improve the situation.

"They are there but with a very flimsy mandate and under its presence nothing is changing," he said. "The government is still bombing civilians. All this is going on even with the UN Mission. Nothing is new."

On Monday, the European Union Council released a statement from Brussels protesting what they called "an unsustainable level of insecurity" for humanitarian workers attempting to help refugees seeking relief from the killing.

Attacks on relief workers and their property have become common, the aid groups said. There have been at least five car-jackings this month.

Those actions prompted a fresh reaction from the U.S. Envoy, Andrew Natsios, on Wednesday. The same man who said "genocide is counter to what's occurring" told Reuters "the government has lost control. There is anarchy in large parts of Darfur. The risk is that if the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) leave, the UN humanitarian agencies leave...there will be no one to care for these people in the camps who can be trusted."

But those statements drew criticisms from campaigners as well. Far from losing control, they argued, the Sudanese government is itself behind much of the violence and displacement.

Increasingly, activists are trying to use their power as private citizens to press the government of Sudan to change its ways. Modeling their work on successful solidarity work that brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa, they're urging states, pension funds, and college campuses to restrict or eliminate their Sudan-related investments.

In 2005, the state of Oregon sold $35 million in holdings it had invested in four oil companies that work in Sudan. In January 2006, Maine followed suit, selling its holdings in Schlumberger Ltd., an oil company stock held by Maine's $24 million State Held Trusts.

Last September, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill directing the massive California Public Employees Retirement System and California State Teachers Retirement System, which together hold more than $350 billion in assets, to divest from companies doing business in Sudan.

According to the non-profit Genocide Intervention Network, there are active campaigns in an additional two-dozen colleges, 15 states, and numerous other countries.

"This is only the beginning," said Sam Bell, the group's advocacy director. Divestment campaigns are currently underway in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Virginia, Bell said.

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