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House Panel Examines Deteriorating Situation in Darfur

On September 20, the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations heard testimony on the escalation of violence in Darfur and its effect on humanitarian conditions.

Subcommittee Chair Christopher Smith (R-NJ) recalled his visit to Darfur fourteen months ago and expressed his concern about reports indicating that the situation has worsened. The people of Darfur, he said, “have had atrocities imposed on them that no human should have to bear. Just about everyone I spoke with — especially the women — told me personal stories of rape, senseless beatings, and massacres by the Janjaweed and Sudanese militias.” He stated that the African Union (AU) should extend its Darfur mission that is set to expire on September 30, and that the international community should immediately follow through on UN Security Council Resolution 1760, which expanded the UN Mission in Sudan and mandated an addition of up to 20,000 military personnel and civilian police. Rep. Smith added, “The US Congress must do more as well. Both the House and the Senate have passed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act [H.R. 3127, S. 1462]. It is time for both chambers to reconcile the differences in bill language and get it to the president for his signature.”

Noting that “the situation in Darfur is getting worse every day,” Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) said, “In recent weeks, the government of Sudan has once again stepped up its campaign of genocide. According to Human Rights Watch, the government of Sudan is indiscriminately bombing civilian-occupied villages in rebel-held North Darfur.” She urged support of the “the grassroots movement to divest from foreign companies doing business with the Government of Sudan,” pointing out that the House passed legislation (H.R. 3127) supporting divestment. Rep. Watson criticized Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) for reintroducing the bill in the Senate without the divestment language. “I appeal to Senator Lugar to restore the divestment language passed by the House to the Senate version of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act,” she said.

Michael Hess, assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), described the current situation in Darfur as “grim.” He explained: “There are 1.9 million people in camps for the displaced who are completely dependent on humanitarian assistance right now in Darfur. Reduced humanitarian access to these people will result in hunger, malnutrition, even starvation.” Mr. Hess stressed that Sudanese government forces have recently launched bombing campaigns in North and West Darfur, despite the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. With violence escalating, AU troops have reduced and halted patrols, thereby increasing the danger for civilians. He noted, “In August, the International Rescue Committee reported that after the African Union Mission in Sudan reduced its patrols around Kalma Camp in South Darfur, the incidence of sexual assault against women trying to gather fire wood outside the camp increased from two to three per month to 200 in a five week period.” Mr. Hess assured the subcommittee that USAID has stockpiled food and other supplies, but he warned that if the AU peacekeepers pull out, international workers also will leave and then “the people of Darfur will face catastrophe.”

Amnesty International Good Will Ambassador Mira Sorvino highlighted the plight of women in Darfur: “The International Rescue Committee reported a dramatic increase in systematic rape earlier this summer. In 2004 Amnesty International reported…[that] women were raped, sometimes gang raped, while foraging for their family’s water and firewood outside their IDP camps. Women have been tortured for information about their husbands — their fingernails pulled out, their faces pressed between wooden sticks, their legs broken if they tried to escape. Refusal to comply with their attackers’ demands has meant slaughter. These attacks have degraded the women and shamed their men, who will often disown them as victims of sexual violence. These women are vulnerable to HIV, to survival prostitution, and to impregnation by the Janjawid. This fathering of Janjawid offspring has been intentional. The illegitimate children produced by this violence are frequently not accepted by their mothers’ communities.” She declared, “It is time to change the manner in which we deal with this crisis…Diplomatic pressure from the U.S. must be applied relentlessly around the clock.” Ms. Sorvino also voiced her personal recommendation that the subcommittee “consider the need to introduce UN peacekeepers into Darfur without Khartoum’s consent, as it is clear that the death toll will continue to soar if the regime is left to its own devices.”

Also testifying were Roger Winter, former special representative of the Deputy Secretary of State for Sudan, and Warwick Webb, research director at Executive Research Associates.

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