“Genocide is underway in Darfur, Sudan. Already, 50,000 Muslims have been killed and 1.2 million displaced by the Sudanese Government militias and encouraged by Khartoum…We cannot, in good conscience, stand by and let this genocide continue.”
- Senator Barack Obama, 2004.
“The United States has a moral obligation anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes. When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Dafur, that is a stain on all of us, that’s a stain on our souls…and as president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.”
- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, 2007.
“The Government of Sudan has pursued a policy of genocide in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have been killed in Darfur, and the killing continues to this very day…”
- Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, 2008.
“The genocide in Darfur has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and left millions more displaced…Our conscience and our interests in peace and security call upon the United States and the international community to act with a sense of urgency and purpose.”
- President Barack Obama, 2009.
The Obama administration is definitely no longer acting “with a sense of urgency and purpose” when it comes to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, the world’s most prominent fugitive from International Criminal Court (ICC) justice.
The ICC indicted Bashir in 2009 on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, an area in western Sudan, but has not been able to apprehend him. He is the only head of state on the ICC’s wanted list. But despite the international warrant for his arrest, the “Butcher of Darfur” is apparently planning, for the third time in three years, to visit the United Nations (UN) in New York.
“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir belongs in only one place, the International Criminal Court…,” said Elise Keppler, a Human Rights Watch official. “A visit by al-Bashir to the U.N. would not only be an affront to Darfuri victims, but a brazen challenge to the U.N. Security Council, which was responsible for sending Darfur to the ICC for investigation in the first place in 2005.”
Sudan’s Deputy UN ambassador, Hassan Hamid, confirmed earlier this month that Bashir will attend a UN conference on sustainable development in September along with 150 other heads of state. One conference agenda has Bashir scheduled to address the General Assembly on September 26. But another agenda has Sudan represented only at the ministerial level.
Bashir is regarded as “the mastermind” of the Darfur genocide, which once figured so prominently in the media but is now largely forgotten. Before that, after coming to power in Sudan in 1989, he presided over a brutal civil war in southern Sudan, underway since 1983, that saw two million people perish and tens of thousands of black Africans enslaved. The war ended in 2005 and saw southern Sudan become an independent country.
Obama made Darfur an issue in his 2008 election campaign, possibly because the genocide’s victims were black Africans and this would resonate with African-American voters. A campaigning Obama stated correctly that “hundreds of thousands of men, women and children,” had perished at the hands of Sudan’s military and Arab militias, armed and directed by Bashir and his cronies, three of whom are also wanted by the ICC.
Darfuri black Africans, feeling neglected by a government that is dominated by Sudanese Arabs like Bashir himself, had launched an insurgency in 2002 against the Khartoum regime. As a result of the conflict, several million Darfuris have been racially cleansed with the greatest brutally, including enslavement of children. Several million Darfuris, all Muslims like the Sudanese Arabs attacking them, have lived now for years in refugee camps with return an unlikely possibility, their lands either laid waste or occupied by Arab settlers.
Bashir’s first attempted to visit America in 2013, applying for a visa to attend the UN General Assembly. He apparently was so confident of receiving one he “booked rooms at a hotel in midtown Manhattan.” The ICC fugitive even appeared to taunt the US authorities about his proposed trip.
“Those people (the American government), we put them in a corner…We can go to the US and no one can do anything to us because there is no law in America that affords US authorities the right to take any action against me because it is not a member of the Rome Statute (the accord that created the ICC),” Bashir said at the time. “Attending the General Assembly is our right.”
In the end, though, Bashir decided to stay home. A factor in his decision may have been that the Obama administration reportedly “dragged its feet” on the visa.
A proposed visit in 2014 was also aborted. A Sudanese UN diplomat said the US simply denied Bashir a visa “in violation of the U.N.-U.S Headquarters Agreement.” This accord obliges the United States, as the host country, not only to issue visiting national dignitaries visas, but also to grant them diplomatic immunity. But in 1988, the US refused to grant Yasser Arafat a visa to address the General Assembly, causing the UN to move its meeting to Geneva.
Bashir’s 2013 cancellation probably elicited a huge sigh of relief in the White House. His arrival in New York would have constituted a huge embarrassment for the Obama. Hosting a war criminal would definitely not fit the image of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Democratic president who claims to be a big human rights supporter. Especially one who personally had once spoken so loud and long against the genocide in Dafur.
There also existed an even greater potential for damage to Obama’s reputation. According to Fund For Peace, the ICC had asked the American government to arrest Sudan’s leader after his arrival on American soil, even though the United States is not a signatory to the Rome Statute. Again, failure to act on this request would have seriously undermined Obama’s credentials, especially in the eyes of his liberal and leftist supporters, as a defender of human rights.
The same ingredients for acute embarrassment still exist for Obama if Bashir appears in New York next month. But even if the proposed visit, like the others, does not occur, it still serves the purpose of highlighting Obama’s failed Sudan policies. The genocide that he once called “a stain on all of us,” saying he would not “turn a blind eye to slaughter” still continues, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW’s 2015 report on Sudan indicates the situation in Darfur may even be worse than when Obama was campaigning for president. Calling the UN-African Union military force in place to protect Darfuri refugees “largely ineffective,” the report outlines the Arab militias’ continued attacks on villages and civilians.
“They burned homes and shops, looted livestock, killed and robbed civilians, and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee towns and camps for displaced people,” the report reads. It adds that “450,000 people have fled violence in Darfur since the beginning of 2014.”
And the potential for genocide in Sudan, overall, is probably greater than in 2008. Government violence has spread to the Nuba Mountains in South Kordafon province where, again, a black African population has been under attack for years from government forces. Last month, Nicolas Kristof wrote in the New York Times that Bashir “blockades the area to keep out all food, medicine and supplies.”
“Sudan even bombs trucks carrying food, and its denial of food and medicine probably kills more civilians than bombings do directly,” Kristoff wrote.
Kristoff reports that Obama has “quietly provided food to the Nuba Mountains, thus avoiding starvation.” Medical shipments, however, are still desperately needed.
“But Obama overall has been weaker than the four previous presidents in standing up to Sudan,” Kristoff states.
The most glaring of Obama’s failed Sudan policies, however, is the fact that Bashir is still free and roaming the world six years after his ICC indictment. He has visited numerous countries, including China, since 2009, some repeatedly. Even more disgracefully, he now even dares to propose visiting America.
But why wouldn’t he? The White House’s response to Bashir’s still being at large has been one of inaction. The president who once deplored the genocide Bashir is still orchestrating has never launched a determined international crusade to bring him to justice. Obama, who often acts like he is answering a higher moral calling, appears in this case to have forgotten his moral obligation - and that black lives do matter.