While President Obama is busy tackling financial reform and raising money for democratic candidates, a number of leading human rights groups are pushing him to implement stronger policies and tougher consequences for the government of Sudan. And while as a candidate, Obama promised to make the plight of Sudan a priority, as President it appears his commitment to the region has waned, especially in the face of pressing domestic issues.
Until recently, human rights groups which focus on Sudan and the genocide in Darfur, were content to gently push the President and his administration to commit to a plan for Sudan. On Tuesday those calls became stronger as results from the recent Sudanese elections demonstrated the country had experienced irregularities in the system.
Noting the flawed elections, the White House put out a statement that Sudan did not meet international standards for those elections and commended the people of Sudan for their efforts to make the elections “peaceful and meaningful”. The statement also made it clear that the United States puts the blame of the election failure on the National Elections Commission of Sudan, saying the group did not do enough to prevent problems prior to voting. “Political rights and freedoms were circumscribed throughout the electoral process, there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities,” the statement reads in part.
But, for human rights groups, the statement did not go far enough. The President of the American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messenger, said the Obama White House must demonstrate that peace in Sudan is a priority and deserves personal attention from the highest levels of the administration. “The elections are over and fundamentally little has changed. Darfur remains without a viable peace process, a host of issues remain unresolved ahead of the referendum in January and the NCP[National Congress Party] government once again confirmed its refusal to allow a true democratic transformation in Sudan,” Messenger said in her statement.
And John Prendergast of “Enough” an organization that works to end genocide in Africa, and a frequent visitor to the Darfur region, urged the White House to push themselves to have specific policies in the country. “Each time the Obama administration does not stand on principle and build international consequences for further abuses of human and civil rights, a powerful signal is sent to the Sudanese parties that fulfillment of commitments and agreements is not important,” Prendergast’s statement reads. “Unless President Obama implements his own stated policy of imposing consequences for unmet benchmarks, the potential increases for obstructions around the referendum and Darfur peace negotiations and thus a return to full-scale national war. The stakes continue to get higher in Sudan, and the administration's bar for moving forward continues to get lower."
While Sudan and Darfur might not be at the forefront of every day events at the White House, the president did meet with his special envoy to the region, Scott Gration, in the Oval Office on Monday before he departed for fundraisers in Los Angeles. The statement from the White House maintains the administration will continue to work on the issue, “With partners in the region and beyond, we will continue to engage in the preparations necessary to support peace and stability after the 2011 referenda, and continue to promote peace, security, and accountability in Darfur.”
The elections this year and the 2011 referendum are part of the final events of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the National Congress Party and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement. The 2011 referendum was agreed upon in 2009 and works towards granting full independence for Southern Sudan.