WASHINGTON – Sudan has two-and-a-half weeks to prove to the United Nations Security Council it is taking real steps to stop the suffering of the people of the western state of Darfur or face sanctions. The Sudanese government isn't making believers out of Washington.
"It is genocide. I've seen it with my own eyes," said Rep. Frank Wolf (search), R-Va., co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. "If this were taking place in southern France or western Germany, the world would be electrified."
The Bush administration has been careful not to characterize events in Sudan (search) as "genocide," instead hoping a more diplomatic approach will convince the government in the capital Khartoum to enact peaceful reforms.
So far, the administration has not yet determined that events in Darfur (search) meet the "technical definition" of the term "genocide," a senior administration official told FOXNews.com. U.S. officials are waiting to hear the report of a State Department team currently in Darfur to assess whether genocide has taken place.
"There's definitely nothing that would preclude us from calling what is occurring there genocide if that is what the State Department determines," the official said. The administration on Monday endorsed an agreement between the United Nations (search) and Sudan to require the government to create safe areas in Darfur so civilians can search for food and water.
Congress has called the events in Sudan "genocide." Last month, the House and Senate both voted unanimously to label the situation there as such.
"What I've seen over the last several days — having met with refugees, relief workers and government officials from Chad — confirms in my opinion that this is genocide. The refugees' stories describe horrific acts of violence, rape and murder," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) said Monday after meeting with refugees from Darfur in eastern Chad.
However, echoing the administration opinion, Frist demurred on officially calling the crisis by that name. "We await an official report from the U.S. State Department as to whether these atrocities do indeed meet the legal threshold to be defined as genocide," he said.
Sudan has long been plagued with domestic crises, the latest being Arab-on-black violence that has left 30,000 blacks dead and thousands more at risk from Arab militias, disease and famine. Because of the 18-month-long conflict, 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes and 2.2 million are in desperate need of food and medicine.
The Sudanese government has promised to rein in the militias, known as Janjaweed (search), but little action has been taken so far. Few observers find the pledge credible because it is widely held that the Khartoum government armed many of these militiamen and encouraged them to attack the black citizens.
In July, Khartoum sent thousands of policemen to Darfur, but the brutalized people view them as similar to the Janjaweed, many of whom have been deputized or at least handed police uniforms.
Critics say if the administration were to speak out more, Sudan and the rest of the world would take notice.
"We really have to stop barking and start biting, and biting hard. The victims of genocide deserve that much," said John Prendergast, a special adviser to the president of the International Crisis Group (search).
Prendergast, who recently traveled to Sudan, suggested that America pursue a human rights strategy in the same way that it effectively led the fight against terrorism in Sudan.
"Sudan's support for terrorism has diminished dramatically over the last six or seven years because the United States cared enough to act. Conversely, Sudan's [human rights abuses] have dramatically increased because while we make fine speeches, we have not yet acted."
Although Prendergast said America's efforts to stifle terrorism in Sudan have been effective, some terrorist experts have argued that the large country, with its limited government control, remains a significant option for housing terrorists.
In fact, Sudan was the home of Usama Bin Laden (search) for five years, before he was driven out. Other terrorist groups with Palestinian and Iranian connections continue to maintain a presence in the country, said Ronald Sandee, a senior analyst on counterterrorism and transnational affairs at the Ministry of Defense of the Netherlands.
"In the largest country in Africa, it's easy to hide training facilities," Sandee said.
Sudan is listed on the U.S. roll of state sponsors of terrorism, and has faced sanctions by the United States as a result. As for a swift reaction to "atrocities and crimes against humanity," Prendergast says the U.S. record is weak.
"The lack of action has emboldened the Khartoum regime, [which] does just enough to stay off the hit list. [The abuses will continue] if there is no identifiable cost to the regime or officials for undertaking genocidal activity. If there is a cost, it will stop."
America has made $139 million available in aid and plans to make $299 million available through fiscal year 2005, according to the senior administration official. At the end of June, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) visited the country and gave the government a list of 14 specific actions to resolve the crisis.
In an August 5 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Powell wrote that Sudan has failed to take "decisive steps to end the violence." He promised that until Khartoum moves resolutely, international pressure will continue to increase. He pledged that Washington is not ruling out any options.
Prendergast said that America would not have to send soldiers to calm tensions there, but rather could take much smaller steps, including providing technical and financial support to the African Union's (search) force, impose economic sanctions and plan for the prosecution of war criminals.
The administration is not moving fast to take such measures.
Asked whether the administration would put sanctions in place or consider supporting African forces going to the country, a senior administration official responded, "I don't know what additional steps will be taken that have not already been taken at this point. ... All other possible sanctions and considerations are still under evaluation."
He added, "What is happening in Darfur is horrific, and we are taking with the utmost urgency to stop that. Our focus is stopping the violence as soon as possible."
The Khartoum government has warned that any foreign troops will be met with resistance, and fliers encouraging jihad have been circulated at some mosques.
Wolf praised the efforts of the administration, but encouraged it to do more. "Declaring this a genocide will electrify the world," he said. "I want to do everything we can to make sure the rape stops, the killing stops."
Weekly Standard (search) Editor Bill Kristol warned that after tough talk by some in Congress, U.S. inaction would be a mistake. "A failure to act now in Sudan and a willingness to abide by false promises will have implications" for American credibility, he said.