WASHINGTON – The House on Monday approved a bill that would impose sanctions on the government of Sudan, as lawmakers warned that tougher action is needed to stem the death and suffering in that nation's Darfur region.
The bill, passed by unanimous consent, authorizes sanctions against anyone President Bush determines is responsible for atrocities and war crimes in the conflict that has left more than 200,000 people dead and 2.5 million homeless since 2003.
The Senate passed a nearly identical measure last week and is expected to endorse the House version this week, sending it to the president's desk for his signature.
Penalties under the measure include blocking assets, refusing to grant Sudanese officials entry to the United States and preventing certain ships from entering U.S. ports. The legislation encourages Bush to deny the government of Sudan oil revenues and access to military equipment.
"This bill will do much to help the death and suffering in Darfur, but we, along with the international community, must do more," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who has championed the measure. "Aid workers are being killed and the people they were helping are disappearing. The situation is growing worse each day and the world must continue to help in any way we can."
The measure also asks the United Nations Security Council to suspend the Sudanese government's rights and privileges of membership in the U.N. until it agrees to halt attacks against its people.
Passage of the sanctions bill had stalled over language in the House version that would have encouraged the growing movement in some states to divest from companies doing business with Sudan. The Bush administration insisted the provision be removed due to legal questions of whether state divestment interferes with foreign policy.
The Darfur conflict began when rebels of ethnic Africans revolted against the Arab-led government. The government responded with a brutal suppression and Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, attacked villages.
Last month, the U.N. Security Council authorized a peacekeeping force for Darfur of about 20,000 troops to bolster a smaller African Union force that is undermanned and underfunded. But the Sudanese government has refused to consent and the region has become more insecure for aid workers trying to help refugees.
"As we stand here ... the Janjaweed militia is continuing to rape and kill, wiping out generations of people in Darfur," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who sponsored the House measure. "It is unacceptable and the world must act."
Bush last week named Andrew Natsios, the former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as his special envoy to work for peace in Sudan. Natsios met Monday with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and other lawmakers to discuss his mission and how Congress can continue to work on the issue.