NEWSPAPER OP-ED

March 7, 2006, Boston Herald

U.S. must work to halt Darfur genocide

By Michael E. Capuano

We look back on the Holocaust and wonder how the world stood by while 6 million Jews were slaughtered. Never again, we pledged. Yet in 1994, 1 million Rwandans were massacred. Afterward, we declared it genocide and pledged never again. Many leaders later expressed deep regret over our inaction.

In 2003, our attention was drawn to Darfur, Sudan, where innocent civilians were being murdered, enslaved, raped and driven from their homes. We declared it genocide, but failed to act, again.

Since 2003, more than 400,000 people have been murdered in Darfur and 2 million more displaced. I just returned from Sudan, on a trip led by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

In Al Fashir, Darfur, we met with relief workers, traveled to Internally Displaced Persons camps and spoke with African Union (AU) personnel. This reinforced my conviction that genocide is still occurring, the government of Sudan is responsible and not enough is being done.

We also met with Sudanese government officials who claimed the suffering in Darfur was exaggerated. There were skirmishes over water and grazing rights, they said, but nothing to concern outsiders. They admitted funding the Janjaweed, the militias who attack civilians, yet vehemently denied genocide is occurring. Everyone else we spoke with, AU personnel and relief workers, recognize they are witnessing genocide.

There are 7,700 AU personnel on the ground. However, they don't have a mandate to protect civilians and lack sufficient resources. Without a drastic troop increase and outside logistical assistance, the AU will continue struggling. AU officials told us they need more support and are planning for the involvement of a United Nations force. But the government of Sudan, the perpetrators of the genocide, rejects U.N. involvement.

I have persistently called for the protection of civilians and an end to the violence. Attempts to address this crisis legislatively have faced resistance. I have tried to introduce amendments to a State Department bill and a Foreign Operations bill, authorizing the president to use all necessary means to stop the genocide. These amendments were blocked.

President Bush and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recently discussed a U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur. The president has publicly called for the doubling of peacekeepers. I urge the president to fully support a U.N. peacekeeping mission and put the full weight of the U.S. military behind it. More troops, with a mandate to protect civilians, are desperately needed and must arrive in the next couple of months. If the U.N. cannot meet this timetable, we must strengthen the AU force and provide additional civilian support.

President Bush recently said America was first to recognize the genocide in Darfur. He said, "Our country was the first country to call what was taking place a genocide, which matters — words matter."

Actions matter more. It's time to back our words up with action. Time is running out.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Somerville) is co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Sudan.

--

Copyright 2006 Boston Herald Inc.