WASHINGTON - Congress has done little to protect lives in Darfur in the year since it declared, unanimously, that mass killings there amounted to genocide, a leading U.S.-based advocacy group has charged amid an upsurge in violence in the western Sudanese region.
''Legislative action on Darfur has failed to build on the strong statement of bipartisan support'' shown on July 22, 2004, when Congress issued its declaration, said Salih Booker, executive director at Africa Action.
''Congress has focused on sanctions and divestment, which are insufficient to stop genocide, and it has let the [U.S.] administration off the hook for its appalling apathy on this crisis,'' said Booker. His organization has led calls for urgent multinational intervention to quell fighting that has killed some 400,000 and driven more than half the region's 5.5 million people from their homes and villages over the past three years, according to estimates from U.N. agencies and advocacy groups.
Sudanese women displaced by the two-year conflict in Sudan's shattered western province of Darfur, fill buckets with water in Abu Shouk camp. Women in displaced persons' camps in Darfur remain prey to rape, a UN security report said. (AFP/File/Salah Omar)
On Sunday, Sudan's army and rebels accused each other of fresh attacks on villages and convoys starting last Friday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Sudan last week, urged the government to end the violence.
However, U.S.-Sudanese intelligence cooperation in what the White House calls its ''war on terror'' and prospects for peace in war-torn southern Sudan dominated Rice's talks with President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and senior government officials.
The meetings also were clouded by a scuffle between U.S. journalists and Sudanese security personnel.
Many U.S. lawmakers have traveled to Darfur over the past year and congressional appropriations have yielded ''important humanitarian assistance and financial support'' for African peacekeepers deployed in the western Sudanese region.
But ''congressional leadership has failed to exert strong pressure on the Bush administration to take urgent action at the international level on the most immediate priority--protecting the people of Darfur,'' Africa Action said in a statement.
The organization gave credit for last July's congressional declaration to the Congressional Black Caucus, which, in addition to pushing fellow legislators, joined Africa Action in gathering more than 30,000 signatures on a petition calling on then-Secretary of State Powell to acknowledge the genocide in Darfur.
''The political pressure generated by Congress and thousands of Americans in that petition, plus the overwhelming evidence on the ground, left the administration with no alternative but to declare genocide was taking place in Darfur,'' Africa Action said.
The group now is gathering signatures on a message to President George W. Bush demanding urgent action to stop the genocide. It plans to submit the new petition to the White House on Sep. 9, one year after the administration officially recognized as genocide what was happening in Darfur.
The death toll will exceed one million people by the end of the year unless bold steps are taken to rein in the conflict between rebel groups of African descent and Arab militias that the regime in Khartoum stands accused of arming and abetting, Africa Action warned. It has urged Washington to push for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force and has demanded that Africa Union peacekeepers be given a political mandate to intervene in the fighting to protect civilians.
The fighting started over rebels' claims that the Sudanese government had deliberately neglected Darfur, starving it of basic services and development money. It has been compounded by competition for control of local oil, gas, and mineral resources.
Even as government and rebel forces implement a peace process in the country's south, the Khartoum regime appears to be girding for new violence in eastern Sudan, where local populations also are rebelling against the government, according to Africa Action.
In 2000, the group was among the first to warn of what it then saw as an impending crisis in Darfur.
Separately, anti-genocide activists are pressing U.S. television networks to increase coverage of the Darfur situation, described by the United Nations as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The campaign -- run by the American Progress Action Fund and the Genocide Intervention Fund -- asks Americans to send a message to networks to ''be a witness'' to what the U.S. government has termed genocide in Darfur.
''Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity and a government-backed genocide is unfolding in the Darfur region of the Sudan. As the horror in Darfur continues, our major television news networks are largely missing in action,'' campaign organizers said.
They said they hoped increased coverage would move voters to exert pressure on elected officials.
''Television has told us stories of important human brutality before, and Americans have responded by demanding action from our elected representatives,'' the campaign said, citing examples including the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s and the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s.
Last year, the ABC, CBS, and NBC network nightly newscasts aired a total of only 26 minutes on genocide and fighting in Sudan, the Tyndall Report found. ABC devoted 18 minutes to Darfur coverage, NBC five and CBS only three. By contrast, lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart's legal woes received 130 minutes of nightly news coverage.
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