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Statement of Chairman Tom Lantos at hearing, “The Current Situation in Darfur”

Apr 19, 2007
Press Release

April 19, 2007

Verbatim, as delivered

House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Just after this hearing, Congress will solemnly commemorate the Holocaust, as it does every year, in the hushed Rotunda of the United States Capitol. To many, the events of the Holocaust seem to be part of the very distant past, a discrete event with a definite ending. But unfortunately, their echoes resonate with us today.

They haunt us with another inconceivable genocide: the slaughter of as many as 400,000 people in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Sudanese government has been allowed to perpetrate a shocking campaign of terror for far too long. And complacent governments around the world have stood on the sidelines for far too long. So today, the question faces us: Will we again fail to recognize the profound message of the candles we shall light in a couple of hours to commemorate the Holocaust?

I have been saying for over three years that the international community has not been doing nearly enough about Darfur. Signs of progress emerged this week, even if it has come too late for the dead. The Sudanese government agreed to let a 3,000-person United Nations peacekeeping force join the African Union troops who are already there. It made the decision under pressure and only after months of unnecessary backtracking and delay. But the brutal Sudanese government has resisted the efforts of the United Nations to send some 20,000 peacekeepers to Darfur. I have no doubt that they will continue to procrastinate. Let me be clear: the difference between a small force and a substantial deployment is no mere sticking point. It is absolutely essential.

It is essential to stop the Arab militias from continuing to carry out the government’s dirty deeds. It is essential to clearing the path for crucial food and water and health supplies to reach the desperate refugee camps. And it is essential because injustice is only really addressed when it is obliterated, not when it is slowed to a painful trickle of displacement, harassment, and disrupted lives. We must have that bigger U.N. force in Sudan without any additional delay.

Let me just digress for a moment from my prepared comments. The President’s speech yesterday at the Holocaust museum focuses attention again on this matter. And I wish there would have been action, immediate action, connected to that speech. But the Secretary-General of the United Nations, our friend Ban Ki-moon, requested a few additional weeks to attempt to gain cooperation from the Sudanese government, and the President chose to give it to him. I want to serve notice on the President of the United States that while we can go along with two or three weeks of delay, this committee and this Congress will not rest any longer and we are demanding action.

To ensure smooth coordination between the African Union command and the UN deployment, the UN ought to send a transitional force. These troops would also stop Khartoum from disrupting the new peacekeeping force. The presence of this transition force would not be subject to negotiation with the Sudanese and it would need to be deployed in the next two weeks.

Those of us who have been in the forefront of the Darfur issue worry that the Sudanese government simply wants to complete the horrific job of eliminating the minority there. New evidence surfaced this week that the government is undermining the fragile calm in Darfur by trying to inject violence. An unpublished UN report alleges the Sudanese government is delivering arms and military equipment to its murderous minions in Darfur. Just as disturbing is the claim that they are painting their own military airplanes white to disguise them as UN or African Union aircraft. There is proof that at least one plane had the letters “U.N.” painted on it to complete the deception. The report says Khartoum is doing next to nothing to stop the militias, which are still terrorizing the individuals in the Darfur countryside.

All of these insidious actions are in direct violation of Security Council resolutions. The Sudanese should and will be held to account. I propose a no-fly zone that would prohibit any Sudanese military planes from taking to the air. If they violate this provision, we need to destroy their Air Force. It’s as simple as that. I think this would put a stop to their aircraft shenanigans.

There is a larger issue here, one that should be illuminated by the candles we light to remember the Holocaust. In conflicts where we witness slaughter on a grand scale, we have a tendency to believe the situation has stabilized when violence has ebbed from its most vicious moment. We think there is no grave and imminent danger. But as long as the dynamics that led to murder and displacement and abduction are still in place, as long as those who flee are starving and unsettled and bullied, a real danger for increased bloodshed exists.

The government in Sudan cannot be trusted to enforce agreements when it has ignored its commitments in the past. And the leaders in Khartoum cannot be believed when they say they are ready for the United Nations when all they have done is to stall. The U.S. and other members of the UN Security Council must demand that Sudan not only welcome the initial 3,000 peacekeepers, but permit without delay a full 20,000-person force—now. Sanctions are not enough.

Ever since the Holocaust, many in our society have routinely pledged “never again.” But here we are, in a different time, in a different place, but with motives and brutality no less sinister. Time and again, recalling my own experience as a genocide survivor, I have called on this government and the United Nations to intervene. Today again, I urge our own government and the United Nations to stop the genocide in Darfur. I am hopeful that the latest concession by Khartoum will lead to a larger force that will finally put Sudan on a road to peace.

I am more hopeful than I have been for a long time. But from this hearing room I will go to the Rotunda, to help light the candles and again wonder if we will let them flicker out before we truly honor their meaning.