Thursday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, but while the world commemorated the millions of victims of the Nazis, Congress squandered an opportunity to address the ongoing genocide in Darfur. The House passed President Bush's emergency $82 billion supplemental spending bill without several provisions from the Darfur Accountability Act that were supposed to be included. Introduced with strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, the act would have taken the strongest stance against the Khartoum regime's continuing attacks on civilians since the unanimous passage of the Sudan Peace Act of 2002, in which Congress declared that "the acts of the Government of Sudan constitute genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."
The bill would have taken further steps to increase economic sanctions, impose an arms embargo and freeze the assets of the ruling junta. It also would have given more intelligence, logistical and technical support to the meager African Union peacekeeping forces on the ground, and would have established a no-fly zone over Darfur. But the Bush administration had other plans for the Darfur Accountability Act. According to the American Prospect, the White House's Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to several congressmen on April 25 pressuring them to significantly strip down the bill. (It did retain $50 million for the African Union troops and humanitarian aid.)
The Bush administration has previously acknowledged the situation in Sudan as a "genocide," so why the downgrading of action? On Wednesday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof suggested that the administration's effort to recast the bill is part of a broader retreat on Darfur. He pointed out that on a recent trip to Sudan, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick equivocated on the question of calling the Darfur crisis a genocide. "It's been a terrible series of events," Zoellick said, "and as you know, there's a debate. The [United Nations] did a legal analysis of whether this was genocide, and their conclusion was that it was crimes against humanity as opposed to genocide." Zoellick also played down the mortality estimate from Darfur, placing the toll between 60,000-160,000.
Sudan expert and Smith College professor Eric Reeves denounced Zoellick's number as an "expedient lowballing of Darfur's mortality for political purposes." Drawing on epidemiological studies and estimates by USAID and NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Reeves estimates that the number of dead is closer to 400,000.
Kristof also drew attention to the recent, little-publicized meeting in Washington between Sudanese intelligence chief Maj. General Saleh Gosh and President Bush "for consultations on the war on terror." Gosh is believed to be among the 51 names under sealed indictment submitted by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court for "crimes against humanity" in Darfur. One wonders what Bush -- who, upon reading a report on the Clinton administration's failure to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 scribbled in the margin, "Not on my watch" -- had to say to him.