I was very happy to testify before the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission yesterday about the need to stop the genocidal monster Omar al-Bashir. Kudos to the Committee’s co-chairs, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) for holding the hearing as Bashir unleashes yet more brutality on the citizens of his country and the Obama administration fails to act. Congressman Wolfe ended the hearing by describing it as one of the best he had ever seen on Sudan.
We have received thoughtful comments on our proposal to establish a nation-wide arms embargo on Sudan. Some have expressed the view that the US should do the opposite by pouring more arms into the region and into the hands of the rebels and/or launching military strikes directly against Bashir’s military including the imposition of a No-Fly Zone.
We respectfully disagree. Here’s why:
In 2005 the United Nations Security Council established an arms embargo on Darfur in response to the genocide being committed by the Sudanese government and janjaweed militias. Unfortunately that arms embargo had a loophole big enough to drive an M-1 tank through. To sell weapons to Bashir, all countries like China had to do was to get Bashir’s “word” that they would not be used in Darfur. Guess where weapons ended up?
We think that an important step is to close this immense and ridiculous loophole and establish an arms embargo that covers the entire country. Any nation that violates the embargo would be held accountable for breaking international law.
As I told the committee the law of unintended consequences is never stronger than with the use of military force. Our bottom line concern about a no-fly zone and pouring more weapons into Sudan is what it will likely mean for civilians. Jehanne Henry, who testified at the hearing on behalf of Human Rights Watch, expressed strong concern about the impact this could have on the flow of vital emergency aid to desperate civilians. Richard Downie at the Center for Strategic and International Studies points out, providing weapons will likely “trigger an even more hostile response… the last thing Sudan needs is an arms race.” It could also backfire, particularly if the US acts alone with Bashir rallying support for a nation under attack by a foreign military power.
There is little evidence that the region and the rebels are in desperate need of more weapons. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), which is currently fighting the Sudanese government in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan, never disarmed after the civil war between North and South Sudan and has taken over large amounts of weapons that belonged to the Sudanese Armed Forces after winning several victories in South Kordofan.
Of course getting an arms embargo through the Security Council is easier said than done as long as China has veto power. But while Chinese companies do profit from weapons sales to the Sudanese government, China now has to balance their support of Bashir’s regime with their desire to build good relations with South Sudan to protect oil investments. China does not like to be the lone opposition on the Security Council. If it is faced with acting alone, China will be less likely to exercise its veto. At the very least, such pressure will help the likelihood of other helpful measures such as UN sanctions, peacekeeping and humanitarian access.
An arms embargo is not the only action the United States can take. In my testimony I laid out three main recommendations:
First, the United States should expand sanctions on individuals responsible for atrocities throughout not only in Darfur but all of Sudan. Anyone who commits heinous crimes must be held accountable regardless of where in Sudan these atrocities take place.
Second, make saving lives in Sudan a high priority in our dealings with other nations – particularly those who can exert the most leverage on Bashir. We need increased and coordinated sanctions by the international community.
Finally, spend political capital to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution that:
– Expands individual sanctions for perpetrators;
– Expands the existing arms embargo on Darfur to incorporate all of Sudan;
– Expands the mandate of the International Criminal Court to cover the entire country; and
– Authorizes an international civilian protection force with the resources and mandate to accomplish its mission.
The best way for the United States to protect civilians in Sudan is to reverse its current course. We have identified what we consider vital steps that the US should take immediately. They do not involve adding more fuel to a raging fire that continues to claim the lives of innocent people.