In his speech before the UN General Assembly on Wednesday September 20th, President Obama spoke of the continued challenge of creating “peace in an imperfect world.” Aspects of the President’s speech were welcomed by the genocide prevention community. In particular, Obama spoke of the realization that “peace is more than the absence of war” and stressed the responsibility of the international community in actively creating peace and diffusing conflict.
The President also asked, in no uncertain terms, for coordinated and efficient international action on the violent regime of Bashar al-Assad. In what seemed to be an attempt to move Syria’s allies to action, Obama argued that, “for the sake of Syria…we must speak with one voice. There is no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime”.
The President also spoke about several of the other conflicts that United to End Genocide actively watches, including South Sudan and Libya. Unfortunately, it was here that President missed a golden opportunity to warn of the continued violence affecting these countries.
While commending the successful referendum and independence of South Sudan, Obama failed to mention the ethnic and tribal violence that has convulsed South Sudan’s Unity, Warrap, Jonglei, Western Equatoria, and Lakes states.
He also did not mention the violent conflicts that wage unabated in Sudan. Violent attacks on civilian population continue not just in Darfur, but in South Korodofan and Blue Nile as well. Kharatoum has run bombing raids over South Korodofan hitting civilian targets, and government-backed militias have massacred civilians, many of them women and children. At least 200,000 people have fled South Kordofan. Meanwhile, the First Vice President of Sudan Ali Osman Taha has stated that the Sudanese Armed Forces will expand their presence and “purify” the rebels from the Blue Nile state.
The President spoke at length about triumph of the Libyan people and the international community over Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi. He stressed the importance of backing the new government, made up of the leaders of the rebellion. Unfortunately, his remarks did not express concern over the continued fight between rebel forces and forces loyal to Qaddafi that rage in cities such as Sirte, where civilians are caught in the crossfire and desperate for basic aid. There are concerns that loyalist forces will use civilians as human shields and that rebels are callous to the danger their offensive pose to the residents of Sirte. The sentiment of the rebel force toward the civilians is expressed in the words of one rebel fighter, “some 70% of the people of Sirte have always been with Gadhafi. Anyone who has chosen to remain in Sirte until now is a loyalist, and this means they have decided to fight against us”.
Although the President missed an opportunity to bring the world’s attention to the ongoing conflicts in Sudan and Libya, his clear and unequivocal support for strong sanctions on Syria was laudable. Obama’s speech also seemed to infer a continued commitment to protecting civilians from mass atrocities, something that genocide prevention organizations, like United to End Genocide, have pushed to see actualized.