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Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the permanent war crimes tribunal located in the Netherlands, indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, marking the first time charges have been brought against a sitting head of state. Bashir is being charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. A total of ten charges have been filed against the Sudanese dictator and now they will be reviewed by a panel of ICC judges to determine whether an arrest warrant for Bashir will be issued. This decision is expected in the next two months.
The crisis in Sudan first began in February 2003, when two rebel groups emerged to challenge the National Islamic Front government in Darfur. This conflict escalated when the government of Sudan and its allied militias, known as Janjaweed, began a campaign of terror against civilians in an effort to crush the rebellion and to punish those living near the rebels. At the core of the current conflict is a struggle for control of political power and resources with an estimated 2 million people displaced from their homes within Darfur and more than 200,000 people forced to flee into neighboring Chad. Observers estimate that up to 450,000 people have been killed over the course of this violence.
The U.S. government has labeled the actions of the Sudanese government as genocide and rightfully so. The situation in Darfur is clearly one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times. It is deplorable that any government would use the systematic dislocation of its own people, and the disease and starvation that inevitably follow, as a weapon – not to mention outright violence and killing. The United States and the international community must work together to stabilize the situation in Darfur and prevent further genocide.
Last year the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution strongly urging the League of Arab States, Sudan’s neighbors, to step up their diplomatic efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur. The resolution calls on the League of Arab States to support the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, enforce the ceasefire, protect civilians and ensure access to humanitarian assistance to Darfur, while working with the United Nations and the African Union. The full commitment of the League of Arab States, as well as the entire international community, is essential to stopping the violence in Darfur.
While it is unclear whether Sudanese President Bashir will ever be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court, the international community must continue working to bring about real and lasting peace and stability in Darfur. The United States, a nation dedicated to freedom and the rights of the individual, is already playing a critical role by providing humanitarian assistance which is helping millions of people in desperate circumstances.