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Panel, Armey call for greater effort on Sudan

WASHINGTON (BP)–Voices inside and outside Congress are calling for the United States government to intensify its efforts to end the civil war and religious persecution in Sudan.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey recently called separately for the federal government to mount a strengthened campaign to pressure the militant Islamic regime in Khartoum to alter its policies.

The 18-year civil war in the east African country has resulted in about two million deaths and the displacement of more than four million people. The Islamic regime’s campaign of terror, which includes slave raids and the bombing of hospitals, has primarily been aimed at Christian and animist villages in central and southern Sudan.

“Ending the war in Sudan should be a focus of U.S. foreign policy,” Armey said in a March 22 news conference, according to a release from the majority leader’s office. Armey is a Republican from Texas. “The movement to make it so has now reached critical mass. It is time for Sudan to move from lip-service attention to national priority.”

As the commission had done the day before, Armey called for the appointment of a special envoy as an initial step.

The appointee “should be a person of such international stature that it will send an unmistakable signal to the Sudan regime that its days of persecution are numbered,” Armey said. “We should then explore the full range of options available to us as the most powerful and influential nation in the world to bring a just peace to the people of Sudan.”

In making a series of recommendations, the commission, which was established by legislation in 1998, reiterated its description of Sudan as “the world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief.”

In addition to requesting a special envoy, the panel also said President Bush should not appoint an ambassador to Sudan because Khartoum has shown no willingness to resolve human rights abuses in the country.

The CIRF also included among its recommendations for the U.S. government:

— To continue to increase the amount of humanitarian aid to the Sudanese through non-United Nations channels. Khartoum has veto power over Operation Lifeline Sudan, the U.N.-approved relief outreach.

— To enlarge its assistance to southern Sudan and the National Democratic Alliance, the opposition party.

— To inaugurate an international effort to pressure Khartoum to halt its attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets.

— To make a “just and lasting peace” in Sudan a priority of the administration’s foreign policy.

— To beef up economic sanctions against Khartoum, including barring any foreign company involved in the development of oil and gas fields in Sudan from “raising capital or listing its securities in U.S. markets” and refusing to license the importation of gum arabic from Sudan to this country.

— To support the placement of human rights monitors in southern Sudan.

In a report issued last May, the commission proposed a year-long plan to influence the Sudanese government. The U.S. government’s actions since then, “while mixed, have not been commensurate with the appalling violations of religious freedom and other human rights” by Khartoum, the CIRF said March 21. President Clinton “did not adequately employ the ‘bully pulpit’ of his office to inform the American public or enlist international opposition” to Sudan’s crimes, the panel said.

The situation in Sudan has worsened in the last 10 months, the commission reported. Troops supported by Khartoum continue to raid and burn Christian and animist villages, killing the men and capturing women and children to be used or sold as slaves. The regime also continues to conduct bombing campaigns against civilians, with Christian hospitals and schools among the targets. The connection between the oil fields and Sudan’s financing of this campaign has become clearer, the CIRF said.

In December, the commission cited the U.S. government’s handling of Sudan as an example of its inadequate policies toward religious persecution overseas. The panel criticized the State Department for refusing to take further action against any of the “countries of particular concern” cited in 1999, even though religious freedom had continued to decline in countries such as Sudan and China.

Joining Armey at the Capitol Hill news conference were Reps. Frank Wolf, R.-Va.; Donald Payne, D.-N.J.; Tom Tancredo, R.-Colo., and Charles Rangel, D.-N.Y. Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington office of the NAACP, also joined in the conference.

Tancredo and Payne are the lead House sponsors of the Sudan Peace Act. It condemns the Khartoum government’s support of mass violations of human rights and calls for the United States to take specific steps in providing relief to victims of the regime and in promoting the peace process.

Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., is the chief sponsor of the Senate version, S. 180. Sen. Russell Feingold, D.-Wis., is the lead Democratic sponsor. The House version is H.R. 931.

Last October, the U.N. General Assembly rejected Sudan for a seat in the U.N. Security Council, with the United States leading the campaign against Sudan’s election.

At the time, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land called for the next administration to “take much stronger measures to rid the Sudanese people of the burden of this atrocity-laden dictatorship that currently is so atrociously persecuting its own people.”