Answering questions before a congressional panel last week, President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, conceded that the United States government’s new Sudan policy included direct negotiations with Sudanese officials complicit in an ongoing genocide.
This simple, apparent, yet profound admission should alarm anyone concerned about our ability to deter future genocides. Sudan is the test case of the United States declaring genocide in progress; how we react and with whom we negotiate in Sudan will shape how — and how effectively — we confront the world’s worst human rights abusers, for decades to come.
It is worth stressing that there is only one instance in the history of the United States when our government acknowledged and declared the existence of an ongoing genocide. That place is Sudan, and the genocide — declared in 2004 — continues under our watch.
In fact, under the reign of President Omar al-Bashir, the Khartoum government has committed two genocides — in the South and in the West. Sudan has also become a haven for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, while the regime provides support for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army — the most horrific terrorist group in Central Africa today.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. His government responded by expelling more than a dozen humanitarian groups from Darfur, seizing their assets and threatening lifesaving operations in Darfur.
Our nation provided leadership in the past in capturing Radovan Karadzic (the “Butcher of Bosnia”) and Liberia’s warlord-turned-leader Charles Taylor. One might think that such a unique and tragic designation for Sudan would have triggered a massive effort not only to bring an end to the genocide, but also to bring justice to the perpetrators.
Indeed, at one point, the tragedy of the Sudanese genocide did stir this country. I recall mass rallies to save Darfur headlined by Hollywood celebrities, countless student initiatives at universities across the country and successful efforts to divest at the state and local level.
The previous administration’s response to the genocide, while significant in some respects, fell short of its promise, as I and many others noted often in the halls of Congress. Strong on rhetoric but short on implementation, our last Sudan policy only set forth the foundation for where we needed to go.
But now the Obama Administration moves Sudan policy in a new direction. We have learned that the U.S. Government has dangled a package of incentives to the perpetrators of genocide, to the indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir.
In effect, the new policy is to allow the genocidal regime in Khartoum to trade away some political and territorial concessions in exchange for measures, such as diplomatic recognition and the easing of sanctions, which flaunt the fundamental principles of justice and accountability.
Our government is trying to apply nuance to genocide, an approach that would be comical were it not so reprehensible. We cannot trade justice for peace. The ends do not justify the means.
When the U.S. made its declaration five years ago, many asked what would happen to the perpetrators. Now we watch as such despicable criminals obtain entry visas into the United States, and receive assurances of diplomatic incentives down the road if only they provide some modicum of cooperation.
Somewhere else in the world, the next repressive dictator is considering waging a campaign of genocide, deciding whether the risk of ultimate accountability is worth the inhumane reward. Unfortunately, it is not hard to see how our new policy will tip this scale.
Sam Brownback is the senior senator from Kansas.