New US Policy Towards Sudan

For years activists have been decrying a government sponsored genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Yesterday, the Obama administration unveiled its new policy towards Sudan. The President of the Save Darfur Coalition, Jerry Fowler discusses how the new US policy will try to stop the ongoing conflict in Darfur.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Now, we go to Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. The coalition, as we said, is an alliance of more than 180 organizations, who have been working to focus attention on the ongoing crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

JERRY FOWLER: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: Your organization issued a statement saying you cautiously welcomed the new policy. Why do you welcome it? And why are you cautious?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FOWLER: Well, we welcome it, first and foremost, because we think that it has generally the right elements that we need. Secondly, we welcome it because the administration has been desperately in need of articulating what their strategy is. There has been a certain amount of drift over the last 10 months, and would have liked to have seen this issued quite sometime ago, but now we're welcoming that they've done it.

We're cautious because it is just outlining a framework. And what is going to be key, is implementing this framework.

MARTIN: Can I ask, I'd like to ask you the same question I asked Stephanie McCrummen, which is how is this different from the Bush administration's approach?

FOWLER: Well, in addition to the things that Stephanie said, I think one way it's different that it could be very significant is that it consciously adopts a comprehensive approach to Sudan. One of the problems that the international community has had over the last few years is to focus on one crisis in Sudan, to the exclusion of others.

So, when the violence was really intense in Darfur, starting in 2003, the focus was really on ending the conflict in the south, and negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement. Then once the focus shifted to Darfur, the implementation of the CPA, as they call it, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was allowed to languish. And I think there's a recognition now that these crises can't be addressed separately, that they've got to be addressed simultaneously and in an interlocking way.

MARTIN: There was in a briefing yesterday by administration officials to talk with some of the NGOs who have been working in the region. I attended this briefing along with you. One of the points you made is that President Obama needs to be engaged, and the administration needs to be very visible in working this problem.

Now, I understand from your perspective working in this area, why that's important to you? But I'd like to ask you, given all that he has on his plate, why should he? From the perspective of the American people why should he prioritize this?

FOWLER: Well, I think that Secretary Clinton in laying out the policy explained why it's important to the American people - I mean, why they have a policy at all. First, I wouldn't discount the fact that there's a huge constituency that cares about it among the American people. So this is not just the concern of a few elites inside the beltway.

This is a broad group, and as you mentioned at the top, the Save Darfur Coalition represents or is an alliance of about 180 organizations and they represent about 130 million Americans.

MARTIN: And this primarily what - represents people with a moral concern.

FOWLER: Well, I think the moral concern is a very, very strong impetus for people. But there's also practical concerns, I mean, I think that if Sudan melts down, which is a possibility, that the whole region of Northeast Africa where it is then becomes unstable, becomes a haven for terrorism, and they can have just serious consequences for our hardcore national security interests.

MARTIN: One of the issues we heard repeatedly - this whole question of incentives and disincentives. The secretary of state refused to back away from the term genocide to describe what has been occurring in Darfur, and as of course, we discussed the Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir who's accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

And yet the administration does say they're willing to offer incentives. Are you concerned, as a human rights activist, that the working more closely with Khartoum will eventually absolve that regime of responsibility for what has already occurred? It will avoid, even if you feel that this is necessary to make progress, it will avoid accountability for what's already taken place?

FOWLER: Well, I would emphasize that I think it would be a huge mistake to avoid accountability, and one of the things that's clearly stated in this policy, which we'll be watching going forward is that a lesson learned is there can't be lasting peace without accountability. But, I think the question has never been engagement or non-engagement with this regime. It's the terms of the engagement, and I think it's important that the terms of the engagement, first and foremost are - if incentives are offered they're not going to be provided until there's concrete and lasting progress.

So - and that means addressing fundamental issues in Sudan with regard to Darfur, with regard to implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. A second thing that I would emphasize that we've heard and that we'll be watching is that they're saying they're going to be talking to the government which they have to do. But they're not going to be talking to the indicted war criminal Omar Bashir and I think that's an important distinction.

MARTIN: What do you expect to see? What will groups like yours be looking for in determining whether there is concrete progress on the ground? Because I think the administration made clear that they expect that groups like yours to continue to be active and they expect to hear from you. So what will you be looking for?

FOWLER: Well, for example, in Darfur - and keeping in mind that the progress has to be on all the issues - but in Darfur, in particular, there are several things: One, the government needs to stop launching offensives. They launched one in September. As Stephanie said, the situation is different than it was several years ago, but there still are governmental offensives.

And the U.N. issued a warning yesterday that there was massing of government forces and they fear yet a new offensive. And when they do this, they drop bombs from airplanes and civilians bear a lot of the brunt of it. Secondly, in general, there needs to be an improvement in the security situation and that means giving the U.N. force on the ground the ability to operate, and then thirdly, unimpeded humanitarian access.

MARTIN: Jerry Fowler is the president of the Save Darfur Coalition. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios - to be continued. Thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you very much, Michel.

MARTIN: Next on TELL ME MORE, we'll talk about the L word - that's loans, specifically student loans, what every graduating college student needs to know. That's coming up next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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