What the U.S. Can Do to End Violence in Darfur

The House of Representatives is reviewing legislation that would require the United States to take a stronger role in preventing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. The act includes measures such as freezing of assets and sanctions against those who have committed atrocities. Roberta Cohen of the Brookings Institution explains the obstacles to ending the violence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Also under review by the House is legislation that would require the US to take a stronger role in preventing genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. The Darfur Accountability Act has already passed the Senate. It faces opposition from both House Republicans and the White House, however. The act calls for measures like the freezing of assets and sanctions against those who have committed atrocities in Darfur. That's where Arab militias known as Janjaweed have burned villages and terrorized civilians, leaving tens of thousands dead and driving some two million from their homes since 2003.

We turn now to Roberta Cohen, who is an expert on internally displaced persons at The Brookings Institution, to talk about the logistical and political obstacles to dealing with the situation in Darfur.

Good morning.

Ms. ROBERTA COHEN (The Brookings Institution): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Remind us what the administration is doing right now to help stop the killing and the violence in Darfur.

Ms. COHEN: Well, the Bush administration has taken a, I would say, sort of mini leadership role. They provide a lot of humanitarian help in Darfur. They have been the primary mover behind Security Council resolutions, and they are trying to promote and help the African Union to increase its support. So it is taking a number of important steps, but at the same time, I say a mini leadership role because there's a lot that they haven't done.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about that then and how realistic it would be for the administration to do various other options that may seem to be available to it, starting with military action or pressuring the UN for some sort of peacekeepers.

Ms. COHEN: There are only 2,300 African Union military observers, troops on the ground. This is in a territory the size of France. Some military experts say you would need something like 50,000 troops to really be effective in this area. There was an agreement now to increase the number to 7,700 African Union peacekeepers by September, but it's not known that they'll be able to do that.

MONTAGNE: Well, you just said, though, that to really be effective, there would need to be 50,000 troops from somewhere. That is an enormous number of troops. I mean, there's less than half that amount in Afghanistan. Realistically, who would be offering to provide those troops initially?

Ms. COHEN: No one--no country has stepped up to the plate, but what the UN secretary-general seems to be suggesting is that there could be an international peacekeeping force. It doesn't have to be just the African Union providing the troops. And it has been shown that the African Union troops, where they have been present, have been somewhat effective. So that more troops to reinforce and help them would be better than having nothing there right now.

MONTAGNE: Turning to another area of possible action, there have been calls for the US to enforce sanctions in the oil sector in Sudan. Pakistan, China and Russian all have major investments there. Have these countries played a role in blocking stronger Security Council action that might have brought about sanctions?

Ms. COHEN: It's China that is the main foreign investor in Sudan's oil industry, and China, which has a veto, has made it quite clear that they would oppose any kind of sanctions in the oil sector. Russia, which supplies a good deal of arms to Sudan, has also opposed strong action from the council in Sudan. I would think that the Bush administration should be trying to get the Chinese, who have a lot of influence with Sudan--to get China to play a constructive role, to use its leverage to try to carry out the Security Council resolutions that they are part of.

MONTAGNE: Another suggestion would be a no-fly zone to stop Sudan's army from sending in planes to attack villages or cover for the attackers on the ground. Where does that stand?

Ms. COHEN: That doesn't stand. It's been mentioned, and it's in the Darfur Accountability Act that's passed the Senate. The Western countries have not wanted to engage in any sort of military action in this way, but the members of Congress and Senate do see this as a way of trying to protect people. And it probably could be accomplished if there was a political will.

MONTAGNE: Roberta Cohen is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. She is co-director of The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. COHEN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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