Senator Barack Obama Remarks on Darfur: Current Policy Not Enough Security

February 15, 2006

Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama, and today is Wednesday, February 15, 2006. For more than two years now, we have been watching a rolling genocide take place in Darfur, western Sudan. Many of you I'm sure are aware of the tragedy that has been unfolding there. For those of you who are not, essentially what we have seen is a systematic targeting on the part of the Khartoum government and the Janjaweed Arab militia that have systematically uprooted, killed, murdered, pillaged, raped, Africans, driven them from their homes into enormous displaced-person camps. Refugee camps, within Sudan. It's estimated that at least 300,000 people have been killed. It's known that at least 2 million people have been displaced. The administration early on in this tragedy acknowledged that this was genocide that was taking place. I think there has been broad recognition in the international community that the behavior of the Sudanese government has been scandalous. The rationale that has provided from the Sudanese government for what has been taking place is that there is a battle going on between Sudanese government and rebels that operate within the area. But, the real victims have not been rebel sympathizers, or the rebels themselves, they've been innocent men, women and children.

For more than a year now, I've been working with other Senators to see what we can do to really push the Administration to take this as seriously as it warrants. To the Administration's credit, the United States government has probably paid more attention to this issue than some of our European allies. We have been a major contributor of aid to the region; we have helped to finance the African Union, to provide peace-keeping forces in the Darfur area. So, in a lot of ways, the United States government has been much more on top of this than Europeans, Canadians, and others, who oftentimes accuse the Untied States of being indifferent to the problems of the third world. On the other hand, what has been done is not enough. The few thousand African Union troops who have been placed in Darfur are primarily providing witness to some of the atrocities that are taking place there, but they don't have clear rules of engagement, they are under-armed, under-trained, they don't really provide the sort of protective force that would be needed to not only ensure that existing villages aren't ravaged by the Janjaweeds, but more importantly, that the 2 million displaced people could actually safely start returning home.

Recent reports indicate that in the past few weeks alone, more than 20,000 people have been displaced. There are also indications that the Janjaweed, recognizing that the AU forces, the African Union forces, are not particularly effective, have started targeting them. So there is a sense of deterioration in Darfur, the situation may be getting worse, rather than better. And, what's most disturbing is that the United States government seems to be backing off a little bit, the commitment that it made to deal with the problem. There was a quote from the under-secretary for African Affairs, Secretary Frasier, in which she indicated that, maybe this was not a genocide after all. And, if that ends up being the United State's attitude, then we could see continuing problems of a scale that might eventually reach the same scale in which happened in Rwanda.

So, here are a couple of things that we think need to happen. Number one: we need a UN peace-keeping mission in Darfur. There have been conversations; the UN Secretary General, Koffee Annan, the AU forces, and the Bush Administration have all acknowledged this. There's got to be a sense of urgency in which the US diplomatic efforts are focused on getting this UN peace-keeping force up to about 20,000 troops, and placing them in Darfur as quickly as possible with a strong protection mandate, rather than a monitoring one. In the mean time, it's going to take about year, at best, to get a UN peace-keeping force in place. We're going to have to supply and rally, bridging money and forces for the AU throughout this year, because, since it's sort of in lame-duck status, the Janjaweed recognize that AU forces are not particularly effective, they may become more and more of a target. We're going to have to provide this successor UN force with our own lift and logistic assets. We're going to have to provide our military hardware, like transport and attack helicopters, and so forth. And, we're going to have to really force other countries like Canada, Australia, some of the European countries that are not engaged in peace-keeping in other places, or at least are not immediately involved in major activity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, as we are, to deliver the troops that are needed.

So, it is absolutely critical that we start focusing on this now. The situation, as bad as it is, could deteriorate further. This is something that is of interest, I think, to all of us, not just for humanitarian reasons, although when you read the accounts of women being raped when they are out collecting firewood, when you read just horrendous accounts of entire villages being decimated and children being murdered, that it just breaks your heart, and humanitarian concerns should be sufficient, but we also have a strong national security interest. If you start seeing more and more failed states, more and more displaced persons, more and more refugees, all of that becomes a breeding ground for terrorist activity, it becomes a breeding ground for disease, and it creates refugees that put pressure on our own borders. In an inner-connected world we can't insulate ourselves from these tragedies. So, we're going to, over time, have to develop some strategy as the world's remaining super-power to address these issues, and Darfur is an important test case. We've already failed one test in Rwanda, we shouldn't fail another.

Anyway, if you are interested in the issues related to Darfur, you can always contact my office, or get on the website. Your voice is obviously critical in this issue. I appreciate you, as always listening in. Thank you for downloading, and I will talk to you next week. Bye bye.