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It's About Time
Yes, it is about time . . . past time, in fact.
I've seen Gloria White-Hammond, chairwoman of the Save Darfur Campaign, speak several times about an issue that obviously matters to her -- ending the genocide in Darfur. Her tone has always been very measured and responsible, as at the April rally in Washington, when she announced that the movement's spring postcard campaign had sent over 800,000 cards to President Bush.
But Dr. White-Hammond let go of all of that this past Sunday in Central Park, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Using the theme of "It's About Time," she issued a stirring call to action to the thousands gathered at Central Park. If Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir happened to step out of his sanctuary at the Waldorf Astoria while Gloria was speaking, he could have heard her say that it was about time that our president and Congress stopped fiddling while the Darfurians suffer the 21st century's first genocide. If there had been a roof on the rally site, she would have raised it with her call to action.
"Wow, I never heard that Gloria White-Hammond before," I said after she passed the mike back to the MC.
"She gave the same speech at Africa Action's White House rally on September 9," answered Shelley Moskowitz, UUSC's D.C. representative. "It gave me goosebumps."
She's right: It is about time. It's well past time, in fact. A bad situation in Darfur is poised to get worse . . . much worse. The International Rescue Committee has documented a dramatic increase in reported rapes and other sexual assualts in the camps housing Darfur's 2+ million displaced. According to one aid worker, "The bodies of girls and women have become a battleground in this terrible war."
Each week, security problems have meant that aid workers have access to fewer of the displaced. If aid workers can't even reach these people, how many of them are dying each day? In July, alone, eight aid workers died trying to help those living on the knife's edge in Darfur.
It's about time. The human rights situation is getting worse . . . much worse in Darfur. On September 30, the African Union force is scheduled to yield to U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur. The AU troops are set to leave, but, despite resolutions to the contrary, the U.N. troops are nowhere in sight. Talk is cheap, all over New York. Aid groups are preparing for the worst when the AU troops empty their compounds and give up the ghost on their very limited protection role.
The rallies taking place around the world were intended to put the heat on Bush and other world leaders to ACT NOW to end the genocide. Make no mistake: Squeezing the Sudanese where it matters would bring quick changes in Darfur.
Bush apparently felt some of that heat. Darfur figured prominently in his Tuesday speech to the U.N. General Assembly. He announced his decision to name Andrew Natsios as a Special Envoy to address the conflict in Darfur. Bush also said that Darfur will be a "test of the credibility" of the United Nations.
We're happy to know of the naming of a Special Envoy, but no one here in Massachusetts has much faith in Natsios. We remember him as a mediocre Republican state administrator who parlayed campaign favors into a national political appointment. For a time, Natsios led the boondoggle known here as the Big Dig. From there, he went to the big chair of administrator of USAID, where he led the U.S. funding effort to reconstruct Iraq. This is no Richard Holbrooke.
And while the president is talking about credibility, what about his? While he was lecturing the United Nations on Darfur, the Bush White House was joining large corporations in strangling Senate legislation that would make it easier for public entities to divest themselves of their holdings in corporations doing business with the Sudanese government. Where was the U.S. press on that one?
We talk tough to Sudan's leaders when the cameras are rolling, but, when it matters, we treat them like key allies in our war on terror. Get real on Darfur, Mr. President. IT'S ABOUT TIME!