Saturday, January 13, 2007

Progress in Darfur?

Some rare good news: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson just released a joint statement with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir that, if implemented, would bring some immediate security and relief to the people of Darfur as well as provide a clear path forward to long-term peace in the region.

Save Darfur asked Governor Richardson to travel to Sudan to discuss ways to secure peace in Darfur and to end the genocide. The Governor was accompanied by Save Darfur Senior International Coordinator Ambassador (ret.) Lawrence Rossin, Refugees International Executive Director Kenneth Bacon, and Public and International Law and Policy Group senior attorney Amjad Atallah. Since Sunday, when they arrived in Khartoum, Governor Richardson and the delegation have visited Darfur and participated in a variety of meetings with government officials, rebel leaders, humanitarian officials, AU commanders and UN officials.

The promises from President Bashir in this agreement are encouraging. They include commitments to:

*A 60-day ceasefire with an international peace summit to be held before March 15, 2007.
*Sudan's cooperation to work with the African Union and United Nations on the deployment of a hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur.
*Ensuring "zero tolerance" policies for gender-based violence in Darfur.
*Free access for humanitarian aid workers and journalists.

This news is very promising - but without swift action, the deal is only as valuable as the paper it was printed on. People - my friends - in Darfur are used to promises and overtures from heads of states. What they really care about, and what we should really care about, are the actions on the ground.

Real progress would be a night without gunshots ringing across the desert. Progress would be the ability to walk to a well to get clean water without fear of rape. Progress would be new seeds distributed to start new fields before this year's rainy season. Progress would be refugees streaming out of camps instead of into them.

On the upside, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has now completed two successful negotiations with Sudan (he freed National Geographic reporter Salopek last year). This means he has done more than the President and more than the UN Secretary General together as far as real results with the Sudanese goverment go. More than just a signed piece of paper, this peace agreement speaks to a real relationship between two leaders - and relationships will go a lot farther in the high stakes world of ending mass genocide than empty threats and sanctions.

Kudos to Richardson for getting on a plane, flying across the ocean and investing in the relationship. And good for him for thinking about more than just his constituents in New Mexico - understanding the importance of being a global citizen. Although the true success of his efforts will be measured only in saved lives, this is finally some decent news for Save Darfur activists and my friends in Chad and Sudan.

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