Sen. Robert Menendez, sixth from left, meets with Sudanese refugees and representatives of member organizations of New Jersey Responds to the Crisis in Darfur Coalition in his Newark office.
August 27, 2009
The United States can and should take steps to help end the six-year-long conflict in Darfur, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) told Sudanese refugees and members of the New Jersey Responds to the Crisis in Darfur Coalition in a mid-August meeting in his Newark office.
The statewide interfaith coalition includes a number of Jewish organizations, including the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest NJ, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education.
According to a release issued by the coalition, among the recommendations Menendez outlined during the briefing were deploying American troops in logistical roles, “regaining humanitarian space,” and fine-tuning sanctions to allow humanitarian aid groups better access to equipment. The senator met with activists to discuss hearings held in July by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Gen. Scott Gration, American envoy to the region; Menendez serves on the committee.
The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead or stranded in refugee camps.
Simply leaving people “exposed” and abandoning efforts to help abate the crisis is unacceptable, Menendez said, stating: “I don’t want that on my conscience.”
At the same time, he acknowledged how tough it will be to move toward a resolution of the conflict.
The Sudanese government supplies oil to China and can mobilize support from more than 50 African nations, 22 Arab countries, and other Muslim nations, including Iran. The Sudanese government is charged with slaughtering African tribes in the Darfur region, in western Sudan.
At the coalition briefing, Yahya Osman, vice president of the Newark-based Darfur Rehabilitation Project, urged Menendez to take steps to “test the international community” by insisting on measures to implement the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir.
The Hague-based court issued the warrant earlier this year “for war crimes and crimes against humanity,” including “intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property,” the court says on its website. It was the first warrant of arrest ever issued by the ICC for a sitting head of state.
Menendez also said he would forward the results of Gration’s efforts to study and improve the efficacy of solar cookers, which, by reducing the need for women to leave refugee camps to gather firewood — where they are often attacked — can help decrease violence against them. A coalition-supported project to raise money to buy solar cookers (www.njdarfur.org) has raised about $75,000.
Darfurscores.org, which tracks elected officials’ records on the conflict, awards Menendez its highest grade and gave him “extra credit” for his 2006 $60 million amendment “allocated toward helping establish a UN peacekeeping force in the region. The money was part of a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid to Gulf Coast hurricane victims.”