The Need for Action in Sudan


The Need for Action in Sudan

Submitted by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

For Consideration by

the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees' Executive Committee

September 13, 2004 - New York, NY



As a people intimately acquainted with the horrors of ethnic cleansing and genocide, we are obligated to speak out and take action when other peoples are similarly threatened with annihilation. As Jews, we cannot remain silent.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was drafted in 1948 with significant participation by the Jewish community. For several years after the convention was written, its author, Raphael Lemkin, worked out of the UAHC offices in NY while he was lobbying for ratification of the treaty world wide. The treaty defines genocide as "any of a number of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group; killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Sadly, events in Sudan meet this definition.

In July, for the first time in its history, the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum declared a "genocide emergency," saying that genocide is imminent or is actually happening in the Darfur region of Sudan. That same month, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously passed Resolutions terming the tragedy in Sudan "genocide," and calling for action by the United Nations under the Genocide Convention.

State sponsored violence is not new to the people of Sudan, although it has reached new levels of inhumanity in recent years. A civil war between the lighter skinned, predominately Muslim population of the north and the darker skinned, predominately Christian and Animist population of the south has been raging in the Sudan for over twenty years. The toll in human lives lost and disrupted is almost unimaginable. The Sudanese Government has tried to impose a harsh form of Sharia (Islamic law) throughout the country, similar to that of other fundamentalist groups like the Taliban and the Wahhabis. Government-backed militias have been engaging in systematic abuses of human rights against the population of the south - including kidnapping, slave raids, torture, and massacres. The Islamist government in Khartoum has turned a blind eye to this situation, and, in many cases, has even facilitated and participated in these atrocities. Over the last 20 years, close to two million people have been killed in the North-South civil war; and over four million people have been displaced.

Today, in a separate conflict, the government of Sudan is assisting ethnic Muslim militia groups that are engaged in ethnic cleansing and genocide of communities of black African Muslim farmers in the Western province of Darfur. Whereas the civil war was primarily religious, this struggle is racial and ethnic as well. It was born of a disagreement over the usage of the limited amount of fertile land in this desert region; the Arab population is primarily composed of herders while most of those comprising the black population are farmers. With support from Sudanese government warplanes and army troops, these militias are razing villages, systematically raping women and girls, specifically targeting and destroying food and water supplies, and massacring communities. So far, at least one and a half million citizens have been displaced within Darfur or fled into neighboring Chad. These people are in dire need of emergency health care, access to food, clean water, and sanitation. Even under the best circumstances, U.S. officials have estimated that 350,000 people will die. If these needs are not met, it is estimated that more than million people may die in the next six months.

In 2001, President Bush appointed former Senator John Danforth as his personal envoy to negotiate a peace agreement. In 2002, the U.S. Congress adopted the Sudan Peace Act, which our Religious Action Center played an active role in shaping and passing, calling upon President Bush to impose sanctions against the Sudanese government as an incentive for it to negotiate a peace agreement. While negotiations to end the north-south conflict moved forward, the situation in Darfur (in the western area of Sudan) descended into chaos. Fear of destabilizing the agreement in the south deterred the Bush administration from seeking to implement sanctions.

While there are numerous international relief agencies doing commendable work in this troubled region, we note with particular pride the work of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which works to alleviate poverty, hunger, and disease around the world. AJWS supports humanitarian assistance efforts in the Darfur region, using emergency funds to ensure access to clean water, construct sanitation facilities, provide primary and reproductive health care, and support survivors of gender-based violence. It has also played a key role in convening the new Save Darfur Coalition. We also note the important role played by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in coordinating the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief, of which the URJ is a member, which to date has collected and disseminated over $80,000 to relief efforts on behalf of the Jewish community. Finally the URJ activated its disaster relief funds to channel contributions from our synagogues and its members into a variety of effective relief efforts. As of the end of August, over $50,000 had been contributed.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Union for Reform Judaism:

1. Commends President Bush for having prioritized efforts to bring an end to the 20 year civil war in Sudan and having appointed Ambassador John Danforth as his personal envoy to negotiate successfully a peace agreement, and urges the President to employ similar priority efforts in stopping the crisis in Darfur;

2. Calls upon President Bush to impose sanctions on the Sudanese government as a means of putting pressure on Sudan to put an end to genocidal activity in Darfur;

3. Calls upon the U.S. to use its influence in the United Nations Security Council to put forward a resolution to invoke its authority to call for sanctions against culpable parties, the immediate deployment of international monitors and peacekeeping forces under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, preferably led by the African Union countries, and to establish a high level panel to investigate the commission of war crimes in Darfur;

4. Encourages the U.S. and Canadian Governments to support both the United Nations relief efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees and displaced persons of Darfur, and to provide financial and logistical support to the African Union protective force in Darfur;

5. Urges the Canadian government and parliament to invoke an all-party resolution condemning the atrocities of the Sudan Government and its agents for perpetrating genocidal activity in Darfur;

6. Encourages the American Jewish community to support humanitarian work in Sudan by supporting the URJ disaster relief fund, Jewish agencies such as American Jewish World Service, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief in Darfur, or other effective relief agencies; and

7. Calls upon the leadership of Reform synagogues to educate our congregations, and to utilize communal inter-group efforts to educate our communities about the genocidal activity in the Sudan, and to urge them to communicate with their elected officials to address the humanitarian crisis.