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Public Statements

African Union

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


AFRICAN UNION

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I wish to discuss the genocide in Darfur. While there have been many speeches given on this critical subject, I want to take a moment to talk about a subject that has all too often been overlooked--the efforts of the African Union, AU.

At present, the Bush administration is helping to spearhead discussion on how to absorb the African Union force in Darfur into a larger U.N. contingent with a far greater capacity to protect civilians. I wholeheartedly agree with the administration that the current formula for combating brutality in Darfur is insufficient. In fact, in December, Senator Brownback and I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post advocating this very course of action.

At the same time, many government officials, and outside observers, have given little regard to the efforts of the African Union Mission in Sudan, AMIS.

We must start reversing this trend. I tip my hat to AMIS for its strong efforts, under the most difficult of circumstances, over the course of the last 2 years.

The AU leadership, along with individual troop contributing countries--such as Rwanda, Senegal, and Nigeria--made a decision to put African lives on the line when the campaign of terror waged against civilians was at its height. The AU leadership just as easily could have said ``its too difficult, its too dangerous, this is somebody else's problem.''

Instead, they took action.

In a geographically diverse and inhospitable terrain, the AU built its operations--the most complex in the organization's history--from scratch, at a time when thousands of Darfurian civilians were being ethnically cleansed every month.

Although AMIS has just 5,000 troops and 2,000 observers and police spread out over a region the size of France, it has made a difference. Civilians on the ground in Darfur have reported that, where AU forces are present, they feel safer. An estimated 2 million civilians are now living in camps. These civilians depend on humanitarian aid for their survival, and aidworkers report that their convoys would not be able to navigate key areas without the invaluable escorts supplied by AMIS.

As security has deteriorated in Darfur over the last 4 months, lightly armed AMIS troops are increasingly the targets of assault, kidnapping, and murder.

Mr. President, has AMIS been a perfect mission? No. Is there room for improvement? Yes. But, I know that those of us in the Senate who follow this issue closely support what the AU is doing and want the AU to do more of it.

In July, I traveled to the United Nations and met with representatives of the AU and their member-states. There is no question that it is a young organization in need of capacity-building. But, I sensed that there was great resolve to ensure AMIS succeeded.

Moving forward, I think it is important to recognize that the AMIS has been an important first step for the AU. At the same time, I think there is widespread recognition--belatedly in my view--that the genocide in Darfur is an international, not only an African, issue.

I will use an analogy, albeit an imperfect one, with U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. While the United States is heavily involved in this nation, I believe that this is a situation with international ramifications; a key reason that the international community should be doing more to help stabilize this nation.

The same holds true for Darfur, where the challenges presented by a savage conflict spilling across international borders outstrip the resources currently in place to effectively deal with it. The United Nations and NATO should become more active.

This is not to take anything away from the efforts of the AU, who stepped in on their own to try to fill the security vacuum in Darfur. The AU will be indispensable in the coming year at a time when security conditions are deteriorating, but before additional troops can be deployed. As discussions progress about follow-on forces, it is clear that those same African countries leading the current AU efforts in Darfur will be the essential core of any successor mission.

In my view, it is essential that the United States government take the lead in rallying for AMIS the financial, military, and political support it needs to continue its essential work in Darfur and to transform itself into the backbone of a larger, more mobile UN mission.

Again, I thank the AU for its efforts and believe now more than ever that African leadership will be key to international success in Darfur.

http://thomas.loc.gov/

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