Stronger Humanitarian Plan Needed in US Policy Review

By Limnyuy Konglim

The long awaited release of the new US policy on Sudan outlines several key points that lay the framework for lasting peace there. With a focus on a comprehensive approach to Sudan, the US administration recognizes the importance that peace in Darfur, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and border safety play in establishing and maintaining stability for the people of Sudan. It is refreshing to see a US strategy that takes a holistic approach, recognizing the commitment made to all Sudanese people and the strength of US leadership in the international community.

In Refugees International’s October 19 press release, Acting President Joel Charny highlighted the strengths of the new US policy. It also reminded us that while we strive for effective multilateral engagement, we cannot forget the plight of those that have already been victimized by the conflict, for whom achieving justice is one of our biggest responsibilities to the people of Sudan.

It is unfortunate that the policy failed to mention US support in improving the conditions of displaced Sudanese people. Earlier this year when Refugees International traveled to south Sudan, we documented the grave conditions throughout the south and the severe lack of access to basic services. Instead of focusing on politically motivated returns (as the governments of Sudan have done), it is critical that the US support reintegration projects for those who have already returned home, but are struggling to rebuild their communities. Safe and consistent access to water, education, health services, and livelihood opportunities will help mitigate tensions that are steadily on the rise. This is a crucial link to security in Sudan that the US policy did not address.

It is also worthy to note the US has proactively sought open dialogue with all of the various local and national stakeholders in Sudan. This is an admirable venture on the part of the administration and reminds us of the importance of community based reconciliation and justice. It is also comforting to know that the US will hold Sudan to an “assessment of progress [that is] based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground.” Likewise, it is critical that those changes in conditions be linked to humanitarian access and the protection of humanitarian aid workers. We can not forget the international and national relief agencies that were banned and expelled from Darfur in response to the International Criminal Court decision to indict President al-Bashir. The operating environment in Darfur remains hostile and vulnerable civilians are left to pay the price. The Sudanese government must show a real commitment to eliminating bureaucratic impediments and allowing and facilitating access to needed services throughout Sudan.

I hope that the Obama administration truly makes Sudan a priority on its agenda and not only takes advantage of the anticipation surrounding the 2010 election and 2011 referendum. A long term investment in rebuilding Sudan is necessary and the United States must step up and lead the way for the international community.

This post first appeared on Save Darfur's blog on October 21, 2009.