11 August 2004
Steps for Saving Lives in Sudan
Op-ed column in August 11 Washington Post
(This column by Senator Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and Senate
majority leader, was published in The Washington Post August 11
and is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)
Steps for Saving Lives in Sudan
By Bill Frist
I have spent the past few days on a fact-finding mission to the
region of Darfur in western Sudan. I met the regional leaders,
visited a refugee camp in Chad not far from the Sudanese border
and talked with survivors -- mostly women and children -- of attacks
by militias commonly known as Janjaweed. Their stories are horrific,
and in most cases much the same: Janjaweed assaults are preceded
by aerial attacks by government aircraft. In some cases, soldiers
in government uniforms are present and references are made to "orders
from Khartoum." Survivors tell of racial slurs as the militia sweeps
through the villages.
The growing toll is by now familiar to many: Tens of thousands
have been killed, more than a million forced from their homes,
and hundreds of villages razed. The crimes committed also include
mass rape, the slaughter of young boys and the destruction of village
The dictatorship in Khartoum claims it has no control over the
Janjaweed, but it continues to neglect the first responsibility
of every government: to protect its people. Unless the genocide
in Darfur is halted immediately, tens of thousands more will die
before the end of the year. The rainy season makes roads impassable
for relief convoys and facilitates the spread of waterborne disease.
The United States has provided more than 80 percent of the supplies
now flowing to Darfur and eastern Chad, and has sent more than
$140 million to aid the refugees. Humanitarian supplies may soon
dry up unless other nations quickly fulfill their commitments.
Further, there is a good chance that this conflict could spill
over into neighboring states and create instability in the region.
Sudan's actions inflame ethnic tensions and impose an exceptional
burden on local communities across its borders. Sudan's policies
are creating turmoil in regional governments and populaces, some
of whom identify with or are ethnically related to the oppressed
peoples of Sudan.
The first step toward addressing this problem is to provide adequate
security for the refugees to return home and for relief workers
to assist them. Khartoum must abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution
1556: It must disarm (and disband) the militias and bring those
responsible for their crimes to justice. It must provide unfettered
access to humanitarian workers. And it must begin the political
process critical to permanently resolving the differences between
the Khartoum regime and the non-Arab peoples of Darfur.
Despite Khartoum's claims that it cannot meet the U.N. deadline,
I believe it could do so in a matter of days. But given the government's
likely motives, its failure to live up to previous agreements and
its past practices, we should not rely on the Khartoum regime alone
to fulfill its obligations. Nor can we rely on escalatory steps
such as economic sanctions to pressure Khartoum as it employs dilatory
and diversionary tactics to complete its final solution.
The crisis in Darfur is a regional problem that demands an African
remedy. It requires forces capable of providing security in a timely
and credible manner. Such a remedy is available. Forces led by
the African Union (AU) are already deploying to the region. They
can be complemented by troops from Khartoum and the Sudanese People's
Liberation Movement (SPLM), which stands ready to provide thousands
of well-trained soldiers to protect the people of Darfur.
The Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) is in a unique position
to help. During one of the world's longest running civil wars,
the SPLA fought Sudanese forces to a standstill. In June the Sudanese
government and SPLM signed a historic peace accord that includes
creating SPLA-GOS (government of Sudan) integrated units. Creating
a security force for Darfur would merely accelerate this peace-building
Having been victimized by Khartoum for decades, the southern Sudanese
understand the plight of their fellow citizens in Darfur. Khartoum
claims it does not have the capacity to protect the people of Darfur.
The southern Sudanese are eager and ready to provide the balance
Finally, logistical support for these AU-led forces could be provided
by world nations as necessary. This formula builds on available
resources and serves the needs of the people of Darfur. It also
serves the interests of the region. It should be pursued immediately
under U.N. auspices.
As a U.S. senator and a physician who has practiced medicine throughout
Sudan, I am convinced that time is not on the side of the people
of Darfur nor the countries of the region. A wise man told me recently
that genocide is what they call it after the killing is over; it
is usually followed by a solemn promise of "never again." Action
must be taken while there is still reason to act.
(The writer, a Republican from Tennessee, is the Senate majority