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Biden helped stop Darfur genocide before. Why is he virtually silent this time?

Door-to-door searches. Houses burned to the ground. Men, women and children targeted for death or sexual assault based on ethnic lines. Mass graves. These were the reports from Sudan 20 years ago at the height of the Darfur genocide. Such accounts shouldn’t be emerging again today. Yet, that is exactly what survivors, interviewed by Refugees International at the border with Chad and Sudan, recently reported.

The evidence of atrocities is mounting. They include war crimes, crimes against humanity and – possibly, once again – genocide. Several independent reports have documented widespread and systematic violence in Darfur, the region in western Sudan that saw a full-fledged rebellion and genocide starting in 2003.

Satellite data backs numerous eyewitness testimonies of mass destruction based on ethnic lines and the existence of mass graves.

And now, the United States has made an official determination that atrocities – including war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – have been taking place in Sudan.

Independent experts are warning of further atrocities looming in North Darfur. It is past time for the Biden administration to speak out on Sudan and to take action to prevent further loss of life.

Rougaya Isska, 33, who survived a massacre in Ardamata, Sudan, is interviewed by Refugees International in neighboring Chad in November 2023. She told of men in uniforms of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias going house to house, looting or burning them, and shooting the men – killing her husband.
Rougaya Isska, 33, who survived a massacre in Ardamata, Sudan, is interviewed by Refugees International in neighboring Chad in November 2023. She told of men in uniforms of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias going house to house, looting or burning them, and shooting the men – killing her husband.

'Many bodies in the streets'

The resurgence of mass atrocities was evident as Refugees International interviewed survivors from a November massacre in the town of Ardamata, in West Darfur, who were just arriving in neighboring Chad with horrifying accounts.

Rougaya Isska, a 33-year-old woman who had just crossed the border, described seeing a blind woman thrown into a fire. She told of men in uniforms of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias going house to house, looting or burning them, and shooting the men – including her husband. Unable to bury him, she held a funeral at home and then fled. A soldier at a roadblock tried to snatch her young son, but she was able to wrest him away.

Kamisa Abdullah, 30, cradled her 5-month-old baby – all that she could bring with her. She was separated from her three other children, who fled with her sister. “They killed many people,” she said, describing “many bodies in the streets.”

Kamisa Abdullah, 30, escaped a massacre in Ardamata, Sudan, in November 2023 with only her 5-month-old baby. She was separated from her three other children, who fled with her sister.
Kamisa Abdullah, 30, escaped a massacre in Ardamata, Sudan, in November 2023 with only her 5-month-old baby. She was separated from her three other children, who fled with her sister.

The United Nations estimates that paramilitary groups killed hundreds in Ardamata.

Ardamata is not the first or only massacre that has been reported out of Darfur in recent months. Sharif Mohammed was among more than 40 men and boys from the Massalit tribe in the West Darfur town of Misterei who were forced by the RSF and allied militias in early May to lie down with their arms tied behind their backs, then were shot.

Sharif pretended to be dead for two days before someone was able to take him to Chad. Now, in one of the refugee sites near the Chad-Sudan border, he helps other wounded refugees in an emergency hospital. As the 30-something pointed out girls and boys on crutches because of bullets that broke their legs, tears filled his eyes.

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The latest spate of violence in Darfur is connected to, but distinct from, the broader fighting that erupted in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, last April. The combat between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the breakaway faction known as the RSF – largely descended from the infamous Janjaweed “devils on horseback” of the Darfur genocide – has been marked by war crimes as well, including the targeting of hospitals and widespread rape.

The violence in Darfur has also taken on disturbingly familiar tones with a largely Arab-identifying RSF and allied militias targeting tribes like the Massalit, which are seen as “Black Africans.”

Disturbingly, investigations have shown that this violence is being fueled by arms shipments that the United Arab Emirates is sending directly to the paramilitary RSF in Darfur.

Sen. Joe Biden on genocide vs. President Joe Biden on Darfur

Two decades ago, then-Sen. Joe Biden was a leading voice for taking action to stop the genocide in Darfur. Today, he is virtually silent.

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The Biden administration has made only modest efforts to stop a potential genocide: statements from officials condemning the violence, new sanctions on a few individuals, and support for some efforts to collect evidence and pursue accountability. U.S.-backed cease-fire talks, meanwhile, have done little more than tread water while the killing continues.

These efforts have been undercut by a lack of attention at the highest level. The president himself has not referenced Sudan beyond written statements last spring and has not given the leadership attention required in the face of such atrocities.

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President Biden can change this by speaking out and by supporting the atrocity determination with concrete actions, including: 1) appointment of a presidential envoy on Sudan to spearhead robust diplomatic efforts; 2) support for accountability efforts through the Sudan Conflict Observatory, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission and the International Criminal Court; 3) stepped-up humanitarian support for those in need in Sudan and for people who have fled to neighboring countries; and 4) the use of additional sanctions based on investigation of those who might be abetting these crimes, including a close look at the United Arab Emirates providing weapons to the paramilitary RSF.

Finally, and most urgently, President Biden must speak out loudly and clearly on Sudan.

In the meantime, refugees such as Rougaya, Kamisa and Sharif have no choice but to wait. Sharif will wait for more wounded new arrivals to assist. Kamisa will wait for her three other children. She told Refugees International, before moving on from the border to the closest refugee site, “Maybe tomorrow they will come.”

Daniel P. Sullivan, formerly a senior policy adviser with the Save Darfur Coalition, is the director for Africa, Asia and the Middle East at Refugees International.
Daniel P. Sullivan, formerly a senior policy adviser with the Save Darfur Coalition, is the director for Africa, Asia and the Middle East at Refugees International.

Daniel P. Sullivan, formerly a senior policy adviser with the Save Darfur Coalition, is the director for Africa, Asia and the Middle East at Refugees International.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden helped stop Darfur genocide. Sudan crisis demands action now