Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Africa this week both signals increasingly high-level Administration engagement on Sudan and highlights the persistent differences of opinion among Obama administration officials on the right approach to dealing with the Sudanese government and tackling the range of urgent issues that Sudan faces.
While the Vice President’s involvement sends a powerful message, details of the U.S. approach to holding Sudanese President Bashir to his previous commitments remain vague. The U.S. focus on the upcoming referendum in South Sudan–slated to take place in January 2011 and widely expected to lead to a decision to secede and to a spike in violence–should include planning within the U.S. government for contingencies such as the launch of atrocities against civilians or a return to all-out civil war. And in the immediate term, U.S. officials appear insufficiently focused on the Darfur region, which has seen its own upsurge in violence in the past month, as reported yesterday by a number of news sources.
The ongoing violence in Darfur, which continues to cost civilians their lives, should be addressed as a clear and core element of U.S. Sudan policy, even while U.S. officials also attend to tensions between north and south in the lead-up to the January referendum. U.S. efforts to mitigate atrocities in Darfur and to prevent widespread violence against civilians in South Sudan should target the supply chains on which the actual or potential perpetrators depend for arms, transportation, and other critical goods. By looking at these practical dynamics, and at the third-party enablers that are the source or the intermediaries along the supply chain, policy makers can find ways to reduce the capacity of those who would commit crimes against humanity. For more information on the role played by third-party enablers in atrocity situations and how these actors can be targeted by policy makers, see our fact sheet.