Bush Takes Significant Step toward Protecting Darfur Civilians, Say Faith Leaders

Faith leaders and human rights groups praised President Bush on Friday for requesting double the number of international troops and $514 million for war-torn Sudan.

Bush asked Congress Thursday for $72.4 billion to fund the Global War on Terror through FY2006, including $389 million for peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian aid projects in Darfur.

"The President's request is a significant step in the right direction toward protecting the millions of people suffering in Darfur," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, in a released statement. "Now Congress must respond by appropriating the full amount the President requested for Darfur."

The emergency funding request comes just weeks after the U.N. Security Council took its first step in its dealings with the humanitarian crisis by approving more U.N. peacekeepers on Darfur grounds.

Human rights activists and religious organizations had rallied in recent weeks for a U.N. resolution to end the genocide. Rallyers stood outside the White House and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York early this month to put pressure on the U.S. government to authorize immediate action.

Most recently, the Yale Corporation announced on Wednesday it will divest from Sudanese government bonds and seven companies that support the Sudanese government’s ongoing genocide, joining Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth and Amherst. According to a release from the Genocide Intervention Network, the decision came in response to a seven month campaign by Yale Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) and the Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

"By eliminating its financial ties to the Sudanese government, Yale reaffirms its commitment as an ethical investor," said Eric Bloom, co-coordinator of STAND, in a released statement. "I'm proud to know that I'm a member of a community that is not profiting from the humanitarian crisis in Darfur."

Over 400,000 people are estimated to have died since the conflict began in 2003, with 3.5 million dependent on foreign aid for their survival, and 2 million people forced by violence to live in make-shift camps.

"It is now imperative that the chairman of the relevant congressional subcommittees, Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations; Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce; and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, ensure that every penny of this request for Darfur makes it into the final emergency supplemental funding bill," said Cizik, also a board member of the Save Darfur Coalition which launched its "Million Voices for Darfur" campaign in January.

The coalition, consisting of more than 150 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian aid organizations, is slated to launch a 21,000-mile speaking tour on Wednesday, titled "Tour for Darfur: Eyewitness to Genocide." Activists and speakers will visit 22 cities in 11 states to raise public awareness among Americans about the Darfur genocide.

Still, both Cizik and student activists alike say there is much more to be done.

"This is a really important day," said Lauren Jacobson, co-coordinator of STAND, "but there is still a lot to be done."

"We need to be clear that many more steps must be taken before the genocide can be brought to an end," said Cizik.