The Presidential Candidates and Darfur: What You Need to Know

Hello fellow STANDers! Hope everyone had a great week. First, a quick reminder to register to vote! The deadline is October 10, so if you’re not registered at your university-area address, get on the ball! Whatever your political leanings, this is an important election, the most important in many years. Go fill out a ballot at any public libraray, the county board of elections headquarters, track down one of the people registering voters on campus, just get it in there!

Now that I’ve gotten off that soap-box, anyone who watched the Vice Presidential debate on Thursday night heard Alaska Governor mention Darfur. She said, “When I and others in the legislature found out we had some millions of dollars in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars to make sure we weren’t doing anything that would be seen as condoning the activities there in Darfur.'”

My first thought was “Right on, Governor! Every state needs to completely divest from Darfur.” However, it turns out that there’s more to the story than that. There was a bipartisan bill (HB 287) in the Alaska state House to do just that.

The problem is that the bill ran into opposition–from the governor’s office. In February 2008, at a hearing on the bill, a representative from the governor’s office spoke against the divestment proposal, saying that “The legislation is well-intended, and the desire to make a difference is noble, but mixing moral and political agendas at the expense of our citizens’ financial security is not a good combination.”

Two months later, the governor changed her mind and said “We have a moral responsibility to condemn the genocide in Darfur.” Her Revenue Commissioner spoke out publicly for SB 227, a state Senate companion bill to the one in the House. But by that point, the legislature was about to end its session and did not have time to take up the bill. As of this moment, the Sudan Divestment Task Force calculates the Alaskan government still has at least $22 million in investments in Sudan. Let us all hope that Governor Palin either puts this bill at the top of her legislative agenda when she returns to Juneau after November 4 or that she directs her lieutenant governor and successor to put it at the top of his agenda if she heads on to bigger and better things. Either way, it is important that we continue to hold our politicians accountable, that we say not just “Never Again,” but also “Not With My Money!”

With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to jot down quickly where the candidates stand on Darfur and what they’d do as president. The good news is that Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama issued a joint statement in May 2008 declaring that, “Today, we wish to make clear to the Sudanese government that on this moral issue of tremendous importance, there is no divide between us. We stand united and demand that the genocide and violence in Darfur be brought to an end and that the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] be fully implemented… If peace and security for the people of Sudan are not in place when one of us is inaugurated as President on January 20, 2009, we pledge that the next Administration will pursue these goals with unstinting resolve.”

Great words… but just words. No matter the outcome on November 4, we must make sure that our next president follows through on his promises.

McCain supports the divestment movement and has called for all Americans to divest from the Sudanese government, saying “that government obviously is one that has done virtually nothing to prevent the genocide that is taking place in Darfur.” Obama has said “The United States has a moral obligation, anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes… And when you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda, or Bosnia, or in Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us, that’s a stain on our souls.” McCain and Obama both support enforcing a “no-fly zone” over Darfur to protect the civilians there.

Darfur Scores, a project of the Genocide Intervention Network, has given McCain a C and Obama an A+ on Darfur. While McCain has voted for many pieces of legislation aiming to deal with the crisis and co-sponsored one of them, Obama has taken more of a leadership role by co-sponsoring almost all of them, including co-sponsoring the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006 with Republican Seantor Sam Brownback. While McCain has demonstrated that his heart is in the right place, Obama has put forth more detailed plans on dealing with Sudan, which are available on his website, under the heading “Foreign Policy.” McCain’s website does not have a “Foreign Policy” page, the closest to it being his “National Security” page (a revealing statement about the different nominee’s preference for diplomacy vs. military action), which does not mention Darfur or Africa at all.

None of this should be taken to constitute an endorsement on the part of UNC-Charlotte STAND for any candidate. While my own political leanings are well-known, here I aim merely to present the facts on the candidates’ positions and records on Darfur. One would be ill-advised to vote for any candidate based solely on one issue (McCain’s website, for example, has a prominent page on “Space Exploration” – something I personally definitely support – which Obama’s website lacks). Such things merely indicate the different priorities that candidates have and the emphases they place. To those concerned about Darfur, the important work will take place after the election. The new president, no matter who he is, will already be favorably disposed to take strong action right off the bat. Ensuring that he does so will be the greatest priority of Darfur activists in 2009.

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