Yesterday in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama mentioned both conflict prevention and the situation in Sudan. The speech, entitled "Responsibility for Our Common Future," stressed that countries have both rights and responsibilities and that – especially today – interests among nations align, including the need for peace:
"That is why we will strengthen our support for effective peacekeeping, while energizing our efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold. We will pursue a lasting peace in Sudan through support for the people of Darfur, and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, so that we secure the peace that the Sudanese people deserve. And in countries ravaged by violence – from Haiti to Congo to East Timor – we will work with the UN and other partners to support an enduring peace."
The mention of conflict prevention and of Sudan specifically is a victory, particularly given the magnitude of top foreign policy priorities facing the United States (everything from nuclear non-proliferation, to conflict in the Middle East, to the situation in Afghanistan, to global efforts for climate change). In an interview with Voice of America, Lawrence Woocher at the United States Institute of Peace took Obama’s specific mention of Sudan to mean “that it is a real policy priority and that they’ve heard the advocacy groups who have been really pressing to take the opportunity of the speech at the General Assembly to say something about Sudan.”
Leading up to President Obama’s speech at the General Assembly, activists –including NYC STAND members – lined the streets with signs asking President Obama not to forget Sudan during his time at the General Assembly. STAND chapters in Pittsburgh and area activist groups, including the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Action Coalition, are also raising the issue at this week’s G20 summit.
President Obama’s inclusion of Sudan in his speech goes to show that American public can influence foreign policy priorities. But we all know that words are not enough. As GI-NET executive director Sam Bell put it:
“Words are important and we’re glad President Obama mentioned Sudan in today’s speech. However, actions will make the difference in Sudan. We’ve been troubled by the Obama Administration’s first steps on Sudan but are hopeful that today marks the start of a new beginning with the President playing an active role to support peace.”
The next few weeks will be critical, with the United States’ policy review on Sudan (and its policy review on Burma) expected to be released soon. The Obama administration is aware of our efforts, so let’s make sure we keep Sudan and other mass atrocities around the world on the agenda.
You can find the full text of Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly here.