The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Round-up of today’s House hearing on Sudan

In case you missed today’s hearing in the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health – which included US Special Envoy General Scott Gration’s first testimony before Congress since the release of the administration’s Sudan policy – we’ve put together some highlights and a wrap-up of blogs, commentary, and news coverage.

Members of the committee, including chairman Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), ranking member Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and surprise attendee Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) expressed frustration about the deterioration of conditions in Darfur, the continued intransigence of the Khartoum government, and the lack of clear benchmarks to trigger incentives and pressures in the administration’s strategy. Several members pushed Gen. Gration on the administration’s efforts to round up multilateral support from key stakeholders (i.e. China and Arab States) for sanctions and other “sticks.” Many, Rep. Payne and Sen. Brownback in particular, expressed skepticism about the administration’s engagement with a government responsible for committing genocide.

On the second panel, John Prendergast of the ENOUGH Project highlighted the risks of moving forward with non-credible elections in Sudan and called on the administration to increase pressure on Khartoum now. Randy Newcomb of Humanity United focused on the need to support civil society engagement, local reconciliation efforts in Abyei, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile; and Enrico Carisch, former coordinator of the United Nations Panel of Experts on Sudan, highlighted the findings of the Panel’s report, which reveal numerous ongoing violations by Khartoum of existing agreements.

We heard through the grapevine that the transcript will be available in about a week’s time, so look out for it on the subcommittee’s website. For now, you can read submitted testimonies from Gen. Gration, John Prendergast, Randy Newcomb, and Enrico Carisch.

Commentary Wrap-up
John Norris of the ENOUGH Project criticized Gen. Gration’s poor handling of questions on the Obama administration’s policy of engagement, and recounted the “most head-scratching moment in the testimony,” when the General denied the existence of a ‘confidential annex’ to the Sudan policy review that had been mentioned by Secretary Clinton during the policy roll-out in October.

Over at’s Stop Genocide blog, Michelle pointed out the “willful ignorance” Gen. Gration demonstrated today about the dire prospects for Sudan’s presidential elections scheduled for next year. A report by the Carter Center released this week highlighted the daunting set of obstacles standing in the way of a "free and fair" election process.

Robert Lawrence at the Save Darfur Coalition and the blog Operation Broken Silence both offer great summaries of the hearing.

Also check out coverage from Voice of America, AFP, and CNN International.

Finally, several people, including Allyson Neville at Genocide Intervention Network (@AllysonNeville), Meghna Raj at the ENOUGH Project (@Meghna4ENOUGH), Michelle at (@michelle4change), the Save Darfur Coalition (@SaveDarfur), Susan Morgan (@susanmorgan) with Investors Against Genocide/the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, and me – at least for the first half – (@nmcmurry), were live-tweeting the hearing, so check out the #Sudan hashtag on Twitter for a more detailed play-by-play. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Raising Awareness about Congo Conflict Minerals at Arizona State University

Andrew Hedlund at Arizona State just published a great article in ASU’s State Press about the role of minerals in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and current legislation to address it. Read on to learn more and find out how you can take action. 

Financing a calamity with a vibrating cell phone

Andrew Hedlund
Monday, November 23, 2009

The Democratic Republic of the Congo houses an incredibly violent and heart-wrenching conflict.

Since 1996, this country has been at war; the principal motivator for the conflict is greed. Tutsi forces from Rwanda, one of the Congo’s neighboring countries, have invaded the Congo with the intent of annihilating the Hutu militias. More than 5.4 million have died and 1 million people have been displaced; countless Congolese women have also been raped as a result of this deadly conflict.

Unfortunately, this conflict is unknown to the majority of the Americans and has resulted in inaction from the international community. It takes sustained resources to carry out a feud for a prolonged period of time, and the perpetrators take money out of our pockets to finance this clash.

Many of the minerals mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are put in electronics that we buy and use on a daily basis.These minerals include tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Raise Hope for Congo, an organization dedicated to protecting Congolese women, specifies what each of these minerals is used for.

Tin serves as a solder in many electronic products like cell phones, while tantalum is used to store in electricity in MP3 players and digital cameras. Tungsten makes cell phones vibrate; jewelry and electronics utilize gold.

Three primary groups profit from the trade of these minerals: the National Congress for the Defence of the People, Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda and rebel corps of the Congolese army. These parties receive $85 million from tin, $8 million from tantalum and $2 million from tungsten annually. Gold can bring in anywhere from $44 million to $88 million a year.

There is current legislation being debated to combat these conflict minerals. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009. Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., proposed this legislation. A press release from Brownback’s office outlined the enactments.

The principle of this bill is simple; regulations are put in place to help stop the trading of conflict minerals. The State Department will be asked to track the funding of the armed groups participating in this conflict. U.S.-registered companies that manufacture products that utilize conflict minerals will need to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealing the country these minerals were attained from.

The Enough Project, an organization committed to ending genocide, reported on similar legislation introduced in the House of Representatives. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., introduced the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (HR 4128), which was co-sponsored by Congressmen Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Barney Frank, D-Mass. Similar to the Senate legislation, this act calls for companies to disclose whether or not the minerals they used are conflict-free.

Ending the human rights crisis in the Congo does not require a trip to Africa. All it takes is a simple phone call to our elected officials. If the funding for this catastrophe ends, so will the death and destruction that it produces.


To take action now, contact your representative and ask him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 4128.

You can also
contact your senator and ask him or her to co-sponsor S. 891 and support the inclusion of an independent audit requirement for companies to make it even stronger. Click here to see if your senator is already a co-sponsor.


Congress Takes on Conflict Minerals in Congo

Yesterday, Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Barney Frank (D-MA), introduced the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128). If passed into law, the bill would help increase transparency in industries – i.e. the electronics industry – that are major consumers of minerals whose illegal trade is fueling ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo. Among other measures, the bill would require companies to produce independent audits certifying these minerals as “conflict minerals” or “conflict-free minerals” when they are imported into the United States, increasing transparency for consumers and creating incentives for end-user companies to take steps toward breaking the link between the illegal mineral trade and human rights violations in DRC.

For more information, check out the ENOUGH Project’s blog as well as this joint statement from the ENOUGH Project, Genocide Intervention Network, Human Rights Watch, World Vision, Global Witness, and others in support of H.R. 4128.

H.R. 4128 comes in addition to the Congo Conflict Minerals Act (S. 891) in the Senate, which promotes transparency by requiring companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose information about the origin of their mineral supplies. While S. 891 still needs to be strengthened (see this summary for more information), the existence of legislation tackling conflict minerals in Congo provides an exciting opportunity for advocates to make a difference.

To take action now, contact your representative and ask him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 4128. If you lobbied your representative on the Pledge2Protect Lobby Day, this is a great opportunity to follow up with his or her office!

You can also contact your senator and ask him or her to co-sponsor S. 891 and support the inclusion of an independent audit requirement for companies to make it even stronger. Click here to see if your senator is already a co-sponsor.

Obama’s mention of Sudan at UNGA is a step in the right direction

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.

“The Hill has seen nothing yet” – why Pledge: On Camera is so awesome

You’ve probably received our emails about Pledge: On Camera – our video advocacy initiative in partnership with Witness and the first phase of the Pledge2Protect campaign – or heard about it from your Outreach Coordinator. Even so, I wanted to take this opportunity to make another plug.

Students make up the core activist base of the anti-genocide movement, but we know that our senators know that are demographic doesn’t always turn out to vote or donate money. Many of us (myself included) have left lobby meetings feeling like we weren’t taken entirely seriously, even if we had all our facts down cold and did everything right. That’s not going to happen on November 9 when STAND students from all over the country storm the Hill to lobby their senators for genocide prevention.

With Pledge: On Camera, we’re bringing the people we know our senators listen to with us to lobby – whether its their biggest donors, their local party chairs, their faith leaders, or their middle school science teachers – or at least doing the next best thing by getting these “influentials” on camera. One of the coolest things about Pledge: On Camera is that it allows us to overcome one of the major disadvantages of being students while leveraging some of our comparative advantages – namely our creativity, energy, and tech literacy.

And our senators and representatives are already reading about it. Pledge: On Camera was recently featured in the cover story in the National Journal, which is one of the first places people on the Hill get their news. In fact, two weeks ago, I walked into my representative’s office in DC and saw a stack of that issue sitting on the desk in the waiting area.

Why the buzz? The fact is that this type of video advocacy has never been done on this scale. Period. As National Journal reporter Paul Starobin put it, “the Hill has seen nothing yet.”

So if you haven’t already, check out Pledge: On Camera on the STAND site and sign up to participate today!

Sorting out Sudan sanctions

Recently, after hearing from activists all over the country, senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Gration on his strategy for peace in Sudan. If you missed the hearing, you can check out Genocide Intervention Network’s liveblogging from the event, and this summary and series of video clips from the ENOUGH Project.

Some of the most contentious topics included Gration’s emphasis on engagement with the Khartoum government, Sudan’s status on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, and the efficacy of continued U.S. sanctions on Sudan.

Gration’s comments during the hearing suggested that he favored lifting sanctions, but he later stated that that he had been misunderstood – he supports refining existing sanctions to further minimize their impact on development in South Sudan, but is not currently looking to roll back sanctions on Khartoum.

For some background on the issue, check out my post on Enough Said, the ENOUGH Project’s blog, summarizing current sanctions on Sudan.

Questioning the Special Envoy: Take Action Now!

On Thursday, July 30, 2009, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on a comprehensive strategy for Sudan. Scheduled to testify is the Administration’s Special Envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration. Help make sure the right questions are asked!

If you live in Massachusetts, Indiana, Connecticut, Wisconsin, California, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, Delaware, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina, Wyoming, or Mississippi, you have a senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and you can take action by:

1) Connecting with your Senator on Facebook

First, become a fan of your Senator on Facebook, then post on his or her wall with a link to questions for Gration:

NOTE: Make sure to indicate that you are a constituent by including your city and zip code.

Here is a list of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Members with links to their Facebook pages (for those who have them):

Senator John Kerry ( MA)

Senator Richard Lugar (IN)

Senator Christopher Dodd (CT)

Senator Russ Feingold (WI)

Senator Barbara Boxer (CA)

Senator Robert Menendez (NJ)

Senator Benjamin Cardin (MD)

Senator Robert Casey (PA)

Senator Jim Web (VA)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

Senator Edward Kaufman (DE)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)

Senator James Inhofe (OK)

Senator Bob Corker (TN)

Senator Johnny Isakson (GA)

Senator James Risch (ID)

Senator Jim DeMint (SC)

Senator John Barrasso (WY)

Senator Roger Wicker (MS)

2) Calling 1-800-GENOCIDE

Regardless of whether your Senator is on Facebook, you can ask him or her to take action by calling 1-800-GENOCIDE and selecting the "Senator" option. You’ll hear talking points right before you are connected.

3) Telling your friends to take action via Twitter

You can do this regardless of where you live or are registered to vote (link to this blog post):


We pushed for a Special Envoy to Sudan, now let’s hold him accountable!

In the months following Obama’s inauguration, activists all over the country demanded that President Obama live up to his word and make Sudan an immediate priority, first by appointing a new Special Envoy to Sudan, and next by completing the policy review on Sudan that outlines the US approach toward the situation there.

On the first count, we were successful. In March, Obama named Maj. General Scott Gration (Ret.) as his Special Envoy to Sudan. Since then, Gration has made several trips to the region, has traveled to meet international stakeholders abroad, and has convened parties to Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Washington, DC.

Gration’s approach, however, has sparked controversy, both within the activist community and within the administration itself.

In particular, there are questions about the Envoy’s overly rosy portrayal of the humanitarian situation in Darfur and his focus on carrots as part of his diplomatic strategy. While carrots are an important part of any strategy for Sudan, they need to be carefully calibrated with appropriate sticks. As we seek to move forward in our relationship with Sudan, we cannot afford to forget that the Government of Sudan has a history of failing to live up to its commitments. We must remain watchful and prepared.

Ahead of the release of the administration’s policy review, we have a great opportunity to have tough questions asked of Gration about his plan for peace in Sudan. On Thursday, July 30, 2009, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on a comprehensive strategy for Sudan, and Gration will be testifying.

We are asking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to attend the hearing, and make sure the following questions are addressed:

  • As we know from two decades of dealing with the regime, the Government of Sudan has only responded in the face of concerted international pressure. How is the Government of Sudan currently cooperating with implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, achieving peace in Darfur and allowing for humanitarian access? What steps is the United States prepared to take if the Government of Sudan fails to live up to its agreements?
  • You have recently returned from Abyei where you were for the announcement of the court of arbitration’s ruling on the region’s boundary. What is the status of the ruling’s implementation? How will you work to support implementation? Do you expect both sides to move forward to effectively and peacefully make the decision reality on the ground?
  • You have commented that indicted President Omar al-Bashir will face justice before the International Criminal Court “in due course.” Does the Administration no longer hold the position that Bashir should be held accountable at the earliest opportunity?
  • Tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of the UNAMID peacekeeping force in Darfur. However, UNAMID is only at 70% deployment. What is the Administration’s plan is to ensure that UNAMID is fully deployed and, most importantly, fully effective in protecting civilians and carrying out its full mandate?

Click here for a one-page handout on the hearing from Genocide Intervention Network, and here for three ways to take action.



Summer Advocacy Opportunity for Burma: Has Your Representative Signed?

The trial of Burmese democracy leader Aun San Suu Kyi has brought long overdue international attention to the crisis in Burma, including to the slaughter and displacement of civilians in the eastern part of the country by the military junta.

Over the past month, many international figures, including former UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma Sergio Pinheiro and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, have called for the international community to end impunity for these crimes through an investigation that could lead to a referral to the International Criminal Court.

Toward this end, Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Congressman Don Manzullo (R-IL) have drafted a Congressional letter to President Obama urging him to take the lead in establishing a Commission of Inquiry into crimes committed by the Burmese regime at the United Nations Security Council. This represents a tangible step that could help end a campaign of violence that has destroyed over 3,000 villages and displaced more than 1 million people over the past 15 years.

Click here to read the letter and see the list of Representatives who have signed on.

Has your Representative signed? Not sure? Visit, enter your zip code, and find your Representative. If so, take a second to thank him or her. If not, call or email today and ask him or her to sign on! Questions? Email your Outreach Coordinator.