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Speaking up on Darfur

A top Reform Jewish movement leader joined other Darfur activists and members of Congress in calling on the United States and the international community to step up their efforts to end the genocide in Darfur.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism director Rabbi David Saperstein and other speakers at a Capitol Hill press conference sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition on Thursday also called on the Sudanese government to allow humanitarian aid groups back into the country. President Omar al-Bashir expelled 13 such groups from the country earlier this month after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“We gather today because the people in the camps have no lobby, no political action committees,” said Saperstein.

Speakers, which included actress Maria Bello, applauded President Obama’s naming of J. Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan on Wednesday, but said that the Obama administration must also make a sustained diplomatic effort to end the crisis.

With the expulsion of aid workers, “time is of the essence,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who noted that 78 members of Congress had sent a bipartisan letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao and the leaders of the Arab League and African Union urging them to support returning humanitairan aid groups to Sudan.

The Sudanese government is using “food and medicine as a weapon,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, said that the U.S. should be making public diplomatic efforts to get aid restored, while also undertaking private efforts, particularly among leaders in the Arab world, to get others to press for Bashir’s exit. The third prong of the strategy, he said, is achieving overall peace in Sudan.

Bello spoke about the use of rape as a "weapon" to "kill the will, the spirit" of women in Darfur. Other speakers included Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Soujourners president and executive director Rev. Jim Wallis.