Rift Between Obama, Human Rights Groups?

VIDEO: Footage shows rebels fleeing after ambush by Gadhafi forces.
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With President Obama's decision to intervene in Libya, some within the human rights community are raising questions about Obama's approach to intervention in humanitarian crises.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, has pointed to what she calls a "perturbing effort" on the part of the Obama administration to draw distinctions between humanitarian crises.

"We expect and hope that the Obama administration will have one consistent standard in how it judges and reacts to human rights crises and emergencies," Whitson says.

In an address to the nation on Monday night, Obama explained the Libyan intervention as distinct and necessary because U.S. interests were at stake, he said. In addition to pointing to the need to stop the killing of "innocent people" by Gadhafi's forces, the president said it was necessary for regional stability.

"A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful –- yet fragile -– transitions in Egypt and Tunisia," Obama said.

The president has also recently expressed concern and issued strong  words on other humanitarian conflicts underway, including releasing a video message expressing support for the people of Cote d'Ivoire, but some within the human rights community wonder if this is little more than lip service.

Whitson points out that there is a wide "tool box of diplomatic actions" beyond military action, ranging from asset freezes to special UN sessions, that the United States can and should utilize in other humanitarian crises such as Bahrain and Yemen.

Eric Reeves, a Sudan Researcher and Analyst at Smith College calls the president's decision to intervene in Libya "profoundly inconsistent" when considered next to his administration's approach with Sudan.

"One can't help but be struck by the swiftness of military action in Libya and the contrast with Darfur, which has been raging for eight years" Reeves says.

The president brought attention back to the continued instability in Sudan yesterday by appointing Ambassador Princeton Lyman as a replacement for Scott Gration as the new U.S. envoy to the country. 

In a written statement, President Obama calls on Lyman to offer support in bringing a "definitive end" to the Darfur conflict, among other responsibilities.

The President met with Lyman today. According to a readout of the meeting, the president urged Lyman to "increase efforts towards achieving a lasting ceasefire and political settlement at Darfur peace negotiations in Doha."

 Reeves, for one, says he doesn't place great weight behind the president's words on Darfur.

"President Obama has made very strong statements about Darfur as a candidate and as president, and the statements simply haven't been followed up by action," Smith says.

Reeves is critical of the president's policies in Sudan and also expressed concern over his decision to appoint Gration as the ambassador to Kenya.

In addition to Reeves criticism of Gration, 33 human rights organizations joined today in sending a letter to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, calling for the Senators to vote against Gration as the next ambassador to Kenya. The letter says Gration made "ongoing errors in judgment of judgment" as the U.S. envoy to Sudan. 

The human rights community is not alone in critiquing the president's recent humanitarian and diplomatic actions.

Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman recently issued a statement calling for the administration to create a "new Syria strategy" that "unambiguously" advocates on behalf of the "demands and aspirations" of the Syrian people .

McCain and Lieberman say President Obama and the international community should "make clear to President Assad that if he continues on the path of repression and violence, it will carry serious consequences."

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