Sudanese refugees say Obama broke his promise to them.
Sept. 24, 2010 – by El Marco
A small group of Sudanese former slaves and refugees, both Christians and Muslims, are walking from New York City to Washington, D.C. The walk began on Sept. 15 in front of the United Nations, and will culminate on Capitol Hill, Oct. 7th. They want to call the attention of the American people, and the Obama administration, to the increasingly explosive crisis of genocide and slavery in Sudan.
Sudan is less than 100 days from a referendum that is the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was a welcome example of what the United States can do when it uses its influence effectively. That agreement, a major focus for the Bush administration, is seen by experts as endangered by a lack of resolve on the part of Obama and his team at the State Department.
Human rights activist and former slave Simon Deng is leading the fourth Sudan Freedom Walk to call attention to the impending disaster his people face in South Sudan. Deng, now a U.S. citizen, sees the upcoming referendum as a stark choice for the people of South Sudan:
… whether they’re going to remain under the islamization and arabization, under enslavement, or they’re going to choose freedom for the first time. I, for one, don’t want to go back to being a slave again. I’ve tasted freedom. I’m proud today to stand in this country, as a free man, speaking to free people.
Of course they’re going to chose freedom. Because freedom is a God given right to all human beings. That being said, we, the people of South Sudan, for sixty years we went through a lot at the hands of the sitting governments in Khartoum. They slaughtered three and a half million South Sudanese. They enslaved thousands. They turned their arms and guns on the people in the Nuba Mountains. They turned their arms and guns on the people in the Blue Nile. And the world came to their senses by saying what happened in western Sudan in Darfur region is genocide.
Simon Deng addressed his remarks to Obama on Sept. 15, before the start of the Sudan Freedom Walk in New York.
The Secretary of State, a month ago, Hillary Clinton, said that the problem in South Sudan is a “ticking time bomb”. We don’t want to go back. We don’t want to go back to Islam. We don’t want to go back to enslavement. We don’t want to go back to arabization. We are proud as Africans in that continent. Sudan is the land of the blacks.
And that is why we don’t want to turn our backs to our brothers in Darfur. … after southern Sudan becomes independent next year we’re still going to be their voice because they’re being victimized the way we’re being victimized in that country. We’re going to Washington to ask our (United States) government that CPA that we talk about it is the legacy of the American government and, I’m speaking directly to President Obama, he was there with me when we talked about the issue in the South Sudan as a senator, shoulder to shoulder, when we talked about the Southern Sudan. I’m asking you, why are you distancing yourself from me, why are you distancing yourself from the issue of Sudan? Why are you putting heavyweights to be envoys here and envoys there, and you’re sending someone who has to learn on the job to be the envoy, knowing the magnitude of the problem in the Sudan? Why not Colin Powell? Why don’t you call him? Colin Powell even said it himself: “If the President calls on me, I will pick up the phone.” Call on him tomorrow, Mr. President. I’m walking to Washington, and I’m looking forward to discuss this matter with you.
Mr. Deng and other Sudanese refugees say that then Senator Obama promised them during a meeting in Philadelphia in 2008 to make peace in Sudan his first priority when he became president. Many Sudanese in Philadelphia campaigned door to door for Obama because they believed his promise. They say that the Obama administration has only played lip service to the plight of South Sudan and Darfur. They also say that Obama’s perceived lack of interest has emboldened the Khartoum regime and imperiled the indigenous peoples who are being brutalized by the regime in Khartoum.
President Obama’s appointment of his close personal friend General Scott Gration is seen by many Sudan activists as nothing more than a political appointment for an Obama crony who has no expertise on Sudan. Gration is said to be out of his depth and only biding time until he is rewarded with the ambassador’s post in Kenya. John Prendergast, of the ENOUGH anti-genocide project recently wrote:
“Every administration that comes into office over the last two decades thinks it can convince the Sudanese government to change its behavior through dialogue and constructive engagement alone, … It usually takes a year or two to figure out that this won’t work, that a more forceful approach is required that mixes sticks with carrots. . . . President Obama has been no different, and has deferred to General Gration, who remains convinced that nice guys finish first in diplomacy. [Obama] will slowly become disabused of this misconception, but the cost to Sudanese civilians for this macabrely slow learning curve will likely be excessively high.” - Politics Daily
Prendergast, in a New York Times op-ed published July 12, 2010, referred to the U.S. administrations policy in Sudan as: ”President Obama’s Rwanda moment … unfolding now, in slow motion.” A Sept. 3, Wall Street Journal article titled Obama is Still AWOL on Sudan, was subtitled : The country may soon return to war, and the perception of U.S. indifference isn’t helping. The article went on to say, “if the current U.S. policy gridlock remains, the next round of Sudanese bloodletting could be the worst yet.”
Francis Bok, also a U.S. citizen like Deng, was taken by an islamic militia and made a slave at the age of seven. He was enslaved for ten years, until his miraculous escape about which he has written a book. His plea for action from the Obama administration, in front of the U.N. building, brought tears to the eyes of listeners and to himself.
Since Sudan gained its independence from Great Britain in 1956, the people of South Sudan never had freedom. I was born in 1979. I grew up in war. I was a slave for ten years. I didn’t live with my parents. Every time I think about my childhood, I think about just tomorrow. I’m begging you, I’m begging you: save us. On January 9, to become our own (country) — God wants us to be like you (free).
I ask you also, for our brothers in Nuba Mountain and the Blue Nile — everybody that has been suppressed and oppressed for all this time, for people have suffered greatly. I have been to Sudan nine times since the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) in 2005. Every time I come back home I become very emotional. Because we talk about this, and we never see results.
Imagine 1,000 dying a week in your state: people that you know their names, you know the neighborhoods, innocent kids who do not yet know what this war is about. Why are they dying? While we are sitting watching. This building, the United Nations, where all the leaders from around the world come, talk about peaceful coexistence for all human beings, why are they saying “Never again,” and again and again our people are dying?
Today we are starting the journey of freedom that has been started some years ago by Simon Deng – someone who never forgot where he came from. He’s lived here quite a long time. He has every choice, like me, like any other immigrant who came to this country, to better his life and his family’s, yet again he devoted, he dedicated his whole life, so to speak, on behalf of millions, not just Sudanese. And so did I since I came here. I worked, I tried my best, and I did everything I could. And I’ll continue until my people are free at last.
Sudanese tyrant Omar Al Bashir, brother-in-law to Osama bin Ladin, has been accused by the International Criminal Court of three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity (which includes murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture and rape) and two counts of war crimes (for intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and pillaging).
After warring against the Christians of southern Sudan for decades, Khartoum began attacking the black Muslims of Nuba mountain, the Blue Nile, and Darfur. The Islamic regime has long used fatwas, or religious decrees, to declare black African Muslims opposed to Khartoum’s arabization policies, as apostates that have renounced Islam. These fatwas give Arab Sudanese a free hand to kill the indigenous population and seize their land with the help of the government.
The Arabs also freely take slaves. The riches of the slave trade was what originally brought the Arabs to Sudan centuries ago. Arabs exported black Africans to the slave markets of Arabia until the British fought to stop the trade in the late 19th century. After the British left in 1955, Arab Sudanese returned to their old ways with a vengeance. Today slaves cost as little as 10 dollars in Sudan.
Symbolically turning their backs to the U.N. above are Francis Bok (tall center left), Dr. Abdelgabar Adam (President of the Darfur Human Rights Organization,) Simon Deng and his wife Monica, and Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry Sr, of Brooklyn’s House of the Lord Church.
Participants at the start of the walk symbolically turned their backs on the United Nations, as the U.N. has “turned its back on the indigenous black Africans of the Sudan”. When asked recently why the world ignored the conflict in Sudan for so long, Deng said:
” (T)he government of Sudan was waging war on the Africans, who happened to be Christians. At that time, they were calling it “jihad against the infidels”. The world, in my opinion, didn’t want to get involved because they didn’t want to be accused of being anti-Islam and anti-arab. … Since the crime was committed by somebody and the victims happened to be Christians and, especially, black people in that part of the world, who cares? But today, the atrocity is still going on. According to the Sudanese government, the African culture is a savage culture that needs to be changed and transformed into an arab culture.”
Deng says that in recent years, the Sudanese government has “turned their guns on their fellow Muslims.” They kill them because, although they have become Muslim, they have not accepted arabization. “They didn’t take the whole package, and they are paying the price today. … They still maintain their language as Africans, and they still maintain their culture as Africans, and today they are paying the price.”
Of the U.N., Deng said:
“The U.N. is a failed organization. … Anybody who tells me that the U.N. is the right place to go, he has to tell me which U.N. they are talking about. Is it the U.N. that I know? The U.N. that walked away from Rwanda, after telling Rwandans, ‘we will protect you, we will give you safety.’? And anyone who, in their right mind, thinks that U.N. is the right place to go, let’s go to Rwanda and ask those skeleton bones ‘Do you believe in the U.N.?’ … The U.N. failed because they don’t follow their principles. Article 1 of the U.N., what is it talking about? Article 4, when it talks about enslavement … here you had the U.N. telling us that you can buy a human being for $10, and they did nothing.”
Deng holds no hope for UN action for reasons that include,the influence wielded by the 57 voting Muslim member states, and perceived apathy towards human rights violations committed by islamic leaders, at that institution.
The walkers started the first of 23 days by crossing Manhattan, from the U.N. Headquarters to the George Washington Bridge, and on to New Jersey.
I caught up a week later with the Sudan Freedom Walk in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Walking past a field full of large ears of corn, Dr. Adam, a physician, told the American supporters walking about the severe malnutrition predominant among Sudanese refugees in camps. Adults survive on 1,000 calories a day of durum flour porridge, sometimes supplemented with sugar and salt. The walkers were headed for Newtown Friends School, where students have been raising money and supplies to send directly to Sudanese refugees in Chad. Deng and Adam have had a long partnership with the school, which has hosted them as speakers a number of times.
Right to left, above, Garelanbi Abusikin, Simon Deng, Martha Bixby of Save Darfur, Mark Feinman (General Counsel of Darfur Human Rights Organization,) Dr. Adam (founder and president of DHRO,) and Rona Wronker.
The Sudan Freedom walkers spoke to 200 children at Newtown Friends School. After watching a slideshow of the school children’s aid being delivered to refugees in Chad, Dr. Adam told the kids, ”You are all heroes in my eyes.” He asked the children to “Call the White House and leave a message. Ask Obama to intervene to guarantee fair and free elections, to protect civilians and stop genocide in Sudan. Probably Obama will listen to you.”
Newtown Friends school student Jake, Simon Deng, Garelanabi Abusikim (a Darfuri refugee,) and students Sam, Janine, and Michael and Dr. Adam (background).
The students above are on the school’s Darfur Task Force, which raised over $12,000 and many supplies for refugees. Deng told them, “Even more important than money and clothing, you raised hope for somebody.”
Dr. Adam, Abusikin, and Deng rest in the shade of an old Quaker barn in Pennsylvania before continuing on their walk southward towards Washington D.C..
Garelnabi Abusikin was one of those who campaigned door to door for Obama. He says he was present in the room in Philadelphia when Obama promised the Sudanese refugees that he would make Sudan’s wars, and the plight of its victims, his number one priority as President. Today Abusikin is disappointed and angry at the failure of Obama to keep his promise. He has taken a leave of absence from his job to join the Sudan Freedom Walk and help draw public attention to the crisis in Sudan.
When Garelnabi was 11 years old, 27 members of his family were killed by government backed militia in an attack that destroyed his village.
See video of the September 15 press conference in front of the U.N., including several very moving speeches, here.
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