WASHINGTON (BP)–On another continent, 14 hours away from Washington, D.C., victims of the “worst humanitarian crisis today” listened on shortwave radios as tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall April 30 to protest the first acknowledged genocide of the 21st century.
“For the first time, they know that they are not alone!” author Samantha Power told the multi-ethnic, multi-faith crowd that chanted “Enough is enough,” “Not on our watch” and “Never again!” in an outcry against the death and destruction in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Leading voices in the effort to stop what the Bush administration first called a genocide in Darfur included prominent faith leaders, political figures, human rights activists, entertainers, and survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Cambodia, Kosovo, Srebrenica, Rwanda, southern Sudan and Darfur.
It was the “first time in the history of genocide that a perpetrator so knows that America is watching them,” said Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”
Her observation underscored the reason for the “Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide,” which was to raise public pressure to end the genocide and widespread violence in western Sudan, build a lasting peace and raise pressure on Congress to provide the resources necessary to do so.
The conflict began in 2003 when rebels rose against the Khartoum government. Government-backed Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, have killed an estimated 300,000 people in Darfur and have left 3.5 million Darfuris dependent on foreign aid for their survival.
The rally, sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition, a network of 165 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations representing more than 130 million Americans, highlighted four demands it has made of the Sudanese government:
— Withdraw any objection to a United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur. The purpose of such a force would be to protect the Sudanese citizens from harm.
— Allow humanitarian relief organizations full and unfettered access to the villages and refugee camps for internally displaced people in Darfur. A good first step would be reinstating the Norwegian Refugee Council, which the Sudanese government ejected from the country in early April.
— Abide by the terms of the April 8, 2004, N’Djamena ceasefire calling for an end to hostilities in Darfur and United Nations Security Council resolutions -– by disarming the genocidal Janjaweed militias.
— Fully commit to reaching a lasting agreement at the current, seventh round of the Abuja peace talks on Darfur.
In her speech, Jendayi Frazier, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the State Department, made a personal plea to the Sudanese faction leaders with whom she has personally negotiated. Calling them by name, she implored, “Please sign the peace agreement.”
As of late Sunday, peace talks between the Sudan government and rebels in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, ended without a firm agreement.
Frazier said President Bush has led the effort in poising the U.N. to accept a request from the African Union for protection. In addition, the U.S. will continue giving 86 percent of the food provisions, but she urged for more international action in response to outbursts of “We want more! We want more!” by the rally participants.
“So do I,” Frazier answered. “So does your government.”
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, delivered an “I have a nightmare” speech reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” address. Sapterstein expressed his concern that because of the world’s apathy and indifference, hundreds of thousands more Darfurians will die.
Saperstein announced that, in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Council of Churches, he will ask America’s faith communities to join together to visit every embassy and consulate of the NATO and African Union nations, Russia and China by June 2, to ask for “urgent action from their governments to stop the genocide and support U.N. resolutions to create a robust, well-equipped and effective peacekeeping force with a clear mandate to protect innocent civilian life.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, agreed.
“We cannot ignore the greatest crisis of the human race today, which is the government committing genocide against its own people,” Land told the crowd. “To do anything other than to come to the aid of the millions of our Darfurian brothers and sisters who are suffering under a cruel and murderous ‘thugocracy’ of a regime masquerading as a legitimate government is to deny the humanity of those helpless people and to deny the commands of our Lord and God.”
He added, “The United States must, in the name of all that defines who we have been, who we are and whoever or whatever we hope to be in the future, we must act alone if necessary.”
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, spoke of his own experience. He said he felt abandoned when no one spoke out against the atrocities of his day.
“Remember, silence helps the killer, never its victims,” Wiesel said. “Darfur is the world’s capital of human suffering. Not to help is to condemn ourselves of inhumanity.”
Actor George Clooney and his father, veteran journalist Nick Clooney, who recently returned from the Chad-Sudan border where Darfuris live in refugee camps, joined in the appeal.
“They are all alone. They are by themselves. There is no one to help them,” the elder Clooney said. “Nothing we can do can help if they are dead, and they are dying every day.”
“The world policy on Sudan is failing,” George Clooney said. “If we turn our heads and look away and hope it will all go away … an entire generation will disappear.”
Others speakers included Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill.; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California; Reps. Frank Wolf, R.-Va.; Donald Payne, D.-N.J., and Michael Capuano, D.-Mass., co-chairs of the Congressional Sudan Caucus; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was depicted in the movie “Hotel Rwanda;” Manute Bol, former National Basketball Association player/Sudan native who has tapped his NBA fortune to help fund relief efforts in Sudan; and Olympic speed-skating champion Joey Cheek, who donated his $40,000 U.S. Olympic Committee bonus money to projects in war-torn Darfur.
The rally was part of the “Million Voices for Darfur” campaign to generate a million postcards for delivery to President Bush, asking him to use the power of his office to fulfill his Feb. 17 pledge to support a stronger multi-national force to protect the Darfuri people.
Gloria White-Hammond, Million Voices organizer and chairwoman, delivered 760,210 postcards, including 200,000 by Africa Action, the oldest Africa advocacy group in the United States, to the rally. White-Hammond has made seven trips into war-torn southern Sudan to obtain the freedom of 10,000 women and children who were enslaved during the two decades-long civil war.
The rally also was the final stop of the “Tour for Darfur: Eyewitness to Genocide,” a photo exhibit and speaking tour of 22 cities in 11 states to raise public awareness about the Darfur crisis. The tour’s featured speaker, Brian Steidle, former U.S. representative to the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Darfur from September 2004 to February 2005, said, “We said, ‘Never again’ again and again. I don’t ever want to come to a rally like this again!”
“It’s not time to [just] talk the talk,” said Simon Deng, a former slave in southern Sudan who walked from New York City to the Washington rally to gain support for his fellow Sudanese. “It’s time to walk the walk!”
Information on the Save Darfur Coalition may be accessed at www.savedarfur.org.