Yesterday human rights activist and escaped slave Simon Deng finished an historic barefoot walk to offices of the U.S. Congress, appealing to legislators to support the Sudan Peace and Stability Act and to uphold the outcome of January’s planned referendum in South Sudan.
The referendum will enable the people of South Sudan - mostly Christians and animists, or practitioners of native religions - to vote for secession from Sudan’s Muslim North.
Since the 1950’s, mass slaughter, forced conversion to Islam, and withholding of food aid have been perpetrated against Sudan’s indigenous peoples in the country’s heavily Christian South by the extremist Muslim government based in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The Khartoum government has killed three and a half million Southern Sudanese since the 1950’s, according to Deng. Since 2003, this government, currently led by Omar al-Bashir, has also perpetrated violence in Darfur against black Muslims that has killed an estimated 400,000 and displaced millions.
Additionally, Bashir’s government sheltered Osama bin Laden from 1992 until 1996, while he plotted attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 and wounded 4,000.
January’s vote is stipulated by a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) drafted by the Bush Administration that also stipulates protocols for border demarcation and wealth sharing. In exchange, the CPA allows the North a share of oil wealth that is concentrated in the South and drops Sudan from America’s list of terrorist states.
In 2005, Bashir agreed to abide by the CPA and respect the results of the vote. But recent indicators - including his failure to adequately abide by tenets of the CPA that call for border demarcation, security, and wealth-sharing - suggest Bashir may not respect the vote and may even call for violence, according to Deng.
Deng, a Christian who was abducted as a child and enslaved by an Arab Muslim family in Sudan’s North, last week walked from office to office of Congress, appealing to legislators to support Senator Kerry’s bill and urge President Obama to show leadership on Sudan. He walked barefoot - to emphasize the suffering of Sudan’s Christians and native religious groups.
“President Obama must look in the camera and tell Bashir - this peace agreement was everyone’s commitment,” Deng told me. “It is our priority to make sure everyone has respect for the peace agreement.”
Deng urges the U.S. President to hold Bashir accountable to his commitments - including his pledge to respect the outcome of the January 9th vote.
“Without U.S. leadership then the ticking time bomb Secretary of State Hillary Clinton predicts will go off sooner than she predicts,” says Deng. “It will be a catastrophe not just to Sudan, but to the entire region. Our message is, dismantle that bomb before it goes off.”
Deng lauds the efforts of actor George Clooney to raise awareness.
“[Clooney] said, ‘U.S. leadership is needed now, not tomorrow,’” says Deng.
Deng urges U.S. legislators to support Senator John Kerry’s Sudan Peace and Stability Act.
The Act, which has received much bipartisan support, calls for the U.S. to help implement the CPA.
Its provisions include U.S. aid for security forces in South Sudan, contingent on accountability and good governance.
It also calls for the naming of a “full-time senior official,” in addition to an existing Sudan special envoy, to help oversee peace talks between the Khartoum government and rebel groups in Darfur.
Deng says his present effort is reminiscent of another walk he took through the halls of Congress during the 1990’s. At that time, he says he and a handful of South Sudanese Christians tried to warn legislators about the threat of radical Islamist terrorism emanating from Sudan. He tells me the group warned U.S. politicians of threats to Americans - and named Osama bin Laden specifically.
He was largely dismissed as “paranoid,” Deng recalls.
“‘Maybe you are paranoid, because of what you went through’” he says some U.S. legislators told him.
He adds, “They were so naive. [They said,] ‘Oh, terrorists, they are against the Jewish and the State of Israel.’
“No one ever thought that in America they would be engaged in fighting terrorism.”
Deng continues, “We explained the danger. [We said,] Sudan[’s leadership] is embracing a man whose vision is to destroy the West, Osama bin Laden. This man is terrorizing my people, calling for “jihad against the infidel.” If I am an infidel [in his eyes] for the cross around my neck, what are you [in his eyes?]
“But no one was interested.”
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