Features

Improbable cause

Sudan | An unusual alliance is pressuring Sudan to stop the killing in Darfur

Issue: "Berger can't keep a secret," July 31, 2004

The balding guy in wire rims looks ordinary enough, but his African-American friend is positively iconic. As police hauled Philadelphia congressman Joseph Hoeffel and Vegas comedian Dick Gregory four blocks to the 3rd Precinct on an otherwise mild afternoon July 20, onlookers had to wonder what was up.

What's up is that another batch of activists has just been arrested in front of Washington's Sudanese embassy - a regular event for a growing protest movement. Its members are at least as diverse as Mr. Hoeffel, a three-term Democrat lawmaker, and Mr. Gregory, a comedian who gained his start at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion 40 years ago.

Protesters on any given day outside the diplomatic enclave include white evangelicals and conservative human-rights activists alongside inner-city pastors, Congressional Black Caucus orators, and Jewish rabbis. Some will peacefully but purposefully trespass, prompting arrest. All are protesting the Sudan government's sponsorship of militias in Darfur, a province where attacks have left up to 1 million people homeless and over 10,000 dead.

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As grim as the losses are, the protest movement over Darfur is morphing into something equally stoked - and bipartisan, no less, in an election year. "It is across party lines, racial lines, and religious lines. It's very frustrating to the Sudanese government to find such an assortment of people on their doorstep every day," said organizer Keith Roderick.

Mr. Roderick, also a spokesman for Christian Solidarity International, told WORLD the recent arrests began on June 29 with former Rep. Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.) and Washington radio talk show host Joe Madison. Protest numbers grew in July after Secretary of State Colin Powell toured Darfur, followed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visit.

Now 150 people a day show up. And in addition to at least a dozen arrests, Mr. Madison launched a hunger strike nearly three weeks ago. "This is a matter of urgency to end the killings in Darfur," said Mr. Roderick.

Fighting in Darfur broke out 17 months ago between rebel groups and government-backed militias. The Islamic regime in Khartoum says the militias are there to quell an uprising, but a broad group of human-rights observers and aid officials say their goal is ethnic cleansing: The Arab-led government wants to usurp black Africans in Darfur much as it has Christians and other non-Arabs in south Sudan for over 20 years.

Despite political differences, most activists credit President Bush with putting the Sudan crisis "on the map," according to Mr. Roderick. In 2001 the president appointed a special envoy to Sudan, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, and pushed peace talks between southern rebels and Khartoum. Mr. Bush alludes to Sudan regularly in speeches, and dispatched Mr. Powell to Darfur and related refugee camps in Chad to underscore the importance of the crisis.

Bipartisanship won't likely carry over to the UN Security Council, where a vote on a resolution condemning Sudan could come in August. Permanent Security Council members France and China may veto any sanctions because of their oil interests in Sudan. But U.S. representatives will press anyway. "It's the responsibility of the government of Sudan," said Mr. Danforth, new U.S. ambassador to the UN. "They've created this monster."

The crisis may be too urgent to wait for global consensus, U.S. officials say. Aid officials project that deaths in Darfur could reach 150,000 by the end of this year. The State Department will send a disaster-assistance response team to Darfur by early August equipped with nutritionists, health personnel, and monitors to guarantee that the aid is properly applied. It will be the first time the United States has put an extended disaster presence in the war-torn country.

"This is one of the few times in any part of the world, including Rwanda, that we have acted on potential crimes against humanity or genocide and started looking at accountability measures while it is unfolding," said Roger Winter of USAID.

Longtime activists outside the Sudanese embassy want officials to remember Christians in south Sudan, too, where attacks in the country's oil-rich regions continue. "We want to see religious freedom for people in Darfur, and Sudanese everywhere," said Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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