This feature series on Africa News Tonight is on the continuing humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Activists and protest groups around the world are trying to influence policy on Darfur, in western Sudan, where the central government is backing Arab militias called Janjaweed, who are fighting rebels and attacking the local population. The US government has labeled the attacks genocide. At a recent rally at the Sudanese embassy in Washington, the demonstrators heard from a prominent activist.
John Prendergast is a senior advisor with the International Crisis Group, an NGO committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. During the past six months he’s traveled twice to Darfur and to camps for Darfur refugees in eastern Chad.
Prendergast spoke with a number of the refugees and told the demonstrators about his conversations with women. He said, “I’ve sat with many women who’ve told me their familiar, yet still shocking, stories of rape and displacement and other horrors. Their message was very, very clear – please protect us.”
Prendergast says protection today means three things. The first is to get a UN force into Darfur. The second is to get a new peace deal. He says the current agreement, signed earlier this year, is not adequate, and the United States and the African Union need to lead the effort. The third, he says, is to punish the perpetrators of the genocide. Prendergast said that can be accomplished by making sure their behavior comes at a cost: “…and we can provide that cost by sanctioning their leaders, by referring their leaders to the International Criminal Court, going after the assets – all the money they’re hiding and stealing from the country - the oil wealth that belongs to the people of Sudan. There are many things we could do. Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t anything left that the United States can do.”
The International Crisis Group adviser said he’s been a witness, not only to the genocide in Darfur, but also to: “how your voices matter.”
Prendergast said, "I have worked in the State Department, I’ve worked in the White House, I’ve worked in the US Congress, and I know from very deep and personal experience that the only way – the absolute only way – that the United States government will respond to these kinds of issues, is if we turn up the heat…turn up the volume against genocide today."
The International Crisis Group adviser urged everyone at the rally to keep putting pressure on the Sudanese government. He said the way to do this is to continue writing and sending letters and to continue taking part in protest demonstrations.