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Human Rights Award Recipient Appeals for Peaceful Co-existence in Sudan

  • Peter Clottey

Southern Sudanese from Abyei, who have resided in the north for 21 years, wait next to a bus which will transport them back to the Abyei oil region, in Khartoum (File Photo)

A winner of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award has encouraged residents in Sudan’s north and south to foster peaceful relations in the run up to the 9th January referendum.

Sarah Cleto Rial, director of programs at My Sister’s Keeper, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, told VOA there is a need for peaceful co-existence in Sudan, irrespective of the outcome of next month’s referendum.

“I was really astonished that I was selected and awarded. I felt really very happy and I couldn’t find a word to explain how happy I felt. It was really a prestigious recognition for me and for the work I do and with other women that I work together with,” said Rial.

Some analysts have expressed concern that the work of humanitarian organizations, including My Sisters Keeper’s, in Sudan could be adversely affected during the referendum process. But, Rial said humanitarian work should not be hampered.

“I personally feel that this work should continue because instead of working as women from within Sudan, who are from different states, we will be working as women from the two neighboring countries. And so, it will also be a relationship that we should continue building because we need (a) good relationship between the two countries in case of separation.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized Miss Rial, along with three others, for her contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights in the United States and abroad.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Award was established in 1998 by former President Bill Clinton in honor of the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who contributed to the passage of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights 62 years ago.

The award was presented from 1998 to the end of the Clinton Administration in 2001. In 2005, the American Rights at Work organization, issued the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

A southern Sudanese native, Rial directs the organisation’s programs on girls’ education and women’s literacy. She currently leads their peace-building initiative among women representing diverse regions, races, religions and ethnicities throughout Sudan and the Diaspora.

Rial said she will keep working to build peace in Sudan, despite fears that the much-anticipated referendum could lead to violence.

“It is very important that we have peaceful co-existence even between the two countries because we need to have good border relationship, and this is something I believe that women, as peace builders, can play a special role in influencing the (border) relationship to be a good relationship.”