Human rights groups are calling on the Organization of the Islamic Conference, meeting in Dakar this week, to push for an end to violence in Sudan's Darfur region. Activists and religious leaders say the world Islamic body has a responsibility to stop attacks on civilians. Nancy Palus reports from Saly, Senegal, where rights activists and Islamic scholars gathered on Sunday.
Human rights activists say this is the first time civil society groups are formally taking their concerns about Darfur to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC.
The OIC is holding its 11th summit in Dakar this week.
Amir Osman, the international advocacy director for the Washington-based group called Save Darfur, says he believes the Islamic group can have influence.
"It is unique and important because this is the first civil society and scholars' initiative around the OIC," said Osman. "And we know the importance of this institute and the member states are all the Muslim countries around the world."Osman says pressure must be applied from the summit in the direction of the Sudanese government.
"They have a voice and they can clearly speak to the government of Sudan and advise them to stop killing their own citizens," he said. "They have influence over the government of Sudan and if they are willing to use this influence we will see an end to the conflict."
Activists blame the government for backing Arab militias that have rampaged across Darfur, killing tens of thousands of people, and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee. Sudanese government officials deny they target civilians.
The participants in Sunday's talks signed a declaration stating all sides to the Darfur conflict bear responsibility for the widespread abuses of humanitarian and human rights law.
A religious leader in Darfur, Allami Mahmoud Ousmane, says the people of Darfur feel the Muslim world is neglecting them.
He says he is here not only to remind the leaders of the OIC but also ordinary individuals in the Islamic community, what he calls the umma, that they are not sufficiently addressing the human suffering in Darfur, to a point that victims can feel they are concerned.
The president of an African human rights group called RADDHO, Alioun Tine, says the umma must act on the problem of Darfur.
"We cannot understand in a country like Sudan, when there is a conflict between Muslims, and we see the indifference of the umma, the Islamic umma," said Tine. "I think that it is not acceptable. I think the time is up to end this kind of indifference."
But another human rights activist was not optimistic. He says he doubts that the leaders gathering in Dakar will seriously take up the question of Darfur.
Habott Sid Ahmed, head of a human rights group in Mauritania, says he does not believe that what he calls "this club" gathering in Dakar in the name of Islam will take serious decisions on Darfur.
But, he concludes, activists must continue to call on them to ensure protection of human rights around the world.