Over 200 Sudan activists from across the United States joined in Washington, D.C., last weekend for a conference sponsored by Act For Sudan. A diverse group of attendees came to build relationships with one another, influence Members of Congress, hear from Sudanese diaspora and policy experts, and plan for collective next steps as a movement. Participants brought inspiration, vigor, and dedication, as well as unique perspectives and approaches to the table.
The program was interspersed with distinguished panelists and individuals sharing personal testimonies, and it demonstrated clearly that the Sudan activist movement is still full of energy and passion. The summit culminated in a lobby day on Monday, where over 100 participants met representatives and senators on Capitol Hill and asked for the U.S. government to pursue a new, comprehensive policy under the soon-to-be appointed new special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan—highlighting the fact that, with many changes in key roles within the administration, it is an opportune time to rethink and re-energize U.S. policy on Sudan.
Time was built into the conference for participants to engage with members of the Sudanese diaspora and hear their personal stories and recommendations, and to hear from representatives of various opposition parties dedicated to a positive future for Sudan. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the first chief prosecutor of the ICC, who issued indictments and arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, spoke and shared video footage of Bashir speaking of his intention to "leave the land of Sudan free of poisonous vermin." Attendees also had the opportunity between panels and workshops to make a "bone" and contribute to the One Million Bones installation, to be held on the National Mall in D.C. this June.
The major theme that emerged from the conference was the idea that the international community needs to pursue a comprehensive, holistic policy toward Sudan in order to have a meaningful, lasting impact. The grave atrocities in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile are not isolated incidents; they are inextricably linked to one another as well as to the North/South fighting. The clear sentiment expressed by almost every speaker in some way was that the foremost factor in addressing the problems in Sudan and common link to all atrocities taking place lies with the government in Khartoum.
Enough Project Co-founder John Prendergast spoke alongside former Special Envoy to Sudan Rich Williamson on the topic of "Policy and Action – Changing U.S. Government Policy." Prendergast laid out four objectives for a new U.S. policy approach on Sudan that better supports the aspirations and efforts of the Sudanese people fighting for change: 1) preparing for a democratic transition, 2) supporting economic viability, 3) preventing state disintegration, and 4) supporting future leadership. Much of the conference’s message supported this sentiment. "Now is the time for [U.S.] policy to more clearly invest in opposition and civil society and their support for a different future in Sudan," said Prendergast.
Also echoing the need for a comprehensive approach was Dr. Mukesh Kapila, the special representative of the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity, who formerly served as the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Sudan in 2003-2004, where he spoke out about the horrors of the Darfur conflict. He spoke with conviction about the need to hold all who contributed in some way to the case of Sudan accountable, and he made the point that there is no moral or practical way to negotiate with génocidaires. Dr. Kapila called attendees to action by closing with the powerful recognition that "a crime against humanity in one place is a crime against humanity everywhere."
Speaking as a participant, attendees left the Act for Sudan summit better informed about the current situation and reinvigorated to continue advocacy efforts in support of peace and stability in Sudan.
The conflict in Darfur began 10 years ago. To commemorate the anniversary—remember the lives lost, acknowledge the continuing struggle of the displaced, and recognize the ongoing effort to establish justice and find peace amid ongoing conflict—Enough and its partners will mark 10 days of activism. Please visit Darfur10.org and share the special site with your friends. Read the rest of the blog posts in this 10-day series.
Photo: Rich Williamson, John Prendergast, and Eric Cohen at the summit (Act for Sudan).