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Diplomats and Protesters Face Off at Washington’s Luxury Willard Hotel

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Diplomats and Protesters Face Off at Washington’s Luxury Willard Hotel

Posted by Enough Team on February 21, 2019

The Willard Intercontinental in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

On the night of January 23, 2019, Sudanese diplomats gathered at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., as the Sudanese Embassy hosted a celebration marking the 63rd anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain and Egypt. Also gathered outside were at least 200 protesters, mostly from the Sudanese diaspora, demonstrating against the event. The protesters voiced their disgust at the presence of General Mohamed Atta, currently the Chargé d’affaires at the Sudanese Embassy, as well as the fact that Sudanese public money was being spent on such an extravagant event while the country faces a deep economic crisis; The Willard is one of the finest luxury hotels in downtown Washington, just steps from the White House.

Parties and Protests

While Sudanese diplomats use public funds to celebrate their country’s national day in style, Sudan is currently in the throes of one of the worst economic crises since President Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989. The value of its currency has plummeted and the country is experiencing capital flight and extreme hyperinflation, second only to Venezuela. The crisis is making it difficult for Sudanese to buy everyday items like food and fuel. Tens of thousands of protesters continue to take to the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere around the country, demonstrating against the Bashir regime’s autocratic oppression and corrupt mismanagement and demanding the President’s resignation. Meanwhile, far away in Washington, holding an event in the Willard’s social spaces can cost anywhere between $6,750 and $50,800 depending on the size of the room rented. The Sentry’s sources confirmed that the event was standing cocktail-style, with non-alcoholic drinks and a “continental” food spread. By holding this lavish event at one of the fanciest hotels in town, those in charge at the Sudanese Embassy displayed a total disregard for the economic suffering and fierce political discontent on display every day in their homeland.

Atta in Attendance

Protesters at the Willard event also expressed anger at the attendance of Chargé d’affaires General Mohamed Atta, who is the former chief of Sudan’s notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), an entity responsible for gross human rights violations and violent repression of minority religious and ethnic groups. He also served as the Deputy Director of NISS from 2002 until his promotion to Director in 2009, putting him in significant positions of authority throughout the Darfur genocide. As NISS Director, he commanded Sudan’s notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF), cobbled together from former Janjaweed militias and used it to put down the 2013 anti-regime protests, during which over 200 peaceful demonstrators were killed. As Enough Project Founding Director and Sentry Co-Founder John Prendergast has written, it is astounding that General Atta was granted a diplomatic visa by the U.S. State Department last year. In fact, Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) responded to General Atta’s arrival in Washington with a letter in December to President Trump calling for his expulsion, writing, “Allowing Mr. Atta to serve as a diplomat in the United States is an affront to our values and our national interests… We urge you to withdraw Mr. Atta’s US visa… and make a determination as to whether Mr. Atta is subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.”

Protesters at home and abroad

As guests exited the Willard event, the protesters gathered outside chanted, “Shame on you” for celebrating at the expensive hotel while the Sudanese people struggle to provide for their families as a result of massive government corruption and economic mismanagement.

As many human rights-focused organizations have reported, the Sudanese security forces continue to use batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition to beat crowds across the country into submission. At least 45 protesters have been killed and hundreds arbitrarily detained by security forces for participating in peaceful demonstrations thus far. Doctors, journalists, professors, and opposition supporters are also being targeted for detention and interrogation. Shocking videos and images depicting the violence directed at protesters continue to circulate on social media. It is clear the Sudanese government does not believe it has to answer to its people.

The Enough Project and The Sentry call on the U.S. government to immediately suspend the ongoing talks to normalize relations with Sudan and remove it from the State Sponsors of Terror list. We again recommend that the State Department revoke Mr. Atta’s diplomatic visa and that he be expelled from the United States. The extravagance shown as Sudanese diplomats and their contacts shared hors d’oeuvres in an opulent setting perfectly exemplifies the causes of the crisis faced by the people of Sudan. While innocent blood is being spilled by their own security services thousands of miles away, Sudan’s elites care only about self-enrichment, at the expense of the country’s overall welfare. The people of Sudan deserve better, and Washington should not be an accomplice.