Hundreds gathered on Monday in front of the U.N. Headquarters in New York City to demand that the Sudanese government move forward with a proposed referendum in the disputed region of Abyei on the border with newly-independent South Sudan. Just a few days before Sudan’s President and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir is scheduled to arrive at the U.N. General Assembly, protesters voiced their desire for Bashir to be arrested on arrival.
In 2011, as the South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for independence from Sudan, Abyei’s own referendum was never allowed to take place. More than two years after the South declared its independence, the people of Abyei are still waiting to decide their future. Meanwhile, violence continues to plague the region as the central government in Khartoum incites tensions between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka, who call the region their traditional homeland.
At the rally, Abyei Ngok Community Chairman Achual Alor Bulabek hopes the referendum will be a chance for Abyei citizens to move on.
“There have been so many obstacles [to the independence vote],” he says, “but it is our right to exercise this referendum.”
For Khartoum, there is much at stake in October. About 75% of the country’s oil wealth was lost with the secession of South Sudan, and Abyei is one of the only profitable regions remaining under Sudan’s control.
The looming visit of Bashir to the U.S. captured much of the protesters’ attention on Monday and on Tuesday as well. Columbia University Professor David L. Phillips garnered loud cheers as he announced his recommendation for action upon Bashir’s arrival, “I have a message for Commissioner Kelly of the New York Police Department, let him come to JFK and let’s have some New York cops there to greet him and let’s arrest him and throw him into Rikers Island…three or four weeks in Rikers Island will teach Mr. Bashir a lesson.”
At Abyei Referendum Rally at the UN on September 23, 2013, Columbia University Professor David L. Phillips recommends a plan for Bashir’s arrest. Source: Youtube
On Tuesday, the Darfur People’s Association of New York organized a rally to express grave concern on Bashir’s potential travel. Outside of the U.N., they urged the United Nations, United Nations Security Council, and the United States to stand for justice for the victims of genocide in Darfur and accountability of perpetrators, through exploring every possible opportunity to deny Bashir entry to the U.S. and in the event he does enter, to arrest him while in the country.
On Thursday, September 26, another Sudanese-led protest will take place on 47th St. between 1st and 2nd (Dag Hammarskjold Plaza). All are welcome to participate.
Over the next 24 hours and following days, the world will be watching to see if Bashir goes forward with his plan to attend the U.N. General Assembly and what, if any, plans will be taken to arrest or prevent that travel from occurring.