Yesterday afternoon, Sudanese from around the United States gathered in front of the White House to rally for peace and justice in Darfur. Carrying posters that proclaimed “Restore Aid Now,” “Omar al-Bashir to ICC’ and “End the Genocide,” the energetic activists, made up of representatives from Athletes for Darfur, the Save Darfur Coalition, and Friends of Darfur in Portland, Maine, marched up and down the sidewalk for over an hour, chanting through megaphones and attracting significant tourist attention. Before the rally, the coordinator of the event, Niemat Ahmadi, Darfuri Liaison Officer for the Save Darfur Coalition, issued several statements on what she hoped to achieve through the demonstration. She said that the purpose of the rally was to urge President Obama to take urgent action in Darfur and that activists must “call for serious action” and “stand firm” to “get aid organizations back to Darfur.”
The rally was made up of a diverse group of people; not only were several activist organizations represented, but the marchers represented many age groups, races, and languages. But the rally became even more diverse when, in an interesting twist, activists raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka joined the Darfur activists. Chants changed from “stop genocide in Darfur” to “stop killing in Darfur and Sri Lanka” and “peace for all” as colorful signs protesting the horrors of both crises stood out impressively against the White House backdrop.
A discussion forum at the Institute for Policy Studies near the White House followed the rally. Emira Woods of the Institute moderated, and several prominent Sudanese activists spoke about the current humanitarian situation in Darfur and Southern Sudan. Omer Ismail, of the Enough Project and the Darfur Peace and Development Organization, spoke about the dangers of the approaching rainy season and the need to focus more on the root of the problems in Darfur, rather than just the consequences of the conflict. Ismail said that simply calling for the restoration of humanitarian groups in the region is not enough; that activists must “look at the bigger picture” and push the administration “to find a sustainable solution that can only come through negotiation.” Ismail pressed the importance of the implementation of the CPA and voiced his belief that “a holistic approach to the problems of Sudan is a must.”
William Deng, founder of the Southern Sudan Project, also spoke at the forum. He discussed the problem of child slaves in southern Sudan, and made the point that southern Sudan and Darfur share many challenges and should therefore work together to stop the violence.
Niemat Ahmadi also lent her voice to the discussion. She said that although several countries, including China, have interests in dealing with the Bashir government, the Obama administration breathes hope and the possibility of change into the Darfur conflict and international policy. Ahmadi also discussed the plight of women in Darfur, explaining that they are the most at-risk group in Darfur, especially now that aid organizations have been expelled and there are few health care opportunities for them.