Though the atrocities of Sudan’s militant Islamic regime have been defined as genocide in a U.S. House resolution, activists say the situation has not received nearly the attention given to those who suffered under South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Modeling the popular anti-apartheid movement, a church-led coalition has invited members of Congress, a Jewish contingency and secular advocates to join them during a seven-day prayer vigil beginning next Wednesday in Washington, D.C., on behalf of southern Sudanese persecuted by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front government.
“We believe that the people of southern Sudan face even more serious oppression [than South Africans] that demands worldwide concern and intervention,” the Church Coalition for a New Sudan said in a statement. The alliance is organized by the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington.
Islamic militants have declared a jihad against the mostly Christian and animist south that has killed more than 2 million people and displaced about 5 million since 1983.
Bombs fall as Peace Act advances
The Washington event comes amid developments on the Sudan Peace Act, a bill activists have been promoting as a way to press Khartoum to end its war on the south.
Meanwhile, Khartoum forces yesterday dropped four bombs on the south Sudan town of Lui, the home of a hospital run by Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian relief organization headed by Rev. Franklin Graham. The town of about 7,000 has no military targets or personnel. The hospital is the only facility for an estimated 400,000 people in the region. In an interim agreement facilitated by U.S. Special Envoy John Danforth earlier this year, the Khartoum government promised not to bomb civilian targets.
The House version of the Sudan Peace Act, which passed 422-2, contains an amendment that prevents foreign companies listed in U.S. capital markets from doing business with Sudan’s oil industry, widely seen as the cash cow fueling Khartoum’s war on the south. American companies already are barred from working in Sudan.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., is opposed by the White House and Wall Street and appears to be dead as House and Senate members try to work out a compromise agreement this week.
“Those capital markets sanctions would have brought them to their knees, but we couldn’t get it through the Senate,” Bachus told the Birmingham News.
The compromise version sets a deadline of six months for a peace agreement to be reached, the News said. If there is no deal, the U.S. will oppose international loans to Sudan, downgrade diplomatic relations, deny Khartoum access to oil revenues by diverting the money to a monitored trust fund and send $100 million in nonmilitary aid to the southern Sudanese.
Sudan activists considered the Bachus amendment, with its capital market sanctions, to be the real “teeth” of the Sudan Peace Act, but hope that the compromise agreement will serve as equally strong motivation for Khartoum to make a peace deal.
“We are seeing movement, and I am very optimistic, frankly, that we might be able to get a Sudan Peace Act signed and passed by the president,” said Mariam Bell, public policy director for the Wilberforce Forum, an institute affiliated with Prison Fellowship Ministries. ‘My hope is that he would sign it sometime during this vigil time, perhaps on Sept. 24, when some of his Midland, Texas, friends are in town.”
Bell said the White House, whose opposition to the capital market sanctions helped stall the bill, received a copy of the plans for the prayer vigil.
“I think that kind of woke them up a little,” said Bell. “It’s given some energy to our stalwarts in the House and Senate to continue to push this forward, knowing that there are a lot of people focusing their attention on what’s happening in Sudan.”
Bell counts among the congressional “heroes” on Sudan, along with Bachus, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who has visited Sudan on numerous occasions as a physician.
Village huts on the mall
Organizers of the vigil, Sept. 18-24, have scheduled events from 12-2 p.m. and from 7-9 p.m. each day, mostly at Galvez Park, across from the State Department. Along with prayer, it will include singing, speakers and appearances by members of Congress, who will read rolls of Sudanese martyrs and slaves.
College students and young adults will hold an all-night vigil on the last day, led by a campus group from Princeton University. They plan to march from Galvez Park to the Lincoln Memorial where they will pray through the night, then hold an early morning worship service.
Organizers hope to set up life-size replicas of two Sudanese huts on the mall, near the Washington monument. One would have a burned roof to illustrate what many villages attacked by Khartoum militia have experienced.
Sept. 20 will have an anti-slavery focus, led by the American Anti-Slavery Group and Christian Solidarity International. Barb Vogel, a Colorado schoolteacher whose students have raised thousands of dollars to free Sudanese in slavery, and Francis Bok, a Sudanese enslaved for ten years, will participate.
The churches involved in the vigil are part of a broader coalition of unusual partners, including the Family Research Council and the Congressional Black Caucus.
“It took a while to get the Congressional Black Caucus engaged in this issue,” Bell told WND, “but they have come around, and for that we’re grateful.”
Bell noted that Republican Rep. Dick Armey of Texas appeared with Rep. Charles Rangel of New York at a joint press conference on Sudan last year.
“We’re seeing movement politically,” said Faith McDonnell, director of the Church Coalition for a New Sudan, “but we’re also seeing just the movement of the American people to say that we want this genocide to end.”
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