The one question I want asked: The government of Sudan has expanded its ethnic cleansing campaign that began in Darfur into other regions including into the new country of South Sudan, despite attempts from Presidents Bush and Obama to stop it. As President, what would you do to stop this violence?
Recently, I was honored to write on behalf of Act for Sudan. This introductory piece appeared on Enough Said, the blog of the Enough Project. A colleague and mentor once told me the importance in advocacy for Africa and national security lies in the moral force of the arguments we make and how the facts support our position.
Being blind to injustice, or choosing to look away as genocide continues unabated because of domestic partisan loyalties is unconscionable to me. If you are so blinded by your partisan affiliation that you cannot join with others to do the right thing, then you are a part of the problem. My conscience compels action, a lifting of my voice and encouraging others to do the same.
Without further ado, here is my piece as it originally appeared here.
In Sudan, the rainy season has drawn to a close and the Khartoum regime has not wasted a moment expanding Omar al Bashir’s relentless campaigns of violence and forced starvation. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Blue Nile and South Kordofan brace themselves for more violence as Khartoum forces continue to mount relentless aerial and ground attacks responsible for violent and forcible displacement of innocent civilians. The government is also obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid. The Enough Project’s Omer Ismail and Amanda Hsiao’s reporting from the Sherkole refugee camp contained horrific tales of systemic rape and slaughter of innocents.
To address the deepening crisis, Act for Sudan, a bipartisan alliance of 45 organizations across the country, coordinated an open letter to President Barack Obama. Co-signed by 66 organizations, the letter asked the president to take swift action to protect the safety of Blue Nile, Nuba, and Darfuri populations. They make the recommendations, as Sudanese civilians have also made, to consider the implementation of a No Fly Zone and/or the destruction of Khartoum’s aerial assets utilized to target innocent civilians.
In the letter the groups note:
We are deeply concerned and distressed by the Obama Administration’s current Sudan policy in the face of ongoing government-sponsored genocide that has spanned more than two decades and resulted in the death and displacement of millions of people.
The eradication of slavery also is addressed in Act for Sudan’s letter to the president. Tens of thousands people remain enslaved in Darfur, Kordofan, and across Sudan.
Act for Sudan is an alliance of Sudanese and American activists with a common purpose—to end mass atrocities and genocide in Sudan. Its guiding values include a commitment to elevate the voices of Sudanese inside and outside of Sudan by viewing expert policy recommendations through the lens of the diaspora and the displaced, and to approach advocacy in a holistic manner, taking into account all relevant issues and regions in both the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. The alliance identifies the policies of the National Congress Party as the root cause of Sudan’s problems and is committed to advocate for what is necessary rather than what is politically correct or expedient. Together the alliance will advocate for the civil, political, social, and economic rights of the Sudanese people, including the opportunity for democratic transformation.
The time for U.S. leadership, working with our allies and the international community, to stand with the peoples of Sudan has long since passed. Sudan’s genocidal regime must be finally held accountable or “never again” will become “just one more time.”
Act for Sudan. Join us.
I am not naive. And if you had asked me 14 days ago what the most unlikely thing I would ever do is – I probably would have told you “a hunger strike.”
Yet, here I am. Midway through Day 13 of a hunger strike to show solidarity with my Sisters in Congo. What am I eating? Nothing. No solid foods. I am consuming water, water with lemon & honey, mulberry tea, and every other day – about two tablespoons of a yummy veggie broth. That’s all.
The National Journal, which I love and have been addicted to since the 90s, has a great story on Obama’s foreign policy inconsistencies. In particular focus is the “all hands on deck” (ahem, Secretary Clinton) approach to Libya because of Qaddafi’s attacks on his own people versus Sudan, and how despite promises to the contrary – President Obama is not living up to the standard he set out as Candidate Obama.
Barack Obama was clear about the African leader who had turned his troops on his own people: The dictator was creating an unacceptable refugee and humanitarian crisis, Obama said. “When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world, and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. And so, I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible.”
He went on to acknowledge that in a world full of violence, the United States cannot be everywhere. But it should be in certain places. “We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we can help mobilize the international community and lead,” Obama said.
Please click through to read Rebecca Kaplan’s entire story. For insight, she taps Eric Reeves, one of the most admired researchers and journalists covering the Sudan Crisis, Sam Bell of Save Darfur / Genocide Intervention Network and yours truly. Also, follow Miss Kaplan on Twitter.
abyei, africa, Brad Pitt. Not on our Watch, Cheadle, Clooney, Damon, darfur, GeoInt, Geospatial, geospatial intel, human rights, ICC, intelligence, Prendergast, Satellite Sentinel, sudan, voting, war crimes
The column below originally appeared in the New Ledger.
If you are not safe, you cannot be free. The place within us that yearns for equality and independence also sustains us, inspires courageous and brave acts in defense of freedom.
For more than 20 years, Sudan has waded in and out of civil war. After seizing power in a brutal coup, Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir ruled with the same iron fist. He gave safe haven to Usama bin Laden. He instituted sharia law. Black African Dinka, and other pastoral tribes, found the lands they had roamed for centuries with their cattle hosting the government’s proxy militias who often exacted a price, sometime in blood, for traversing these same lands. Bashir partnered with China to exploit the oil rich Abyei, South Kordofan and Southern Sudan regions. Darfur was subjected to genocide–more than two million Darfuris died as millions more were displaced.
During the first term of President George W. Bush, the human rights community watched all of the above in horror. They pressed, successfully, for the President Bush to declare what was happening in Darfur genocide. Groups successfully pressured state governments, universities and private sector corporations to divest from Sudan. In 2005, enough pressure had been brought to force Bashir to negotiate peace. The Bush Administration took the lead, and Comprehensive Peace Agreement became a reality.
A vote for South Sudan to decide on independence was a cornerstone of that agreement. All this week, Sudanese people walk, ride bikes and make arduous treks to polling places. In the next 48 critical hours, the 60% needed to define the referendum a success will be achieved. Then it will be even more difficult. As tensions and fighting break out across the Abyei region and reports of violence in Darfur increase, the need for professional and thoughtful Statecraft becomes ever more urgent.
President Obama’s re-engagement in bringing peace to Sudan over the last 120 days or so has been welcome but anemic. He deployed several diplomats and staffers, like Special Envoy Gration, as well as US Senator John Kerry. National Security Council staff, like Samantha Power and Gayle Smith, have been remarkably absent from public discourse – with rare exceptions.
Ending genocide is not a partisan matter. Former President Bush understood this, he engaged with rights groups like Save Darfur and was personally engaged in taking responsibility – though he often shirked the credit for the policies he enacted with regard to Africa that evenVanity Fair’s Graydon Carter have lauded. One wonders how the current President, regaled as an intellectual giant would choose two of the most daft, politically impotent men inside the beltway to confront a genocidal tyrant. The human rights community has been very magnanimous towards Obama, perhaps because they share so many domestic policy views. Further, the inclusion of voices across the aisle has been muted.
Enter George Clooney, along with John Prendergast of the Enough Project. They recently launched the Satellite Sentinel Project. An unprecedented collaboration, according to a recent press release noting partnerships with Google, YouTube, MTV, and MTVu “marks the first sustained, public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hot-spots and threats to security along a border, in near real-time (within 24-36 hours), with the aim of heading off humanitarian disaster and human rights crimes before they occur.”
The anti-genocide paparazzi following Clooney are being subjected to nasty critiques. Some note he doesn’t speak Arabic–but neither do some of the Black Africans who are animists or Christians that are victims of their Islamic president who has demonstrated that their deaths please him. The Satellite Sentinel Project is being funded by Clooney’s organization, Not On Our Watch, which he co-founded with Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub. To those attacking Clooney’s policy credentials, gravitas defines John Prendergast and the Enough Project. When it comes to Africa, few have been as rational and inclusive as Prendergast. Prendergast served as Director for African Affairs on the National Security Council during the Clinton era, has been in-country more times than anyone could count, with his personal story beginning in 1984. Clooney is wise to befriend a man with that portfolio of experience.
Perhaps what concerns some is the Satellite Sentinel project itself. If the project brings in high resolution images, infrared, or multi-spectre images, this is very different than other attempts in the past. If we have near-real time images, from Satellites and with corroborating evidence on the ground of human rights violations, governments will not be able to pretend the mass slaughter of Africans at the hand of an indicted genocidaire is not a possibility, or in process. They have combined innovation, passion and justice into a whole new animal. This isn’t your regular technology writ large. This isn’t just geeks and hippies from Silicon Valley. This is the privatization of Statecraft. This is next-generation diplomacy and peacekeeping. This is what Americans do when the government is so weighed down by bureaucracy that it’s no longer flexible or effective.
Clooney is the face of the Satellite Sentinel project. The cute name “anti-genocide paparazzi” says more about our nation’s obsession with celebrities than it does about Clooney turning the lens to something else. Is it really so unfathomable that Clooney is following his conscience? Leading? Or is it more likely that so many who have been toiling in the bureaucracy that usually comes with statecraft, foreign policy, legislation and politics in generals are just unsettled by the All-American entrepreneurial spirit manifesting itself in a new way.
This is what Americans are all about–creating solutions. As Lewis Carroll wrote in Through the Looking Glass, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” And so it is with the Satellite Sentinel. A private citizen, global celebrity and a man who has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the genocide in Darfur and the horrific circumstances that pervade all of Sudan will, with the assistance of Prendergast, Google, YouTube and MTV, among others that will be announced in due course, make it all about the optics.
Elizabeth Blackney is a media & communications strategist, political emissary, confidante and commentator. She is the Founder & Director of GeNoticed, an organization dedicated to helping Africa’s women and children find justice and freedom.
Here’s the thing, human rights is not something that should be politicized. Real people with lives, with other real people who love them, exist outside the confines of our modern, clean homes in Western Civilization. Doing the right thing by those folks is not something that should be difficult. After all – that’s why we pass the plate every Sunday morning. To help others, to give freely of ourselves.
But those gifts shouldn’t be the faithful equivalent to outsourcing jobs. We can’t outsource our humanity.
Currently, I’m writing on Morocco. And Sudan. And Congo. And other dismal places with horrible problems. I have found such an abundance of love, of human strength and faith. The moral force of doing what is right compels me to do more.
I’m waiting on calls to be returned from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Two organizations that I have vehemently disagreed with in the past….Guantanamo, ahem. But alas, as there are no right-leaning organizations doing the same work – I will call the folks with skin in the game.
It is fascinating to depart the full-time political game for something that, to me, is more meaningful. But just so my readers know, I still have some pretty strong opinions about the midterm elections and the prospects for 2012. I promise to share them soon.
In the meantime, remember that we must live right and be worthy if we are to expect worthy partners in love, in business and in life.
First off – let’s note that the Prop 8 case was brought by a Republican plaintiff. Argued by Republican Ted Olson. And decided by a judge who was appointed to the Federal Court by a Republican president. Update: Judge Vaughn Walker was outed as gay. Then admonished by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. A full court press ensued, read more here.
Recently, I wrote about my knack for Pot Stirring (read that first, if you’re likely to knee-jerk at a pro-gay marriage piece) when it comes to the establishment GOP versus the establishment & grassroots evangelical conservative movement. The issue of gay marriage, or civil unions, or “protecting marriage” seems to be a place where some simply want to make a stand. Not just a stand – but a bare-knuckled, knock down, drag-out (pun intended) fight at the OK Corral. It’s Tombstone time.
I don’t get it. Many of the conservative arguments I’ve heard are so bigotry-laden, it defies description. As I have said before – given the Federal governments repeated failures to manage even the simplest of tasks, there seems to be no upside in asking the Feds to manage marriage as an institution. Some of the folks squawking about “limited government”- to include taxes, spending, health care, Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, appropriations and virtually every oversight issue seem to be the same folks who want the Federal government to take control of one of the most personal decisions each of us makes.
Ask anyone who has a fiance or spouse that is a foreign national what the K Visa process is like. It takes FOREVER. It is inefficient, it’s painstakingly ridiculous and tough on the relationship. Trust me on this – if your love & relationship survives the K Visa process – the 50 years you have together will be blissfully uncomplicated. The payoff is immeasurable, life with the man or woman we love is such a beautiful thing. However, the government’s (mis)management of the process should give everyone clamoring for a federal amendment to the Constitution pause.
Yes, I am aware that the Republican platform calls for all kinds of things. No, I am not aware of a single presidential candidate from either party that gave a damn about what the party extremists, er, party base, thinks or inserts into the platform. Not in my lifetime anyway. It is an ugly and oft unspoken truth that the establishment gives the base the platform as a cookie, so they have a snack on which to raise money and organize. Don’t get me wrong, in general principles, establishment folks do believe in the same issues – but we tend to be a bit more pragmatic than those demanding ideological purity.
Tell ya what, I’ll submit to the ideological purity exam right after y’all stop screwing around on your wives, stop binge drinking in the hotel bar at every state or RNC party function, come out of the closet, stop whoring around, stop being racist, homophobic and general hypocrites. Oh, and when you stop the junkets to the Mariana Islands to check out the working (girls) conditions. Also, kindly please stop spending my tax dollars on creating temples in your name – you know, bridges, post offices, etc. When those tasks in all the varying degrees have been accomplished – then we can talk turkey about “protecting marriage.” And how it is you have the moral consciousness to do so, above all others, who don’t whore around. Who don’t binge drink at party functions. Who don’t act like morally depraved hypocrites.
Keep your vows, first. Then you can judge me for abiding by the Constitution. I actually believe the “All men are created equal” line. That means one group is not allowed to take away rights from another group. There is no State-sanctioned religion. So, much as I appreciate your religion does not allow for gay marriage – mine doesn’t either – all one has to do is mosey-on-down-the-road to find a church and a pastor who will sanction marriage between two men, two women, or a man and a woman.
I am comfortable enough in my own skin to know that the man I love, who loves me, will always be mine. I also know that two men or two women getting married has no effect on my union. Our union has everything to do with us, with a life we co-create that is “ours.” The more people who unite and define that for themselves, with honor and integrity, the better off our society will be.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, more than 40 states prohibited interracial marriage. President Obama’s mother and father would have been barred from marriage. Ask anyone who entered into such a relationship before 1990 if it was difficult, they’ll have stories. Ask folks who did so in the 1960s or before – and you will have your socks scared right off your feet. Prejudice and bigotry are the evil minions of ignorance.
Having a genuine religious objection to gay marriage is normal. I converted to Roman Catholicism several years ago, and it saddens me that my church has not yet reconciled with homosexual members of its congregation. It took hundreds of years to correct the serious wrong done to Mary Magdalene when she was painted a whore. Part of my daily prayers include reconciliation with the Holy Father for all who wish to be closer to Him, and to Jesus Christ. I would never pretend I speak for Christ, or that He speaks through me — I am far too ordinary. But I believe He loves all of us equally, I don’t believe He would turn away from anyone of us if we came to Him honestly.
But that is faith. The state has no religion. Other churches do sanction gay marriages, and I am thankful. One of my favorite people in the world, one of my best friends, and a man who I admire to the highest order, is Charles. He is gay, he is in love and if he and his boyfriend wanted to marry — I would be honored to attend. I want happiness for him.
I want the federal government to worry about the Constitution. For instance, it would be nice if the Congress managed the 14 separate appropriations bills they are required to produce, rather than the ridiculous omnibus bills we are forced to accept year after year after year. (That particular offense is true of both parties) It would be nice if the Executive Branch would find a way to be more efficient, perhaps beginning with a rough, realistic approach with regard to the cost-benefit analysis for America’s schoolchildren and the rather foolhardy Department of Education. I am also perfectly happy with the same scalpel carving out overspending, and the bizarre discretionary funds being spent at an always record pace at the Departments of Defense, Labor, Commerce and Energy. Interior too.
Perhaps after that set of Herculean tasks is completed satisfactorily, I might relent on my thoughts about the meddling of government in the legal contract between two people, that codifies their personal commitment to each other. I know folks who have inter-faith relationships, one a Catholic – the other a Jew, or an Anglican, or whatever combination… does the evangelical movement wish to prohibit these as well? Do they want gays to sit in a separate section of restaurants?
I have to believe that many of them do not understand that what they are arguing for is essentially, “Separate but Equal.” As a girl who grew up in the early 80s, in suburban Atlanta…in Marietta, Chamblee, Smyrna and Dunwoody – I will say this: the post-Segregation era was not just ugly but FUGLY. The twenty years following the Civil Rights Act didn’t make things perfect and Stepford-esque in a day. It was hard work. During my freshman or sophomore year, Henderson High School (which doesn’t exist anymore) was shut down because of a inter-racial fight. Two very popular athletes, both from good families, fought over something. A girl, if memory serves. One was black, the other white. We were in a nice, middle & upper middle class neighborhood. (at the time, haven’t been there in 20 years)Tensions were high, the police came. The school was on lock down. Cooler heads prevailed, everyone went home. Ignorance and fear ruled that say.
Frankly, the whole thing was stupid. My take at the time was simple: Get over yourselves already.
My take on the gay marriage issue is pretty much the same. But it comes with a catch: why do they want to take rights away from gays? who is next on their agenda? Women? Some will be angry at what I wrote there – but, you know, JD Hayworth has been talking about people marrying animals as a result of gay marriage. Talk about crazytown. They bring up polygamy too. Also absurd. 1+1=2. Nothing more.
Life has so many opportunities, so many blessings, so many adventures and challenges. Love, honesty, fidelity and faith are virtues we should teach our children. Fairness, justice too. Justice is not a dirty word, it is endemic to our nation’s founding. The injustices suffered by our antecedents led to the Revolutionary War. It led to a war cry for freedom, equality and justice for all.
Let us honor them by honoring each other.
For another take, read Jason Pye’s piece at United Liberty. Good stuff.