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Day for Darfur: Tens of Thousands Rally in Global Day Against Genocide

StorySeptember 18, 2006
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Tens of thousands of protesters rallied around the world on Sunday in a global day against genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. The global day of protests was organized to coincide with the start of the United Nations General Assembly debate this week on Sudan. We speak with Darfur refugee Mohamed Yahya as well as the head of a Sudan divestment campaign. [includes rush transcript]

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied around the world on Sunday in a global day against genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. In New York, organizers said over 30,000 people gathered in Central Park. Speakers included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

  • Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State:
    “The world has to act and it must do so now because it’s not, the time is not on our side. The possibility exists that by this time next month, there will be no peacekeepers in Darfur or humanitarian workers, just killers and victims. That would be a failure and we cannot be complicit to it. To be clear, the issue is not about trying to impose U.S. western values on Sudan, for the protection of the civilians is a universal responsibility.”

Demonstrations and vigils were also held on Sunday in Berlin, Dubai, Dublin, London, Melbourne, Paris, Seoul and Stockholm and dozens of other cities. The global day of protests was organized to coincide with the start of the United Nations General Assembly debate this week on Sudan. Late last week the actor George Clooney testified before the United Nations Security Council.

  • George Clooney, actor:
    “My job is to come here today and to beg you on behalf of the millions of people who will die — and make no mistake, they will die -for you to take real and effective measures to put an end to this. Of course it’s complex, but when you see entire villages raped and killed, wells poisoned and then filled with the bodies of its villagers, then all complexities disappear and it comes down to simply right and wrong.”

Meanwhile the Sudanese government has openly rejected the United Nations” vote to authorize a peacekeeping force for Sudan. Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir spoke on Sunday at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Cuba.

  • Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, President of Sudan:
    “We are against invading forces, the 1906 resolution places Sudan under supervision because we are an independent nation and we don’t want colonialism to return to Sudan. In any cases we have African forces installed in our country within the African Union. We have reached a peace agreement in the south after a war which lasted twenty years.”

For more on Darfur we are joined by two guests:

  • Mohamed Adam Yahya, chairman of the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, an organization founded to promote the human rights of Darfuris in exile as well as in Sudan. He spoke at the rally in New York yesterday.
  • Jason Miller, national policy director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force, also a graduate student at the University of California.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m joined right now by two guests. Here in the studio at Stanford University in California is Jason Miller. He’s national policy director at the Sudan Divestment Task Force and a graduate student at U.C. San Francisco. He just graduated from Stanford a few months ago. In our New York studio is Mohamed Adam Yahya. He is chair of the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, an organization founded to promote the human rights of Darfuris in exile as well as in Sudan. He spoke yesterday at the rally in New York. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mohamed Yahya, let’s begin with you. What are you demanding right now?

MOHAMED ADAM YAHYA: First of all, thank you so much for Democracy Now! for having me here today. This is a wonderful opportunity. My demands right now, I am so optimistic and I feel that this resolution, which is passed last week that’s going to make a difference for the issue of Darfur, especially if that was implemented immediately and the United Nations take this opportunity to send the peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain what’s happening. At the end of the month, the African Union forces leave and the Sudanese government will not allow UN forces to enter.

MOHAMED ADAM YAHYA: In this case, the situation is going to be worse, and there is going to be a real disaster over there, because the government of Sudan right now threatening to send those African Union troops, almost about 7,000, who are already doing the job over there, but they are not sufficient to do the job perfectly, because Darfur is really double size of France, not only size of France, and it’s even bigger than Texas, a state here in the United States, and it is not enough for the African Union to do that job. And even though the government of Sudan trying to get them out of the country and to open the way to the troops from the government, which has already deployed in Darfur about 3,000 troops, this for the first time since this war began in Darfur to send this big amount of people over there, all those troops. And this is really creating a new disaster. The government has started in just two weeks, and even before this resolution passed in August 31st, they watched and launched those troops in Darfur, and they targeting those civilians in the villages and bombed them, and even they displaced so many recently from their villages.

AMY GOODMAN: Jason Miller, can you talk about the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, what the U.S. Congress is doing about Darfur?

JASON MILLER: The U.S. Congress major piece of legislation, as you mentioned, is the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Unfortunately, as it went through multiple iterations that passed through the House and Senate, it got watered down to some degree to the extent now that the current version that we have has dropped the possibility for a no-fly zone and secondly has also dropped the federal government’s explicit support for the divestment campaign that’s happening across the country at the state level.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is that divestment campaign?

JASON MILLER: So, the general concept of divestment is that right now there are no economic levers or pressure from the U.S. on Sudan, because the U.S. already had sanctions on Sudan because it’s a state sponsor of terrorism. But as U.S. citizens, we can exert pressure on companies that are significantly supporting the Sudanese government and allowing them to carry out their military campaign. And so, what we’re trying to do across the country is pull that economic lever so that Sudan has a buy-in into creating peace in Darfur. They have a worse alternative if they don’t create peace, and that is the economic fall-out of this divestment campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Like against Apartheid South Africa.

JASON MILLER: Very much similar to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is putting pressure, who pulled these sections of the bill out?

JASON MILLER: Well, the current Section 11, which helped to give federal protection to states divesting, was pulled out by Senator Lugar, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he just introduced that — pulled that revised version last Monday.

AMY GOODMAN: And who’s putting pressure on him?

JASON MILLER: We don’t know the exact people. We do know that the National Foreign Trade Council, which is a coalition of the largest multinationals with a presence in the U.S., is actively against the Sudan divestment campaign. We also suspect through our contacts in Congress that some members in the State Department are against the divestment campaign, because they view it as a turf war between the federal government and the state’s rights to do what they deem as foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: The Trade Council you mentioned saying that we’re not going to have foreign policy determined by the Mayor of Berkeley.

JASON MILLER: Right, that is the exact group that mentioned that, and their view is that only the federal government determines foreign policy. Our view is that this isn’t an issue of foreign policy, it’s a state’s right to invest based upon financial risk and moral factors that they deem okay for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the Trade Council suing Illinois?

JASON MILLER: The Trade Council is indeed suing Illinois for its divestment bill right now. And our worry is that if they are successful in Illinois, that will give cold feet to other state legislatures who are right now actively considering divestment.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Yahya, do you support a divestment campaign of companies involved with Sudan?

MOHAMED ADAM YAHYA: Absolutely, I support divestment, and especially those companies who are working on investing their money in a large scale in Sudan. This is really one of the bad things that are affecting those Darfurians and those victims, who are already victimized by the government of Sudan. And they use this money to fuel the war, to fuel the war, and as the government gets this money to use to get the weapons and to get, yes, a kind of, you know, yes, weapons of mass destruction and to use it against those civilians in Darfur. And we’re against this kind of act. And we encourage all those companies or even governments who are working in Sudan to divest immediately, because the money, this — we consider this money is bad money, because blood money is a bad money.

AMY GOODMAN: Jason Miller, what companies are doing business with Sudan?

JASON MILLER: It’s important to emphasize that our group is not interested in targeting all companies, because some are doing substantial good in Sudan, but the ones that are really helping the government without providing benefit to Sudan’s citizens tend to be oil and energy companies from China, Russia, India, Malaysia, and to some degree France. And not surprisingly, these are the same countries, especially China and Russia, that are impeding a lot of international action on the issue of Darfur. They’re protecting their commercial interests in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Yahya, we just have a few seconds. What at this point are you saying needs to be done? Do you believe that a U.N. peacekeeping force in Sudan will make the difference? Is it at all possible? We’re talking just a matter of days before the end of September, when the African Union forces leave.

MOHAMED ADAM YAHYA: Certainly, the peacekeepers, if deployed immediately to Sudan, they are going to make a difference. And our people over there, they are waiting for a long time to get those peacekeepers in Darfur. And they even demonstrated in their camps, those IDPs and those refugees in the cities, in the towns, in their shelters in Chad, they made a statement, and they said, “Welcome, welcome, U.S.A. Welcome, welcome, United Nations,” because the only way out from this really terrible war and this genocide to send the international peacekeepers, the foreigners, and this is going to — hopefully United States of America to lead this mission, and immediately, before those African Union withdrawn from Darfur. And this is the only solution, I believe.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us: Mohamed Yahya in our studio in New York, a Darfuri refugee, and Jason Miller here in Stanford University, where we’re broadcasting from today.

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