SAAF Reflections ~ By Virgil Bodeen
I thought I would reflect a bit on the Hear Her Voice conference since it was such a productive two days. The capable and passionate women from Jewish World Watch in Los Angeles who led the conference showed what strong, smart and committed leaders they are.
So much information and so many ideas were shared, a lot of optimism and pessimism, a lot of hope and discouragement. I’ll try to summarize some of the sessions and mention some conclusions. I’ll focus on Sudan and South Sudan, though the conference also dealt in depth with Congo.
Panel on Women in Conflict. Most of the voices were new to me. Lee Ann De Reus from Penn State in this panel asked how women deal with the layer of trauma that results from violence. She said they must find hope in the families and other vibrant relationships that survive. Darfuri Niemat Ahmadi told of her experience and the atrocities she’s seen and insisted that “genocide is today.”
Mukesh Kapila, former UN official in Sudan. In his keynote address, he spoke of women who had changed his life—grandmother, teacher, Indian nuns in Rwanda, and the Darfuri woman who came to his UN office and shamed him into working harder, speaking up, and being a rebel, a “modern resistance worker.”
He gave us some guidelines: be well informed, do your research and analysis; be vigilant, not seduced or discouraged; take personal responsibility; get organized with others for more impact; remain humble and optimistic.
In the question and answer period, it was said that women’s issues are community issues and must involve men as well as women, since most of women’s problems are caused by men. Mukesh insisted that you can’t compromise on things that are wrong. You have to challenge harmful cultural practices. It’s always the women and children who suffer, he said. Also, he surmised that the days of American intervention are gone. Humility would be a good idea, he said, and the US is more effective in partnerships when other countries assert themselves and share the burden.
Princeton Lyman, former US Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. The former ambassador reviewed Sudanese history since Bashir took power in 1989. He said the problems in Darfur that caused the eruption of genocide in 2003 remain unresolved, the fundamental issues remain unchanged, the same regime remains in power in Khartoum. He asked what to do with Bashir but had no answer.
Lyman said there will never be real progress with Bashir in power. The US is doing good humanitarian work but not making much political progress. There is no accountability in Khartoum; foreign aid mostly supports Bashir, who keeps harassing South Sudan. Bashir uses both promises of peace and justice to hold onto power.
In South Sudan, the revolution did not result in a democratic government. There is no democratic political structure. South Sudanese must realize that accountability, justice and reconciliation are necessary for peace. And, civil society is not enough: democratic movements must be prepared to govern. What to do?
~Advocate stronger UN Security Council support for the peacekeepers.
~Press for an end to conflict in the South in the short term.
~Encourage the diaspora to get involved, press for aid to be consistently delivered for the long term.
Other panelists said we must support independent media like Radio Dabanga in Sudan to open up society and end repression. They said it will be a long struggle with such a repressive government. There is a lack of a national identity, one said.
Peace and Justice Panel. In this panel, recommendations for US action in Sudan and Congo, some mechanisms were cited: truth telling, forgiveness, reparations; appealing to the ICC in cases of impunity, such as Bashir, for example; lustration for removing perpetrators; and especially, insisting on the rule of law to build long term stability. The consensus was that peace without justice won’t last long. Only some mediators and donors see Bashir as a partner for peace. For most people, prosecuting Bashir is the only way to peace.
Additional advocacy was called for in support of HR 1692, the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act of 2013, which would be our main message to House members during our lobbying the next day.
Enough Project Co-founders, Gayle Smith and John Prendergast. The two came on as a mutual admiration society, but then got down to business.
Gayle said the problems seem much harder when you’re inside the government, trying to weave many interests together. She asked how do you highlight our interests in Africa, get a robust foreign policy and foreign aid budget, when there’s not much of a constituency out there for these things?
Talking about working for change within the government, she said it’s easy to apply pressure. But, she asked, how do you create incentives for people to do the right thing when they‘re angry and polarized? Short term, reflexive actions are likewise easier than long term policies and strategies. What do you do today to make things different 20 years from now?
Gayle brought up the Atrocities Prevention Board, the APB, which operates out of the White House and spans many agencies. The APB has elevated the issue of atrocities and genocide and has been well received as the place to go when atrocities are on the rise.
John spoke of the legacy of Rwanda: more and quicker attention to atrocities, as in the Central African Republic recently; more press coverage, getting out ahead of a looming calamity.
Gayle, on getting our government’s attention on South Sudan, said:
~Don’t be shy with criticism, yet give credit where it is due and thank people for their efforts.
~Focus on ways to heal the people’s profound and embarrassing trauma. Talk about the horrific fighting; be vocal about it; bring up the accountability and responsibility the South Sudan Government must show.
~Recommend means to give voice to the South Sudanese people’s aspirations for their country.
~The US military should move humanitarian aid and connect with other forces for security and humanitarian work as well as help develop a disciplined, professional military and work for security sector reform and assistance.
~Darfur is far from resolved. Put it in the larger picture of Sudan, the present context, but keep it alive. The issue is centralized power in Khartoum instead of the diversity of the nation. Now there is a movement by people who can come together across the country, who can advocate to the media and give them credit for covering Darfur.
US Congressmen Royce and McGovern. Congressman Ed Royce, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, said sustained engagement is essential. We must keep our focus on genocide in Darfur, Sudan and South Sudan. We must rally NGOs and the international community, the House and the Senate to get results. He said South Sudan leaders are unwilling to do what’s necessary for peace and reconciliation. The House wrote to President Kiir that future U.S. cooperation is in jeopardy if the current crisis continues. He feels that Bashir is weakening, but Sudanese activists and everyone else there must be serious about responsible, positive change in Khartoum.
Congressman James McGovern, who introduced H.R. 1692, the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act of 2013, told us our presence on the Hill is vitally important. His bill has 108 co-sponsors now, thanks to our advocacy. He wants the US to work with democratic voices in Sudan and South Sudan to bring the horror to an end.
OUR WORK IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT, HE SAID. WE HAVE TO SPEAK UP.
March 10, 2014