The rally brought celebrities, faith leaders, human rights activists, politicians, Darfuri refugees, and other genocide survivors together in a crowd numbering tens of thousands of people on the National Mall. Demonstrators demanded immediate action to stop the worsening genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
Rally participants brought 750,000 postcards addressed to President George W. Bush, urging him to use the power of his office to fulfill his February 17 pledge to support a stronger multi-national force to protect the Darfuri people and for Congress to provide the resources to do so.
"We are inspired that the American people and our political leaders have finally found their voices three years after this horrific genocide started," said Rev. Gloria E. White-Hammond, MD, chairwoman of the Million Voices for Darfur campaign. "Today we delivered three-quarters of a million postcards to our nation's capital to demand that our leaders stop the slaughter of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Darfur."
Since 2003, the Sudanese government and its Janjaweed militia allies have killed more than 300,000 people in Darfur, and have left 3.5 million Darfuris dependent on foreign aid for their survival.
Attacks have increased in recent months, leading to tens of thousands of new arrivals at refugee camps in Darfur and across the border in Chad. The conflict pits the Arab Janjaweed against the black African population of Darfur. The conflict is perpetuated by intensified competition over the dwindling natural resource base -- arable land and water.
The UN World Food Program (WFP) said Friday that a severe shortage of funds has forced it to make drastic cuts in food rations to displace Darfuris starting today.
By reducing the daily rations to as little as 1,050 kilocalories, half the minimum daily requirement of 2,100 kilocalories per person, WFP says its limited food stocks will last longer during the ‘hunger season,' the annual period from July to September when needs are the greatest before the next harvest.
"This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Haven't the people of Darfur suffered enough? Aren't we adding insult to injury?" said James Morris, WFP Executive Director, asking donors to come forward with more money to feed displaced Darfuris.
"Food must come first. We cannot put families who have lost their homes and loved ones to violence on a 1,000 calorie a day diet. But we have been pushed into this last resort of ration cuts in Sudan so we can provide the needy with at least some food during the lean season," said Morris.
"Every day we fail to stop this genocide is another day of hell for the Darfuri people," White-Hammond said at the rally. She has made one trip to Darfur and seven trips into war-torn southern Sudan. "It's the world's moral duty to do everything in our power – including citizen action, diplomatic pressure and even military intervention – to save the millions of Darfuri people still at risk. If we fail to act, their blood will be on all of our hands."
The rally was sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition, a coalition of 165 faith-based, advocacy, and humanitarian organizations representing over 130 million Americans.
Rally speakers included Academy Award-winning actor George Clooney, who just visited the war-torn Darfur region; Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer; U.S. Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, co-sponsor of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act that would bring sanctions against Darfur genocide perpetrators; and U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who recently led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Darfur.
The rally concluded a 21,000 mile, 22-city photo exhibit and speaking "Tour for Darfur: Eyewitness to Genocide" hosted by former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle, the former U.S. representative to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur from September 2004 to February 2005.
Just hours after the five U.S. Representatives and six religious, international development and student leaders were arrested, representatives of the Save Darfur Coalition met with President Bush at the White House.
"I just had an extraordinary conversation with fellow citizens from different faiths, all of who have come to urge our government to continue to focus on saving lives in Sudan," Bush said. "They agree with thousands of our citizens -- hundreds of thousands of our citizens -- that genocide in Sudan is unacceptable."
The President said the United States "strongly supports" a United Nations resolution to increase African Union (AU) troops on the ground in Darfur.
"I believe it's important for the United States to be involved, and the best way to be involved with the AU troops is through NATO. "I've worked with the Secretary General of NATO and our allies in NATO to provide a firm response to the actions that are taking place on the ground," Bush said. "I want the Sudanese government to understand the United States of America is serious about solving this problem."
On Sunday, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California attended the rally in San Francisco, held as part of the National Day of Conscience for Darfur. "Twelve years ago, the world stood by as almost one million people were slaughtered in Rwanda," she told the crowd. "We must never, NEVER let another Rwanda take place. Never again and not on our watch."
"On an average day in Darfur tens of thousands of innocent civilians face the threat of torture, starvation, rape, and being uprooted from their homes, families, and livelihoods," said Lee. "Already an estimated 400,000 have died, nearly three million have been displaced, and millions more have been terrorized in the ongoing genocide that is being carried out by the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed."
The hot, dry lands of Darfur have been devastated by the conflict, and even when crops grow the conflict has prevented harvest, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The 2005 harvest was better than the previous year, but much of it was not collected due to increased insecurity during the second half of 2005. During July and August, the situation was further exacerbated by desert locust infestations.
During 2006, an estimated 500,000 households will be assisted with agricultural inputs and various animal health care and husbandry services, the FAO says. Pastures will be rehabilitated and efforts will be made to amend agro-pastoral conflicts.
Assistance is required to restock approximately 40 percent of the domestic animals of Darfur's rural farmers who have suffered losses as a result of drought and armed conflict.
Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission
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April 30, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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