After the Referendum: The Human Rights Situation in Sudan with Bernard Schalscha, Juan Branco, John Dau, Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

A panel including French lawyer and former President of ‘Jeune République,’ Juan Branco; Sudanese activist and one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” John Dau; senior UN correspondent at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga; journalist and activist who served as General Secretary of ‘Collectif Urgence Darfour,’ Bernard Schalscha, address the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.

Full remarks

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

We’re going to begin this panel; we’re going to be studying the referendum, which took place in the Sudan. This panel is made up of three people. John Dau, sitting to my left, who will be talking to us about his harsh journey – he has had an unusual past and he will telling us about that. We will be hearing from Mr. Bernard Schalscha, who will be speaking to us about the situation in Darfur. He is a French journalist based in Paris. And we have Mr. Juan Branco, who has carried out a number of tasks in the International Criminal Court with Mr. Luis Moreno Blanco. And he will be telling us more about legal aspects, in particular concerning President al-Bashir. 

So to begin, we will give Mr. John Dau the floor. He will be talking to us about his life. His life represents what a number of people in the south of Sudan have been living through for many years now. Please John. 

John Dau

Thank you very much Kristen for your nice introduction. I appreciate it. By the way, this is my first time in Geneva. Yesterday, when I was coming I was so excited to be here because not only that it’s a place where many good things happen, but I heard of the name Geneva when I was maybe, when I was 15 years old in Ethiopia and in a refugee camp in Kenya and back in Sudan. The name Geneva Geneva, it kept ringing all the time and now here I am. So I am very glad to be here.

First of all, my name is John Dau, one of the Southern Sudanese, which is called the so-called Lost Boy of Sudan. We actually got that name from somebody else. I don’t know who actually named us as Lost Boys of Sudan. Today I’m not a boy, I’m a grown-up person. But the name is still there. But let me – I want to talk to you about why people call us the Lost Boys of Sudan. I’m going to tell you by explaining a little bit [of] my life story, how I became and got to where I am today. It happened when I was 12 years old in our country in Sudan. Most of you do not know about Sudan. Sudan has been known [for] a few things. One, as the country that has been divided into two by the longest river in the world, the River Nile. Number two, it is the largest country in Africa. Last, which is number three, it’s the country that has been actually fighting each other for many years. War started in the 18th century, another war in 1955. That war in 1955 ended in 1972. Another war started in 1983 and ended in 2005. Yet another war is going on now in our country. That one was started in 2003 in the region of Darfur and it’s still going on now. 

I’m going to talk to you about the war that started in 1983 until 2005. It actually was the war report between the North and South. And what happened was that the government, the successive government in the North, have been actually trying to kill anybody they can find, and so war broke out between the North and South. There was a rebellion in the South of those who have been trying to resist the mistreatment of the government. So it happened when I was a little boy. In 1983, I was a little boy taking care of my father’s cows, no schools, taking care of goats. There were no schools in southern Sudan, especially in the village where I was growing up. Then the word didn’t get to my village until I was 12 years old in 1987. This is when my Village was attacked, and my village was attacked when we were sleeping. My brothers and I were sleeping in our house. In the middle of night, we were woken up by a whistling of bullets, the bomb exploded here and there we woke up. We found ourselves outside. I was hearing my mother calling outside and saying meet me back away. That’s a dinka’s statement saying children, children come out. As we got outside I saw somebody running across on my home compound and I thought it was my father. So in the middle of night there’s no light so I was running after him as we were going through some kind of field feed right into the grass and I was coming near him. All of a sudden he grabbed my arm and pulled me into the grass, and all of the sudden the long line of troops were coming shooting, so we kept quiet. They went into the village, and we got back to the pass. The guy I thought was my father was my neighbor, a guy called Abraham Degenio. I was with this man for until the morning. In the morning I asked if I could go see my parent, all of my family members to see if they were alive. Well he said that I should go with him. So we went for about three days with nobody, then later we met with a woman with her two daughters. We became five. Later we were ambushed and the one woman and her two daughters were abducted to the North. They were taken as a wife or concubines whatever you call it. And then, Abraham and I, kept going. We were beaten at some point, we were beaten to a point that I thought, if you saw my body you could see a lot of scars because of being beaten to the point that I thought I was dead, but I survived. 

At night, there’s nothing to cover yourself, it was very cold. Honestly, I cry at night because of this cold, you know, you can’t take it. Day time, it was just bad, a bit difficult, we ran into so many ambushes and were attacked by a wild animal and there was nothing to eat. Honestly, I still remember chewing grass like a cow, eating anything that we could find, wild fruits, so they would stay alive. Later we came to a place called Pibor where there was no water. We went for one day and a half with no water. The situation became so difficult. So we started… Others didn’t want to go, others wanted to die there, and later we started drinking human urine to stay alive.

By the time we got to somewhere, some distance we found mud. Mud is like made potatoes, we had it. You know, it helps some of the boys, some of us. Remember, when we got into that situation we were two first and then five later, and then we became 19 and then during that time we were 27. 

So by the time we left that area where there was no water, we were only four, the 23 others died. So we moved to Ethiopia, it took us three months to get there. We got to Ethiopia, and some of the boys and girls were coming because in the North they announced that they have to exterminate or kill anybody who is a young boy so that they cannot grow up to join the Southern revolution. So we came to Ethiopia two, three, four, five, and then we accumulated there. We had food in a group of 50. I was taller than the other boys as I said before so I was 12 years old, but I was taller than their boys, so I was put in charge of 50. These boys were from age five to age fifteen. My group became 1,200 lost boys. These boys were crying every day. They say they want to drink milk, they want to see their mothers, they want to eat food, there’s nothing I can do. Myself and other boys who were older were trying to give them support, you know today’s bad, tomorrow will be good. Then it was another problem too because diseases such as cholera, typhoid, measles, chickenpox were killing boys every day. I remember in my own group four, two or three boys dying every day. We took their bodies to where we can bury them so that we can give our brothers dignity. When we came back tomorrow to bury the bodies of some more boys, we could find the bodies of those we buried yesterday being eaten by hyenas or other wild animals at night. That was a very graphic part of life story but we didn’t give up, we kept pushing on.

Later the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees came to Ethiopia to a place called Panado, and then the World Food Program, they came and they started bringing food. We stayed there. Then they started bringing clothes. They give you a blanket. So if you had a blanket then you cover yourself at night and then during the daytime recover yourself with it too because basically there was nobody wearing any clothes, any a piece of clothes. So it was just good, our life was getting better, four years later the civil war in Ethiopia caused us to go back to Southern Sudan and the number of the lost boys, and girls, and adults became 27,000. So we were there moving back to southern Sudan as we are forced to, but then, we stopped at a place called Gilo. Gilo is a river infested with a lot of crocodiles in it. The government of Ethiopia, which is actually the current government of Ethiopia, sent troops after us and started shooting at us, and some of us were killed, others drowned, others eaten by crocodiles, others lost, others captured. We moved back to southern Sudan and stayed there for about nine months. The Sudan government knew that we were back in Sudan and so they bombed us twice every day. We dug some trenches so that when, they so that when they bomb us there, you know we run into them. So it was good, although some of us were killed. When it became really tough because they sent Antonov. Antonov is a Russian-made aircraft that we knew the sound of. Even right now I can tell which one is an Antonov and which one is what. 

So we decided to move to the interior part of southern Sudan to a place called Capoeira, and then we were attacked there. In 1992, we eventually made it to another country called Kenya. Now coming to Kenya was good because this is where I start to learn: A B C D, one two three two three. I’ve never been to any school of any kind. I started my education when I was 17 years old. It was just great, sitting under a tree sitting on the dirt, using my fingers as writing A B C D. It was just unbelievable. The United Nation also agencies helping us such as Lutheran World Federation, that’s how it called, UNHCR, IRC, which is International Rescue Committee, and then so many others they help us, and then we now adore the United Nation agencies to become like our fathers and mothers because they were the one supporting us with education, with food, with the security. This is where I started my education until 1999 when the Americans came to Kenya in Refugee Kenya. It was just great. They were telling us they were taking us to America. We didn’t believe them. Well it was real, so in 2000, they came back again and started taking us to America. Some of us actually think that they know about America and the speculation about America, or people start talking, especially the Lost Boys, and they actually have been telling us if we go to America, be very careful, American girls are crazy. They say how crazy they are carrying a small bag, and in those small bags, my friend asked “Do you know what is in those small bags?” we said “no,” “well they have guns in them, if you mess up with American girls they will shoot you.” You know I said this is a country that is very good and the women are killing people. 

Anyway I got my turn. I went to JFK which is New York and then later flown into Syracuse, New York, my current home. From there I started working at McDonald’s doing dishes, working as a security guard, and then I transferred to I enrolled at an Onida Community College, finished my associates degree in 2004 then transferred to Syracuse University where I finished my bachelor’s degree. I was so lucky to be in America. Then I said, well I am in America, what can I do for my people, and that’s why I started to build a hospital in southern Sudan. It has been operating now for four years. I am now trying to see if I can bring agriculture to my people so that I can bring what I got from the United States to help my people. Look, I was not finished. Although I have been handed down by my fellow Sudanese in the North trying to kill me, thank God. I am alive, and that there is a reason as to why I am alive, and that is want to help. I want to help my people. It’s not always the West that is supposed to be helping our people. In this situation, I am. I am able to help my people and that’s why it’s supposed to be.  

Today, I am glad to be part of these discussions, but there is one thing I want to remind all of you of. The Sudan problem is not over, is going on in Darfur, is still going on in southern Sudan, especially in a place called Abyei. If you could please, as a human rights group, or as supporting this organization, the war is not over. But let me tell you this, without human rights groups that had been writing about our situations, none of us would have survived. I would say that. So the great work you start doing, please still do that work. The Abyei problem is still there. It’s not over. The problem in southern Sudan is not over. 

So I want to say that, you know, you may not know who you are helping. If I was not helped by people like you and others, you know, things that I have done would have never been done. You are there as the eyes of us, those who have been suffering. So many other places as the name of the people are coming from either China, Libya, now Egypt, and other places that speakers are going to speak. They have the same problem. It’s just that they are in different places. It’s just that they are not African. But I want us to ask you if you could support and make sure the problem Darfur has come to a successful end. And problems incidents are not over. Thank you very much”

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

Thank you for your talk. What you said shows us the exceptional life that John has experienced. And it shows us the sacrifices we take and the struggle we take up. All of this is not useless and we should remember this, bear this in mind, and we must continue to fight to defend human rights around the world. And as John has explained so well, his personal history continues; he lost his family, they were separated when they fled at night. But he found them years later and he brought his mother to the U.S. So there was a happy ending, American-style. So that is a beautiful story. And today he is very involved in human rights advocacy. 

Now let’s come back to Sudan today. As you all know, a referendum took place in Sudan. The South voted for independence. There is a province called Abyei, which John referred to, which straddles the north and the south, where there still has not been a clear definition in terms of borders for this state, But it’s not clear whether this state will belong to the north or the south of Sudan. We should add that this province is extremely wealthy. And you have noted that during the referendum period we talked about Sudan a great deal but we haven’t spoken a great deal about Darfur. And I think Bernard Schalscha will be speaking to us about Darfur. 

But I will be giving the floor to Juan Branco, who as I said, has worked in the International Criminal Court. And it will be interesting to hear the perspective after this referendum and hear the position of the prosecutor bearing in mind the situation of President al-Bashir. 

Juan Branco 

First of all, I’d like to thank you. I’d like to present this position in relation to the prosecutor concerning the referendum and the legal process that’s been undertaken. 

Now concerning the referendum, an analysis of the prosecutor had envisaged a number of scenarios and what is actually occurring had not been foreseen in the outset. At the same time, we have to see to what extent the optimistic scenario that people are expecting will actually take place. One of the leaders of the SPLM seems to have broken with the north and accused the Sudan government of preparing another genocide by July. And we’ll have to take this in context but you can see the situation is not stabilized. And we have to see what the position of the international community will be and that of the United States. 

Negotiations have taken place with President al-Bashir and they seem to be buying peace and immunity on the international scene. And this diplomatic and judicial effort may lead it to be suspended by the Security Council. Now this may pay off in the short-term but medium-and-long-term prospects are not good. And we have to take a look also at Libya. Mr. Gadaffir has benefited from a similar process of re-legitimization by the international community. And then when his power was challenged, and the situation became more fragile, our reflexes came back. And there’s a caveat here: the legal aspect in terms of paid peace should be born in mind. And although events have taken peacefully so far, this does not guarantee that in the upcoming months this will continue to be the case. I’d like to take advantage of this moment to discuss the revolution in the Arab world and the court was seized with this. And Libya will be discussed in the upcoming weeks and there will be an intervention by the prosecutor on this matter. 

Now going back to our subject, we should see what the changes in a regime in Libya will have on Sudan. This could be very major and have a direct military economic impact in terms of support and alliances, and within the African Union in terms of support, supporting President al-Bashir. We noticed that Sudan was a spear-head and the International Criminal Court will have to address this. We know that the situation is very fragile and a number of procedures may be blocked temporarily. 

There were two important elements that should be considered. The accusation of genocide against President al-Bashir by the ICC and the accusation of genocide for murder and for ongoing-genocide, this very important. We are not talking about a situation here that is over, that has ended, where we would have moved on to something else and we’re thinking about amnesty, about something else. No! The prosecutor agrees on this point. 

And we see that in the camps this situation is brewing. There were hundreds of victims and massive rape campaigns carried out by the armed forces, people in uniform. And we will have to determine who is responsible for this. And it is for the international community to bear this in mind, to address this situation. It has not been taken into account by diplomatic efforts. And there must be a confirmation of the events and to determine whether this was genocide and examine the ongoing genocide that is taking place right now. And the U.S position is of interest to us. This idea of never-more and how will diplomacy change now. So before the referendum, there was an attempt at pacification and the activities could seem legitimate considering the very violent attacks that were [taking] place. And now we will have to think about the legal process in this context of the international system and see how they can intervene and play a role in negotiations. I’d like to recall [inaudible] and the attack of [inaudible]. The judges have confirmed the accusations and the charges and we will see what will happen in the next few months and the African Union approach. And we will see what is happening in this trial. They are being accused of – the armed forces are being accused of attacks and we will have to study the legal process that takes place. Arrest warrants have been issued against President al-Bashir and the prosecutor plans on issuing a new one in 2011 and reserved the right to delve further into this in the next few months.

Now legally-speaking, we have finally come to the end of the first stage. What is important is [for] the international community to react and [inaudible] in particular. And we must maintain pressure on states and remember the victims. They are part of this process. And we should move forward in this regard.

Well that was my preliminary presentation. Thank you.   

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

Now you’ve just brought up the specificity of the Sudanese situation; that this is not over, that is ongoing and continuing. And now I am going to give John the floor, who has information coming in from the field. And he can now bear witness to what is taking place there in the south of Sudan. John.

John Dau

Well I would also attest to that. That such a situation, especially in Darfur, has been going on. That is, there has been intimidation, threats, and abductions in the camps in Darfur. Often people that have been seen by the Sudanese Forces as a threat to the government are those who are telling the truth. So that is actually the reality on the ground that is going on right now. But also, I want to mention very quickly that even in the southern Sudan, some of you might have heard that there was a successful referendum. Yes, there was. But the people in the north that have the same traditions, that – whatever that has been done, they can rebuke it by instigating more, arming other people in the south that can actually destabilize a would-be new country. And that is what has been going on now. 

[…] This is a devolving issue in the South. Let me ask you this: where do you think they get their weapons? Where do you think they get all these ammunitions? Where do you think they get all these communication capabilities? First of all, they don’t have money. Who gave them money to get all of this? They are in the middle of nowhere where they are not even close to the border where you say they get it from the border, whatever it is. No! It is completely clear that the people in the North are still doing that. And actually, it – my brother said before that it has been said across the SPLA – I mean the people in Southern Sudan have a clear indication, evidence, that the people in the North are working to topple the government of the South and it’s the right time to do that. So it is actually something that each of us here in this room has to pay attention to. And that may lead to genocide. The people in the South are not going to accept that. As the North are actively campaigning and arming Southern militias. But […] These are the proxies of the North that are raping, and killing, and maiming everybody in the western part of our country. So that is going on in Southern Sudan. 

And recently, there have also been the killing of [inaudible]. More than 200 people died just recently, maybe two weeks ago. I came from Southern Sudan just two weeks ago too. So I have heard and I have a very strong connection with the Government of South – with some people in the Government of South Sudan that can give me more information while I’m in the United States. 

So this is what the reality is as I said before. This is what is going on in the South right now as well as in Darfur; the intimidation, the killing, abductions, arming of groups to actually bring problems to South Sudan. And that’s what I’ve been saying – there may be a genocide if the international community does not take care of this. Pay more attention to this as it is – maybe people think this is very small but this small thing will grow into a bigger thing later.

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

Bernard, we’re going to give you the floor now so you can speak about the situation in Darfur. You are the Secretary-General of the Darfur Urgence in France and you have been defending minorities for many years, you have been defending human rights. Please explain the situation in Darfur. The region was overlooked by the media when they spoke Darfur and they talked about the referendum. 

Bernard Schalscha

Yes, thank you. Today in France when we talk about Darfur, we say: “How do they work that out? Isn’t there peace in Darfur? Haven’t they negotiated?” That’s what people who are well-informed say. So people don’t hear about that unless George Clooney speaks about it at a press briefing. When he spoke about it of course, well okay. But otherwise, people have no idea what it is. It’s something very remote, far away. It’s in Africa and everybody knows they all kill each other, they’ve been doing it for decades. Well it’s too complicated for us. So you can understand how hard our work is to inform people about Darfur and to explain that the situation has not been resolved. 

There have been mass murders. There have been murders committed since 2005-06. And we should realize what is happening in this region, the region making up Darfur and the West of Sudan. It’s as big as France. Ten years ago, there were six or seven million inhabitants. It was completely neglected by central powers. It is the biggest country in Africa as John told us. It was, at least, until the South seceded. It’s a very centralized country. Khartoum is the capital. An area that was completely overlooked, Darfur, had infrastructure and schools. And in 2001 – in 2003 rather there was a rebellion over the country’s wealth and they were demanding that the government look into what was going on there. And the government had avoided their obligations on groups who were attacked. And this led to a backlash of repression that was incredible, leading to a crisis that was a demand for development by two rebel army groups. And the government unleashed an incredibly violent reaction. Now why was it so violent? How can we explain this? 

Well if we look at recent history of the 20th century, we see that there have been armed rebellions, medium-sized, that have led to disproportionate reactions by the central powers. Nothing is simple. It’s not like in the South of Sudan when they fought the central government. We can say that the central government reacted “normally.” They were Christian but there was a majority of Islamists. So okay, it was normal, we’re going to kill each other. But in Darfur, everybody is Muslim. There was a coup in ‘89 and these are Muslims who are attacking other Muslims. But let’s take a closer look. In Darfur, we have black Africans of different ethnic groups and notably the Fur – that’s why we call it Darfur. And these people became Muslim decades ago and the government demanded this allegiance – they’re the Muslim brotherhood, and they had a strong hand and certain currents. It was hardcore Islamist policy and they felt that these black Africans were not very orthodox. And something that is very unusual that we should bear in mind is the Khartoum government is made up of Arabs. 

Well, we’re Westerners. We have very simple categories; we look at people and say “are they arabs? Are they black?” Different categories. But that’s not how we should do it. We’re innocent. We look at the faces of leaders in Khartoum, we look at them and we see that they’re black. They’re black. But we look at their ancestry. If they had an Arab in their ancestry, they are considered as Arabs. So we have tribes and ethnic groups and supposedly they are called Arab; we call them Arabs. And you can’t tell by looking at them. So this is racism against the Blacks based on skin or their faces or their features. The worst kind of racism is one linked to identity. Perhaps, we won’t go back in history, but when we look at the Darfur, we see that they’re being exterminated by Khartoum. And we look at those who were organizing the massacre, that is the Arab government. When you look at their faces, and I’m not talking about customs or traditions, but if you look at the faces, you can’t tell the difference. You really have to be a local resident to look at them and to recognize it, the difference. 

So in Europe, we’ve had to describe this situation; there is an Arab Islamist government massacring in Darfur Muslim Black people. And we’ve had to struggle to explain this. This is how people speak locally, that is how they call each other. They use these terms themselves. Now if you talk to anybody locally that’s how they talk. It’s not an insult if we use these terms. This is how people speak. 

The massacres that took place were incredibly, incredibly violent. The planes arrived over the villages and they were launching bombs. And the Janjaweed came and people fled. They killed them. They took young girls and made them sexual slaves. Women were massively rape. And rape is a weapon of war, it’s something that the prosecutor in the Hague knows very well. And this went on for years. Then there was pressure, finally, put on the issue and it calmed down. But in this violence, we see past history, history of slavery, organized by Arabs in that region of Africa. And you see that one of the insults in the area – there’s a word that’s used that means “you’re a slave.” I forgot the word now all of the sudden. As if we were saying “you idiot.” Just a very common word that means “oh, you’re just a slave.” And that’s used all the time. So this is custom. And this is the aftermath of the history of slavery. And this is not only inflicted by Europeans but you also know that it was internal as well. 

Now I don’t know if the ICC has dealt with this issue but there are cases where slaves in Darfur –  where the Janjaweed took people instead of killing them and they brought them to Khartoum and turned them into slaves as was the case 60 years ago, 100 years ago.  

So the situation has not been resolved in Darfur and [of the] six or seven million people in the country, three million have been displaced. They are not refugees, they are within their own country. But they are in camps, or wherever they can find to live. They’ve re-organized their lives thanks to international aid. And the death toll has been stabilized but it’s still a very dangerous area because the situation is completely disorganized. There are gangs and bandits. When women leave the camps, for example to get water or wood or something, women are attacked, raped, and killed. Very dangerous around the camps. And when the NGOs bring in food, they risk being attacked by Janjaweed who were not paid. They become bandits attacking anyone. 

But we have 3 million people displaced in camps. Now we’re saying “oh, the situation has calmed in Darfur.” Well, it’s not really. For these people living in the camps, the situation is very hard. It’s extremely dangerous around the camps. Regularly there’s fighting between the rebels and the army, and more people are displaced. Juan spoke to us about this before. So the situation has not been resolved. 

And one approach we’re making, my group, the international community, is that when peace was signed in 2002 or 2001 with the South, they should have separated the South – southern province – from Darfur. And now we have a very strange situation. We have not focused on the situation, not sufficiently. And there’s another problem: the terrible situation that I’m going to describe to you now. The ICC has accused the President that is al-Bashir, of genocidal crimes against humanity. And as there was a referendum, everyone was afraid that al-Bashir would try to sabotage the referendum. The conditions that the referendum took place were not excellent but it was more or less acceptable. So that he would not sabotage this, the international community refrained from confronting him. So those around him on his team, two people were accused of crimes against humanity. And in 2006 – was it 2007? Yes. These people were never arrested by the local government. […] Normally when people are accused, they are arrested. But there nothing was done. One was promoted Minister of Humanitarian Affairs; now you can see what’s going on in the government. Then, even more pathetically speaking, in the discussions about the referendum, implementation of the referendum, and monitoring of it in the bay region, in the buffer region, the international community has asked a responsible person to get involved. And we discover one day the helicopter under the control of the UN and the African Union is carrying now one of the two who were accused of crimes against humanity. Normally, when you see somebody’s been accused, they should be arrested and brought to the prosecutor. But no! The international community is paying for his transport.

So you can see what kind of paradoxical situation [it is]; it’s really a dilemma, it’s really quandary for the international community. The situation is very complicated to resolve. And this is something we should discuss. We, associations that are addressing human rights issues on an international level. 

And I will conclude, by raising another problem where we can see how complicated this situation is. For years, the Khartoum Government has been proposing negotiations for the rebels. Now we see that in Libya there were discussions. Gaddafi and Sudan have ties that have been going on for years. So there were negotiations that were totally bogus. And in Qatar and [inaudible], the Khartoum Government and Bashir say “we’ll negotiate, I’ll put my cards on the table and engage in negotiations.” But it didn’t work. No yes it did! They signed an agreement between the Jem rebels, who were Islamist and negotiated in government and signed an agreement. And the next day, the government bombed the bastions of the same group. So you can see what the modus operandi of Bashir usually is. 

So, the other rebel group, which is called the Southern Liberation Movement or Army, حركة تحرير السودان, refused to negotiate. And the international community attacked it, saying “you have to go negotiate because it’s you that is the problem. And Bashir’s Government wants to negotiate. So go negotiate, we need peace in Darfur.” This is the kind of problem we have before us: people say ‘look the rebels don’t want peace’. But there cannot be an agreement unless there’s an international agreement for the Janjaweed to disarm, a guarantee that civil populations can return to their villages in normal secure conditions. 

You have to imagine the situation. These villages are scattered. Going home when it’s dangerous, we have to have police forces there. If not, there will be Janjaweed or bandits. There will be tribes prowling, looting. So if you’re not protected by the military or by the international community. You go back to villages that were looted and devastated. Well, how can you go back home? How are you going to live? Economically, you are at the mercy of gangsters who may attack you, by Janjaweed or others.  So they say “we can’t go back home.” So the rebels say “we will not sign if the international community doesn’t guarantee that people can go back home and live normal lives.” So the international community, well, sees the problem that we see. The international community wants peace, they say we have to have peace. But they have overlooked the reasons that people were living in conditions of extreme [poverty]. Over the decades, they’ve managed to have a livable, tenable situation. But then the genocide came, and now to live a “normal life with peace,” we need a guarantee by the international community. And we don’t need to have the international community nudging everybody to make peace. So those who defend justice, like us, appear to be war mongers because we say we can’t blame the rebels for not signing because the reasons that unleashed the depression have gotten even worse.

Thank you for your kind attention. 

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

We will use the remaining time to respond to questions. I suppose that all of these presentations would have given you food for thought. Who would like to begin? Sir. Can you introduce yourself please and say whom you’re addressing your question to. 

Audience member #1:

Should I speak on the microphone? My name is Aaron [inaudible]. I represent the Institution of Judaism in Canada and I would like to ask Mr. Dau three questions. The first question: lately, we have heard that the new government in the South of Sudan has requested the right to have new diplomatic relations with Israel and I’d like to know if that is true. If he has any information on that subject. Secondly, relations between Darfur and Southern Sudan. We have heard two opinions and two sides. Now, even if Darfur is just a province in Sudan, is the South responding to the needs of the people of Darfur? Are there relations between these areas?

John Dau

I am not here representing the government of South Sudan. Officially I’m not. But as part of that nation – I have dual citizenship; I am American as well as South Sudanese – I don’t know why we are selective in what country we have a relationship with. We don’t see how. If you see a passport, the old passport of Sudan, again we in the South until July 9 will become officially independent. But as we speak, in that passport it says you can go to all countries except for Israel. Whoever put that I don’t know who did that. But you know who put such a statement [there]. We in the South don’t have a problem with Israel. So why should we not be able to have not only a great relationship, but an excellent relationship with the state of Israel? So there is no reason – I think myself as a Sudanese before, not a Southern Sudanese. I was absolutely prohibited from Israel. Maybe Israel will be the first country I go [to] see and visit. So there is no reason we should not have diplomatic relations with Israel. As I said before, I am not  representing the Government of South Sudan. But as a member, a citizen, I will be the first to advocate that relationship. 

In regard to our relationship, the Southern Sudan with Darfur, yes, there is no problem. And actually, what had happened many years ago, we just want to forget it, the people in the South. Let me highlight a bit what I’m talking about many years ago.  

Many years ago, between the North and South the war had been going on, there was an alliance between people in Darfur and the North because they are Muslims. So they were kind of all together fighting the Southerners under the umbrella of saying “these are Christians.” Well in the South right now, we are not even talking about what had happened many years ago. It happened because the people in Darfur were brainwashed by the North. And so there is no reason. All of them regret it, why they had been fighting and killing people in the South. And so, we are not only forgetting what they have done before, but we are actively helping them in the United States. I am part of Save Darfur. And that’s [how] it’s supposed to be. By the way, they did not decide to come to the South and excommunicate and kill people in the South – I’m talking about people from Darfur. And so, honestly, we are brothers, we are sisters, brothers and sisters. And so there is no problem. We can help them. Even in my own village, very remote, we have 3 Darfurians. They are there, they are operating there. Selling their stuff. Nobody disturbs them.  We consider ourselves brothers. If they want, they can have their citizenship and passports in the South. So, we suffered the same situation, been mistreated by the same enemy and so we should be one.

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

Thank you John. Are there any other questions? Yes, Sir. After, the lady. Can you state your name and introduce yourself please. 

Audience Member #2: 

My name is [inaudible]. I am representing the Global Network for Rights and Development, Sudan office. First, I would like to congratulate my brother John on the newborn country in Africa. To be fair, when talking about human rights in Sudan, we know that there are many violations in the South and West. But everyone, I think, now knows that there are many innocent people from minorities that have been killed in the South of Sudan by SPLA – the official army of the South Sudan government. And I think a big role of human rights defenders must be raised now to strengthen the laws of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and by raising awareness and monitoring violations against minorities. […] And many people are now talking about how [unintelligible] are playing the same role against minorities … So we ask the international community – all of us must all support steps to maintain the peace in Sudan, in South and North and West and East, and must put pressure on the Government of South Sudan to do its part in maintaining the natural rights of the people of South Sudan and provide all violators of human rights fair trials compatible with human dignity. Thank you.

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

Thank you for your question. I see that Bernard was agreeing with you when you raised your question. So I will give you the floor Bernard to comment on what this gentleman has just said. And then we will give the floor to John. 

Bernard Schalscha

Rapidly. In fact this question is extremely important. We can be very happy here that Southern Sudan, after so many decades of horror and suffering and massacres, is adhering to independence. You know that human nature is very strange and over this decade of combat and suffering, fighting against the North, the horrors of the Southern Sudanese were accompanied as well by a number of horrors that the Southern Sudanese troops committed, where there were warlords and divisions. And ethically speaking with our current demands for international justice, a great deal can be said about the way these Southern fighters fought against the North. And the factions carried out a lot of killing as well. Now I’m saying this because now we cannot be complacent about the independence of the South and say great [with a] sigh of relief. 

This country was destroyed. It was never wealthy. And of course after all these years, and decades of war, it martyrized, it was pounded, and it became even poorer. This situation will need solidarity by the international community. A strong response. They will be needing money. We’ll have to see how the minorities – because there are many minorities in the South. We have to take a look [at] how they’re being treated. We have to see how power is being distributed. 

And John Garang – who died right after the signing of the peace agreements in a helicopter accident– had a global vision for society. The current leaders of the South are looking at the South and saying we should separate from the North because they persecuted us. But we have a small country here facing enormous problems. The leaders were raised during decades of war. That’s not the best school to learn about democracy. So we will all have to be very watchful. And we can’t say we’ll accept that because they’ve been through very hard times. We have to be careful about human rights. Because if we let one thing go, then things will follow suit. John Dau spoke to us about this. 

The people in Darfur served in the Sudanese army for a long time and they were part of the troops that massacred people. So we should consider that the people in Darfur were Muslim. And okay they were killing Christians, well that was logical. Then going into the army was the only way that people could manage economically. Even officers in the army came, at times, from Darfur and they were able to rise from the ranks. And that’s why there were these kinds of massacres; these were all contributing factors. 

There are people who think we should turn the page. In Darfur, in the South of Sudan, we all have common objectives concerning the Khartoum government. I think we have to talk about this and show solidarity. But we have to take a close look at what’s going on. 

And I’d like to conclude by making one comment. This will come out in the future. The government in Khartoum always uses ways to wriggle out of situations. We talk about the Lord’s Residents Army, which was made up of Chrisitan fanatics that came out of Uganda. And over the years they became crazy, mad men. Nobody understands their ideology and they kill and they loot everywhere in the region. And they have incursions in the South. And this is the question John Dau was asking: who is arming them? Who is financing them? How is it that they are allowed to have these incursions and abduct people? And what is the responsibility of the Khartoum government? Everybody thinks that they are financed by Khartoum and this is one of the weapons, one of the arms Khartoum is using to destabilize their enemies in Darfur and in the South. 

Juan Branco

Just a comment. While talking about the arrest warrant. The ICC has signed a warrant about [inaudible] to go to the South to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there was a great of violence. And now we have information that [is] well-founded, telling us about incursions into Darfur through the Central African Republic, which began months before the referendum as a means of intimidation. As a warning, to say we’re here, don’t follow what’s going on in the South of Sudan. So we see that ties are being created and there is – we see that some of these groups have benefited from impunity and that we have to address this in a global way. And this explains the rise in sexual violence, for example, in the area. 

John Dau

Well in regard to your question, […]  Yes, if there is, I would not have denied it. If there is any problem or if there is any mass killing in the Southern part of Sudan committed by the SPLA as you said, if there is any, I’m not aware of that. You were talking about the Dinka and the SPLA killing minorities. I don’t know. Look, I just came back from Sudan two weeks ago and there was no killing of any minorities in Southern Sudan right now. If you have any information, let me know. The only thing I heard [about] what’s going on in Sudan now is that there have been frequent raidings of villagers going to other villages and taking cows away from them. Even if they are all Dinka, of the same tribe. One village goes to another village and takes some other people’s cows. That’s the failure of the government there, I agree with you. It would be something that the Government of South Sudan must address. Whether you are killing other tribes or for what reason of taking cows or goats away from them, it is not acceptable. And that’s why somebody like me is against it. We say “new government, do more.” 

But there is nothing called genocided there going on in South Sudan. There is no mistreatment of some minority tribes in South Sudan. Nothing. Actually in South Sudan we have 67 tribes and all the 67 tribes are represented in the government. We are not – a big tribe you know is not against a small tribe. So there is nothing brother that has to be compared with what the North have done in Southern Sudan. 

I remember in my old village, they did a campaign of killing parents before you took the girls. For example, if they want to abduct a girl, they kill mother and father, so that a girl cannot escape to anybody. They know their mothers and father and some relatives have been killed. So that’s what was actually going on when I was 12 years old. What do I do with the revolution in the South? Being a Christian against Muslim. There was nothing I knew at the time. But young people like me, some of them, my cousins and my relatives and some friends were killed for really no reason why we were killed. 

And here is what I want to make sure you understand very well. I’m talking about the government in the North. I’m not generalizing the people in the North. When I say, when I talk about the North, I mean the government. This successive government has done so [much] destruction to our country, to Sudan, whether in the North or somewhere else in the Western part of our country, which is Darfur, or Eastern part of Southern Sudan. This government which is being controlled by a few [inaudible], just a few guys that have been running the country ever since, are the ones that have been doing this. And what they do is they hire people like Janjaweed. Give them money, give them weapons, and go and go [their] dirty work. That’s what they’ve been doing. It’s not the majority of people in the North. Actually, some of them are very good people and others who can think. So I’m not talking of the Northerners as everybody, I’m talking about the government. If you defend this government, it’s a government that caused this split in our country. So why can’t they learn to live in peace with people? When you live in peace, you get more than when you are killing others. So there is no, there is nothing that is going on in South Sudan right now according to what I have learned. I have been there, I go there every year. So there is no killing at all. Whoever is telling you that is completely lying.  

Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga

Thank you John. Thank you. We have come to the end of the time allotted to us. We will be continuing and in order for us to have time to do so, we’re going to have to stop. But if any of you would like to ask our panelists questions, you may do that when we go down from the podium. Because our three speakers, Mr. John Dau, Bernard Schalscha, and Juan Branco, will all be in the room and you can ask them questions afterwards.

I’d like to thank our three panelists for sharing their experiences with us and for giving us a picture of the situation in Sudan. This is a topic that is very much in the news and we should follow these events. By summer, Southern Sudan should become independent and we will see what will happen with the province of Abeyie, where a referendum is planned as well. I thank you again for your kind attention. 

Speakers and Participants

John Dau

One of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ who survived years of civil war in the country