The Human Rights Situation in Sudan with John Dau

John Dau, Sudanese activist and one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” addresses the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.

Full remarks

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 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 the 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. 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 by 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, that it is the largest country in Africa. Last, which is number three, is the country that has been actually fighting each other for many years. War started in the 18th century, another war in 1955 that ended in 1972. Another war started in 1983 and ended in 2005. Yet another war is going on now in our country that 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

Speakers and Participants

John Dau

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