In December 2004, after reading media reports of mass killing, rape, and displacement of African civilians in the West Sudanese region of Darfur, a Catholic Worker Peace Team was formed. It included Brenna Cussen of South Bend, Indiana, Chris Douçot of Hartford, Connecticut, Grace Ritter of Ithaca, New York, and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy of Worcester, Massachusetts.
They visited four huge camps for “internally displaced people” in Darfur. Their observations confirmed the charge that the Sudanese government is guilty of genocide.
During their visit, the Catholic Workers were encouraged by Sudanese human rights activists to demonstrate against genocide at the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. One internally displaced person pleaded with them: “You must be my voice!”
Upon their return to the United States, the Peace Team sent a letter to the embassy detailing what they had observed and appealing for the government to stop attacking civilians, to disarm the Janjaweed militias, to freely admit more international observers, reporters, and activists, and to negotiate a resolution to the conflict.
When the embassy did not reply, a protest was organized for February 2, 2005. On that day, 12 activists, including three members of the Peace Team, went to the embassy with signs reading:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate:
STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!
Each sign also included a large color photo taken in the camps by team members.
A leaflet was distributed describing conditions in Darfur. It displayed a color photo of a woman whose husband was killed by the Sudanese army and whose daughter died as a result of Janjaweed attacks.
Upon arrival at the embassy, Ms. Cussen and Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy went inside and gave the leaflet to the receptionist and to an employee named Atef Bedry. They asked for a meeting with a diplomat. After waiting ten minutes, they informed the staff that they would be vigiling outside for an end to genocide.
Once outside, seven members of the group stood with signs blocking the steps to the embassy while five others took photographs and offered leaflets to passersby. Three men seeking visas circumvented the protesters by going up the adjacent walkway to the embassy of Togo and stepping over a low wall near the door. One of them angrily asked, “Why don’t you protest the genocide of Israel against the Palestinians?” Five of the protesters replied that they had been to Israel/Palestine and were active in work for justice in the region.
An embassy representative emerged and was greeted in Arabic by Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy. This exchange ended with a warm handshake. He identified himself as Mr. Bashara. Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said, “I’m here out of concern for the situation in Darfur.” Mr. Bashara said with tears in his eyes that he shared that concern. Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy clasped Mr. Bashara’s hands and said, “I believe you. My father-in-law was a career diplomat. I know you don’t make government policy, but I also understand that you are a man who can raise a voice against genocide.”
Mr. Bashara invited the group inside to talk with a more senior diplomat. They were on the verge of doing so when the police arrived and two other diplomats came out who refused any meeting.
The police warned the seven that if they did not leave the embassy property they would be arrested. Ms. Cussen, Brian Kavanagh, and Tom Lewis knelt and led the group in the Lord’s Prayer.
The seven were handcuffed, arrested, and charged with unlawful assembly. They refused an offer to post and forfeit $50 to conclude the matter. Consequently, they were held for 28 hours, arraigned, and set down for trial.
If convicted, they face a maximum of 90 days in jail.
At trial, the “Sudan Seven” (as the police called them) will present expert testimony on genocide in Darfur and the legal responsibility of citizens everywhere to act to prevent it. Donations to support the trial are welcome.