Sudan Trial

posted by Brenna Cussen on May 31st, 2005

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and support. The trial of the “Sudan Seven,” as we have been referred to, was an incredible show of nonviolent witness at its best. I was honored to be a part of such a group. The Holy Spirit no doubt was speaking through the testimonies of witnesses Dr. Eric Reeves, Dr. Mark Lance, Mwiza Munthali, Barbara Wien, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and each of the seven defendents as they each took the stand to testify to their area of expertise.

Our defense was based upon the argument of necessity: that such a grievous harm was taking place that we were forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils” in order to try to save lives. In order to secure a verdict of “not guilty,” we had to prove three things: 1) that on February 2, 2005, there was an imminent harm occurring (genocide); 2) that our actions would help to abate that harm; and 3) that legal means had been tried and found ineffective, so illegal means were the last resort.

Dr. Reeves, a world-renowned expert on the genocide in Darfur and professor at Smith College in MA, testified to the fact that there is indeed a genocide taking place in Darfur (and was on February 2, 2005). Although he has poor health, he flew to D.C. in order to testify at our trial and to speak to an audience the night before the trial. Dr. Lance, director of the Peace Studies department at Georgetown University, and Ms. Wein, co-director of Peace Brigades International, testified to the fact that that nonviolent civil disobedience has historically been an effective way to change policies, and that in the case of genocide in Darfur, legal means thus far have not been effective. Mr. Munthali testified to the fact that protests at the South African Embassy in the 1980s contributed to the end of Apartheid and that protests at the Sudanese Embassy last summer led the way to then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s declaration that genocide was taking place in Darfur. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton testified that nonviolent civil disobedience, coupled with prayer, cannot fail to be an effective way to bring about positive change. Each of these witnesses, when asked whether it was reasonable to believe that the actions of the defendents on February 2, 2005, could abate the harm taking place in Darfur, answered with a resounding “YES!”

The Honorable Judge Rufus King presided over the trial, which lasted from approximately 9:30 AM to 4 PM, with a long lunch break. In the morning, he informed us that he would only be interested in the facts our actions, and would refuse to “politicize” his courtroom in order to hear about genocide in Darfur. However, Scott Schaeffer-Duffy had prepared an impressive brief that outlined our defense. The judge read it, and decided to allow our case. (At the end of the trial he remarked how impressed he was with our defense, although we had no lawyer to represent us . . . we had chosen to represent ourselves.)

The DA did not argue much with our defense. He cross examined all of the defendants; in each case asking whether we had contacted a member of congress, thus attempting to utilize legal means to stop the genocide. As most of us had done so, he questioned us on how many times and whether we had actually gone to D.C. to visit our representatives. (Some of us had contacted representatives–Scott had done so 21 times–but the DA was not satisfied with the number of our attempts.) We talked about how we had used legal means to actually GO to Sudan and how we had asked the Sudanese people what they thought the most effective thing we could do to promote peace would be. It was the Sudanese people themselves who had told us to protest at the Embassy of Sudan in D.C. We talked about how members of our group had given talks, given slide show presentations all over our communities, written letters to the editor and articles in the newspaper, put on a benefit concert for Darfur, had photo exhibitions of the refugees in Darfur, helped to organize a day-long educational symposium on Sudan, and had personally informed family and friends about the genocide. We did employ many legal means to end genocide, we said . . . but had concluded that our legal means must be coupled with the more drastic means of “putting our bodies on the line,” so to speak. Mr. Munthali pointed out that demonstrations and protests are a vital part of education, because it draws attention to an issue, and encourages people to want to become educated about a subject.

Sadly, Judge King did not find our defense of necessity sufficient for an acquittal. He found each of the seven defendants guilty of the misdemeanor offense of unlawful assembly, explaining that there was no “imminent” harm to be averted and that it was not reasonable to believe that our action in front of the Sudanese Embassy could immediately abate the obviously greater evil of genocide. However, as he respected that our actions were done in “good faith,” he sentenced three of the defendants who had no prior record to 2 days in jail (already served). The other four defendents, based on their prior convictions for other acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, received suspended jail sentences (that they do not have to serve) of 30, 60, or 90 days, and either 6 months or a year of unsupervised probation, depending on the length of the record. We are each required to pay $50 to a victims’ witness fund, which will be used to assist victims of crimes in D.C.

Today I told a friend (who is not very familiar with nonviolent civil disobedience) how we did not “win” our case. She then asked me very pointedly, “What is winning?”

As I listened to Dr. Eric Reeves and John Prendergast, two world-renowned experts on the Darfur crisis, speak at the event held at the True Reformer Building on Tuesday night, and as I processed with 20 others from mass at St. Aloyisus Parish to the court house on Wednesday morning, carrying pictures of victims of the genocide on signs that read, “IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MERCIFUL, THE COMPASSIONATE, STOP THE GENOCIDE IN DARFUR,” and as I answered questions on the witness stand and heard the responses of my fellow defendents, I knew that no matter what the outcome, we had won. For in the face of a grave evil, we did not sit by and watch. In the face of a grave evil, we have searched for nonviolent responses, for Christian responses.

However, we are far from finished. 400,000 people have already died in the last 2 years in Darfur, and 15,000 continue to die every month. Dr. Reeves believes that with the rainy season approaching, that number will soon jump to 100,000 per month.

Again: 100,000 people per month will soon be dying in Darfur.

We must continue searching to find a way to stop this madness. Mr. Munthali spoke of how it was not one arrest at the South African Embassy that ended Apartheid . . . it was many. Perhaps that is a call to more of you to find your way to the embassy in Sudan.

And Dr. Reeves is hopeful that a widespread divestment campaign will send a clear message to Khartoum that the world will not tolerate the unbridled killing of its own civilians. Please look at www.divestsudan.org and learn how you can participate in the divestment campaign.

John Prendergast is certain that accountability is an extremely important part of ending this genocide. Please put pressure on your representatives to pressure the UN to place an oil embargo on Sudan and to place targeted sanctions on the genocidaires.

Please continue to educate yourselves by reading Dr. Reeves’s website. And please continue to pray that you and I can come up with more creative, nonviolent means to put a stop to this genocide.

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