In what Sudanese refugees have called a revolution, people in their home country have taken to the streets with the goal of ousting President Omar al-Bashir, a man once indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly murdering masses of people in Darfur.
As the conflict in Sudan, based in Northeastern Africa, enters its fourth week, Sudanese groups in the District have called on the U.S. government and international community to stand in solidarity with protesters and condemn al-Bashir, who they said has ordered the killing of dissidents since Dec. 19.
“This is a dictatorship backed by the Muslim Brotherhood groups in Sudan and the Middle East,” said Niemat Ahmadi, a Sudanese human rights activist and founder of the Darfur Women’s Action Group. “They started killing the indigenous Africans in Darfur for who they are. They commit genocide, war crimes, and those against humanity.”
On Monday, Ahmadi and members of the Darfur Women’s Action Group, along with other Sudanese people living in the United States, gathered in front of the Sudanese Embassy and visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill on behalf of the Sudanese people. These events followed a rally in front of the White House on Dec. 28 that attracted more than 500 protesters, many of whom lost friends and family members in the struggle.
Ahmadi, a D.C. resident of 11 years, hastily left Sudan after speaking out against al-Bashir, who, since coming into power during a 1989 military coup, has been re-elected three times in political contests mired in charges of corruption. Since 2009, when she founded the Darfur Women’s Action Network, Ahmadi has rallied Sudanese women and civil societies across the diaspora, many of whom have railed against al-Bashir’s government for committing genocide in Darfur and other human rights abuses.
“President al-Bashir has been indicted because of those human rights violations,” Ahmadi continued, saying that the U.S. government had a moral obligation to stand by the Sudanese people and lead the United Nations Security Council in stabilizing that region.
The Darfur Women’s Action Group has recently pivoted its attention to the Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP, Black churches and other groups that have spoken against police brutality and other facets of the African-American experience, hoping that they will help the Sudanese people.
“The Sudanese government has done everything to destroy the people and the country, and now the suffering has come into every household,” Ahmadi added. “The people came out and protested on the ground everywhere across the region demanding the government steps down and goes away.”
On Christmas Day, to the chagrin of Sudanese refugees organizing in D.C., the United States, Britain, Norway and Canada issued a joint statement urging all violence to stop. Though leaders of those countries acknowledged reports that Sudanese government forces used ammunition against protesters, some Sudanese activists said they didn’t go far enough in condemning al-Bashir as the sole agitator.
Since the conflict started, government forces in Sudan have reportedly cracked down on journalists, teachers, doctors, engineers and other opposition forces. Last week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi offered Sudan his support, linking Sudan’s security to that of his country. Days later, without warning, al-Bashir replaced Minister of Health Mohamed Abu Zaid Mustafa in response to public fervor over rising prescription drug costs and drug shortages.
Sudanese authorities and human rights group Amnesty International differ on the number of people killed since Dec. 23, when the protests took a violent turn; the former estimates less than 20 dead while the latter gave an estimate of nearly 40.
For some Sudanese immigrants in the District, including Amal Nourelhuda, the ongoing conflict between al-Bashir’s government and protesters represents the apex of a struggle they have endured for decades, in their home country and several miles away.
As the calamity unfolds in Sudan, Nourelhuda keeps in contact with friends and family and sings to keep her mind off of the circumstances that forced her to leave in 2015.
“I miss home every day. I had a complete life; I didn’t want to leave,” said Nourelhuda, a singer also known as Amal Elbour.
“The Sudanese people were so patient and tolerant as the government forced millions out of the country,” she added. “Now with what’s happening, people can’t survive. Even women and children know they’re going to die. al-Bashir insists on killing without remorse, all because protesters are peacefully asking for freedom and justice.”