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Eyewitness Testimony: Omer Ismail


When the issue of genocide came to existence and people are debating it and sometimes wrangling on—over it, I would say, Look guys, I’m a Darfurian. There is a real issue here. Please don’t reduce the suffering of my people to a mere issue of semantics.

If you believe it is genocide, I urge everybody to act as if it is genocide, and do what people do when they are faced with genocide. If you believe it is a crime against humanity, act as if it’s a crime against humanity. If you believe it is just a civil war, like some people would like to describe it, act as if it’s a... If somebody believes it’s a street fight, call 9-1-1 and have the police deal with it.

But don’t just stand on the sidelines arguing whether this is genocide or not genocide and what we then do. You have to act within your belief today and now.

Omer Ismail, Activist, Sudan

Omer Ismail is from El Fashir, North Darfur, Sudan. He left Sudan in 1989, although most of his family remained there. Tensions started escalating in Darfur throughout the 1990s, with increasingly violent attacks against civilians beginning in 2001.

Ismail tried to engage policymakers in the simmering conflict, but to no avail. Only in 2004, one year into the intense conflict and not until after the genocide was underway, did international audiences start paying attention.

Ismail became a leader of the activist movement against the genocide, speaking across the United States and internationally about what was happening in Darfur.