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Eyewitness Testimony


Hear from individuals who experienced or witnessed the violence in Sudan and its repercussions firsthand.

Niemat Ahmadi, Survivor


When the first attack started, I was in the field. I had crossed one village, on our way to the next village to have a meeting with Community leader there. When we came back the next day, we found the entire village of Bardy was destroyed completely, and they killed five men and there's a lot of people wounded.

When we started to help those victims, in particular women, rape victims, it was really horrible stories like people talking about — they are subjected, women as young as twelve years old, as seven years old, they subjected to giant rape by seven or six men in the same time. And they have been raped repeatedly.

They would be raped in front of their families to destroy the dignity of our people. I have been forced to leave my country and to leave my people, but I left for two reasons, to be their voice and to continue to advocate for them.

Niemat Ahmadi is from in Kebkabiya, North Darfur, Sudan. Ahmadi has testified that Janjaweed and Sudanese militia attacks began as early as 2001 in the area around Kebkabiya. This was before armed rebels made their initial devastating assault against a government airfield in 2003, generally considered the start of the conflict. Ahmadi worked with community leaders to help victims of these attacks. She witnessed the results of horrifying abuses against civilians, including women and young girls who had been gang-raped. Because of her work aiding victims, Ahmadi herself became a target of two assassination attempts. As a result, she fled Sudan. She eventually made her way to the United States, where she is an activist with the Save Darfur Coalition working on behalf of Darfurian victims. She hopes one day to return and help rebuild Darfur's destroyed communities.

Alex de Waal, Political Analyst


The deadline for signing was twice extended. The Sudan government had said it would sign, but the text had been revised. They'd been — more concessions had been squeezed out of them, especially on security.

And none of the three rebel leaders had expressed happiness with the revised document, and it was extraordinary to see the fate of Darfur — and indeed of Sudan as a whole — hinging on these particular individuals at this particular moment.

In the months and years after that failure in Abuja, what we have seen is the chanceslipping away. The leadership is not there; the pressure is not there. The political interests on getting this thing to a peaceful conclusion are not there.

Millions of people are living a miserable life without human dignity. They're being kept alive. They have the basics, but they don't have what they consider the most essential thing, which is their dignity, their community, their ability to have lives and livelihoods in the way that their parents did and in the way they would chose to

In 2005, Sudan expert Alex de Waal was asked to join the African Union (AU) mediation team tasked with negotiating an end to conflict in Darfur, Sudan. By spring 2006, several rounds of talks between the Sudanese government and leaders of the three main rebel groups had been held. International pressure was building as the parties to the conflict and mediators from the AU, European Union, United States, and Great Britain gathered in Abuja, Nigeria. De Waal witnessed the culmination of these talks during an all-night session of increasingly dramatic and tense exchanges. In the end, the Sudanese government and only one rebel leader signed. Years later, although several more rounds of negotiations have taken place, there has been no comprehensive peace settlement for Darfur.

Mark Hanis, Student Activist


I first heard about Sudan when I was in the cafeteria with a few of my friends at Swarthmore College, and there was a newspaper and there was an article about Darfur. And it was talking about the violence and how there was great concern that there were mass atrocities and potential genocide.

We say, "What can we do? We're average Americans here in a cafeteria. Average students. "We didn't have Oprah Winfrey or Warren Buffet on our speed dial. How can we, in the United States, help stop the world's worst humanitarian crisis, thousands of miles away?"

One of the inspirations for this was reading about how the African Union was sorely underfunded. Here, people are willing to put their lives on the line but they just need boots, or they need maps, or walkie-talkies, or tents. And we said, "Why don't we raise money to help these African Union peacekeepers protect people in Darfur?"

So that's when we created the Genocide Intervention Fund.

Mark Hanis, the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, was a student at Swarthmore College when he read a newspaper article about violence in Darfur, Sudan. Shocked that genocide was occurring in full view of the world, Hanis and fellow students decided to take action. They started an organization called the Genocide Intervention Fund, with the goal of demonstrating to average citizens that they could directly affect the situation in Darfur. They also hoped to compel policymakers to be more responsive to civilian suffering. With the help of advisers from the academic and policy worlds, they turned their ideas into reality. In 2005, Hanis and his colleagues transformed their student group into a non-governmental organization, the Genocide Intervention Network, based in Washington, DC.

Omer Ismail, Activist


When the issue of genocide came to existence and people are debating it and sometimes wranglingon — 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 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.

Jennifer Leaning, Human Rights Advocate


Suddenly, as we rounded a corner on this desert path, we saw twenty thousand people huddled with no cover. The wind howling and shrieking in the sandstorms, everybody bowled over trying to keep the wind from them with their head scarves and gowns.

A little tiny thatch mats held up to shield the children. And we realized that these were the people, the twenty thousand that we were supposed to see.

And I felt at that point how ghastly this situation was, and that we found from having asked people that they were — they'd been there for four days without any assistance in terms of food or water or shelter. And my sense is that these people are really near the end of their rope.

This is a terrible situation If you take people, even people much tougher than I, born or brought up to these conditions, inured to heat and desert and small amounts of water, if you expel them from their sources of shelter and life and livelihood, you are annihilating a people.

You're making it impossible for Darfur to ever be the same again.

Jennifer Leaning, an expert on disaster response, documented the plight of Darfurian refugees along the Chad-Sudan border in 2004. Leaning and her colleagues from the non-governmental organization Physicians for Human Rights visited camps throughout the region, some of which were already well-established. But when they visited a group of new arrivals near Bahai, Chad, Leaning witnessed the suffering of people living in horrible conditions without any international aid. While documenting the stories of these refugees, she became deathly ill herself and was evacuated. Back in the United States, she and her team helped publicize the genocide. Leaning continues to work on human rights, humanitarian aid, and public health at Harvard University.

Brian Steidle, Military Observer


This was one of the first photographs I took in Sudan. Her name is Mihad Hamid. She is one years old.

During the attack on Alliet — the government attacked the village of Alliet — her mother was carrying her, wrapped around the side of her with cloth as they often do. And she was shot — entry wound in the upper right side of her back and the exit wound in the lower left.

She wasn't breathing very well at that time and she wasn't expected to live. Often when you encounter the people out in the IDP camps or in the villages, because I'm a white male, they automatically assume that I'm a doctor.

On this day, she had thought that I was a doctor and she holds Mihad up to me to take a look at. Here's a baby laying on her back, laying on her lap, barely breathing. I motion her to please put the baby down and relax, and that, actually, kind of solidified in her mind that I was a doctor because I was telling her what to do with her child.

Instead, all I was able to do was write my report and take the photograph.

In September 2004, former US Marine Brian Steidle was invited to serve in Darfur as an unarmed military observer and US representative to the African Union. The African Union monitoring force Steidle joined was tasked with investigating and reporting on breaches of a never-honored 2004 cease-fire agreement between rebels and the Sudanese government. Steidle witnessed systematic attacks against civilians carried out by the Sudanese government and its allied militias, the Janjaweed. He and his fellow members of the monitoring force were not mandated to protect civilians but to issue reports. After six months, Brian's conscience would no longer allow him to remain a silent witness to genocide. He returned to the US convinced that he could do more to help Darfurian civilians by publicizing what he had seen. He began a speaking tour, wrote a book, and produced a documentary about his experiences in Darfur. Today, he remains an activist against genocide.