Disappointing news this Thanksgiving Day, as human rights activist Simon Deng received an update that the Sudan Peace and Stability Act, sponsored by Senator John Kerry, is "on hold." Kerry's office did not share the reason.
"We have no idea regarding Kerry and the bill. It was supposed to be introduced [by now]," says Deng. "Now they say they appreciate my efforts but it's "on hold.'"
Nevertheless, Deng continues to call upon President Obama and U.S. legislators to support the results of an upcoming January 9 referendum to take place in South Sudan. It will allow South Sudan's people, many of them Christians, to gain national autonomy.
Last week, Deng, a Christian human rights activist who was kidnapped and enslaved as a child by an Arab Muslim family in Sudan's North, completed an historic barefoot walk to all 535 offices of the U.S. Congress. He presented legislators with a letter calling for the U.S. to hold Sudan's government accountable for upholding its commitments as part of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that declares the South an independent nation if its people vote for autonomy in January.
He walked barefoot to emphasize the suffering of Christians and practitioners of native religions in the South.
"[We are] asking the President, tell Khartoum, 'You can't tamper with the agreement,'" he said. "The international community is part of it. Tamper with this agreement and there will be consequences."
January's vote is stipulated by the CPA, which was drafted by the Bush Administration, and stipulates protocols for border demarcation and wealth sharing. The CPA allows the North a share of oil wealth that is concentrated in the South and drops Sudan from America's list of terrorist states.
In 2005, Bashir agreed to abide by the CPA and respect the results of the vote. But recent indicators - including his failure to adequately abide by tenets that call for border demarcation, security, and wealth-sharing - suggest Bashir may not respect the vote and may even call for violence, according to Deng.
Other ominous indicators include the North recently bombing the South, according to Deng. And in another recent attempt at provocation, Khartoum recently demanded that the South Sudanese "hand over" desperate refugees from Darfur who have fled to South Sudan. If the South Sudanese do not hand them over to Khartoum, Bashir has threatened it will be viewed as an "act of war" by his government.
"They are trying to drag the South Sudanese into conflcit," Deng says.
Since the 1950's, mass slaughter, forced conversion to Islam, and withholding of food aid have been perpetrated against Sudan's indigenous peoples in the country's heavily Christian South by the extremist Muslim government based in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. The Khartoum government has killed three and a half million Southern Sudanese since the 1950's, according to Deng. Since 2003, this government, currently led by Omar al-Bashir, has also perpetrated violence in Darfur against black Muslims that has killed an estimated 400,000 and displaced millions.
Deng, a Christian, in 2006 helped spearhead the effort to raise awareness about the killing and abuse of Muslims in Sudan's Darfur region. To bring their plight to national attention, he walked 300 miles from the United Nations building in New York, his home city, to the Capitol in Washington D.C. His historic "Freedom Walk" captured the attention of then-New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who met him on Capitol Hill when he arrived.
Having the support of individual U.S. legislators this time around will make a difference, Deng believes. Although he hopes to gain support from President Obama and the democrats, he says he is heartened by support he has already received from individuals like Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona).
Franks has pledged to write a letter calling upon Sudan's Khartoum government to abide by its word and respect the outcome of the vote. Such support means the world to the people of South Sudan, Deng says.
"We need U.S. support," he says. "The people of South Sudan need U.S. leaders to say openly and publicly, 'We support the South Sudanese.' They need someone to support them, even morally. So far, I'm not seeing it coming from the White House."