By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Massive "Stop Genocide" rallies are planned on the Mall and across the nation today to urge the Bush administration to take stronger action to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region.
Thousands of people are expected to converge on Washington, including 240 busloads of activists from 41 states, local and national politicians and such celebrity speakers as actor George Clooney, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel and Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek.
The rallies, scheduled to take place in 18 cities, would be the largest public outcry for Darfur since the conflict began three years ago. There, Sudanese troops and pro-government Arab militias called the Janjaweed launched a campaign of killings and rapes, prompting the Bush administration to label the atrocities as genocide. At least 200,000 have died in the conflict, and 2.5 million have been forced from their homes.
Public support to end the bloodshed is growing. In recent months, after a student-led protest campaign, several universities, including Harvard and Stanford, have divested some assets from companies doing business with Sudan. Students are seeking similar action by the University of Virginia.
Such states as Maine, New Jersey and Illinois also have removed financial assets, and this month, Providence, R.I., became the first U.S. city to stop investing in Sudan.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R), who will speak at today's rally, has made a formal request to have the state's pension plan divest billions of dollars from companies doing business with Sudan.
More than 750,000 people have signed postcards urging President Bush to act on Darfur as part of a separate campaign to gather 1 million postcards and send them to the White House, said David Rubenstein, coordinator of the Save Darfur Coalition, which also organized today's Rally to Stop Genocide on the Mall.
"We hope to motivate people to take further action and let the world know that America will not stand idly by in the face of genocide," Rubinstein said.
The coalition represents 164 groups, some of which oppose one another ideologically and politically on many issues but have come together for Darfur. They include evangelical Christians and Muslim immigrants, Reform Jews and black Baptists and Democratic and Republican politicians. Today's rally starts at 2 p.m. between Third and Fourth streets in front of the Capitol.
Sgt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police said his department is expecting 10,000 to 15,000 people and will add additional officers. "We don't expect any problems," he said.
The rally comes as the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is worsening. In the past month, 60,000 Darfuris have been displaced, according to the United Nations. The Janjaweed continue to murder and rape women and children of different ethnicity, human rights groups say. Friday, the U.N. World Food Program said it lacked the funds to feed millions in Darfur.
Rally speakers are expected to press the Bush administration to push harder for a multinational peacekeeping force to be sent to Darfur and to take a tougher stance against Sudan.
"We are really pressing for an immediate and urgent response," said Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, which represents 420 million people worldwide. "Several months from now is not an option. It's got to happen in the next few weeks."
Friday, Bush endorsed the rallies and said they would send a strong signal that "genocide in Sudan is unacceptable."
"I want the Sudanese government to understand the United States of America is serious about solving this problem," Bush said after meeting with Darfur activists.
"For those of you who are going out to march for justice, you represent the best of our country. We believe every life is precious, every human being is important."
In a statement, the Sudanese Embassy in Washington said the demonstration could stymie a peace deal between the government and rebels that could be reached as early as today.
"By implication, the message that will be sent by the demonstrators to the Darfur rebels is: Don't Make Peace. The U.S. supports you," the statement read.