Washington (CNSNews.com) - Elected officials, Christian activists and escaped slaves gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to call upon the administration to toughen its stance toward the Islamic government in Sudan, which has waged a ten-year war against rebels in the southern portion of the country. The Sudanese government is accused of forcing starvation and conducting religious and ethnic genocide.
The keynote speaker of The Sudan Campaign to Stop Genocide was Francis Bok, a Sudanese slave who escaped at age ten after three years in captivity. Bok described beatings and torture at the hands of Arab slave holders, and called upon the black Christian community to pressure the White House into closing capital markets in the US to companies developing oil fields in Sudan.
"Help free your brothers and sisters from bondage," Bok told African-American ministers and activists at the rally.
Campaign Chairman John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International, said the "Sudanese holocaust has already claimed the lives of two million black Africans, and is characterized by slavery, starvation, systematic rape, ritual female genital mutilation, public executions and other grizzly horrors."
Sudan is in the midst of a 17-year-old civil war, in which the hard-line Islamic Khartoum regime is accused of attempting to starve large numbers of Christians and practitioners of local tribal religions in the South, who are also known as animists. Recently, aid workers in Sudan reported that the government has stepped up its attacks against civilian targets in the south, including churches, hospitals, refugee camps and relief agency headquarters.
Bok and Eibner were joined by members of Congress, including Senator Sam Brownback (R-KA) and Representatives Donald Payne (D-NJ), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and non-voting member Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia. Religious leaders from across the country were also on hand.
Rally organizers plan two weeks of protests, rallies and vigils across the country, designed to pressure the Clinton administration into forcing the Khartoum government back to the negotiating process in Sudan, known as IGAD. The campaign will culminate in National Sudan Day, scheduled for June 9.
The campaign has stepped up its efforts since the US Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report this month on religious freedom around the world.
The Commission called tactics used by the northern Islamic government in Khartoum, in its prosecution of the war against the largely Christian and animist south, "appalling." The Commission recommended a 12-month plan to pressure Sudan into ending human rights violations.
That plan includes humanitarian aid to the south for infrastructure improvements, closing US capital markets to foreign companies that are developing oil fields in northern Sudan, and placing the IGAD process at the top of the State Department's diplomatic priorities.
After 12 months, if religious persecution has not ceased, the Commission recommends providing non-lethal aid to the rebels, including oil, non-military supplies and food.
Representative Wolf said that closing capital markets to companies hoping to finance oil exploration activities in Sudan was "crucial," claiming that the Khartoum government has used the investments to step up the war.
"We're seeing this war move with increasing vigor, and it's being funded by companies that are flouting the trade embargo," said Wolf.
Under federal law, U.S. companies cannot engage in trade or investment in Sudan, but campaign organizers have charged that BP-Amoco and other oil companies have skirted the rules by investing in China National Petroleum Corporation, the Chinese state oil company, which is building pipelines in the Sudan.
CNPC's subsidiary, PetroChina, went public on the New York Stock Exchange April 6 with a $3 billion initial public offering.
Recently, the war in Sudan has intensified despite cease-fire negotiations. Officials of the Catholic diocese of El Obeid, headed by Bishop Macram Max Gassis, say government troops have launched a four-pronged military offensive aimed at strategic sites in Heiban county and other rebel outposts in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan.
Ferdinand von Habsburg, a spokesperson for Gassis, said in a telephone interview from Nairobi, Kenya, that government troops "may be mounting [their] most significant attempt yet to dislodge the Nuba" from outposts in central and southern Sudan.
Habsburg said troops have been massing in Kadugli, a government-controlled town in the region, in preparation for an all-out assault on the south.