Hunger Striker Finishes Day 15 to Save South Sudan

by Heather Robinson

Simon Deng, escaped slave and human rights activist, is finishing Day 15 of his hunger strike to save South Sudan.

“I’m feeling all right; the body is not here but the spirit is strong,” he told me today.

Deng, 55, has not eaten anything in 15 days. He is standing in front of the White House, imploring President Obama to speak out to halt violence in South Sudan that has claimed 70,000 lives in the past 18 months.

At issue is the fate of South Sudan, the world’s newest country. It was born in July 2011, after the Southern Sudanese – who are Christians and animists, or practitioners of native religions – voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Islamist North, whose government perpetrated the Darfur genocide and sheltered Osama bin Laden in the 1990’s. That historic vote took place after U.S. President George W. Bush brought the warring parties to the negotiating table.

Since that time, however, the United States has, while providing the new country with aid money, abandoned its role as mentor and monitor. And those in power in the South, unable to resolve their differences, have turned to violence.

The fight started in Juba, the new nation’s capital, as an intra-party dispute between Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and its former Vice President, Riek Machar. But it has spilled out into the surrounding areas and claimed the lives of 70,000 people, many of them women and children, most of whom have nothing to do with the warring factions. Deng says his 9-year-old niece and several other relatives died recently in the fighting.
Deng has sent an open letter to President Obama with suggestions for bringing the situation under control, including threatening them with prosecution in the international criminal court and suggesting appointing an envoy to monitor conditions and oversee the use of aid money, reporting back to President Obama. Suggestions for the role include former Secretary of State Colin Powell or former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

More to come.

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