Sudan’s foreign minister, a hardcore Islamist with a long history of orchestrating mass atrocities and other crimes against humanity, has been invited to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC on Thursday, February 4.
The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event hosted by members of the United States Congress and organized on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation. Religious and political leaders from around the world are invited to the breakfast, also known as the “Presidential Prayer Breakfast,” since the President of the United States is always in attendance. Reportedly, in addition to foreign minister Ali Ahmed Karti, the U.S. State Department has invited Dr. Ibrahim Ghandur, the deputy chairman of the National Congress Party – Sudan’s ruling political party – to the breakfast.
Sudanese and American activists will gather outside the event’s Washington Hilton location at 9:00 a.m. to protest the inclusion of these representatives of Sudan’s genocidal government as attendees are exiting the hotel. They have also created an online petition to the National Prayer Breakfast’s 2015 co-chairs, Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), along with Fellowship Foundation leader, Douglas Coe, urging that the invitation to Karti be rescinded.
Ali Ahmed Karti is well known by Sudanese and South Sudanese alike. He first attained notoriety in the early 1990’s as the commander of the Popular Defense Force (PDF), the Islamist militia tasked by Sudan’s National Islamic Front regime with raiding South Sudanese villages and taking women and children as slaves. The PDF went on to assist the murderous Janjaweed, the Arab militia used by the Sudanese government in Khartoum to commit genocide in the western Sudan region of Darfur.
Today Karti and the other top leaders of Sudan’s National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime, including Sudan President Omar al Bashir, preside over ongoing genocidal war in the country’s Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State. Karti committed to cleansing those regions of the black African indigenous groups through over three years of ongoing aerial bombardment, scorched earth campaigns, and the banning of international food aid. In addition, the foreign minister is accused of instigating the slaughter of hundreds of Darfurian refugees sheltering in Bentiu, South Sudan during an attack by rebels under the leadership of South Sudan’s former vice president, Riek Machar.
Ibrahim Ghandur is likewise complicit in the Sudan regime’s genocidal policies. Both in his role as minister of information and as presidential assistant to Bashir, Ghandur has been a minister of disinformation for Khartoum. He has been the chief spokesperson of the Sudanese regime to so-called peace talks, meant only to delay any international action to stop the genocide perpetrated by the Sudanese regime in Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State.
Even in an age of such moral equivalence as this, it should be obvious that representatives of the Sudanese regime should not be allowed to enter the United States, let alone attend the highly-publicized National Prayer Breakfast. The U.S. continues to have sanctions against Sudan, and Sudan continues to be on the terrorist list. While it is understood that there must be engagement with the Sudan regime to try to help achieve justice and peace (although for two decades or more, engagement has never been fruitful), engagement does not have to take place in the United States.
Sudan activists fear that the very structure of the prayer breakfast and the associated activities – a forum for global networking – will be manipulated by Karti and Ghandur to influence not only U.S. Sudan policy, but that of other nations as well. As one Sudan activist put it, good hearted, but uninformed, prayer breakfast attendees and members of Congress “will buy their charming lies, and US policy will be further neutralized (they already have their hooks into plenty of our officials thanks to their well-funded full-time lobbyists).” Breakfast in Washington could very well be another step towards normalizing relations between the U.S. and Sudan, and dropping sanctions – which seems to be the goal of both the Khartoum regime and the Obama Administration.
Remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide is one of the themes of this year’s prayer breakfast. Perhaps the breakfast organizers don’t realize that the massacred Armenians share a common enemy with the marginalized Sudanese people groups. Inviting officials of what is arguably the world’s most genocidal regime to the National Prayer Breakfast is an insult to the victims of that genocide as well as to the millions of victims of religious, racial, and ethnic genocide in Sudan and South Sudan.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).