Indiana interfaith coalition presses for Sudan divestment
July 17, 2006
Ambassador Khidir Ahmed
A UMNS Report
By Dan Gangler*
INDIANAPOLIS (UMNS) — An ad hoc interfaith coalition of Hoosiers
told the ambassador of Sudan that a bill calling for Indiana to divest
state funds from that warring country will be introduced next year.
The 45-minute call from United Methodists and other religious leaders
and faith organizations to Ambassador Khidir Ahmed on July 13 sought his
perspective on the Sudanese situation. They also informed him of the
intent of Indiana State Sen. John Broden of South Bend to introduce a
bill in December for consideration in the 2007 Indiana legislature
session to divest state funds from Sudan until the Sudanese government
takes action to bring peace to the region of Darfur.
“It’s likely that (we) will seek targeted divestments to minimize any
damage to ordinary Sudanese people,” Broden said during the call. “The
prospect of the bill will go as we see how peacekeeping goes in the next
The telephone conversation with Ahmed was followed by a second call with
Michael Phelan, a Washington legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Richard
Lugar, R-Indiana. The conversations were proposed by Beth Reilly, a
member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. Lugar
also is a United Methodist.
The primary issues around the conversation with Phelan were the progress
of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act (S.R. 383) and the issue of
divestment as it applies both to federal and state legislation. The bill
has been through both houses of Congress and is back for consideration
in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Lugar.
|A UMNS photo by Brian Steidle
Over the course of just a few days, about 7,000 refugees arrive in Menawashi, South Darfur, Sudan.
Religious leaders on the call represented three Jewish groups, United
Methodists, Baptists, Friends, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and an
independent missionary church.
Earlier this June, the Indiana North and Indiana South United Methodist
conferences, meeting in West Lafayette and Bloomington, approved a
resolution on Darfur that, among other things, pledged support for the
state of Indiana to divest its funds from Sudan. Another point of that
resolution supported federal efforts to sustain humanitarian aid and
peacemaking operations in Darfur until citizens there could return home.
Pushing for peacekeepers
The Rev. Terry Anderson, associate director of the Associated Churches
of Fort Wayne and Allen County, opened the conversation by thanking
Ahmed for the action Sudan took in May when it signed a peace agreement
“toward a just peace and assurance for human rights of all people in
Also participating in the call was Angelique Walker-Smith, executive
director of the Greater Indianapolis Federation of Churches, and
Gretchen Corn of the Indiana-Kentucky Region of Church World Service, an
ecumenical relief organization.
“Many of us would like to see a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and
don’t feel that the African Union troops are effective,” said Marcia
Goldstone, executive director of the Indianapolis Jewish Community
Relations Council. She also reminded Ahmed that Oxfam, an international
relief organization, had recently closed two of its office in Darfur
because of the violence. “We hope you agree to a U.N. peacekeeping
force,” she said.
Ahmed acknowledged some role for the United Nations in the region but
said no one has come up with a sound argument for replacing the African
Union troops with other troops. Sudan favors African Union troops
because they are the best and cheapest way to maintain the peace
agreement, he said. They need training from NATO, logistical help and
appropriate communication devices, he said. He told the callers that as
members of a rainbow of religious groups, they could play a major role
with humanitarian aid.
Disagreeing on divestment
Ahmed called divestment “a serious issue” and contended that it would
hurt the people religious leaders are trying to help. The average income
of a Sudanese citizen is less than a $1 a day. He further explained
that Sudan continues to suffer from 1977 sanctions that crippled the
railway directly affecting the transportation of medicine and food.
|A UMNS file photo by Erma Metzler
The Rev. Darren Cushman-Wood leads an interfaith prayer vigil for Sudan in downtown Indianapolis in this 2004 file photo.
He told the callers that May 5 Darfur Peace agreement needs to be
supported. “The right thing to do is more engagement, more investment in
the country with the presence of American business to build a middle
class. … I disagree with you on divestment.”
The Rev. Darrell Cushman Wood, senior pastor of Speedway United
Methodist Church in Indianapolis, clarified that the divestments would
be targeted at companies providing military equipment and provisions to
the country that would continue to prolong violence.
"Our deepest concern is keeping peace in Darfur and related regions,"
said Monteze Snyder, a professor at Earlham University in Richmond and a
member of the Religious Society of Friends. “The sanctions are viewed
as a way of dealing with the consequences if the support of peace and
peacekeeping efforts are not reached.”
The Rev. Joe Johns of the Fellowship Missionary Church in Fort Wayne,
who recently visited refugee camps in Darfur, pointedly told Ahmed that
people in the camps were victims of violence by not only the Janjaweed
(militia), but also by “being bombed by helicopters and planes, which
must have been the government.”
|A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMCOR
Malek Wul and her children sit on a woven mat given to them by UMCOR to
keep them out of the mud and help lessen the chances of contracting
Ahmed thanked Johns and his group for their efforts, but his answer to
the situation in Darfur was "adding more troops with appropriate
equipment, advanced communication and transportation by the United
Nations or other countries of the region. This has to be done in
appropriate ways." He said the African Union can pave the way for the
The ambassador said he had also been to the refugee camps and denied any
charges of genocide, saying there was no evidence of genocide, no mass
graves. "You can’t just blame the government."
Rebel groups in Darfur have turned on each other during the last few
weeks, he added. "With the Darfur Peace Agreement, focus should be to
pressure people to sign the agreement. People that used to fight for
them (Darfurians) are not signing the agreement."
Walker-Smith raised the issue of ethnicity in Darfur, pointing out that
during a time she had lived in Darfur, she realized the growing
diversity of the people with groups moving from the advancing desert in
The ethnic issue is a major one involving Africans and Arabs, Ahmed
said. "U.N. peacekeepers will further marginalize the people. To send a
huge number of troops from outside of the region would ignite and
provoke the people in the region," which is “an invitation to all-out
civil war." Since the peace agreement, Ahmed said his government is more
open to discuss things with the United Nations but favors an increase
in African Union forces.
"I hope you will consider everything" Ahmed said as he ended the
conversation. He invited the religious leaders to Washington for a
Encouraging the coalition
Phelan congratulated the coalition’s efforts in gaining an audience with
Ahmed and "suggest(ed) a call from every state to the Sudan Embassy,"
he said. He encouraged the coalition to continue efforts on the state
level with divestment.
He said he believes the transition of African Union forces to the U.N.
forces will be sustained. "The United States has not historically
participated in U.N. peacekeeping forces — just with police, logistic
assistance, transportation and training.
"The United States has participated with financial assistance and is
committed to funding humanitarian needs in (Darfur) Sudan," he said. Of
all the participating countries, the United States has the largest
funding (to Sudan), with half the World Food Program pledge, he said.
The federal government has already been leading and will continue to
lead — in 2005 with $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid, in 2006 with $1.4
billion, and now in 2007 with $1.4 billion, he said.
Phelan advised the coalition to think through the pros and cons of
divestment strategies and make those strategies clear. He also
encouraged the group to call the Sudanese Embassy any time something
significant occurs in Darfur.
*Gangler is the director of communications for the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.