Saturday, May 2, 2015

Radical Hospitality and Voices for Justice

One of the amazing things about spending time at William Penn House is the incredible range of people that stay with us that we get to meet.  We get people from all continents, coming for everything business and touring to learning, advocacy and memorializing commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Every once in a while, we get folks who have a very special purpose: survival. So it was a quiet Friday, the 1st of May. I got a call from one of our friends in fellowship from the Southeast White House, Ernest Clover, about Reath Tang, a "brother", as Ernest called him, who was here in DC to try and engage any DC-based support in peace and reconciliation in South Sudan while also reuniting his family. The call to us was simpley because he needs lodging for about a week. We have space for a few days, so we welcomed Reath in Friday afternoon. 

Zach Yoder, one of our interns, spent a few minutes with Reath to learn more about the situation.  Reath Tang was a member of Parliament in South Sudan before the civil war started. He made a reputation for opposing the president Salva Kiir Mayardit when the he tried to push the parliament around. Reath strongly believes in the separation of powers, which has been steadily eroded by President Kirr and says that the current parliament is just a “rubber stamp” assembly.

Once the civil war started, the President’s militia targeted Reath. This was because of his reputation of opposition. Furthermore Reath is from the Nuer tribe and Kirr is from the Dinka tribe-the two largest tribes in South Sudan. Militia men came to Reath’s house looking for him but he was not there having been warned to leave the house. Instead they killed his brother and shot his sister in law in the head—a wound which she survived. 

Reath Tang arriving at WPH
Shortly before the fighting broke out, Reath had obtained a visa to visit the US for the National Prayer Breakfast. After the attempt on his life, he used this visa to flee to safety. If he had not gotten the visa in such a fortunate time he said, “I would be hiding in the bush of South Sudan right now.” His wife and 3 and 5 year old children were able to flee to a refugee camp in Uganda where they are now. For 8-9 months after the fighting broke out, he was not able to talk to them and didn’t know if they were alive or dead. Now his ultimate goal is to bring them to stay with him in the US.  Reath is still in the process of applying for asylum but has been able to obtain a work permit. He wants to establish himself in DC and become an advocate for South Sudan. He wants 3 main things to be brought about for his country: 
  1. He wants Ugandan forces currently fighting in the country on the side of the President to leave. The Ugandan government is currently participating in the civil war while also acting as one of the mediators for the peace process. Reath says that none of the countries that neighbor South Sudan can serve impartially in the negotiations. They all have vested interests in Sudan and it’s wealth of natural resources, including oil. 
  2. Reath wants the content of a African Union investigation into Human Rights abuses to be made public. He says that until people are held accountable for what they have done, there can be no reconciliation. 
  3. Reath wants the US to condemn President Kirr's government as illegitimate. The South Sudanese parliament recently extended Kirr’s term for another 3 years to avoid an election. This single act is clearly illegitimate and should concern the US who invested so much in South Sudanese independence. The US has not acted before when Kirr killed 20,000 people in a single week and continued to kill 30,000 more over time, but Reath recognizes that violations of basic democratic procedure is something that the US might be convinced it should pay attention to.
When stories of globalized terror and genocide show up at your front door in person, they take on new meaning. For us at William Penn House, hosting someone like Reath is both an honor and an opportunity to try and share his story, so here it is. If you feel led to help Reath get his story out there, please pass this on. If you feel led to help, we also welcome any contributions to cover his lodging fees ($200). At a minimum, holding Reath in the light as he works for reconciliation and justice is much appreciated.

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