RFK Center - Defending Human Rights In This World
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Remarks by Sen. Edward Kennedy: 2007 RFK Human Rights Award Ceremony


WASHINGTON, DC- Today, Senator Edward M. Kennedy honored Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, a doctor and human rights defender in the war-torn region of Darfur, with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow joined Senator Kennedy in presenting the award.

Dr. Mohammed Ahmed is the Medical Treatment Director of the Amel Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in Sudan, and is renowned for creating a network of health professionals in Darfur and working to ensure the human rights of the people of Darfur.  In a conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed has worked both as a physician, treating the victims of torture and violence, and as a representative of the Fur tribe, a majority ethnic group in Darfur, with the aim of achieving peace in Sudan.

Since 1998, Dr. Ahmed has served as a delegate in negotiating a peace agreement between his own Fur tribe and 32 Arab tribes in Darfur. Deeply committed to easing the suffering of his fellow citizens, Dr. Ahmed's work in ending the physical and political strife in Darfur is essential to ending the violence that has torn the region apart.

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was established in 1984 to honor courageous and innovative individuals striving for social justice throughout the world. The award is presented each year to an individual whose work and courage in the human rights movement embodies the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy's vision and legacy.

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you so much, Kerry, for that gracious introduction, for your tireless support of human rights, and all you do for the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights.  I know Bobby would be very, very proud of you and so are all of us in the family.

It's an honor to be here with distinguished members of the diplomatic corps and so many friends of Bobby's Memorial.  My only regret is that our Laureate's wife and eight children are unable to join us today.

We're all very grateful to have Mia Farrow with us today.  Her passion and advocacy has called world-wide attention to the massive tragedy and suffering in Darfur.  She's an inspiration to each of us and she truly shows the power of an individual to make a difference in the world.

For nearly a quarter century, this Human Rights Memorial has served as the continuing voice of Bobby's dedication to human rights.

This morning, we pay tribute to the extraordinary work of a courageous man who bravely confronts injustice and oppression, and who powerfully reminds us of the immense importance everywhere of dedication to human rights.  Time and time again, the heroic efforts of such men and women poignantly demonstrate how one person's vision of a better world can truly change the lives of countless others and sometimes change the world itself.

It's a great privilege to present this year's award to Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, the medical treatment director of the Amel Center for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture in Sudan.  His remarkable work has aided countless innocent victims of horrendous crimes and unspeakable atrocities in Darfur.  His extraordinary and unrelenting pursuit of human rights for his fellow citizens has earned him the title "voice of his people" throughout the region.

As my brother Bobby so eloquently stated, "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of those acts will be written the history of our generation."

Our Laureate has earned a prominent place in the history of this generation.

He was born in a small village in a remote region of western Darfur.  He worked hard to obtain an education while spending countless hours farming his family's land.

After years of work, he graduated from Khartoum University Medical School in 1976 -- the first step in realizing his dream of helping others through the practice of medicine.  He was the first person in his village to become a physician, and to this day he continues to lecture and treat village patients at the nearby hospital.

Through his work at the Center, our Laureate quickly found himself on the front lines of the war that is ravaging the people of Darfur.

A special focus of the Center is on women. Sudanese troops and militia use rape as part of their brutal campaign of genocide.   Humiliated and stigmatized, these female victims are often ostracized from their families and their communities, and left to fend for themselves.  Our Laureate and his staff at the Center provide basic support and services to help these and other victims recover from the vicious crimes. The Center is the only medical facility of its kind in Darfur offering free medical and legal services to these innocent victims, and it receives hundreds of cases each month.

To his enormous credit, Our Laureate is a mentor to aspiring physicians and health care providers in Darfur.  He has a created a network of like-minded physicians who volunteer their time to provide desperately needed treatment and care across Darfur. No one should underestimate the impact of this good work.  Thousands more have been treated because of his dedication and perseverance.

Dr. Muhammad Ahmed's work has become so legendary in Darfur that his home is a haven for the oppressed.  On any given day, no less than a hundred people gather in the early morning in front of his home seeking treatment.

It's easy to understand why.  In Darfur, it used to be that a torture survivor could not access medical treatment unless a special form was obtained from a police station confirming that the victim had been tortured.  Doctors were prohibited from providing medical care without the form. Other doctors turned victims away, but Our Laureate defied the authorities and provided treatment to innocents in need.  He and the Center pressured the Sudanese Government, and the forms are no longer required in Darfur.

In addition to providing medical care, Our Laureate does his best to document cases of murder, torture, abuse, rape, assault, and mutilation.  He and the Center have taken a leading role in bringing cases of such violence to court.

Needless to say, his work is at great personal risk.    He is monitored closely by the Government of Sudan.   Authorities publicly criticize him and the work of the Center.  He and his colleagues are frequently summoned for questioning.  Last year, the police raided a public meeting of local leaders, sowing fear and terror in those who dare to listen to Our Laureate speak about the right of Darfur's people to live in peace.  Sudanese authorities obviously fear the impact of his work in defending the rights of the people of Darfur.

But Dr. Mohammad Ahmed refuses to be intimidated.  He refuses to surrender his ideals and his goal of a better life for his fellow citizens.  He continues to be deeply committed to peace.  He was a delegate to negotiations which led to a peace agreement between his tribe and 32 Arab tribes in Darfur in 1989.  He participated in discussions in 2003 between all major Arab and non-Arab leaders on the crisis in Darfur, and he has met with government ministers, military officials and security officials to discuss peace proposals.

Forty-one years ago in another part of Africa at a different time in history, Bobby traveled to South Africa.  His famous speech at the University of Capetown that year reflected his deep conviction that human rights are fundamental to every citizen everywhere on earth, and his work still speaks to us across the years.  As he told the thousands who defied the forces of the government to hear him speak:  "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Through his own heroic acts for humanity, Dr. Mohammad Ahmed has single-handedly created thousands of ripples of hope for the innocent victims of the horrific genocide in Darfur.  His work is a call to our own collective conscience to do more to reach an enduring peace for Darfur that is true to the fundamental principles of human rights.

The genocide taking place is a shameful stain on all humanity.  The systematic use of torture, rape, kidnapping, mutilation, and massacres haunts our planet.  We as a nation have a moral imperative to work with the international community to end the unbearable anguish of the people of Darfur.

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been killed.

A quarter of a million people are now refugees from Darfur.

Over two million others have been driven from their homes by the vicious ethnic hatred.

Surely, we and the international community can take more effective steps to halt this massive tragedy.  As Dr. Mohammed Ahmed has said, "We have to be one community, and we have to stand against this together."

Urgent action is needed now.  The entire world has a role to play in helping to alleviate the enormous suffering in Darfur.

A peacekeeping force is absolutely essential to protect innocent civilians and bring an end to the chaos, and the United Nations peacekeepers should be quickly deployed as part of the joint mission with the African Union.

The world community must work together to see that the UN arms embargo is fully enforced.  There can be no exceptions.

A "No Fly Zone" should be imposed over Darfur to prevent air attacks on civilians and on humanitarian workers providing food and medical assistance to the people of Darfur.  Civilian and humanitarian aid workers must be able to do their life-saving work.

The world community must also unite in demanding that attacks on internally displaced persons residing in refugee camps and other innocent civilians in Darfur stop immediately.   All parties in Sudan need to be held accountable for the safety and security of the conflict's innocent victims.

In addition, Congress should pass the Sudan Divestment Act, which supports states that are enacting strong divestment laws.  Twenty-one states across America - including Massachusetts -- deserve credit for already enacting their own divestment laws.

Americans who do not want their pensions, annuities and endowments used to support the murderous acts of the government of Sudan should have the information and ability to divest if they choose to do so.

Above all, the people of Darfur need a peace agreement. All the parties to the conflict, rebel leaders and government officials alike, must come to the table to attempt to reach a lasting agreement that will bring peace to those who have suffered so much.

Dr. Mohammed Ahmed has shown the world the way. He is doing all he can to end the unspeakable cruelties in Darfur and improve the plight of the people in that troubled land. He is an extraordinary person, doing extraordinary work at an extraordinary time in history.

The words of a well-known Sudanese writer in a poem entitled "Birth" speak to the hope and promise he is searching for amid unspeakable evil.

Can good combine with evil?

Can it slay war and escape with peace?

Will Earth return to love and joy?

Our Laureate is doing all he can to return love and joy to the people of Darfur.  He is an eloquent voice for countless victims who cannot speak to the world for themselves.  He's an inspiration to us all, and I know Bobby would be proud of him.

It is an honor now to join Ethel in presenting this year's Laureate, Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.