January 19, 2019

Guernica Magazine

CONTESTED TERRITORY – Jina Moore interviews Rebecca Hamilton

On July 9, southern Sudan is scheduled to become the world’s newest country. Rebecca Hamilton discusses the impact of this change on the rest of the region.

Last September, Rebecca Hamilton was finishing a street interview in Khartoum, Sudan, when she saw the local police rounding up a group of women. The police accused the women of brewing a local beer, illegal in the Sharia state, and carted them away. Belatedly, they noticed the white foreigner watching them. One of the men in the crowd she had been talking to “suggested I call my president in Washington to tell him I had been arrested,” she wrote later in The Atlantic.

Sure enough, Hamilton spent the next six hours detained in two different unmarked buildings, answering questions about her reporting trips to Darfur and her upcoming book. She was finally released late in the evening, along with the request that she promise never to speak to a southern Sudanese without a state security agent chaperone.

Since then, Hamilton has not been able to get a visa for northern Sudan—soon to be a separate country. The coming split is the final chapter in what was Africa’s longest-running civil war. For twenty-one years, southern liberation fighters battled for independence. It was a war seemingly about everything, including economic neglect and political disenfranchisement, a pattern that originated under the British colonial administration and that a weak and nervous new Islamic government, in the 1980s, perpetuated. Ultimately, the north-south civil war—like so much violence across Sudan—was about identity. “Strikingly consistent across all of the battles in Sudan’s history has been a fundamental conflict over what are and what are not seen as legitimate aspects of Sudanese identity,” Hamilton writes in her book, Fighting for Darfur.

It was Darfur, in fact, that captured international attention, thanks in part to an advocacy movement that is the subject of Hamilton’s book and in which she played a part. As a student at Harvard Law School, Hamilton co-founded the Harvard Divestment Movement in 2004, leading the university with the richest endowment in America to pull its investments in companies making profits from Sudan. The successful campaign catalyzed divestment movements across the country.

Hamilton, meanwhile, moved on to The Hague, where she worked after law school as a special assistant to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The court has indicted six Sudanese for war crimes, including the country’s president, Omar al-Bashir. In 2008, Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for genocide. Hamilton left the court to write Fighting for Darfur.

Last year, Hamilton took several trips to Sudan, where she covered the referendum as a Washington Post special correspondent, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

This interview was conducted on June 17 in New York, following Hamilton’s most recent trip to the contested territory on the border between north and south Sudan. —Jina Moore for Guernica

Click here to read the interview.

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