U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said he is still haunted by the words of a Sudanese woman he heard talk about watching her entire family – including her children – be murdered by the Bashir regime ruling the country.
McGovern (D-Worcester) was arrested on Friday along with George Clooney and several others protesting outside of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C.
"The government is bombing and killing innocent men, women and children and now they are using food as a weapon and denying humanitarian aid organizations to deliver supplies to the people," McGovern said.
The arrest is the latest in a series of efforts McGovern's made to help bring attention to the humanitarian crisis there.
"A few years ago, I visited a refugee camp and I met this woman who told me about her family being killed," McGovern said. "I asked her how she could relive those horrible events. She said she wouldn't have the courage to talk about her children if she didn't think people cared."
He said that he believes people ought to care and that he is proud of the actions he and others took on Friday.
"The goal was to get people to look at what's happening in Sudan," McGovern said.
McGovern said that he had given speeches about the issue on the floor of the House of Representatives, but it was not garnering media attention.
"There is a sense of urgency now," McGovern said. "Food needs to be brought in before the rainy season, which begins in about six weeks. If it isn't brought in by then, hundreds of thousands of people could die."
McGovern said protesting in front of the Sudanese embassy was supposed to tell the government that people, the U.S. Congress and others are watching. He hopes that the international pressure will push the government to at least allow food to get to the people in southern Sudan.
McGovern noted there is long-term concern for the country as well since as President Bashir has been indicted on war crimes.
"I hope he is eventually committed in an international court," McGovern said.
In order to help bring about long-term change, McGovern sponsored the Sudan Peace, Security, and Accountability Act of 2012 that would create an international strategy for ending serious human rights violations, promoting democratic reform, and establishing lasting peace in Sudan
The bill also calls for sanctions against the Sudan, but also countries like China and Russia that continue to support, either directly or indirectly, a government that kills its people.
To those who have said that McGovern should be focusing his efforts on more local issues, he responded that he can do both.
"You can care about what's happening halfway down the block and halfway around the world," McGovern said. "They're not mutually exclusive."
McGovern recalled that after the world learned about the Rwandan genocide many people said "if we'd only known, we would have done something."
"Hundreds of thousands of people will die if we don't do something," McGovern said. "The notion that we should turn a blind eye is an awful way to view our responsibilities as human beings."
Protesting and getting arrest was just one way McGovern tried to do something to prevent the immediate issue. He spent four hours in a cell after being arrested for crossing a police line and paid $100 fine.
"I wish we didn't need to take this action, but I think we did get people talking about this," McGovern said. "I told them I'd be back again and again and again until the government stops using food as a weapon and stops bombing their people."