CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — My name is El-Fadel Arbab, and I am one of the lucky ones.
Early one morning, when I was 12 years old, the Janjaweed surrounded my village in the Zalingei area of western Darfur. They started attacking people, killing them in their homes and setting their houses on fire. They slaughtered children.
They lit my family's house on fire, but my mother woke up and told us to get out. I was the last child to escape the flames that ultimately consumed my home and many of my cousins. Unlike the hundreds of thousands who have perished in Darfur, I escaped. My family lost everything, and yet, we were among the lucky ones.
I do not want to see other people suffer the way my tribe, the Fur tribe, suffered. I want to spare others the suffering that my community and my family has endured. That is why I welcome the International Criminal Court's indictment of Omar Al-Bashir, the president of Sudan.
Ultimately, he is responsible for the Sudanese government, which had control over the Janjaweed, or "devils on horseback." The Janjaweed did most of the killing, and it was Al Bashir who gave them weapons. Al Bashir needs to be held accountable by an international court where his trial can ensure that others don't follow his example.
The Janjaweed attacked villagers all over Darfur, killing more than 300,000 people. In addition to these deaths, there are thousands upon thousands of people who went missing and more than 2.7 million people displaced.
As I was running away from my burning house that morning, the Janjaweed caught me and threw me into another house that was on fire. I burned my face, my head and other parts of my body in that fire. I stood up to get away, but my clothes were on fire. I rolled on the ground to put the flames out and then ran into a small pond we used to give water to the chickens.
Burnt and soaking wet, I ran into the woods and climbed a tree. I stayed there all day. From my perch, I could see the Janjaweed and the Sudanese military killing people. Young boys, they beheaded immediately. Girls they killed and dumped in the river. Pregnant women had their bellies cut open with machetes and their breasts slashed.
At night, I climbed down and started following lights until I found a town. For a week, I continued my trek. I was all alone. I stayed in trees during the day, traveling only at night.
From the town I finally arrived in, called Seraph Umbra, it took me 12 days by lorry to get to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. After living in Khartoum for several years, I made my way to Egypt, where I stayed until 2004 when I came to the United States. I have been able to reunite with several members of my family in the United States. I've been very fortunate.
The tragedy in Darfur is not contained within its boundaries. People in South and East Sudan have also suffered from the actions of the Sudanese government. If Al Bashir is not held accountable for his actions, then peace will never come to Sudan. The genocide will never end.
The international community must hold leaders accountable for their actions . I do not understand why leaders of countries, like Chad, which has signed an international treaty, did not arrest Al Bashir while visiting the country.
Even though we live in a different country, far away on another continent, we are all human beings responsible for the welfare of one another. The international community must take strong action to protect civilians and bring Al Bashir to justice.
After the Holocaust happened the world leaders promised "never again." But more genocides have taken place. World leaders must make it stop. What I have seen is enough.
El-Fadel Arbab is a speaker and educator who now lives in Portland, Maine. He was 12 years old when he escaped the genocide in Darfur. He can be reached by email at [email protected].