2002 Oak Fellow: Ushari Mahmud
The 2002 Oak Human Rights Fellow was Ushari Ahmad Mahmud Khalil, Ph.D. Dr. Ushari Mahmud has worked for the past 15 years to document and protest human rights abuses in his home country of Sudan. He is an important advocate for the rights of internally displaced populations and of children affected by armed conflict in Sudan.
Dr. Mahmud received his Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics from Georgetown University in 1979 and subsequently undertook university teaching, research, and writing on language rights, cultural hegemony, and the use of discourse to distort and conceal the realities of violence in Sudan.
Since 1996, Dr. Mahmud has worked with UNICEF in the field of child protection in both Government- and rebel-controlled areas and in the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office in Nairobi. He also worked on second-tier ethnic conflicts and peace building in Sudan.
As a human rights defender, Dr. Mahmud’s work has focused on violence against children in situations of displacement, slavery, abduction, recruitment in the military, incarceration in juvenile camps, discrimination, and the possession of small arms and light weapons.
In 1987, Dr. Mahmud co-authored a human rights report in which he exposed a massacre of 1500 internally displaced persons from the African Dinka group by an Arab Muslim Group allied to the government. In addition, the same report exposed to the world the practice of slavery and the complicity of the Sudan Government in its perpetration as a war strategy against the southern Sudanese rebels.
In 1990, Dr. Mahmud received international recognition for his work with a Human Rights Watch Monitor Award.
Because of his work with such sensitive issues, Dr. Mahmud was held for two years in preventive detention and banned from travel for a subsequent seven years by the current government in Khartoum. He is regularly defamed in the Khartoum media and attacked by top government ministers and officials because of his advocacy against slavery and a perception that he is a “secret member” of the rebel movement.
Recently, the rebel movements humanitarian wing informed UNICEF/Operation Sudan, where Dr. Mahmud currently works as a child protection officer for child soldier demobilization, that any extension of his work in rebel-controlled areas would not be welcomed. The rebel movement cited Dr. Mahmud’s outspokenness regarding human rights issues.
Dr. Mahmud describes his human rights work on child protection as combining both shaming and principled engagement with the Government and with the rebels. “But this does not mean that I take a morally neutral position between perpetrators and victims.”