Students Teach About Darfur Genocide
Acts of genocide are currently being committed in the Darfur region of Sudan, yet student awareness of this humanitarian crisis remains surprisingly low. Students Advocating for Peace in Sudan, a new group aiming to change this, held its first organized presentation on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
The group, founded by College first-years Kehan DeSousa, Sara Skvirsky, Rafi Bivas and Matt Rumizen, received its charter only two weeks ago.
Accompanied by central group members and first-years Charley Brooks, Annie Strother and Joel Solow, the founders held a teach-in about the Darfur genocides in order to increase student awareness about the history of Darfur and give students some direction toward action.
Desousa, in her opening statement, concluded that it was the lack of focused media attention that caused the dearth of awareness on campus, not insufficient interest on the part of students.
Solow then began the short series of lectures with a discussion of genocide conventions within the United Nations and a look back at genocide in Rwanda.
In the past, he said, the United Nations decided that once acts of genocide have been committed, there is an obligation to take action. As of yet, there has been no organized action on the part of the United Nations in response to Darfur.
Looking back to the early ’90s when Rwanda experienced mass genocide, the United Nations — and importantly, the United States — did not take strong action. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently declared that Darfur is a verifiable case of genocide. The admonition of genocide by the U.S. government brings hope to activists who wish to see the United States intervene in Darfur, although historic patterns suggest that action will not be taken.
“This is the next chance to get acting, to stop the rest of genocides in the future,” said Solow.
Over the past 50 years, explained Brooks, Sudan has been a hotbed of civil war between the north and the south. This past January a treaty was signed to end the war, but relations are still tense and the slave trade, among other violent activities, is still prevalent. Reasons for this lasting tension include integral differences in the lifestyles of the north and south. The southerners are generally poor nomads whose land is rich with oil, whereas the northerners are settled and have more money.
In Darfur itself, which is a region the size of France located in the western portion of Sudan, the population is divided into Arabs and non-Arabs, rival groups that have been at odds for a long time. Like the difference between north and south Sudan, the contrast between Arabs and non-Arabs can be described as settled farmers versus nomads.
Recently, two non-Arab activist groups, Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement, accused the government of discrimination against non-Arabs. The government responded by attacking the non-Arab groups, launching air strikes against nearby towns and supporting the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed, the name of which translates to “armed men on horses,” swept across the bombed towns, raping and murdering those who remained.
The Sudanese government denies involvement with the Janjaweed, but the two groups’ attacks are suspiciously coordinated; Janjaweed assaults consistently follow air strikes. As a result, about two million people have been forced to flee their homes in Darfur.
Chad, the neighboring country to the west, hosts many refugee camps that now face shortages of food and water as well as threats of disease.
Strother spoke with concern that the situation in Darfur holds potential for a widespread AIDS pandemic because of the rapes and forced sexual slavery imposed by the Janjaweed on non-Arab women and girls.
“If this pandemic became a reality, the country of Sudan would be devastated beyond repair,” explained Strother.
“This is a test for the 21st century,” said Rumizen. “Will we act this time? It is imperative that [Darfur] become more widely known now that it [has been] declared a genocide. We need to move on to the next step so that something can be done.”
The students suggested steps that can be taken nationally, including divestment from corporations that support the government in Darfur. Universities such as Harvard and Stanford have already enacted similar policies.
Oberlin does not have money invested in these corporations, so divestment at the College level is not an option. States such as Ohio, however, do have investments in corporations that support the Darfur government and can divest.
SAPS hope to raise money for the African Union Troops, a peacekeeping group, supported by the United Nations, which has only been granted a third of the money promised them by the United Nations. Money raised by SAPS will be used to buy supplies like flashlights; the group claims that it will not be used to buy arms.
The students who started SAPS met during orientation this year.
“We were surprised that there was not already a group on campus,” said Desousa. “Maybe since we are first-years, and not already committed to groups on campus, we were in a better position to start one.”
SAPS held a fast earlier this year, as well as an introductory gathering that
was met with enthusiasm. The group plans on holding a letter-writing campaign
next semester, as well as hosting a party at the Cat in the Cream to raise money