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Darfur: Actions Against Atrocities | The Nation

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Darfur: Actions Against Atrocities

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David Wainer

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June 15, 2007

The crisis in Western Sudan often seems too huge and complex for an individual citizen to impact. Yet students across the United States are leading efforts to do just that, even as their governments are slow to act. Darfur implores: "Take action now!" Yet the world's leading political figures, who ardently proclaimed "never again" after the Holocaust only to repeat the same words after the Rwandan genocide, have yet to keep their promise.

The atrocities taking place in Darfur--a territory roughly the size of France--are not fictional horrors conjured up by politicians, journalists and activists to sensationalize world media. Darfur, Sudan, is a real place, and it is a lawless bloodbath. The U.N. has described the current situation in Darfur as "the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century" while President Bush and the U.S. Congress have labeled the situation "genocide."

Since the inception of the conflict, at least 200,000 people have been murdered and more than a million people displaced. Women and young girls are consistently being raped and beaten. Since 2003, approximately every five minutes someone dies in Darfur from starvation, disease or murder. But in order to grasp the transnational origins of this disaster, it's necessary to understand Sudan's turbulent history. Sudan, like much of Africa, has wrestled with the twin demons of tribal conflict and colonial rule, and emerged in the 21st century having settled a 25-year war in the southeast, only to see Darfur erupt.

Complex conflict with a human toll

The crisis in Darfur began virtually unnoticed by the international scene in 2003, when all eyes were turned to President Bush's more important and benevolent scheme to "liberate the people of Iraq." In early 2003, the SLM/A (Sudan Liberation Movement/Army) issued a declaration that it had taken arms against Khartoum, the central government where all the political power is concentrated. Not long after, JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) began an uprising of its own against the government.

Like distraught children looking for attention from neglecting parents, the SLM/A and the JEM were appealing for an equal and accepting government that would include Darfur's Africans interests upon governmental decision making. Up until 2003, Darfur had been marginalized and underdeveloped by the Sudanese government. Both the JEM and the SLM/A were demanding political representation and equal distribution of natural resources.

To efface this inconvenient uprising, the government began to sponsor the 20,000 deep Janjaweed militia to carry out raids against the SLM/A and JEM militias and their constituency. A racial dichotomy became further inflamed as the Janjaweed, culturally Arab, began to target civilians of the culturally African tribes--predominantly the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The government denies supporting the Janjaweed militia but the international community claims there is indisputable evidence linking the government to Janjaweed attacks.

As of Aug. 31, 2006, the United Nations Security Council has authorized 22,500 peacekeeping troops to be deployed, but the Sudanese government strongly opposes this as an imperialist invasion. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said that foreign troops would turn Sudan into "another Iraq." An article in Human Rights Watch provides a more extensive history of the conflict. Despite the grim facts, conscious students have chosen to organize to address the Darfur crisis.

Students rise up

Boston Commons, April 29, 2007: Two thousand people dressed in white feigned death as they lay their backs on the damp grass for five minutes of silence. Organized by Northeastern University student Sunish Oturkar and other members of STAND (a nationwide student group), the protest was part of the Global Days campaign sponsored by Save Darfur, which included 500 other events nationwide.

Sunish just recently started a chapter of STAND at Northeastern University and hopes that in alliance with other organizations, he can create enough awareness to reverberate the impact he made in Boston across campuses nationwide. When asked what students should be doing to contribute to the efforts to help Darfur, Sunish's answer was straight and succinct: "Join the STAND chapter in your high school or college." STAND is a student movement that encompasses over 600 college, university and high school chapters across the United States involved in grassroots efforts for Darfur and anti-genocide activism. Sunish encourages students to establish their own university chapter by contacting STAND's organizing wing.

Crucial next steps

Activism within the United States is imperative in burgeoning world support for action in Darfur. Organizations such as the Genocide Intervention Network, Save Darfur and the Sudan Divestment Task Force" partake in a series of activities to accomplish three main visible goals:

(1) immediate action by the U.S. government to help Darfur, (2) divestment from companies doing business in Sudan and (3) emergency aid and monetary donations to relief agencies.

Americans take action

As the world's superpower, the United States should play a vital role in alleviating the crisis in Darfur. By leading the U.N. in the urgent deployment of 20,000 peacekeeping troops to Sudan and by applying more severe sanctions on Khartoum, the United States would be taking crucial steps towards ending the conflict.

After leading a successful campaign to send 1,000,000 postcards to President Bush demanding action in Darfur, Rev. Gloria E. White-Hammond of Save Darfur noted: "It is imperative the president understand what these million Americans do: a United Nations peacekeeping force will be the only true protection for the refugees of Darfur." The voices of American citizens can indeed create an impetus to generate action from the White House.

What you can do:

Join the nearest Darfur group
Educate yourself and others.
MtvU offers many intereactive tools for learning about the conflict.
Read this expert's site, which is consistently updated with news and blogs.
Lobby your representatives to take action.
Sign the petition for action against war criminals.
Sign the petition demanding international action.
Generate press coverage.
Donate to advocacy groups such as the Save Darfur Coalition and the Darfur Advocacy Project.

Divestment

Much like the days of Apartheid South Africa, fiduciaries are beginning to take action by divesting from companies currently doing business in Sudan. The rationale behind this is that if institutions begin to divest from companies in Sudan, they will indirectly be depleting the genocidal government's fountains of income.

Until recently, Fidelity Investments had a large stake of holdings with the company PetroChina, a significant investor in Sudan. Save Darfur and other organizations mounted a PR campaign of rallies and advertisements aimed at pressuring Fidelity to divest from PetroChina. Eventually, Fidelity reduced its holdings by 93 percent. Save Darfur executive director David Rubenstein responded, "As promising as this development is, our efforts are ultimately only victorious when the genocide has ended. We believe other investment firms must replicate Fidelity's recent actions." By learning more about the divestment initiatives and applying pressure on states, universities, financial institutions and others, Americans can dilute President Omar Al-Bashir's resources.

What you can do:

Learn what divestment is and what it can do.
Check to see if any of your funds are invested in companies that do business in Sudan.
Personally divest and get involved in ongoing campaigns.

Emergency aid

Beyond all the action necessary to halt future violence and deaths, there is a dire need to help those who are in a state of emergency in Darfur. Currently, numerous organizations are on the ground in Darfur seeking to provide emergency aide.

What you can do:

Support through donations. For a complete list of organizations seeking donations, check out Interaction.org.

Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, David Wainer has just graduated from Boston University and is attending a media fellowship in Jerusalem this summer. He has written for New Voices, Israel21 and the Daily Free Press.

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