Taking a stand
Genocide is wreaking havoc on Sudan’s Darfur region as the Sudanese government continues to sponsor the Janjaweed militia’s use of rape, displacement, organized starvation and mass murder against its citizens. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called the situation in Darfur ‘little short of hell on earth.’
World News Reports estimated that as many as 350,000 Darfurians have died since the conflict began in 2003, mostly due to starvation. In spite of these startling numbers, the UN World Food Programme has cut its aid in half to Darfur, citing ‘funding shortages.’ Experts predict mortality numbers will continue to increase as the conflict escalates and international aid dwindles.
‘It’s ridiculous to think that after the Holocaust and Rwanda the world still turns a blind eye to genocide,’ said senior hospitality management major Jonathan Stahl. ‘It’s time that the United States takes action since the UN has once again proved itself to be useless.’
However, some students refuse to sit idly by as Darfur’s population is massacred. As the international community continuously fails to take effective action against serious humanitarian crimes, regional organizations are attempting to mobilize civilians on the domestic level.
It may seem like undergraduate students are incapable of making a difference in such a complex international crisis. One student organization, however, is taking a stand against the genocide in Darfur.
STAND, an acronym for Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, is a student advocacy group located on more than 200 college and high-school campuses across the nation; Syracuse University is not one of them. Its mission is to educate others on the situation in Darfur, raise relief funds and lobby for political action.
‘In a democratic society the government is elected by the people and supposed to work for the people – not vice versa,’ said senior information science and technology major Kelly Brewster. ‘The best way to influence U.S. foreign policy is to show the government how large a support base an issue has and how much its supporters care.’
The dedicated members of STAND work together in the national coalition and individual chapters to raise public awareness for the humanitarian crisis. On a larger scale they focus on influencing U.S. foreign policy and UN Security Council resolutions by rallying for their cause and convincing the government to use its available resources to prevent Darfur’s genocide from claiming more lives.
Nick Gaw, a sophomore at Swarthmore College, is a member of STAND. He said the goal of the group is to solicit action against the Sudanese government.
‘We took about 50 kids to New York City on Sept. 17 to rally in front of the United Nations,’ Gaw said. ‘There’s a UN mandate against the government, but they won’t send troops in without the Sudanese government’s approval.’
The group’s Time to Protect campaign, which entails a proactive enforcement of peace led by NATO member states, is an attempt to ensure Darfurians are protected. Its October plans include attending election rallies, setting up lobbying appointments, writing letters and op-eds, attending press conferences to ask specific questions relating to Darfur and calling Congressional members to keep the topic fresh in the minds of those in power.
STAND focuses on the importance of taking swift action in Darfur before history repeats itself and the genocide continues to run its course as it did in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany. In those cases, the international community was hesitant to use military intervention against oppressive regimes and millions of innocent victims died.
Taking immediate action was the theme of STAND’s Sept. 5 DarfurFast event, during which high school and college students rallied together to show the nation how individual citizens can take action against the Sudanese government. Student proponents of the anti-genocide coalition were joined by community activists and celebrities. Everyone who participated pledged to give up one luxury item and donate the money they would have spent on that item toward civilian protection in Darfur. Gaw said the Swathmore chapter raised $1,600 at the event.
STAND’s campaign against the genocide in Darfur also advocates a strategy of divestment, which aims to limit U.S. investments in companies that provide revenue to the Sudanese government. STAND works with the Sudan Divestment Task Force, whose primary goal is to coordinate divestment efforts throughout the nation. These small economic measures are an essential step in disabling the Sudanese government.
The organization’s focus has now shifted to the Nov. 7 Congressional elections, which mark an increase in press opportunities and political rallies. STAND is calling for heightened member activism to make Darfur a major election issue.
Congress declared the fighting in Darfur ‘genocide’ on Sept. 9, 2004. Action must be taken once genocide is recognized, according to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
‘The U.S. has taken action of sorts,’ the STAND Web site reads. ‘Though not obviously in a serious mindset. In addition, other countries, while not calling it genocide, have denounced the government and the humanitarian disaster, ethnic cleansing and war crime activities.’
Despite the fact the UN charter protects national sovereignty from foreign intervention in the domestic affairs of its member states, international rights are often manipulated to serve the interests of corrupt regimes. Respecting state sovereignty can be dangerous when it is manipulated by heads of state, according to Human Rights Watch.
The UN’s response to the crisis has included the implementation of economic sanctions by the Security Council and the deployment of additional troops to the region, but it has done little to deter the aggressive factions. STAND is mobilizing America’s youth to take collective action against the Darfur genocide as the governments of the world remain largely incapable and unwilling to take effective action.
For more information on STAND, visit www.standnow.org.
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