Students on campus are mobilizing against what the United Nations calls a “humanitarian crisis” in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
About 180,000 people have been killed in Darfur, according to a Reuters news release dated March 15. Two million more have been forcibly displaced. People are being shot and killed, women raped and villages looted before being burned.
Ethnic cleansing is suspected, though a report by the United Nation’s International Commission of Inquiry for Darfur found no evidence of genocide. The report said the acts committed were “no less heinous” in any case.
As countries all over the world strategize ways to end the crisis, college students across the country are taking notice. Michael Harvey, president of Temple’s Physicians for Human Rights, is conducting a petition drive this week to raise awareness.
“College campuses should be the places you hear about this. It’s frustrating there’s no outlet,” said Harvey. The petition started as a PHR board meeting discussion, and evolved into a week long effort to gather signatures.
The signed form can be sent to any lawmaker, though Harvey recommends sending it to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. The statement “urges [Specter] to push our government to increased involvement in the region so as to end this genocide that is currently unfolding before our eyes.”
Temple is not the only campus taking notice.
Groups such as Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, started at Georgetown by Nate Wright, are inciting change by raising money and awareness. Assisted by mtvU, the group is spearheading an event called STANDFast on April 7.
More than 100 colleges, including Temple, are listed as participants. “I’m thrilled Temple is participating. College students are the engine of social change,” said Stephen Friedman, the general manager of mtvU.
The goal of STANDFast is for students to give up a luxury vice, such as coffee or cigarettes, for 24 hours and donate the money saved to a charity supporting Darfurian refugees. It creates “a moment where you stop and think, this is a luxury,” said Friedman. “The great thing about activism is it’s contagious,” he said.
Darfur has been ravaged by rebel warfare for over two years. Janjaweed militia, who Amnesty International describes as a nomadic group of Arab fighters, are fighting rebel non-Arab armies in “competition over fertile land and dwindling resources,” also according to Amnesty International.
Though Sudanese officials deny supporting the Janjaweed, according to PBS Online News Hour, they have not succeeded in disarming them. A U.N. Security Council Resolution passed in July of last year required that they do.
The situation is getting to the point where humanitarian groups bearing food and clean drinking water are being “forced to scale back aid operations and relocate staff due to security incidents,” the U.N. News Service said in November 2004.
According to Friedman, the United Nations “has the largest infrastructure” in Darfur.
Meanwhile, “those in [displacement] camps are under threat of the government and police who should be protecting them, but who instead are bulldozing their shelters and forcibly expelling them,” according to the Amnesty International Web site.
The lack of official response is making the problem worse as time allows rifts to deepen. An U.N. report recommends the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court. The United States does not back this court for ideological reasons and is trying to find other solutions.
The Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, “The Bush administration is creating a deadly delay…by attempting to block the U.N. Security Council from referring Darfur atrocities to the International Criminal Court.”
College students can help push lawmakers to action. “Back in the late 80s and early 90s, pressure from college students pushed the anti-apartheid movement,” Friedman said of MTV’s past political involvement.
Petitions will be circulating all week. A sample petition can be obtained by emailing Harvey at email@example.com.
More information on the April 7 STANDFast and other Sudan links can be found on mtvU.com.
Suzanne Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.