In 1944, Polish lawyer Raphel Lemkin, in response to the Holocaust that took the lives of 49 family members, coined the term genocide to describe a crime against humanity so horrific that it needed its own definition and code of governing laws. While Lemkin’s efforts led directly to increased awareness about the crime, scarcely a decade has since passed without the perpetration of a major genocide. Despite strong declarations of “never again” after the Rwandan genocide in 1994, we are once again acquiescing to genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Since early 2003, Sudanese troops and government-sponsored militias have carried out the coordinated and targeted killing of the black African population in Sudan’s Darfur region. For the first time in history, the U.S. Congress, State Department, and Executive Branch have all declared that an ongoing massacre amounts to genocide and that the Sudanese government is directly responsible.
To date, 400,000 people have been slaughtered, 2.5 million more have been driven from their homes and 70 percent of all Darfurian villages have been destroyed. Furthermore, a systematic policy of rape has maimed and humiliated scores of Darfurian women, while the government’s blockade of humanitarian aid to the displaced has left over three million in danger of starvation.
Why should the students of UCSB care specifically about the genocide in Darfur in a world where billions are afflicted by disease, poverty, and conflict? New York Times editorialist Nicholas Kristof explains, “There is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.”
Today, the University of California is in a unique position to make “never again” more than just an empty promise. As a result of the combined efforts of thousands of UC students, the UC Board of Regents will meet at UC San Diego on January 19 to consider a process known as divestment, the removal of over $100 million of foreign investments tied up in companies that directly or indirectly facilitate government-sponsored genocide in Sudan.
As the students of the University of California, it is our responsibility to ensure that our university does not continue to passively condone genocide. “Silence in the face of atrocity is not neutrality; silence in the face of atrocity is acquiescence,” explains Pulitzer Prize winning author and Harvard professor Samantha Power. On Thursday, January 19, the over 188,000 students of the University of California must come together and provide a voice to the millions of Darfurians who have lost theirs. Join the thousands of students, faculty, and staff that have expressed their concern by signing the petition for divestment at www.ucdivestsudan.com. And if you are inspired to join us in San Diego this Thursday, please contact student organizers for the divestment campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Rosenthal, law student at the University of California, Davis, is the student Regent for the University of California. Jason Miller, MD/PHD student at the University of California, San Francisco, and Adam Sterling, African American Studies major at the University of California, Los Angeles, are the co-chairs of the University of California Sudan Divestment Taskforce (http://www.ucdivestsudan.com).