For over three years, the Sudanese government has systematically supported a brutal killing campaign of its own people in the Western region of Darfur. Government-sponsored militia groups, known as Janjaweed, have destroyed villages, raped women and murdered civilians. The statistics are mind-boggling: As many as 400,000 people have been killed, 2.5 million have been displaced and approximately 90 percent of the villages have been completely destroyed. The most frightening component: The situation is actually getting worse, and humanitarian aid workers are being forced to leave the camps. Darfur is the 21st century’s first genocide.
Although this may be news for some of you, your politicians know about it. In July 2004, the U.S. government recognized the breadth of the crisis by declaring the situation in Darfur to be genocide, the only government who has thus far done so, but it stopped there. To be fair, Congress has appropriated funds for humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, passed resolutions urging the president to take more action and sent letters to U.S., United Nations and international officials regarding the genocide. Although our senators in California have been noble advocates for Darfur, many of our state representatives have fallen woefully short of providing Darfur the attention it needs. According to www.darfurscores.org, a project of the Genocide Intervention Network, a large group of representatives from across the state received a “D”, while our very own Rep. Elton Gallegly received a “C” for his efforts to end genocide.
But please, after reading this don’t follow the pattern of denial or despair that most people do when confronted with such a daunting issue. So much has effectively been done! The State of California, for example, has already divested from all companies directly or indirectly contributing to Khartoum’s government, redirecting billions of dollars away from the violence. STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition combating the genocide, has become the biggest student movement in the nation, putting masses of pressure on elected officials. A nationwide DarfurFast last fall pushed the U.S. to begin working on a peace-deal with rebel groups and Khartoum within weeks. You, too, are already a part of positive action, just by knowing about it.
So, what is the solution? In reality, it will take years, but what we can do now is protect innocent civilians. Congress must first secure funds to bolster the only troops on the ground, the African Union peacekeeping mission.
Although the AU mission needs to be replaced by a U.N. force, additional funds are still needed to protect civilians – and they are needed immediately. Secondly, Congress must help ensure taxpayer dollars are not being used to support the atrocities in Darfur, meaning national divestment. Genocide is an expensive venture and divesting from these companies is an effective method of placing economic pressure on the Sudanese government. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, Congress needs to ensure Darfur becomes a top priority for our country’s lawmakers. Only an increased commitment from the United States to end the genocide can help save lives.
And for you? You can listen, learn, speak out and stand up for the people in Darfur who have been silenced for so long. Many people pick up their wallets and let others do the work for them, but the best thing you can do is even easier. Write to your representatives and senators. Call them, e-mail them, tell them you support initiatives that help Darfur. This coming week, Students Against Genocide, a coalition of seven organizations at UCSB, will be hosting a Darfur Awareness Week, including a photo exhibit, movie, guest speakers and a chance for you to easily send your two-cents to our government. Remember the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon held that if each senator and congressman and woman had received 100 letters from their constituents urging an American response when the Rwandan crisis first surfaced, U.S. policy would have been different.
While 400,000 have already lost their lives, countless more can be saved. If we act now, we can end genocide and we can ensure that a future generation of Darfurians can take leadership in providing for a new future in Sudan. What will the history books say about our efforts in Darfur if we do not act now?