March 17, 2005
NOT THIS TIME: TAKING A STAND AGAINST GENOCIDE IN DARFUR
op-ed by Lisa Rogoff
Twenty-nine Rogoffs are listed on a piece of paper with notes about the day they died and how they were killed by the Nazis. This paper looks all too similar to a list made by Darfurian refugees in Chad attempting to document the murders of their family members. I fear that in 50 years their grandchildren will have to visit a memorial to their family members killed in Darfur, just as I had to do for my family that perished in the Holocaust. After the Holocaust we proclaimed, “Never again.” Yet, again and again, we have failed to fulfill this promise. Now, in Darfur, as genocide is taking place, we must say, “Not this time.”
In early 2003, rebels drawn from non-Arab (or so-called “African”) ethnic groups, seeking a greater share of natural resources attacked police stations and military bases in Darfur. The government responded by enlisting militias from some of Darfur’s “Arab” ethnic groups and launched a war on the civilian population from which the rebels drew their recruits. These people are clearly targeted because of their so-called “African” ethnic identity. The distinction between “Arab” and “African” may be largely subjective, but it is fueling a conflict in which hundreds of thousands of Darfurians have been killed, raped and chased from their homes. The “lucky” ones have fled to neighboring Chad and are living in squalid refugee camps.
In July 2004, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum declared a Genocide Emergency in Darfur. In September, then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell called the crisis in Darfur genocide. A United Nation inquiry found that “government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur.” Yet not enough has been done to stop the violence, and the situation continues to worsen.
We have watched genocide unfold before our eyes before. Only after the killing ends do we acknowledge our inaction. Each day in Darfur the death toll rises, more women and children are raped, and human suffering continues. Time is of the essence. The sheer scope of genocide can deter people from acting to stop it. But individuals can make a difference. “If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different,” said former Senator Paul Simon after the failure to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Right now, college students across the country are calling one another to action for Darfur. After a meeting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last fall, Georgetown University students formed STAND (Students Take Action Now for Darfur), which has grown to become a national coalition creating awareness and promoting activism for Darfur.
Through letter writing campaigns, nationwide fasts, candlelight vigils, and other activities, students are taking a stand against genocide. Last February, the Committee on Conscience—which guides the Holocaust Museum’s genocide prevention efforts—held a National Student Leadership Conference for Darfur, providing students with a venue for education about Darfur, networking, and developing plans of action. Four hundred students from 90 schools across the country attended and made a commitment to effect change in Darfur.
Students led movements for change during the civil-rights era and when apartheid existed in South Africa. They have the resources and motivation to influence and change policy through their determination and commitment; that is what the situation in Darfur requires.
On March 17th at 3:00 p.m. EST, thousands of college students across the country observed a minute of silence and stood in solidarity with the people of Darfur. The minute of silence kicked off the Save Darfur Coalition’s (www.savedarfur.org) 100 Hours of Conscience campaign. There are many more opportunities like this in which students can get involved. More information about Darfur and how to get your campus active is available at www.committeeonconscience.org.
In the recent movie, Hotel Rwanda, as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina gives refuge to over 1,000 Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, he asks an American journalist how the international community cannot intervene once they see his footage. The journalist tells him that once they see the images, “They’ll say ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible!’ And then go on eating their dinners.” We cannot stand by and allow genocide to take place on our watch. Students must take a stand, create noise and tell the world: “Not this time.”
Lisa Rogoff, a 2004 Colgate University Graduate, is the University Outreach Coordinator for the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.