Thursday, June 23, 2005
In response to the current genocide in Darfur, Sudan, mtvU recruited two college students and activists to travel to Chad and document what life has been like for refugees who are living in refugee camps in Chad. Stephanie Nyombayire, a student at Swarthmore College, is from Rwanda and lost 100 family members and friends during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She provides the audience with insight into both genocides and shares her personal experiences while encouraging audience members to take action to prevent genocide. Nate Wright, a student from Georgetown University, had never before been an activist but describes how he became compelled to help the people of Darfur. He describes his role in forming the national student organization STAND, Students Taking Action Now Darfur.
LESLIE KORNREICH: Good afternoon. My name is Leslie Kornreich and I am the Program Assistant for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, which brings attention to and works to halt contemporary acts of genocide. Last July, the Museum declared a genocide emergency for the Darfur region of Sudan. Up to 400,000 people have died in Darfur, and over 1.5 million civilians have been driven from their homes, their villages torched and their properties stolen by the Sudanese military and allied militia. Some have escaped into the neighboring country of Chad to live in squalid refugee camps, but most are still displaced in Darfur.
Through the efforts of the Committee on Conscience’s University Outreach Program, the Holocaust Museum has taken a leading role in motivating students to create activism on their campuses to change the lives of those suffering in Darfur and providing educational resources necessary to understand this genocide.
On September 14, 2004, the Committee on Conscience invited local students to the Museum to learn more about the ongoing crisis in Darfur, meet and network with each other, and develop a plan of action to mobilize on campus. In February of this year over 400 college students from 90 universities came to a Leadership Conference for students active in bringing attention to the genocide on their campuses.
MTV’s college network, mtvU, sent three college students to Chad for one week in March to meet with aid workers, refugees, and college age Darfurians, who are immersed in what has been called the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
Today, we have two of these students who will share what they witnessed. Their experiences have motivated them to take action and will hopefully teach all of us to speak out for the people of Darfur. Stephanie Nyombayire will be a sophomore at Swarthmore College, and is a native of Rwanda who came to the United States nearly four years ago. Having lost almost 100 family members and friends during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, Stephanie speaks on college campuses about her experiences. She is the Outreach Director for the Genocide Intervention Fund, a student organization working for Darfur that was started at Swarthmore.
Nate Wright will be a senior at Georgetown University, where he was recently elected student body President. After attending a lecture given by Sudanese Bishop Macram Gassis on human rights last year and the student leadership event here in September, Nate approached students from different universities and co-founded STAND: Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, a national coalition designed to raise money for relief organizations, increase awareness of the situation in Darfur, and push for political action.
We are going to show a clip from mtvU’s documentary of Stephanie and Nate’s trip to Chad. After, they will elaborate on their experiences. We would like you to ask questions when they are done. Following the program we have reserved Classroom C just down the hall for students to network with each other and to find out more about what can be done on your campuses to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur. Please join me in welcoming Stephanie and Nate.
NATE WRIGHT: There is so much that that documentary does not really capture. And there is so much of the time that we spent there that we also did not see. That is why I am here today: to raise a question. If we were to bring together the ghosts of the Holocaust, Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Darfur, what would be the result?
Personally, I think they would write a history of silence. They would write it because imagination has not yet overcome indifference. There would be two volumes. The first, extremely thick, would illustrate all that went unheard. For most in this world, a tiny string of apathy and fear would keep them from opening it. But the fact that you are here today, I believe, shows your willingness to open this volume. And as you open it, from the pages leap images of government bombings and shrapnel maiming civilians. There are few doctors here to heal those wounds.
You turn the page and you see a small child being ripped from his mother and tossed onto the burning village. Elsewhere, the government-backed militias are pouring water on the babies as they lie beside their fallen parents. You turn the page and you see how women are divided by how attractive they are, to be raped by the Sudanese government and by the allied Janjaweed militias; a weapon used just as efficiently and as completely as the AK47s. You hear one of the Janjaweed growl, “I am going to give you an Arab baby.”
You turn the page, and see bodies stuffed into wells, poisoning the water supply for anyone who would return in the blistering desert. You pause to see a small boy watch his mother -- she is your age -- being gang raped and made to wander through the desert for weeks, naked. Later he will draw this scene as he relives the trauma over and over again.
You skip to the next chapter. Here you see a mother crying from fear and anger as she prepares to endure rape again to leave the camp in search of firewood. Here you understand what it means to be powerless and helpless, as a father must watch as his wife returns from being raped, every day, because if he leaves the camp he will be killed but she will only be raped.
You turn the page and you see children eating cakes of mud, because they have to find something that will fill the hole in their stomachs. Late at night a mother boils a few rocks telling her children there will be food tomorrow. It is the only way that they can still have hope.
You skip back to the index. Here you see that hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this conflict. Here you see that over two and a half million people have been forced from their homes. Here you see that over three and a half million people are going hungry in Darfur.
You skip back to the introduction. Here you see a warning: “What is written on these pages is still raw. It has not yet been polished by time and rehearsal.” What you do not see is how many times these people when we talked to them would break down and cry, because they just could not handle the situation.
The second volume, unfortunately much thicker, would list all those who remained indifferent. Even as a ghost, this is the most painful volume for them to write. A silence not even the dead can bear. You open the volume and immediately you would notice a long list of United States media that refuses to cover this for fear that their ratings will fall.
You skip to the next chapter and you see a list of corporations like Tatneft, Sinopec, PetroChina, and ABB Ltd., who are providing hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenues to the Sudanese government, eighty percent of which is being used for military expenditures. You turn a few pages and you see that today the superpowers of the world are still lightly inscribed on the pages. The ghosts are hoping that one day they will be able to erase them from the pages.
The United States is the first country on the list, for although it has done more than every other country, both in preventing genocide and providing the most humanitarian relief, we cannot say that any of these efforts have led to saving any lives or stopping any rapes. Bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate have brought together Congressmen like Payne and Wolf who have never agreed on anything before. What have those results really led to? We cannot say that we have done anything concrete to save these people. The simple efforts that we can take to hold the Sudanese government accountable go completely unthought-of and undone. You flip to the conclusion, and it begins by explaining that the evil in Sudan wants us here in this auditorium to do nothing. The ghosts of Rwanda are alive in Darfur, and they know that it does not take much to turn the international community away.
The government and the Janjaweed are forcing people at gunpoint to return to their homes because they know if they can say that people are returning to their homes, the international community will look away. At the same point in time, by targeting a few humanitarian aid workers and a few members of the African Union, they can ensure that the United States will have more than enough excuses to never take a leadership role.
You flip back to the inscription. The history of silence for Darfur is being written as we sit here. With every genocide there are those who commit the acts and those who remain indifferent; both are ways of participating in the atrocities. It is not only the militia’s hatred that keeps this genocide going, but it is also the lack of behavior of good people.
The third volume, unfortunately much, much thinner, would be a tribute to those people who gave voice to human rights. The only thing that would keep someone from opening up this book is fear of a good example. My speech is about asking you to open this third book and asking yourself what you see. A movement of tens of thousands of students is giving meaning back to the term genocide, and saying this term requires a response.
With their voices are people like Omar Ismail, John Prendergast, Nicholas Kristoff, Don Cheadle, and Stephanie, who are providing a voice for those who have been silenced. They are joined by hundreds of college students, dozens of high schools, and numerous organizations, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, mtvU, and Reebok, working with the student movement to provide a consequence to political indifference. These are the caliber of people who have earned their place in the book of heroes.
Not everyone needs to have a compelling story, and some are just regular students who sit in a room like this, wondering what can be done in the face of overwhelming injustice, and believing in sanctity for all humans. A few months ago I was sitting in this room just like all of you, when I saw the Holocaust Museum do a presentation which was specific on Darfur, and just like I imagine most of you are wondering what can you do, what can one person do?
It is not wondering what one person can do. It is doing what you can with what you have been given. Doing what we could with what we have been given, when we sat in this same auditorium a few months ago, we have started a movement of tens of thousands of college students. As the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement are calling it, “Darfur is our age’s apartheid,” but the stakes are higher and the consequences are much more grievous.
I am here to ask you, do you have what it takes to write yourself into the book of heroes? Years from know, if someone asks you what you did when you heard that there was genocide in Darfur, will you be able to open up the book of heroes and show your name, or God forbid will you open up the book of indifference?
In February we held a conference to bring together students from across North America to address this, the worst humanitarian crisis of today. On August 10th through the 14th we will host another conference that we encourage everyone here to attend. On April 7th, the anniversary of the start of the genocide in Rwanda 11 years ago, we held STANDFast where students from over a 170 universities across the nation gave up one purchase for one day and donated it to humanitarian relief.
In October, we are looking to host another international STANDFast, calling on people from across the globe this time to give up one purchase to reflect on the crisis. Both of these events are geared towards a sponsor-a-camp program, which we are putting together that will connect communities here with individual camps in Darfur and Eastern Chad, to provide education for the children who are left in these camps. As little as 50 cents a day can feed a refugee and as little as 19 cents a day can feed a school child. Why education? Because the children see it as the only solution to ensure that this never happens again.
You do what you can with what you have been given. You do not need to reach the level of Martin Luther King Jr. to earn the appreciation of those who are suffering. It is not about doing something because you feel sorry for them. It is about doing something because our liberation is inextricably linked with theirs. Most of us who started in this movement never saw ourselves as being politically active. We were normal everyday people; we also believed in the sanctity of life. We are longing for a better future, and I believe that gives hopes to the ghosts of the past. Those ghosts of these atrocities will never die, but they can be put to rest and their hope lies in your hands. Stand up and be a hero. Thank you.
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: Thanks to all of you for showing up here today. Eleven years ago, the most well-organized, fastest, and systematic genocide known to history began in my country, Rwanda. One million lives were lost on the sole basis of being Tutsi, or “cockroaches” as they called us, or moderate Hutus. In that one million lives were a hundred of my family members. My grandmother was shot in front of my 15-year-old aunt, and my grandfather escaped but suffered the same fate only a few days later. Many of my uncles and aunts were also killed, along with their children. Their fate was, if they were lucky enough, they were allowed to pay to get shot, instead of being killed with a machete. There was no exception; the killings went from killing the elderly to killing the fetuses inside of pregnant women. Rape, as in Darfur now, was used as a weapon as they picked men who they knew were HIV positive and told them to infect as many women as they could.
Rwanda had become a bloodbath by the end of the month of April. 100,000 lives had been lost, and hundreds of thousands more were to be lost, as an international community just sat by and watched. Many expressed horrors when shown images of bodies of men, women, and children floating down rivers, lakes, or piled up all over the country in the streets, but no one stood up and took action. Instead the world turned its back on the Rwandans as half of the Tutsi population -- 500,000 Tutsis -- were killed in a hundred days. Today it has only been eleven years since the international community again repeated the promise of “Never again.” Yet, Darfur is happening under our very eyes. There have been 400,000 people estimated dead, and over two million people who are displaced.
They have lost everything they had, and now they are living in homes that consist of just a tent if they are lucky. Their belongings are merely just a few blankets, a few pots, and if they are lucky, food that’s been given to them. The 15-year-old girl in the documentary is just one of the 200 kids in that camp that came to Chad alone. She had to walk for fifty days and now, she has lost both of her parents.
She has been raped and she has seen atrocities that no one of any age, anywhere, should ever be allowed to witness. We also met other kids who were living in a mud house; they were 10, 8, and 6 years old. They were living in a mud house because their parents had had to build it, because there were not enough tents. They had pictures of dead bodies, plane bombings, and men being chased by the Janjaweed. When we asked them how many times they had witnessed this, they just smiled and said, “We saw this all the time.” As they did during the Rwandan genocide, many are witnessing this and dismissing this as everyday African problems. Others, such as the international community or the United Nations, choose to debate over the term and the meaning of the word “genocide.” Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands continue to die each month.
When countless women and young girls are being raped each day, when children’s drawing are becoming drawings of plane bombings and dead bodies, and when men and women struggle every day to be able to feed their children, you must stop the talk and begin the action.
Today I want to urge each and every one of you to help stop the talk and begin the action. We have started a movement along with the STAND movement called the Genocide Intervention Fund. We started a “100 Days of Action” campaign on April 6th to remember and to honor the lives lost in the Rwandan genocide by taking action against the Darfur genocide. We want to write 100,000 letters, send them to Congress or the Senate, and urge them to take more action against the Darfur genocide in support of the legislation. We are raising $1 million to support the African Union peacekeeping mission because they are the only peacekeeping force that is willing and able to provide security for the thousands of victims of the Darfur genocide.
You, each and every one of you, can take part in this fight against genocide. You can speak out against genocide, you can speak out in your community, you can write letters or you can take part in the “100 Days of Action” campaign which is aimed to provide the peacekeepers with the much needed supplies. With your contribution we can help them to sustain their work, which is assuring that the humanitarian aid gets to the refugees, and ensuring that women are protected from rape when they go out to look for firewood. We have now raised $200,000 but we need the help of each and every one of you. You have to remember that it is only through your silence and inaction that the genocide will be allowed to persist, and that you will allow thousands and thousands more lives to be lost. It is only with the help of each and every one of you that we will be able to realize the hope of the people of Darfur and bring them home. I want one day to go back and look into the eyes of these children and tell them that we have heard their pain, that we have seen their sufferings, and that we did not stand by and watch. Today there is no more time for excuses; you must refuse to let Darfur become another Rwanda. Thank you.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
LESLIE KORNREICH: At this time we would like to welcome questions. We have a microphone set up on the sides, so feel free to come down, and while you are coming down I have a question for Nate and Stephanie. I wanted to thank you again; that was an extremely powerful presentation.
I wanted to know what your expectations were, initially, for your trip to Chad and then once you got there, what the most difficult part of the experience was for each of you?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: As a lot of people, I had read in the news about the displaced people and the conditions that they were in but I do not think anything can prepare you to see children in those conditions. You could see a tent where there are about seven people living and it is barely a tent; it is just plastic things that they picked up and put up on whatever they could find. Witnessing those conditions definitely put a reality check on everything and jolted us. We saw their survival and hope and that none of them had given up. None of them have said “Oh, we are just here today.” All of them have kept up their hope, all of them tell the children, “We will go back to Darfur.” They sing songs about going back to Darfur.
Just seeing their hope and their will to survive put the strength in all of us, I believe, to make sure that their hope comes true and to do everything we can to show the world that these people are people like everyone else. These people do have hope and we need to help them get back to where they came from.
NATE WRIGHT: I think the thing that surprised me most about going there was just how helpless we would feel. It is one of those things where I knew we wanted to be able to bring something to these people, and once you get there you realize that a sense of hopelessness of how little of an impact you can have on their lives. You really cannot sit there and say when you are there that you are saving any of them and so there is definitely this feeling of helplessness that is in it. At the same point in time, it takes an incredible amount of courage for them to tell us their stories, especially for women to say that they have been raped. This is a society that still is uncomfortable with the idea that victims are not themselves in some way responsible, and often times many of the women we met who had been raped would be ostracized from the society. For them to have the courage to tell us that they had been raped was amazing. They understand that the people in the United States and in the world need to see what is going on.
On one hand there is this incredible hopelessness, and on the other hand there is just this incredible awe at the courage that they have, because they really believe -- they cannot imagine that people sitting in an audience like this, when they hear this, are not going to want to do something about it. They really believe that when people really hear their stories, they are going to want to do something. And so even though it’s incredibly hard for them to say something, they are willing to.
LESLIE KORNREICH: I know that both of you met a lot of people while you were there. Have you had any correspondence with anyone since you have returned from Chad? Any of the people that you met?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: No, we have not had any correspondence, but we were both hoping to be able to go back to the camps that we visited, see the children or the young women and men that we saw, and see at least some sort of progress, some sort of impact on their lives, better than what is going on right now.
NATE WRIGHT: It is hard to be this distant, because there were people there -- one of the cousins of our translator’s child was dying while we were there -- and we do not know if he lived or died, and it is incredibly hard to be this distanced. STAND is working on a project to bring at least a few of the refugees over as witnesses, which would then do a tour across the United States, and so that is something that we are focusing on, trying to be able to do in conjunction with the Save Darfur Coalition. At the same point of time, not being able to just check up on these people and see how they are doing is incredibly hard.
QUESTION: Could tell us a little more about what your organizations -- STAND and Genocide Intervention Fund – are doing, and what sort of responses you have gotten from other students, or from the larger communities that you are working with.
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: The Genocide Intervention Fund is doing similar work to STAND as well as different work. We are raising awareness and educating people about the genocide, because that is where it all starts. We’re doing advocacy and encouraging people to write and support the current legislation against the Darfur genocide, and we are also fund raising for the African Union peacekeepers. There are about 3,000 of them right now in a region that is larger than France, and they are the only people able to provide security for the people of Darfur. These camps do not have any kind of security, and women constantly get raped as they go out. The African Union soldiers are the only ones that are there to help, to escort them to get their firewood. They are very under-funded and in need of supplies. We are aiming on buying their supplies for them. We are in the middle of our campaign to raise a million dollars and have reached about $200,000.
NATE WRIGHT: STAND has been focusing a lot of on outreach, especially to broader schools. We have over 200 schools now, both high schools and colleges that are involved in the movement itself. Recent surveys showed that we literally have tens of thousands of students that are involved in this.
As I mentioned, the civil rights leaders that are still here today are comparing this with the apartheid movement, and saying that they have never seen students this mobilized on an issue since apartheid, and so essentially what STAND has been focusing on is reaching out to a lot of different communities, especially the high schools and local communities, whether it be religious, clubs, or youth groups. This is what we hope to do through the sponsor-a-camp program, which is a way in which people can have more of a direct connection with the people in Darfur. We are working with several different organizations so that we can have a way to continue to hear the stories of the people in Darfur, and to create the infrastructure on the ground so that when people donate 50 cents, 19 cents, they can actually see how it is impacting the camps and they can stay up to date on it, on more of a camp level.
We are working on a variety of other things like the conference which we are planning for August. We are working on an international solidarity fast with MTV and MTV International, and so right now a lot of our focus is raising the noise level and the number of people who understand this issue and are interested in speaking about it and doing something for the refugees.
QUESTION: You mentioned the African Union. I wanted to ask how effective you think they have been and are being. I also wondered what the attitude of Chad is with regard to these camps.
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: In terms of the African Union peacekeepers, they are effective in the regions that they are able to cover. You hear reports of attacks being deterred because African Union peacekeepers are around. Brian Steidle, a former United States Marine that went to Darfur to report, reported that there was an attack that was about to happen in a village, and as soon as the African Union peacekeepers surrounded the area, the Janjaweed turned back and left because they could not afford to be reported or witnessed doing that by the African Union peacekeepers.
Humanitarian aid agencies have also called for protection by more African Union peacekeepers because they are unable to do their work. A lot of them have pulled out because their aid workers have been targeted, but if they are protected by African Union peacekeepers, there is a less likelihood of being attacked or targeted. They have been very successful in the area that they are in and they could have more success if supported by more people than they are right now.
NATE WRIGHT: There are two big things right now holding the African Union back. First is the number of troops that are able to be pre-positioned. Essentially the African Union has to figure out where an attack is going to happen and get to that camp before it happens. There are incredible difficulties both in numbers and in the logistical equipment that they have -- vehicles, helicopters and so forth -- and that is really what has held them back.
There also are some issues of command, because you have several different countries, Rwanda and Nigeria among them, that are involved. STAND has been looking at pressuring NATO to help in providing a lot of the logistical support for the African Union.
Then there is the issue of the Chad government. The border between Darfur and Chad is not a border that we normally think of. There is not the common line. The tribes cross the borders, and so it really depends on the situation in there. In the northern camps that we went to, everyone is Zaghawa, which is the major tribe there, so there is this sense of camaraderie. There is this sense that they are helping the people, and so in that regard the relationship is very good. As you move south towards areas like Farshana, you actually have situations where the local host populations in Chad are very hostile to the refugees, oftentimes committing many human rights crimes against them, both by attacking them when they go to get firewood, whether that is by raping them or stealing their clothing. It depends on the area in Chad that you are talking about. There is a lot of suspicion on the part of the refugees. For instance, two of the major rebel groups -- the JEM and the splinter of the SLM -- have both protested the peace talks because Chad is a negotiator in the peace talks. They don’t feel that Chad should be allowed a negotiation position.
QUESTION: Do you feel that you brought hope to the people of Darfur?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: We hope that we brought them some hope, but they believe that by bringing back their stories and by giving them a voice here in the United States and abroad that people will be moved to take action. When they see the cameras, when they hear the people -- when our translator told them what we were there for -- they seemed very happy and very grateful to all of us. When you ask them what message they want to send back, they say, “Take Bashir, the Sudanese President, out.” So they are very grateful for what we give them, which makes us feel a little bit better, but still helpless because we leave them in the same situation. They do believe action is being taken when these documentaries are seen. They have hope when they see the cameras around.
NATE WRIGHT: For STANDFast some students gave up alcohol. When we started talking to our translator about what gave him hope that the United States would play a leading role in solving the crisis, among the things that he mentioned was that students in D.C. were giving up privileges to donate the money to humanitarian relief. It was amazing because he was talking about the movement that we had done, and he had heard it on Voice of America, which is an interview some of the people from STAND had done. It was incredible how touched he felt by simple actions that students were doing here. I think that gave him an incredible sense of hope that they just had not been forgotten.
QUESTION: I am not sure how to phrase my question, but in addition to individuals donating their money and raising awareness, which is so important, how can we individually make our government affect change? What have either of your organizations done to lobby our government to get involved in this. What do you lobby for?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: If you look back on the Rwandan genocide, the reason that is given today for inaction was there was no political cost for inaction, there was no political incentive. When Anthony Lake, who was National Security Advisor under Clinton at the time, was asked what citizens could do to get more action from the United States government, he said, “You should make more noise.”
My organization is making more noise and showing that there can be a political cost for inaction. Citizens do care about this issue, and politicians should know that there will be a cost for them in not taking action and not taking a stronger stand against the genocide. In terms of legislation which you can lobby for, there is a Darfur Accountability Act in Congress, and the Darfur Genocide Accountability Act, which calls for a no-fly zone, freezing assets of those committing the atrocities. You also should lobby to refuse to stay silent, to refuse to give politicians a reason for not taking action.
A Senator from Florida was asked if he ever received a phone call during the Rwandan genocide telling him to take action. He said he did not receive one single letter, one single phone call, one single demand for him to take a stronger stand. We want to avoid any excuses that would allow them to say why they are not taking action.
NATE WRIGHT: Yesterday I had lunch with Claudio Betti, who is one of the peace negotiators between the rebels, the Janjaweed, and the Sudanese government. He said that it was the student movement here really raising noise and keeping enough pressure on the government, especially the United States government, to stay at the peace talks and to keep the United States interest in being there that has kept them going. Darfur itself does not have a whole lot of natural resources; it is not especially oil rich, and the oil in Southern Darfur has not been tapped yet. There are not a lot of a reasons for the United States to be at the table, but the fact that you have all these different organizations, the fact that you have all these students coming forward, raising awareness, pushing for specific legislation to happen, it keeps the United States at the peace talks and the United States is the only reason why the rebels are at the peace talks. The rebels have made it very clear that if the United States leaves the peace talks or is not serious enough about them, then they are going to walk away. The fact that we have this noise from the bottom has a tangible impact on what happens in the peace process.
QUESTION: Do you have any regrets about your time in Chad? Do you feel that there is something that you should not have done or something that you should have done?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: I have no regrets, just feelings that I wish I could have done more. Ultimately, when you speak to those people and they tell you their story, they give you so much to go back with; they give you so much strength and so much to look back on and motivate you to go further, but the only thing you leave them with is the possibility of more action coming their way. I wish I could have given them more hope; I wish I could have left them in a better off situation than they were in, but at my level, by myself, I cannot do that. The only thing I can think of that I could do more is from here and asking all of you here to do more, so we can send back more to them.
NATE WRIGHT: I would not say that I have any regrets. I think the big thing that surprised me, and I wish that I could have been more prepared, but there is no way that you can prepare for it. When I sat here the first time and heard Nesse Godin, a Holocaust survivor, I listened to her tell what she had gone through. The speech that she gives is a speech that she has spent an enormous amount of time and an enormous amount of emotional energy being able to prepare for, to the point where she does not break down when she is saying it. In Darfur, when you interview these people, they did not have that yet. They did not have the ability to stay distanced from what they were saying, and they would literally break down in the middle of the interviews. You could almost guarantee that of the hour that we would spend in an interview at least 15 to 20 minutes would be us waiting for them to finish crying enough so that we could continue to ask questions. I wish that there was something more that I could have done to be ready for that, but I do not think that there is anything that you can do that prepares you for just how raw the emotion is and how affected these people are.
QUESTION: Being there in their presence, how did it affect you?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: Those people that you read in the newspaper, those 100,000 people that you read about, they are in front of you. Those thousands of tents, they are there in front of you. It cannot be as if you are watching the news and you switch the channel. It affects you and it stays with you and you cannot go home and just stop by just showing the documentary. You have to go and share it, because you know that without your talking about them, without you sharing what you saw, lots of people will not know about it. I always look back to people who are in Rwanda and did not have anyone to come back here and speak for them. You are compelled to give them a voice that they will not have without your presence. You would not know that the 15-year-old girl was there and going through what she is going through if she had not talked to us. It motivates you to share their stories, and that is where the first point of raising awareness comes from. It is our responsibility and you want to make it the responsibility of each and every single citizen to care that there are 400,000 people who died and millions in refugee camps.
NATE WRIGHT: These people were incredibly hospitable, and it surprised me whenever we would go into one of the tents to interview people that the first thing we would have to say is please do not bring us any food, and please do not bring us any water. These people are so hospitable that the first thing they want to do is bring you something. They want to bring you food, they want to bring you water, even though they will admit that they are hungry, they do not have enough food, and they do not have enough water. They are so incredibly hospitable that when you come back here and you think, “My grades are not going to be good. I may end up losing sleep,” it makes you realize that a lot of the stuff that we value here in the United States really just is not that important. When it comes down to it, the fact that I may have lower grades because I am spending more time trying to raise an awareness in the long run almost makes you a better person. You want to be able to bring some of that hospitality back, and you want to be able to sort of repay how hospitable those people were.
QUESTION: Within five years where do you hope to see the situation going?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: Hopefully it will take less than five years. I do not know how realistic this is, but in my perspective, I see getting pepole back to their land where they belong, where they come from, and where they hope to go back is a first step. We must work on providing security and a base for reconstruction, because they have been chased from their homes, and everything that they had has been destroyed. They cannot go back to nothing. My hope is to see them back in Darfur, where they came from then were chased out of, and on their way to a reconstruction, on their way to making sure that what happened to them never happens again.
NATE WRIGHT: I agree entirely, and I would also like to see incredible resources placed into developing the natural resources in Darfur, because the amount of arable land in Darfur has decreased dramatically. That is what had originally sparked a lot of the tribal conflicts in the late 1980s between a lot of the tribes that are now caught up in this genocide. I would like to see a lot of work done by the international community to take a region that had been completely ignored for over a century and develop it more. I would also like to see a focus on educating these people because they are incredible and have incredible potential. Most of the people that we talked to would talk about dreams of becoming doctors, of rebuilding their society, and I would like to be able to provide them with the tools to rebuild their society.
QUESTION: Has this experience changed your outlook and your perspective on your life?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: It is not only this experience, but also the situation in general, the fact that Congress has declared genocide almost a year ago and has done nothing about it, and it is just a repetition of inaction in the face of genocide. My family has gone through genocide, and I have seen people who have survived, heard stories of the international community turning its back to genocide, and now it is happening again. When you go see these people, hear them talk about what they are going through, how they are hoping for the international community to come and help, and they are dependant on this international community that turns its back, it changes your outlook on life. You want to do everything you can to not become one of the people contributing to the inaction. You want to do everything you can to make a lot more people care and a lot more people ensure that nobody can declare genocide and say, “Well, we do not have to do anything about it.” I want to make sure that what I heard my family members say, and what they have gone through, does not happen again. My outlook on life or just on just this situation in general is to ensure that as many people as I talked to do not become part of the people who just sit by and say, “There is nothing I can do.”
NATE WRIGHT: I think back in September when I was sitting somewhere towards the back, I never saw myself as being politically active. I never saw myself as the type of person who would sit down with Congressmen and talk about ways in which they can do things better. I have never seen myself as the type of person who would really care about the political sphere, especially when it comes to international issues. I am a History major, but now I see that what I ultimately want to go into a human rights field, trying to create traction so that events like this never happen again in the future. I want to ensure that we respond in such a way that we do not take a year after calling it genocide to decide that we really have not really done anything and that we are really not sure what to do.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you heard in your travels, and with your meetings with Congress, that the north and the south of Sudan have been in a war for years, and there was just recently an agreement, and the government of Sudan had to take part in that agreement. This was the excuse for many countries for not blaming the government of Sudan for what was happening. They were afraid of ruining this fragile peace agreement between the north and the south of Sudan. The International Criminal Court wanted to go into Darfur, do an investigation, and indict or make a list of who should be indicted for committing war crimes, and it took the United States a long time to accept that and to say that they would agree to that happening.
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: The International Criminal Court now has about 51 names of people who they know are involved in the genocide after their investigation in Darfur. They are waiting for them to be put in court, and the argument now is that it will deter the Sudanese government to continue doing what they are doing, seeing what happened to Milosevic in Bosnia. I believe it is skipping a step. You cannot start trying people before you stop what is happening. That is my take on it.
NATE WRIGHT: I think with the north-south peace process, the Naivasha Treaty which culminated on July 9th of this year, would have been an amazing accomplishment for the United States, had it not been for Darfur right next door. Part of the Naivasha peace process failed to include Darfur, and it was the rebels in Darfur, the political movement in Darfur that wanted a stake at the peace process, because it was about restructuring the way the Sudanese government represented its people. The rebels in Darfur were basically denied a seat at the table, and so they decided that if they could not get in peacefully, they were going to shoot their way into the peace process. That is when; in 2003 you saw the rebel groups take the major base inside of Darfur. They took the airport and that is basically when the Sudanese government stepped in and armed the Janjaweed, the Arab militias from several different tribes, and began orchestrating the essential wipe out of the civilian population. They used the rebellion as an excuse to wipe out the civilian population.
A lot of people now in Congress will cite the Naivasha peace process and the north-south treaty, as a way in which Darfur will be solved, because on July 9th, John Garang, the leader of southern Sudan, will take power as the vice president of all of Sudan. A lot of people will say, “Naivasha can be used to solve the crisis in Darfur.” I think people who say that are expecting way too much from the north-south peace process. The north-south peace process happened for one reason: there was incredible pressure on the United States to force the Sudanese Government to the table, to force them to make incredible concessions, and there was also the incredible promise of investment from the United States corporations once the peace process had been signed, and once peace had been restored in Sudan. Right now the north-south peace process is extremely shaky. Very few people think Garang has any control over what is going to happen, and there are incredible amounts of ties between the people in Darfur and the rebels in the south. It now looks like the situation in Darfur is much more likely to spill over and cause the whole country to go into chaos.
It is really more of an excuse on the part of many of our leaders from trying to do more, and from trying to pressure the Sudanese government to really have a systematic peace process that works. Instead of learning about the situation we’re going to hope that when John Garang gets into power, he will solve the situation in Darfur. We are going to hope that this one person can somehow have a silver bullet solution and I think it is naïve of us to do that. Sudan right now is very much a matchbook, and it can easily go up in flames if we don’t apply enough pressure. The United States must take a leading role in solving the situation that they failed to solve in the Naivasha peace process.
QUESTION: How sufficient do you think the acts currently before Congress are in stopping the genocide in Darfur? What actions do you think the government needs to take?
STEPHANIE NYOMBAYIRE: The acts against the genocide will not be like the silver bullet solution; it will not be the next step that is necessary to stop the genocide in Darfur, but it is a start. We have to start somewhere, and we have to be lobbying for something that is already there. In terms of what should be done, specific sanctions against the Sudanese government and stopping the support of the Sudanese government is necessary.
We do not want people to stop at a step that has been given to them. You cannot declare genocide and not do anything about it. Eleven years ago they were playing around with the term “genocide,” because if it was declared, something would have to be done about it. Today it seems like the word “genocide” does not even mean anything anymore. So the goal of a citizen is to show that it does mean something, and it does concern them, and action must be taken.
NATE WRIGHT: The acts in Congress will not solve the situation. They will apply enormous pressure on the people who are orchestrating most of the crimes. It is an incredible step to be taken, but at the same point in time it will not stop the genocide. The United States and NATO need to play a leading role in providing enough logistical support for the African Union and ensuring that the African Union has the troops necessary to meet phase 2, which is essentially to have 7,700 troops in Darfur by September. I think you need to see NATO playing a leading role in helping the African Union be effective.
On the other hand, you need to see the United States playing a leading role on the Sanctions Committee. The United Nations, back in March, passed some rather strict sanctions, calling for targeted sanctions against a lot of the members who have been perpetrating these crimes. They called for things like asset freezes; they called for travel bans, and so on. Since then, however, the Sanctions Committee has basically done nothing. There has been no leadership on the Sanctions Committee to make sure that those steps are taken. You need to see the United States playing a leading role in pressuring the Sanctions Committee to take those steps in conjunction with increasing the African Union force.
You need to see the International Criminal Court given resources to be able to have effective trials. The Court has very little resources and money to be able to both capture the 51 people on the list, and to be able to capture enough evidence to prosecute them.
In the legislation where the United States basically refused to sign the International Criminal Court, there are exemptions for cases like genocide, which would in fact allow the United States of America to support the Court’s efforts inside of Darfur.
LESLIE KORNREICH: Thank You. At this time students who are interested in learning more about STAND, or the Genocide Intervention Fund, and what they can do on their campuses, Stephanie and Nate will be happy to meet and talk to you about things that they have done and programs that have been successful on their campuses. I just want to take this opportunity to thank you both again for coming and thank you all.