Activists raise awareness on Darfur
February 28, 2008 9:23 AM
As genocide continues to plague the Darfur region of Sudan, local activists are devising new strategies and ways to raise awareness of the human rights crisis.
The San Francisco Darfur Coalition, one of about 180 activism groups seeking to bring international aid and attention to the human rights violations in Darfur, recently met at the Northern California Holocaust Center to discuss the current dynamics of the tense situation.
Since 2003, the Sudanese government and private “Janjaweed” militias have been in violent conflict with rebel groups Sudanese Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement, according to Amnesty International.
In attempts to cease the rebel presence, the government military and Janjaweed militias have terrorized the civilian population with murder, rape and torture.
They have “burned and destroyed hundreds of villages, caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths, displaced millions of people, and raped and assaulted thousands of women and girls,” according to a Human Rights Watch press release.
Morgan N. Blum, a member of both the SF Darfur Coalition and the Director of Education for the Northern California Holocaust Center, believes learning from past atrocities is vital to understanding and helping to fight human rights violations today.
“Our mission is to teach about the lessons of the Holocaust with inclusion of increasing tolerance through human rights awareness,” Blum said. “Being informed makes one a stronger advocate.”
Having just returned from a national Darfur activists meeting in Washington D.C., San Francisco Darfur Coalition member Stephen McNeil stressed the importance of war criminals in Sudan being held accountable in the International Criminal Court.
“The government of Sudan will continue doing as they please as long as they don’t suffer any repercussions,” McNeil said. “So far they haven’t.”
The ICC has investigated crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur in July 2005, but the Sudanese government refuses to cooperate, according to Amnesty International.
“I think the Sudanese government is the problem,” said SF State philosophy teacher Ann Robertson, 62. “They are supporting the militias that are so flagrantly violating peoples’ human rights.”
Robertson, a teacher at SF State since 1980, teaches international human rights issues in a class called “Human Rights in Global Perspective.” She said she challenges students to analyze and understand the motivating factors behind major world conflicts.
“What I want people to understand is why peoples’ human rights are being violated,” Robertson said.
Robertson believes the problems in Africa are derived from “inequalities in respect to wealth.”
“Capitalism ravaged Africa and created a small elite of very rich African people, and then left other people in a very desperate situation,” she said.
Another key point at the meeting was the importance of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan, said Esther Sprague of the San Francisco Darfur Coalition. She explained the CPA would “set up a framework for democracy in Sudan.”
“If there were free and fair elections, the current government wouldn’t be in power,” she said.
The CPA would ensure that Sudan has free elections in 2009, and southern Sudan can decide if it should separate from the rest of the country in 2011, Sprague said.
The nationwide Save Darfur Coalition is heavily protesting China’s economic, political, and military influence in Sudan.
In addition to giving millions of dollars in economic aid to the Khartoum government, China is the largest foreign investor in Sudan—the primary purchaser of the region’s oil—and also its main weapons supplier, according to The Save Darfur Coalition.
The organization also argues that since China is on the security council of the United Nations, it should use that position to influence change in the government of Khartoum.
“As host of the 2008 Olympic games, China has a special role to play in ensuring that its actions this year are commensurate with the Olympic ideals of peace and international cooperation,” wrote the organization in an open letter to China President Hu Jintao.
But instead of pointing the blame exclusively at China, Robertson suggested the entire UN be reformed. The UN is not a democratic institution and is not an effective mechanism to improve human rights violations, said Robertson.
“These people on the security council are not the human rights advocates of the world,” she said. “Many of them are big violators of human rights.”
Robertson added, “The countries on the security council all have a long colonizing history. They have a history of acting in their own interest, not in the interest of the masses.”
On a local level, SF Bay Area Darfur Coalition also discussed plans to organize a mass protest when the Olympic flame comes through the streets of San Francisco in April.
McNeil was careful to explain that this symbolic act is intended to protest the actions of the Chinese government, not the Chinese people.
“We’re trying to get China to act as a universal human rights protector,” he said.
The coalition devised many possible future strategies to protest China’s policies, including “die-ins” and other forms of civil disobedience when the torch is passed.
No matter what the country or circumstances of oppression, Robertson remains a passionate advocate for human rights.
“Don’t we owe it to humanity to help people who are under attack?” Robertson said. “It won’t make profits for us, but it seems the human thing to do is to protect these people.”
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