BY ADINA LEVINE
Over a hundred of students and community members gathered on the steps of Memorial Church on Thursday, March 17, at 3:00 p.m. to take part in the nationwide minute of silence in response to the continued genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Sponsored nationally by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately 150 students attended from across the different campuses, including KSG, HLS, GSE, HSPH, and undergrads.
“The goal was to keep in students’ consciousness the fact that the atrocities are continuing,” commented Rebecca Hamilton, JD/MPP Class of 07, and co-founder of the Darfur Action Group. “This is not an issue that has ‘gone away’ just because it is not on the front pages of the major newspapers everyday. We wanted to give students the opportunity to reflect on the fact that this is going on right now – 300,000 people have died, 1.8 million have been displaced, and the so-called international community has not yet made an effective response.”
“Besides those who came to the Minute, many more people were made aware of the situation in Darfur through the flyers, posters, and class announcements that preceded the event,” asserted Asher Fredman, FAS-Undergraduate, sophomore, Class of ’07 who assisted with the planning of the program. “The Moment was also observed in different classrooms with the permission of professors.”
Harvard’s Darfur Action Group, a coalition of undergraduate and graduate students, organized the event in response to the genocide that has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives in the Darfur region of Sudan. Speakers at the event included the group’s co-founders Chad Hazlett (Kennedy School of Government) and Rebecca Hamilton (Harvard Law School) and Francis Bok, a former Sudanese slave, who encouraged the crowd to demand change from their elected officials. At 3:00 PM the Lowell House bells rung, and everyone was asked to observe a moment of silence in honor and memory of the victims in Darfur. A performance by the Kuumba Sisters, an a cappella group, ended the program.
“Student movements have a tremendous history of involvement and influence in generating a response to pressing humanitarian issues,” commented Hazlett. “Perhaps the best known example is the push to end Apartheid, which was in no small part the result of student activism and pressure on the government, student divestment campaigns, and the broader range of activism that was partly catalyzed by the presence of a student movement. But even if this history wasn’t part of our story and sense of mission, the fact is we all have a responsibility to act, and we just happen to be students at the moment.”
Attending through the sponsorship of the American Anti-slavery Group, Mr. Francis Bok, a former slave from South Sudan spoke about his experiences as a victim of government sponsored slave raids.
“It really touched students emotions [to hear him] say that when he was a slave, there was no rally at places like Harvard to speak up for his rights, and how it makes him so happy to think that today students here are using their freedom to speak up and show that they care about the Sudanese people,” observed Hamilton.
Hazlett and Hamilton urged students to take action by writing letters to elected officials, signing petitions, and making donations to a new and innovative organization called the Genocide Intervention Fund (GIF). The new fund will provide aid to African Union peacekeeping troops, providing much needed protection to both Darfurians and humanitarian aid workers.
“It is what I believe to be the most promising lobbying vehicle in existence for this issue,” commented Hamilton. “The GIF is being launched nationwide on April 6th. Following the tsunami we saw how generous private citizens can be, and how that generosity shamed the Government into donating more. This has the potential to do the same thing. The Fund will support the peacekeeping activities of African Union forces so that civilians can be protected and humanitarian aid can get through to those who need it.”
“By showing our leaders that their voters care enough about the people of Darfur that they not only write letters and make phone calls, they take out their wallets and hand over money, it will send a clear signal about where our concerns are and what will help them win our votes,” asserted Hazlett.
With the assistance of Samantha Power, the Darfur Action Group will be putting together a “Darfur Week” to launch the Genocide Intervention Fund. The week begins on April 4th, right after HLS students return from Spring Break, and will feature different speakers such as General Romeo Dallaire, Alex de Waal, John Prendergast, Samantha Power, Michael Ignatieff, Justice Goldstone and Martha Minow. There will be an event on a different aspect of the crisis in Darfur each day, with the Genocide Intervention Fund having its Harvard launch on April 6th, which was the day the Rwandan genocide began in 1994.
“Without awareness there can be no action,” commented Hamilton. “I wanted to start the Darfur Action Group after returning from Sudan last year because I was worried that many students here could barely place Sudan on a map, let alone appreciate the enormity of the atrocities going on there. However awareness is a necessary but not sufficient condition. I think the awareness raising has been going well, but now it is time to transform that awareness into action.”
On a less formal level, Darfur week will also feature parties from across the various campuses in which food is served while a student from the Darfur Action group gives a short presentation about the current situation in Darfur and the role of the Genocide Intervention Fund. Guests are asked to donate to GIF what they would have otherwise spent on a night out.
“Whilst it sounds counter-intuitive to discuss genocide at a party, it has been working really well,” asserted Hamilton. “It just means that rather than talking with other students about what your summer plans are, you end up talking about how to respond to mass atrocity.”
The Minute of Silence was originated by the Holocaust Memorial Museum and observed by university students across the nations.
“One of the signs that was used to advertise the event said “Because we say Never Again,” commented Fredman. “I really believe that that is a statement that we have to be ready to live up to, whenever the need arises.”
“The original concept came from the Holocaust Memorial Museum, who have been great advocates for the people of Darfur,” commented Hamilton.
Hazlett called for continued pressure on political leaders to address the issue, “With events like this and the Genocide Intervention Fund campaign, we hope not only to keep Darfur on the radar, but also to show our leaders that we are serious about pushing the US government to take every action it can. On average, 600 people have been dying per day since last January, and unless we act to stop it, the Government of Sudan has no reason to stop until they’ve finished the job.”
Darfur Action Group is comprised of students from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Law School, School of Public Health, Graduate School of Education, and the College. They are coordinating an activist response in the Harvard and Cambridge communities against the genocide in Darfur. The Minute of Silence is the first in a series of events scheduled this spring including the launching of The Genocide Intervention Fund campaign to raise money to support African Union troops in Darfur.
“Students tend to be the most activist population and they have the ability to create nationwide media attention,” asserted Fredman. “In five years when people write books and articles on Darfur, it is a question as to whether they will be able to write that students mobilized their efforts in order to use whatever means available to them to limit or end the killing, or whether like Rwanda, the tragedy passed them by largely unnoticed while it occurred. This is especially true at a University like Harvard, where the students are often
capable of organizing and wielding real influence in creative and effective ways, and where there is much media attention directed in any case.”
More information on the Darfur Action Group is available at www.darfuractiongroup.org. Information about the American Anti-slavery group is available at www.iabolish.com.
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