On the same day, the University announced its divestment from government bonds and oil companies in Sudan, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof discussed the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of the African country in a speech at Luce Hall.
The event, sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, drew a crowd of about 300 faculty members and students who filled the main auditorium in Luce as well as two large rooms where the speech was simulcast. In the speech, Kristof criticized the U.S. government and international organizations for what he viewed as a failure to respond to the killing of more than 100,000 Sudanese.
Kristof’s remarks outlined the history of the Darfur conflict and the international response, which he characterized as inadequate. Janjaweed militias in Darfur, composed of Arab tribesmen who are protected by the Sudanese government, have been attacking African Sudanese villages since 2003, killing “a few hundred thousand” people and sending hundreds of thousands more to refugee camps in Sudan and Chad, Kristof said.
“You go for mile after mile after mile, and you just see burned out villages, one after the other,” Kristof said.
The militia target the wells in the country, either poisoning them or waiting near them to attack villagers who come to get water, Kristof said. Men are killed and women are raped, he said, so families have to send their small children to get water.
Eric Bloom ’08, the co-chair of Students Take Action Now: Darfur, which petitioned the Yale Corporation to divest from companies linked to the Sudanese government, said Kristof has played a critical role in publicizing the genocide in the United States. The columns combat the impression that Darfur is too distant to affect Americans, Bloom said.
“People read The New York Times and take it seriously, and he brings Darfur to life,” Bloom said.
In his speech, Kristof compared the Bush administration’s failure to address the situation in Darfur to President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision not to act to end the Holocaust and the Clinton administration’s inaction during the Rwandan genocide.
“We have a long, bipartisan and consistent record on genocide, of inhumanity,” Kristof said.
Kristof proposed that peace in Darfur might be achieved through talks between tribal sheiks representing both Arab and African groups, who continue to hold moral authority over their tribesmen. The genocide followed a rebellion by African tribes in the region that demanded more autonomy, and peace talks between the government and the rebels have thus far been unproductive, he said.
Kristof described a hypothetical scenario in which United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan would appoint former Secretary of State Colin Powell to lead talks between sheiks representing the different tribes involved in the conflict.
“Would that work? I don’t know, but it’s surely worth a try,” he said.
Several students who attended the talk said they thought Kristof’s presentation was useful because it tried to remedy the absence of coverage on the genocide in other media.
“It was very informative, and I think it’s great to hear about this kind of thing from someone who’s actually been there,” Jason Blau ’08 said. “You can only get so much of an idea from the weekly columns.”
Julia Dickinson NUR ’08 said she did not know much about the human rights violations in Sudan before the talk.
“I thought it was disturbing in some ways, the stories he told,” she said.
Blau said he thought the strong turnout at the event suggested that interest in the genocide in Darfur is growing. But Bloom said he thought the crowded auditorium was probably due to Kristof’s stature as a Times columnist and does not necessarily signify a general interest in Darfur.
Before becoming a columnist at the Times, Kristof reported for the paper as bureau chief in Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo, and covered George W. Bush ’68 when he was a candidate for president in 2000. He won the Pulitzer Prize with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, for reporting on China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1990.