In the world of the college student, life pauses for the summer. Courses end, club meetings come to a halt and dorms are vacated. But genocide does not pause for summer. While you may not have seen Darfur in the news or been harangued by the members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur on Cross Campus for the past few months, the crisis in Darfur did not disappear. This summer, the genocide in this northern region of Sudan not only continued, but grew worse.
On April 30, just before spring semester finals began, Yale STAND joined thousands of activists in Washington, D.C. to rally for a stronger U.S. commitment to ending the genocide in Darfur. The next day, President George W. Bush ’68 dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick to the Darfur peace talks. Within days, the government of Sudan and one major rebel group had signed the Darfur Peace Agreement.
But peace on paper did not translate into peace on the ground. In our three months away from Yale, the Sudanese government blatantly violated the agreement, beginning new aerial bombardment and troop deployment in the Darfur region. With intensified violence came drastic increases in sex attacks and civilian deaths. More aid workers were killed in Darfur this summer than in the previous three years of this crisis combined. And the violence began to spread into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, threatening to destabilize the entire region. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof recently warned, “We may remember Darfur as only the beginning of a much broader calamity in all three countries that ended up claiming millions of lives.”
And the situation is about to deteriorate further. The underfunded and underequipped African Union peacekeeping force currently on the ground plans to pull out at the end of this month, removing the last barrier of defense between the Darfuri people and a genocidal regime.
On Aug. 31, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing a peacekeeping force to intervene in Darfur. The catch? This force can only be deployed with the consent of the Sudanese government, which, of course, summarily rejected the resolution the same day it passed.
As international aid workers are scared off and the African Union prepares to depart, the fight for Darfur has never been as urgent as it is right now. This week, we finish our second week of classes. By the end of our fourth week, the people of Darfur will be entirely unprotected from a genocidal regime unless we demand immediate action from the United Nations.
Since the crisis in Darfur began, a constant stream of visitors, from Kristof to Olympic gold medallist Joey Cheek, have passed through the Yale campus and urged students to take action against the genocide. Perhaps the most memorable of these calls to action came from Paul Rusesabagina in February 2005. Addressing a standing-room-only-crowd in the Yale Law School auditorium, Rusesabagina, the hero of the film “Hotel Rwanda,” wondered how history will judge our response to the genocide, declaring, “When you face history, what will you say?” When Rusesabagina faced history, he decided to save as many lives as he could, sheltering 1,300 Tutsi refugees from Hutu death squads in Rwanda. Now, it is our turn to face history.
This Sunday, thousands of people will congregate in the East Meadow of New York City’s Central Park for the “Save Darfur Now: Voices to Stop Genocide” rally. Timed to coincide with the opening of the 61st U.N. General Assembly, the rally will focus on the vital need for U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
The rally in New York is just one of many on what is being called the Global Day for Darfur, a global demonstration of commitment to ending the genocide. On this day, rallies will take place in Cairo, Paris, Hong Kong, Moscow, Melbourne and more than 30 other cities around the world.
In these urgent times, it is our duty as Yale students and as human beings to demand action for those who are suffering and dying. This Sunday, the demonstrations around the world will remind the Sudanese government that the world is watching and will hold them accountable for rapes and killings of Darfuris. The rallies will send the message that the world’s citizens will not tolerate apathy and inaction as the genocide continues. We are facing history, and the time to act is now.
Mark Beyersdorf is a junior in Morse College. Hanna Sufrin is a junior in Branford College. Betny Townsend is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. They are the co-coordinators of STAND.