Disagreement over solutions for Darfur crisis at conference

By
Monday, January 29, 2007

The international community remains unwilling to take action to end the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region despite “three World Trade Centers’ worth of death occur(ing) each month,” said Eric Reeves, a Sudan expert and professor of English language and literature at Smith College, during this weekend’s Northeast Regional Conference for Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, held on campus.

The Darfur Action Network, Brown’s chapter of STAND, hosted the three-day conference from Jan. 26 to Jan. 28, with about 200 high school and college students from araound the northeast region attending.

“The more we learn about Darfur, the better equipped we are to take action,” said Scott Warren ’09, leader of the Darfur Action Network. The conference included workshops on current issues, lectures on Sudan and opportunities for students from different schools to collaborate on activism-related activities.

“We’re not going to end the genocide this weekend, I can guarantee you that,” Warren added. “But when we leave, we’ll be in a better position to do that.”

“A little controversial”

Anthony Lake, national security advisor under President Clinton and the conference’s keynote speaker, spoke to a nearly full Salomon 101 Saturday night.

His speech focused on praise for the student movement for Darfur and tips for activists. But he faced criticism from members of the audience when he suggested unilateral American military action as a last-case scenario to secure consent from the Sudanese government for peacekeepers in Darfur.

Prefacing his remarks by admitting, “here it gets a little controversial,” he said if the Khartoum regime continued to refuse peacekeeping troops entry to the country, military force should be used against the regime, even if the United States is the only country willing to provide that force.

“We must not rule out using American power when we are convinced that it can save lives,” Lake said.

Richard Lobban, executive director of the Sudan Studies Association, said he was “very distressed” by Lake’s proposal.

He responded that Lake would rethink his proposal if he “had a clue of how Sudan would react to U.S. military involvement.”

A man in the audience who identified himself as a representative of the Nation of Islam also criticized Lake’s suggestion.

“I know that some of what you’ve said is totally untruthful,” he told Lake, saying he believes the United States would only take action in Sudan because of the country’s oil reserves.

Fatima Haroun, a Darfuri woman and speaker at the conference, spoke up across the room about the man’s claims and told Lake, “I agree with everything you are saying.”

“I’m sorry, in a way, that I proposed it,” Lake told The Herald after his speech. “It is not an invasion. It is not trying to rule Sudan. It is, as in Kosovo, a coercive military campaign” that would utilize air power to attack military targets and apply pressure on Khartoum to disarm militias and allow a U.N. peacekeeping force into the nation, he explained.

Warren later emphasized that the conference aimed to bring together different views. He said the debate, though heated, represented a positive step because “it shows that people do care about Darfur.”

Divestment and China

Brown and the city of Providence have both said they will divest from companies involved in the genocide, an effort led in part by Warren and the Darfur Action Network. A bill that would divest the state’s holdings in such companies was introduced last year but was not passed.

“Scott Warren was very helpful in educating me and my office” on the importance of divesting from companies that operate in Sudan, said Frank Caprio, general treasurer of Rhode Island. Caprio said he supports divesting all of the state’s pension fund holdings in companies that do business with Sudan.

One popular topic of the conference was China’s role in the international debate over intervention.

The only country that can exert pressure on the Sudan government is China, Reeves said, noting that China consumes 65 percent of Sudan’s oil exports and is a significant provider of weapons to the Khartoum regime.

Without pressure from China, “no realistic prospect” exists for the Sudanese government to change its stance against intervention, said Nikolas Emmanuel, a visiting instructor at Connecticut College, who spoke at a panel discussion on Saturday.

Reeves and others at the conference called for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics as an anchor for protests against China, with Reeves calling China “complicit” in the genocide.

Actress Mia Farrow, a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, attended Saturday’s panel discussion wearing a black shirt with bold white letters reading, “Genocide Olympics.”

Reeves said divestment is a way to put pressure on China to influence the Khartoum regime. Farrow encouraged each student to look individually into their investments, since she recently discovered that her retirement fund contained investments in Sudan.

Long way to go

Although international attention on the conflict has arguably increased in recent years, “the fact is that we are no farther along than we were in 2004,” Lake said.

Farrow insisted on remaining hopeful. “This is a genocide that is man-made, and it can be stopped,” she told The Herald.

Still, the current situation is bleak.

“It’s enormously frustrating to see the huge amount of visibility of Darfur and the continuing inaction,” said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

“There is potential for this to turn into part of the landscape,” Lake said. He mimicked such a perspective, sarcastically saying, “There are Africans dying, isn’t that what they do?”

In 2004, after reading an article about the crisis in Darfur, Farrow was outraged.

“It seemed to be so under-the-radar,” she said. She said she wants to lend her visibility as an actress to the cause and has since worked to promote awareness and take action against the genocide.

Farrow shared her personal photos from trips through Sudan during the weekend, once while attending the Darfur/Darfur photojournalism exhibit on Jan. 26 and once as part of a panel discussion on Jan. 27.

“As a student activist, I know how important photography has been to the movement as a whole,” said conference co-coordinator Max Schoening ’09, noting that poignant photos can make the difference between awareness and action.

After 30 years working in human rights activism, Sirkin said she couldn’t remember a cause that has “seized the students like this.”

“The student movement is the heart of the movement against the genocide in Sudan,” and students are “impressively educated” on the matter, Sirkin said.