Thursday, October 20, 2005

Georgetown students respond to Darfur

the Cowl - World
Issue: 10/20/05

By Matthew Sullivan

In early 2003, fighting began in Darfur, a western region of the African nation Sudan. Rebels from that region initially attacked the Sudanese military in 2003 because they felt that a recent peace treaty had not been fair to the people of Darfur. In response, the military and opposing rebel groups supported by the Sudanese government launched attacks on the Darfur region. These attacks soon targeted civilians and became a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the non-Arab people of Darfur. Many people in Darfur were killed, raped, or had their homes destroyed.

The genocide being committed against the people of Darfur continues to this day. While the United Nations, United States, and African Union have all attempted in various ways to address the crisis, the genocide continues. The death toll is estimated to be as high as 400,000 and is still climbing with millions more displaced in neighboring Chad or at risk of starvation.

In response to this crisis, a group of students from Georgetown University organized a student advocacy group to work to end the genocide. The group, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) was created in September 2004. Its primary purpose is to stop genocide in Darfur by raising awareness about the genocide, raising funds to support victims, and advocating a swift and sustainable political solution. Since last year, STAND chapters have been formed in nearly 200 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, according to National Director Patrick Schmitt, a Georgetown senior. Individual chapters of the group form on college campuses and perform their actions independently of the Georgetown group while still existing under the umbrella of STAND as a whole. No chapter currently exists at Providence College.

The group recently sponsored the Darfur Fast on Oct. 6. All participants of the "fast" were asked to abstain from one luxury item for the day and donate the savings to relief efforts in Darfur. Participants included 160 high schools and colleges as well as many notable figures, like Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof and Bill Cosby. In total between $1-2 million was estimated to have been raised from the effort.

Currently, STAND is working to have the Senate pass the Darfur Accountability Act. This act would require the President to freeze the financial accounts of anyone deemed by the United Nations to be involved in the genocide and to deny visas to those people as well. Crucial to the bill's passage is the support of the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). STAND chapters throughout Indiana have been applying pressure on Sen. Lugar by calling, writing his office, and writing letters to the editor. Recently, Congress increased its funding of the African Union after pressure from STAND and other grassroots groups.

Walter Fauntroy, who served as Martin Luther King's political liaison and was a leader in the anti-apartheid movements, has said, "This is the biggest student action I've seen since the fall of apartheid." Schmitt attributed the success of STAND to its ability to produce tangible results despite the common view that most students are apathetic to politics. "STAND has been so effective because people see that their time with STAND has been productive," noted Schmitt.

The situation remains grim in Darfur with two million displaced persons, and according to the United Nations three million people at risk for starvation. However, STAND believes it has made and will continue to make a significant difference in helping the people of Sudan. "While it seems unlikely that a small group of college students can have much impact on events happening 6,000 miles away, if people from across the country do a small part they together can have a significant impact on bringing an end to this tragedy," said Schmitt.

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Sources: The New York Times, Patrick Schmitt

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