Yesterday afternoon, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas D. Kristof delivered a lecture on the current human rights violations in Sudan and China’s controversial involvement in the continuation of the civil conflict. The New York Times columnist has visited the war-torn region of Darfur in Sudan on several occasions and urges the international community — especially Americans — to focus their attention on providing more aid, including political relief, in hope of ending the genocide.
Kristof began the lecture by presenting a slide show of pictures taken during his visits to the Darfur region. The images depicted scenes of horror and turmoil. With each picture, Kristof related personal accounts from victims and stories of torture, forced slavery, mutilation, rape and murder. He explained that the Janjaweed, an Arab militia supported by the Sudanese government, has been committing genocide against many African tribes due to ethnic differences and conflicts over the scarce primary resources in Darfur.
“You drive around hour after hour and you don’t see live people besides the Janjaweed. Rural parts of Darfur have been completely obliterated. This year alone, 1,000 people a day have been displaced,” Kristof said.
He went on to describe his experiences and observations as a journalist in Darfur. He was particularly angered by the Sudanese government’s support of the Janjaweed and its denial of involvement in the genocide.
“The Sudanese government acknowledges that tribes are burning and people are being killed, but they say it's tribal conflict. However, at the various road blocks and checkpoints, there were Janjaweed militants that were just being waved straight through. This isn’t just tribal warfare, this is government warfare,” Kristof said.
Kristof believed that the international response to the Darfur crisis has been inadequate. He believes that more can be done by the general public, but even more can be done by world leaders. He argues that creating no-fly zones and imposing sanctions on Sudan could help relieve the violence. However, international leaders, including President Bush, do not want to become involved in the conflict.
“The counterargument, in essence [questions], is genocide really so bad? If you talk to government officials, that is their point of view. There are terrible things happening all the time in Africa, like malaria, aids, the violence in the Congo; so should genocide be a priority as the way we think it is? However, there really is a difference with genocide because it’s not just the death toll, but the degree of evil that is associated with it,” Kristof said.
He then went on to relate China’s controversial involvement in the Darfur crisis.
“China has been developing and funding Sudanese oil fields. The Sudanese government then uses the revenue from oil sales with China to buy arms and fund militia … China is also the leading supplier of weapons to Sudan. In 2005, China sold $85 million worth of arms and spare parts for aircraft … It would be a tremendously important bit of leverage if we can negotiate a Chinese arms suspension in Sudan,” Kristof said.
The journalist said that the upcoming Olympics can be used against China in order to dissuade them from providing further aid to the corrupt Sudanese government. The Chinese view the Olympics as a way to present themselves as a powerful world leader. Shrouding the country that is hosting the Olympics in controversy and corruption will, from China’s perspective, create a negative view of China on the international stage.
“We have some leverage over China because of the upcoming Olympics … From a Chinese perspective this is all fits into the age old narrative of China being torn apart, invaded, poked and held back by the international community. Because it fits very neatly into that narrative there has been a backlash from the Chinese people and the government. There is some risk of a nationalist backlash. At the end of the day we have to risk that backlash in order to work with China,” Kristof said.
There have even been suggestions from anti-genocide activists of boycotting the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Opinions have been mixed due to the fragility of this idea.
“I agree with Kristof. It’s a very fragile situation because the aim is to put pressure on the Chinese government, but you don’t want to alienate the Chinese people. It’s a tempting gesture [to boycott the Olympics] because the Olympics stand for honesty, fairness and justice. Allowing them to occur when the opposite is going on seems wrong. The easiest solution isn’t always the best,” said Amy Pearlman ’09, president of Cornell Hillel and STARS, the anti-genocide group on campus.
Reduced activism in the fight against the Darfur genocide, in Kristof’s opinion, has been due to a lack of positive outcomes.
“One of the problems in the Darfur advocacy world is fatigue. The conflict keeps going on and on with no resolution. I hope you all will resist this fatigue and keep trying. There are paths we can take that can reduce the killing … one scenario is a huge international response which would result in a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Darfuris. If this does not happen, all of Sudan will just fall apart. The Darfur crisis will become a prologue to an even bloodier conflict,” Kristof said.
Pearlman, who, along with her organizations, helped put together the lecture, agreed with Kristof. “Caring about this becomes so exhausting because you don’t see any victories. I don’t want our generation to look back at this in 60 years and say ‘we could have done so much,’” Pearlman said.
Nate Brown ’11, who attended the lecture, felt strongly about supporting the cause to stop genocide after hearing Kristof’s lecture.
“I never knew how serious the situation was before now. The pictures said more than anyone else could. Something has to be done; we can’t sit around and continue to turn our heads,” Brown said.
Kristof ended the lecture by trying to persuade everyone to do more to stop the genocide from escalating.
“I hope that you will leave from here and get active. This can involve joining STARS … calling the White House, writing to the Chinese embassy or contacting TV networks and urging them to give this situation more coverage. Will this solve everything? We don’t know, but what we really need to ask is: have we done everything we can possibly do to stop the genocide? Internationally, the answer is no.”