March 12, 2007

Activist Decries Genocide in Sudan

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“It is a great pleasure to be visiting Cornell,” began Peter Takirambudde, executive director for the African Division of Human Rights Watch, during his lecture “Darfur: Crisis and Challenges” last Friday. “Normally I get to talk with politicians and business types, the most cynical classes of this world … To get to spend some time with folks like you is always a wonderful experience.”

Several groups — the Institute for African Development, the Peace Studies Program, the Einadui Center for International Studies and the Berger International Legal Studies Program — sponsored the event. According to Jackie Sayegh, program coordinator, the IAD facilitates, coordinates and focuses the University’s interests, capabilities, research and activities in the study of African development.

“The IAD Current Events Lecture brings prominent Africanist scholars, diplomats and eminent persons to Cornell to advance awareness of global issues of our times as they affect Africa,” Sayegh wrote in an e-mail.

She further described The Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies as a base of international activity, providing a home to 21 international programs on campus and a forum for a broad dialogue that cuts across scholarly disciplines. Additionally, the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University is an interdisciplinary program devoted to research and teaching on problems of war and peace, arms control and disarmament and instances of collective violence. The Berger International Legal Studies Program, according to the Cornell Law School website, “is dedicated to a comprehensive vision of world peace through law.”

Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, director of the Institute for African Development, and Prof. David Wippman, law, vice provost for International Relations, both introduced Takirambudde. Ndulo is also an Advisory Board Member of Human Rights Watch, and he originally contacted Takirambudde to come to Cornell to talk about Darfur.

“It is important to have Director Takirambudde speak at Cornell,” Ndulo said before the lecture. “Given the social activism that is vibrantly alive at Cornell, and President Skorton’s call for divestment from Sudan, I believe that the talk today will educate some, bring increased awareness to others and allow the Cornell community a chance to exchange views with someone directly involved in shaping policies in the region.”

Takirambudde spoke to a full room, where the faculty, administration and student body were all represented. He explained the roots of the conflict in Sudan, tracing the devastation from its beginnings in 2003 to today.

“There can be no excuse whatsoever for its failure to stop. As part of this systematic campaign, villages in the thousands were burned and destroyed, hundreds of thousands were killed, women in the thousands were sexually abused, too many Darfurians were forced into camps and those lucky enough to skip the border into Chad number about a quarter of a million,” he said. “Therefore, you have a population of almost five million displaced, which has been perpetrated by the government either directly or indirectly.”

Takirambudde highlighted the steps taken by such groups as the African Union and the United Nations, and even humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch, to combat the genocide in Darfur.

“Access is severely limited,” he said. “Since May 2006 … aid workers have been killed. Many have suffered all kinds of abuse. We are being attacked and hit from all sides.”

Humanitarian and legal action by the international community, while appreciated, as Takirambudde noted, have been largely ineffective. Resolutions like Resolution 1706 of the U.N., which authorizes the deployment of an international peace-keeping force and seeks to organize sanctions, are undermined by governments with vested interest in the area — those of China, Russia and the Sudan itself.

Takirambudde related the number of policemen in New York State to that of Darfur, a region two-and-a-half times the size.

“The forces remain badly undermined, unequipped and unfunded. Quite clearly, they fall short,” he said.

“The crisis is that the massive attacks on innocent civilians are continuing. Two million people are trapped in the camps, a quarter of a million supposedly in the refugee camps. There is no safety from the carnage. The militias continue to rampage, to be armed. This is the crisis. It is today, as it was,” he continued.

Despite the dire circumstance of the Sudan, Takirambudde listed several means by which peace could be achieved in the region.

Firstly, he emphasized the need for neutralization of the militia. Second, he noted the need for an international force to protect the civilians trapped inside the combat areas and inside the refugee camps. Thirdly, he said that the force must not only protect civilians but infrastructure as well, keeping roads open to facilitate the actions of humanitarian workers. Lastly, he noted that since the beginning of the conflict, the government of Sudan has been implementing an “ethnic cleansing”.

“This must be undone,” he said.

He stated that it must be put into these particular victims’ power to return, to be compensated for loss of life and culture and intense suffering, and also to be assured that they will not be attacked again.

“This is not going to be easy. We know that,” he said.

Still, Takirambudde expressed optimism about the future of the Sudan.

“We are trying to generate ideas. When you are involved with human rights, you have to maintain hope,” he said.

In answer to a question from the audience after the lecture regarding universities’ participation in resolving the conflict, he said, “Cornell is playing a leading role. We have enjoyed discussions. We pray Cornell University uses its international prestige … When we throw as many bows in the air, hopefully we can hit, and bring this elephant to the ground.”

Takirambudde expressed appreciation for the role of students in the struggle.

“We are profoundly surprised by the degree of engagement on university campuses across the United States,” he said.

Julie Mao ’08, vice president of the Cornell chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy, one of the student groups sponsoring an upcoming “Darfur Awareness Week”, was one such student present at the lecture. She stressed the importance of a focus on global issues, and an awareness of those issues.

Amy Jacobson grad agreed.

“More awareness … that’s the first step. The media could put more emphasis on what’s going on. It’s been put to back pages.”

Edward Mabaya of the department of Applied Economics and Management, said he attended the lecture because “I’ve been following this issue in the media … It is the big crisis of Africa.”

“I don’t expect Cornell to play a role.” he said, but added, “universities can bring awareness and advocacy that can be taken to the greater public and affect politicians.”

Takirambudde made a similar point at the conclusion of his lecture.

“So long as the price of inaction remains low, [people] will not act. Our responsibility is to raise the price of inaction.”