March 27, 2007

Students Honor Darfur Victims

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Darfur Week began last night when about 40 members of the Cornell community came together for a candlelight vigil held on Ho Plaza. The vigil was in memory of the 200,000 people, estimated by the Associated Press, who have been killed since the genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur began in July of 2003.

Over a dozen student organizations united to produce Darfur Week, which aims to alert and educate the student body of the conflict in Darfur. This week’s events are all free and open to the public.

The group stood in an intimate circle formation and shared a diverse array of feelings about the current situation in Darfur.

The conflict in Darfur involves the Janjaweed militia, a group supported in part by Sudan’s Khartoum regime, which is mainly comprised of armed gunmen of nomadic African tribes. The Janjaweed was organized to fight rebel groups who formed to encourage the government to address the underdevelopment and lack of political unity in Darfur.

The targets of most of the Janjaweed’s attacks have been the civilians living in the region. The militia is considered to be responsible for the murders of thousands of innocent people, the destruction of numerous villages and the raping of countless women and young girls.

Ray Bai ’07, president of Students for Tolerance, Awareness and Remembering Survivors, acknowledged that this past year has seen a number of attempts to negotiate between rebel groups and the Sudanese government.

“The international community must continue to support peace talks and to exert pressure on the Khartoum regime to honor its agreements to disarm the Janjaweed and to share political power with non-Arabs,” said Bai.

Such pressure is what organizations like STARS hope to create through the various programs incorporated into Darfur Week.

The vigil was organized mainly by Cornell’s Amnesty International, an organization devoted to the preservation of human rights. Matthew Krueger ’07, co-president of Amnesty International, claimed that increasing awareness of the situation in Darfur is necessary for action to be taken.

“It’s easy for people to go about their daily lives unaffected by what is going on in Sudan. People hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see,” Krueger said. He further acknowledged that the world’s general apathy toward the genocide “unmasks a lot of hidden racism and lack of empathy for the people of Darfur.”

Ryan Spagnolo ’09 attended the vigil, one of the many events he has attended in response to the conflict. Spagnolo is interested in international law and foreign policy, and is currently participating in research towards negotiating peace in Darfur.

“Repeatedly throughout history, human rights are ignored in foreign policy,” Spagnolo stated, comparing the situation in Darfur to the Holocaust. He reinforced the idea that something must be done in order to prevent history from repeating itself.

“People need to disregard political restraints that have stopped them in the past,” Spagnolo said.

Though the evening’s wind prevented candles from being lit, the vigil succeeded in bringing together a group of individuals who could all agree that the situation in Darfur is something that needs to be addressed.

Events later in the week will continue the attempt to inform students of the situation. “Sign a letter. Make a phone call. Make your voice heard,” Krueger said. “We need to galvanize out government into greater action, but that won’t happen unless we let them know we care.”