Genocide: not a word to take lightly


With PowerPoint presentations, statistics, and photos, panelists from around the globe lectured on what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—the unfolding genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. Packed beyond capacity with students, faculty, and community members, the panel discussion took place Thursday evening at Ida Noyes Library.

Government forces and Janjaweed militia have already killed at least 50,000 non-Arab Darfurians and driven more than 1 million villagers from the country. During Sudan’s 21-year civil war, said Suliman Giddo, director of the Darfur Peace and Development Fund, the Khartoum government has tried to crush Darfurian rebels while the nomadic Janjaweed militia has worked to expel the non-Arab population from the land. As a consequence, Giddo noted, “There is no infrastructure for opposition in Sudan.”

The crisis originally stemmed from political tensions associated with the “Islamization” of the community or “the civilization project.” “The [Islamic] government wanted to force the [Darfurian] community to change its fundamental structure,” he explained.

Monitoring the humanitarian effort’s status, John Heffernan, an investigator with Physicians for Human Rights, showed images from his two-week visit to refugee camps along the Sudan-Chad border, where 200,000 refugees remain in exile. “Darfur is the size of Texas and is virtually inaccessible by outsiders,” Heffernan explained. “These people have no access to water, medicine, or adequate shelter. Unless there is outside assistance to people, they will have a difficult time surviving.”

The final panelist, Ami Henson, an officer on the Sudan Task Force at USAID, discussed the inherent tension between performing humanitarian aid and assisting human-rights investigations. “Humanitarian workers do not want to get [thrown out] of the country and lose their access to the population,” she said,” so we don’t ask certain questions that human-rights workers would.”

Above all, the panelists agreed, an accord between the government in the north and the Darfurians in the south must forge a fundamental change in ruling structure and involve more substantial action by other nations. “There has been no intervention because this is a sovereign country even though it has been recognized that there is a genocide going on,” Heffernan argued. “How much does a country have to do before it must forfeit sovereignty?”

Sponsored by the Giving Tree, the Human Rights Program, Amnesty International’s U of C chapter, the Center for International Studies, and U of C UNICEF, the discussion headlined this year’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

By Bianca Sepulveda, AB’04

Photo: divinity School doctoral candidate Noah Salomon, AM'01, moderates Thursday's "Crisis in Sudan" panel discussion.

Photo by Bianca Sepulveda, AB’04.

November 22, 2004