Harris and Nsengimana Address Genocide in Darfur; Encourage Students to Educate, Advocate, and Donate

This week’s All-School Meeting attempted to address a question the world has yet to answer: what can the PA community do about the death of 400,000 people and the displacement of 2.5 million more? Marc Harris, founder and executive of the human rights organization Genocide Intervention Network, and Sifa Nsengimana, Director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, spoke Wednesday on the crisis in the Sudanese province of Darfur. Rabbi Neil Kominsky opened the meeting, sponsored by the Jewish Student Union (JSU), with a short prayer. His words, “what happens to one of us resonates deeply for all of us,” set the tone for the presentation. State-organized genocide has raged in Darfur since 2003 when members of a Darfurian tribe attacked a police station after trying to attract the attention of the Khartoum government for 17 years. This prompted the Sudanese government and militia, the Janjaweed, to begin a campaign of rape, displacement, starvation, and mass killings against the “undesirables” in the region. Mr. Harris told students about his solution to the horrors of genocide: educate, advocate, and donate. According to Mr. Harris, over 700 chapters of S.T.A.N.D. (Students Taking Action Now Darfur) are operating at middle schools, high schools, and universities across America. These groups such as the Cornell S.T.A.N.D. chapter, which donated the proceeds from a showing of “Hotel Rwanda,” help the organization spread national awareness and raise money. Mr. Harris also commented on the apathetic attitude of political forces in the United States and other countries regarding Darfur. “The real reason we continue to be chumps is zero will for political action,” he said, pointing out the complacency of many U.S. citizens and politicians. “We just keep changing the channel and not addressing the real problem. We need to form a political will.” Ms. Nsengimana, a native of Rwanda, brought genocide to a personal level with an account of her own experiences. “I lost seven members of my family,” she said, referring to the massacre in Rwanda of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the early 1990s. She continued, “What’s happening [in Darfur] could have been prevented and can be stopped today.” Students were given the opportunity to ask questions. Eleazar Vega-Gonzalez ’08 asked, “On some level or another I feel genocide is simply another form of war. Why should [the U.S. alone] have any right to decide what happens in this country?” Mr. Harris first clarified the difference between genocide and war, pointing out that genocide is the systematic killing of people based on ethnicity, religion, or gender. He then proceeded to explain his position on U.S. intervention: “What’s happening in Sudan is the government wants to eliminate Darfurians. The U.S. signed the Genocide Convention under Ronald Reagan. Congress ratified that convention. It’s the law of the land.” He did not, however, advocate U.S. intervention independent of the U.N. He agreed with deployment of U.S. troops only if they went in “under the umbrella of the U.N.” Harris told students in what ways they could get involved, emphasizing membership in the local chapter of S.T.A.N.D. Daniel Glassberg ’09, a member of JSU and the one responsible for organizing the presentation, is in the process of setting up an Andover chapter. Glassberg met Mr. Harris and Ms. Nsengimana through Suzannah Gund ’04, who had worked with the speakers. They met at the Andover Newton Theological Seminary, when the two spoke at a forum on Darfur.. Glassberg seemed optimistic about PA’s S.T.A.N.D chapter. “Right now we have nine signatures and we only need ten total [to start the club]. I hope to get people who are interested, care about the issue, and want to spend their time to help,” he said. He emphasized that the memory of the Holocaust was not the reason he had JSU sponsor the meeting. He said, “Killing people is wrong…[and] everyone can have an impact. It shouldn’t be about race or religion. It should just be about we’re all humans and we want to save lives.”