Thursday, April 10, 2008

Darfur update

While visiting campus Monday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof discussed the horrific images he witnessed while visiting Darfur in 2004 — orphans crying for their dead parents, mothers having to choose which of their children would survive and sons trying to bury the bodies of their slaughtered families.

“I just looked around and it was really at that moment the tragedy and scale of atrocities really hit home,” he said.

Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke as part of the Dream for Darfur: A Two-Day Academic Symposium on the World’s Darkest Olympics, an event sponsored by Ithaca College’s chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur and Cornell University’s anti-genocide group, STARS.

Saturday’s event began with a presentation by Mohamed Yahya, the executive director of Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy. Yahya, a Darfur refugee, was studying in Cairo in 1993 when Janjaweed troops invaded his village in Darfur. He said he did not allow the distance to stop him from helping the people of Darfur.

Yahya worked in Cairo while writing his first academic articles about the genocide.

“I invited my friends and we got together at a meeting and we talked about how we could do something to help,” he said. “We could no longer stay at school when our people were being killed.”

Since the genocide began, Yahya has lost 21 members of his family. Now, he is only certain that his mother and two of his siblings are still alive.

According to the Save Darfur campaign, up to 400,000 people have died from the violence in Darfur. The conflict, which is between the Janjaweed militia group and a number of rebel groups, began in February 2003.

Freshman Gamy Wong attended Yahya’s presentation and said Yahya’s descriptive accounts conveyed the strong truth of what the genocide is truly like. Wong said Yahya’s presentation was a good opportunity to hear horrific tales of the genocide from a Darfur refugee.

“The images that he tried to implant in our minds were more powerful than if I just heard these stories from someone else,” Wong said.

The event emphasized the role that China, Sudan’s chief diplomatic sponsor and major weapon’s provider, could play in the ending of the genocide. The speakers told of international pressure on China and the possibility of boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.

Kristof said though China would feel pressure if many nations boycott the opening and closing ceremonies, it may also lead to more problems. Kristof said his suggestion is to wait until closer to the start of the games to make a decision about boycotting.

“People … not going to the opening and closing ceremonies would be a huge embarrassment to China,” Kristof said. “My fear will be that a boycott of the opening and closing ceremonies will tend to boost Chinese nationalism, push China into a corner and create less cooperation.”

Freshman Rachel Merkin and senior Amanda Kessler, co-presidents of STAND, began the planning for the symposium in the beginning of the fall semester.

Let's wait a few months, and then decide to mess with China!

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