Students take action against genocide

Betsy Graca

With more than 400,000 people killed in the Darfur genocide, and the toll continuing to rise, some students on campus felt the need to take action.

University chapters of STAND – a student anti-genocide coalition – Amnesty International and Genocide Intervention hosted Camp Darfur, a mock refugee camp to spread awareness, in front of Coffman Union on Friday.

In total, 311 students signed petitions at the event, addressing local and national politicians such as U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman, and President George W. Bush.

The event has taken place all over the country, including a stop in front of the state capitol Saturday, and has allowed participants to learn about previous and current genocides.

“We want to make people realize the weight of the problem and the immediacy of the problem,” Wendy Diedrich, president of the University’s Amnesty International chapter, said. “We’re trying to show that this has happened before and we still haven’t learned from it.”

The camp displayed five tents addressing previous genocides: the Armenian genocide in 1915, the Holocaust in 1938, Cambodia in 1975, Rwanda in 1994 and Darfur today.

Darfur, a western region of Sudan, holds deeply rooted conflicts derived from ethnic tensions, land disputes and lacking resources. With more than 2.5 million people displaced, starvation and murder runs rampant with little help from the international community.

Diedrich said the tents demonstrated how people live when their villages are burned – the tents become their homes.

Event attendees and supporters from across the country have covered the tents’ walls with messages as the tents have traveled.

“Don’t let the world deny it,” Tegan, from Moscow, Idaho, wrote.

“Human rights should be human nature,” another attendee signed anonymously.

Hannah Bailey, president of STAND, said although the international community has not focused attention on Darfur, the United States has been rather active.

But not all support has been positive, Bailey said. There is controversy surrounding the definition of “genocide,” and some people think the United States’ focus should be on conflicts closer to home, she said.

However, Bailey said she was pleased with the reaction among students on campus.

First-year journalism student Taryn Thomas, who attended the event, said Americans might not realize what’s going on in Darfur because it’s far away, but it should still be taken as a serious issue.

“I think (this event is) important because we, as Americans, have it so good,” Thomas said.

Anna Donnelly, spokeswoman for STAND and member of the Genocide Intervention Network, said students in particular hold an influence on the United States’ actions.

“It’s a social movement that’s developing by students who will continue actions even if congress does not,” Donnelly said.

She said many experts in the genocide field actually look to students for hope.

Donnelly said more than $250,000 has already been raised, mainly by students. The money goes to protect refugees in Darfur who venture into unprotected territories to collect firewood, which is where most of the violence occurs.

Students not only fundraise and sign petitions, Donnelly said, but are also largely involved in letter-writing campaigns and general advocacy.

Representatives from the American Refugee Committee who attended the event said they were happy with University students’ involvement on campus.

Christine Bailey, spokeswoman for the committee, said students have a great capacity for addressing these issues and getting people excited about it.

“It’s hard to think that by signing a petition or by writing a letter that you’re actually doing a lot, because it feels like such a small action,” Diedrich said. “But those small actions add up on a national and international basis and really do make a difference.”