Week of events to bring Darfur awareness

Genocide scholar Dr. Sam Totten kicks off the week’s events tonight.

by Lindsay Guentzel

University of Arkansas professor Dr. Sam Totten will present “Darfur: Documenting a Genocide” Thursday at the University.

His presentation will kick off a week of events aimed at raising awareness of the genocide in Darfur.

The events are co-sponsored by the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Genocide Intervention Network of Minnesota.

In July 2004, the U.S. government sent 24 researchers to the Chad-Sudan border to find out if genocide was occurring in the Darfur region.

Totten, a respected genocide scholar, was among the researchers.

As a part of the Darfur Atrocities Documentation Team, he and his colleagues interviewed 1,192 Sudanese refugees during their time in central Africa.

Based on the team’s research, the U.S. government decided to declare the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan genocide.

Dr. Ellen Kennedy, the outreach coordinator for the center, said she is excited to have Totten highlight the week of Darfur events at the University.

“Dr. Totten is one of the most important voices to hear in terms of what was witnessed, what the extent of this violence is all about,” Kennedy said. “He was there, he was on the ground. It is his research.”

The week’s events, which also include a new documentary film and a mock refugee camp, are scheduled to last until Oct. 17, she said.

The documentary, called “The Devil Came on Horseback,” exposes the crisis in Darfur through the eyes of former U.S. Marine Capt. Brian Steidle.

Steidle spent time in Darfur after being hired by the African Union to observe the cease-fire agreement that was installed in April 2004, Kennedy said.

She said he had hoped when government officials saw his pictures and heard his stories that they would send Marines to the area.

“It has been truly devastating to him that there is no political will to bring this to a close,” Kennedy said.

She said she hopes after viewing the film people will realize how important the public is in stopping genocide.

“We all are part of creating that political will,” Kennedy said. “It is up to each of us to contact our elected officials and to say that something has to be done.”

The film opens Friday at the Bell Museum of Natural History and will be screened until Oct 17.

The mock refugee camp, which is scheduled for Saturday at the State Capitol, is sponsored by Stop Genocide Now, Kennedy said.

The traveling camp will be highlighting the history and effects of genocide and will feature Gabriel Stauring, the co-founder of Stop Genocide Now, who has visited refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border, Kennedy said.

There is also a teachers’ workshop Saturday, Kennedy said.

Ben Jacobs, an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction, said the workshop will give teachers the tools to explain genocide to their students.

“It’s a way for it to definitely reach beyond the University setting and the academic setting and actually filter more down to the ground,” Jacobs said.

The workshop, which is free to the public, will address the issue of teaching genocide in schools and will feature genocide instructors, including Totten.

United Nations peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guéhenno, in a Reuters article Monday, said the situation in Darfur is at risk of spreading farther into the country as violence continues to escalate.

Monday, the Sudanese government attacked Muhajeria, a town controlled by the only rebel group that signed a 2006 peace deal with the government.

The international aid organization Doctors Without Borders announced it counted 39 seriously wounded individuals in the town before workers were forced to flee the region.

Peacekeepers in the region worry that the escalating violence will set back peace talks scheduled for Oct. 27 in Libya.