October 10, 2006

Darfur adviser advocates student action

Students are integral in bringing more national attention to the situation in Darfur, said John Prendergast, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, in a talk Thursday entitled “Genocide in Our Time: The Ongoing Crisis in Darfur.” The event, sponsored by Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND), was the third of its kind in less than a year.

“The only way we’re going to get a change in the situation in Darfur is if we make more noise than they have,” Prendergast told the crowd of about 50 people in the Hinds Geological Sciences building, referring to the current administration in Washington. “If we don’t take action now, if we don’t push this agenda harder as citizens, then hundreds of thousands of people will die in the next six months, as we say, on our watch.”

Prendergast characterized the administration’s policy toward Sudan as “gentle persuasion,” whereby the United States is offering economic incentives to Sudan in an effort to change their policy toward the people of Darfur.

The Sudanese government has faced widespread accusations of human-rights violations in Darfur, including mass murder, looting, and systemic rape.

Prendergast criticized economic incentives as “ineffective,” suggesting the United States was torn between conflicting interests in Sudan.

“They want us to think that they care about the genocide, but the truth is the United States isn’t active in Sudan because of this very complicated counterterrorism issue,” Prendergast said.

According to Prendergast, cooperation between the United States and Sudan in the international war against terror has “handcuffed” the current administration in its ability to address the genocide in Darfur.

“It is up to us to tell our government that it is not acceptable to trade people’s lives for other objectives,” Prendergast said. “We need to pursue both objectives as vigorously as we possibly can.”

Prendergast, who recently returned from Darfur on a trip with Scott Pelley of CBS’s 60 Minutes II, spent the beginning of his talk outlining the current situation in Sudan.

“There are six or seven people who call the shots in Sudan. These people need to have individual culpability ascribed to them,” Prendergast said. “History has shown that if we target individuals in the regime and say ‘here are the consequences of your actions,’ they will change their behavior.”

Prendergast was introduced by Rebecca Shi, a third-year in the College who helped found a STAND chapter on campus earlier this year. Last week, Shi sent a letter to University President Robert Zimmer urging him to divest funds from companies widely considered complicit in the Darfur genocide.

“Our main target is not the University. Our main target is ending the genocide,” Shi said. “But what we find is that engaging in the divestment campaign with the University empowers students as agents of change. We are not one of those people in Washington or Sudan that can direct policy, but what we can do is influence policies by educating students.”

Prendergast also emphasized the power of student activism.

“Nationally, in order to influence this administration, in order to influence Congress, I cannot think of a more potent coalition than when the Muslim, Christian, Jewish groups get together with students,” Prendergast said. “Do joint visits to members of Congress. Go to candidate rallies together. They can’t win by opposing a group like this.”