Volume 76, Number 45 | April 4 - 10, 2007

A child in Darfur burned during a bombing.

Save Darfur efforts peak as African crisis continues

By Brooke Edwards

Local student and human-rights activists are stepping up their grassroots efforts to raise awareness about the continued violence in Darfur, which has been labeled the first genocide of the 21st century.

Last week, New York University student groups held a series of events titled “One Week for Darfur.” The events began with a candlelight vigil in Washington Square Park on Monday night. There was a panel discussion, featuring former Sudanese slave Simon Deng and a representative from Amnesty International. And there was a screening of the documentary “Screamers,” which explores why genocide keeps occurring. The film features members of the band System of a Down, who themselves are all grandchildren of genocide survivors.

Last Wednesday, students received a free dessert in exchange for calling their senator or congressmember on the Darfur issue. The callers were asked to request strengthening support to African Union troops, currently in charge of peacekeeping in the region. They also asked the politicians to push for deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces. And they advocated for increasing humanitarian aid, as well as establishing the area as a no-fly zone to prevent future aerial attacks.

On Friday, 50 students and supporters rallied outside the United Nations’ Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China, in protest over China’s continued trading with the Sudanese government in spite of Sudan’s role in the genocide in Darfur. Sudan is China’s biggest oil supplier; in turn, China provides Sudan with arms, helicopters and other resources for the war.

Lauryn Siegal, an N.Y.U. graduate student, attended Friday’s rally. She was impressed, in particular, by one sophomore’s powerful words.

“Isaac Rowlett of N.Y.U. delivered a moving and thoughtful speech about how he came to be involved in the fight for human rights,” she said. “The N.Y.U. kids involved in all this are really passionate and seem to know a lot more about things than the average undergrad.”

Darfur is in the western part of Sudan, in East Africa, and covers an area roughly the size of Texas. The area has seen violence for years, with clashes between tribal groups over competition for scarce resources.

In February 2003, rebel groups took up arms against the national government, saying they were not protecting the Darfuri people from the constant civil disputes or taking enough action to protect and develop the area’s natural resources.

The Sudanese government responded by giving free rein to Arab militias known as janjaweed. The janjaweed began attacking villages, killing, raping and abducting people and destroying their homes and property. Sudanese armed forces at times attack alongside the janjaweed, and provide them with uniforms and with air support before village raids.

The U.N. estimates more than 200,000 people have died since the conflict began, though other groups put the estimate at more than 400,000. Another 2 million are now refugees due to the conflict.

The Save Darfur Coalition, which created the ad campaign visible in many subway cars and stations, has declared the last week in April as a week of action called “Global Days for Darfur.” Many local groups and businesses have responded by planning their own awareness events in the weeks to come.

In the East Village, Jimmy’s No. 43, on E. Seventh St. between Second and Third Aves., is holding “Pasties for Peace: An Evening of Burlesque and Performance to Benefit Save Darfur Now” on Fri., April 13, at 7 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. The event, designed to raise awareness and funds to stop the genocide, will feature Tula LaGams and her burlesque dancers, performance artists and spoken word and comedy performers from across the city.

The Public Theater, at 425 Lafayette St., will be running developmental showings of Winter Miller’s play “In Darfur” from April 13 to April 29. The play follows three intertwined lives at a camp for internally displaced persons in Darfur, including an aid worker’s mission to save and protect lives, a journalist’s pursuit to deliver a Page One story and a Darfuri woman’s quest for safety. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales will go to Save Darfur and the Genocide Intervention Network

The Knitting Factory, at 74 Leonard St., will host a concert benefit titled “Where’s Darfur?” at 8 p.m. on April 23. The event will feature performers from “RENT,” “Avenue Q,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “The Pirate Queen” and more. Gary Fritz, the Women of Calabash Drumming Ensemble, Clare Burson and Councilmember David Yassky are also expected to participate. Organizers are asking for donations and for volunteers to assist with the event.

The Lower East Side Girls Club, at 56 E. First St., will be holding an event called “Art for Darfur” on April 29 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It will feature an auction of donated work by local artists. There will also be musical and dance performances, and all funds raised will go to assist civilians in Darfur.

International groups are concerned that the violence in Darfur is now spreading. Thousands of refugees are fleeing into neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic. Fighting along the borders is stirring up rebel groups in these countries.

Members of the Sudanese government deny much of the genocide and have been resistant to allowing outsiders into the region. In February, Sudan refused to issue visas to members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, who were sent to report on the situation.

Last Wednesday, Sudanese president Omar al-Beshir finally agreed to allow the U.N. to send peacekeeping forces. However, some remain doubtful the leader will follow through with his promise. Rather, they fear he let in peacekeepers only to stop proposed U.S. and European sanctions.

The U.N. plans to send a small force initially, to join the 7,000 African Union troops that have been unable to control the bloodshed. Eventually, the U.N. intends to have more than 20,000 peacekeeping soldiers in Darfur.

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