TOPICS: Darfur can’t wait for diplomats to act

In Sudan’s Darfur region, today is just like any other day. Except the daily questions faced by the 3.5 million people still surviving genocide there tend to be far from ordinary: “Will the government allow the aid workers to bring food today?” “Will I have to bring my gasping baby

girl to the doctor’s tent today?”

Or, on those days when there’s no more firewood to cook meals: “Do I go out foraging and risk rape today, or let my husband risk getting killed instead?”

Since 2003, the government of Sudan has tacitly sponsored the killing of some 450,000 ethnic Darfurians. The violent campaign has destroyed 450 villages and displaced 2.5 million people. Many have fled to refugee camps, their only haven from the janjaweed, the government-backed Arab militias that terrorise the region. Despite calling the crisis a genocide in September 2004, the US and other Western nations have yet to take the strong steps needed to protect the vulnerable and allow the displaced to return home.

Instead, the only military protection Darfur’s vulnerable have from falling victim to a genocidal “final solution” comes from an under-resourced 7,000-troop African Union (AU) force. This insufficient force is the last line of defence for Darfurians. As a result, in barren camps in Sudan and neighbouring Chad, millions of people face agonising daily decisions. That’s why STAND, the anti-genocide group I led, organised sponsored fasts at campuses across the country and around the world last month. The money we raised will pay for the support of AU patrols to accompany families as they forage for firewood outside the secure boundaries of the camps, so mothers won’t get raped and fathers won’t get killed. If this sounds like an absurd fundraiser, it is. But we’d rather be absurd and save a few lives than sit back and pretend that the empty rhetoric makes any difference for people facing life and death choices.

As student activists, we don’t have an army, a vote on the UN Security Council, or leverage with China, which extracts hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from Sudan a day and provides the government with military equipment and support. But we do have thousands of members and chapters at more than 600 high schools and colleges. We’re using our voices to urge the UN to put a robust blue-helmet force with strong military capabilities on the ground in Darfur.

The world has a responsibility to protect the survivors of this and any genocide; a genocidal government should not have sovereignty on its side. As Darfurians continue to ask their tragic daily questions — “Can I eat today?” “Will I be raped?” — the diplomats and leaders of the world’s great powers are still asking the wrong questions: “How can we look busy on Darfur?” “How can we avoid intervening?” “How can we keep Darfur out of the papers?” There are a lot of hot-air questions floating around this issue, but there’s only one that

really matters: Don’t we have the responsibility to protect one another? — The Christian Science Monitor