By KARI YOOK
To those who live in Darfur, the terror of death, starvation, rape, and torture is as prosaic as the earth they walk upon. We have heard these terrifying words so many times that they have all but lost their meanings. However, I urge you to not turn a blind eye to these stark images: a nine-year-old girl leaning noiselessly upon a tree after she has been brutally raped, or a teenage boy thumbing the identification cards of the family members whose executions he bore witness to – this is the reality.
The Sudanese people live in constant fear of this government-instigated brutality that has killed over 400,000 people and displaced over 2.5 million more. Sudanese civilians, our brothers and sisters of the human race, are utterly enveloped in torture that few Americans want to or, are even able to, imagine. Is this why each passing day, the media, the government, and the citizens of America take little notice of this unsettling humanitarian emergency? Is this why we have taken no meaningful, concerted action even though we are a leading nation of the world today?
Initially, the Sudanese government and the United Nations attempted to bring the savagery to an end by granting power to the African Union (A.U.), which was established to rid the African continent of division. In addition, the Sudanese government endorsed the A.U. because the existence of the Union would prevent unwelcome sanctions as well as U.S. or European intervention.
It was a feasible proposition in theory, yet in actuality, the A.U. soon became under-funded and under-manned.
In October of 2004, in response to the A.U.’s effort to increase the number of monitors, peacekeepers, and civilian police, the United Nations proposed deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force to Sudan. However, the Sudanese government immediately rejected the proposal as an act of Western invasion, and consequently asked not only the A.U. task force but also the U.N. to leave Darfur by the end of September 2006, ultimately asserting its opposition to Western help while the situation continued to worsen.
Regrettably, the A.U., unable to support such a large number of peacekeepers, has fallen into disarray since then. All subsequent proposals to deploy UN peacekeeping forces to Sudan met with fierce opposition from the Sudanese government. To this very day, President Bashir continues to ignore political pressure to end the genocide. But despite the seemingly desperate situation, there is a source of hope: America’s youth.
The future leaders of tomorrow can make a difference, even today, by shaking our national conscience into action. America’s youth can raise money and send it to non-governmental organizations such as the Save Darfur Coalition, Genocide Watch or the Genocide Intervention Network. Organize fasts for Darfur one day every month and donate what they save to humanitarian aid organizations; start awareness groups at school.
Invite speakers to raise awareness about the issue; organize a lobbying day to talk with policymakers at the State Department, Defense Department, and the National Security Council.
Insist that their senators share information we have on crimes by Sudanese leaders with the International Criminal Court and also that the senators demand enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1706 to put 20,000 UN troops in Darfur to protect civilians in villages and refugee camps.
What better way to urge action than for our own youth to shake up the adults’ conscience for the sake of our humanity, our future, and our nation?
The efforts of Westfield High School DECA (a marketing club) students, which included the circulation of about 5,000 green-and-white ribbons, leading up to “Darfur Awareness Day”, as well as Thomas Jefferson High School’s school-wide assembly to raise awareness by inviting Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, to urge students to join his efforts to stop the atrocities are examples of America’s youth in action.
Such efforts have in turn propelled actions at the state and national legislature levels. Recently Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th) and Delegate Shannon Valentine (D-23) introduced a bill SB1331 that will require divestment by the Virginia Retirement System from companies whose business practices support genocide in the Sudan.
On the national level, Congressman Wolf is raising awareness in Congress as chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus. As people who are privileged enough to live in the safety of our own homes amidst the love of our own families, we all bear a moral obligation to take action, whether young or old. We owe it to those like the nine-year-old girl and the teenage boy, who have rights just as you and I, to a life filled with love and hope, and more importantly a future free of torment and torture.
Kari Yook is the daughter of Esther Yook, Director of the Speaking Center.