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Children in Darfur

The only protection for the people of Darfur is the underfunded and lightly armed African Union peacekeeping troop.

Events at U to examine Darfur genocide

By Cass Erickson

March 29, 2006

In Sudan's Darfur region, an area roughly the size of France, Arab Muslim militia members called the Janjaweed, heavily armed by the Sudanese government, have hunted down, raped, and killed more than 200,000 black Muslim farmers and their families, creating what the United Nations has declared the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. They have displaced another 2 million people from their homes, driving them into neighboring Chad where the conflict in now spreading. What began as a struggle for land and water between Arab herders and black farmers has evolved into an ethnic cleansing, designed, according to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, to free up the land for nomadic Arabs and their camels.

Although the Bush administration has called the situation "genocide," if you haven't heard of what's happening in Darfur, you're not alone. Because of scant media coverage, most Americans are unaware of this disastrous state of affairs.

"The Arabs and Muslims don't seem to be concerned [about Darfur], even though the victims are Muslims."

But three independent filmmakers--Aisha Bain, Jen Marlowe, and Adam Shapiro--are hoping to change that with their documentary, Darfur Diaries: Message from Home, which codirector Marlowe will introduce to the Twin Cities on Friday, March 31, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 25 of Mondale Hall. In late 2004, they trekked to Darfurian refugee camps in eastern Chad to interview displaced people--civilians and fighters resisting the Sudanese government, teachers, students, parents, children, and community leaders.

The filmmakers faced considerable danger because the region is so threatening and lawless that it's currently off limits to diplomats and United Nations aid workers. Only one human rights organization, Doctors Without Borders, is helping people in Koloy, Chad.

"What we see from the Darfur situation is that 'never again' is a clich?," says Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. "They were the watchwords in 1945 with the end of the Holocaust, and now we tolerate people becoming the victims of genocide. The Arabs and Muslims don't seem to be concerned, even though the victims are Muslims. Africa is off the radar for almost the entire world."

Despite the Bush administration's declaration of genocide a year and a half ago, only the United States has made a few strides to help. China looks the other way while deferring to its own economic self interests in trade with Sudan and the export of Sudanese oil. The European community is quiet despite the fact that Sudan was a British colony. While serving its month-long presidency on the United Nations Security Council in February, the United States began talking with its allies about sending United Nations peacekeeping troops to Darfur to help the African Union, a lightly armed and underfunded peacekeeping troop that currently has 7,000 troops on the ground.

On April 11, the U will present more insights into the Darfur situation. Mark Hanis, chief executive of the Genocide Intervention Network in Washington, D.C., will speak about the conflict from 12:10 to 1 p.m. on April 11 in Room 40 of Mondale Hall, and at a teach-in the same day from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Room 140 of Nolte Center. Leaders in Transition, a University living and learning community, is sponsoring the event.

The Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Human Rights Center, and the Space and Place Research Group are sponsoring Darfur Diaries: Message from Home. To learn more about the film, visit