The following story is the second in a five part feature series on Africa News Tonight on the continuing humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Activists and protest groups around the world are trying to influence policy on Darfur – the western province of Sudan where indigenous groups have been fighting for greater autonomy. The central government is backing Arab militias, and the US has labeled their attacks against civilians genocide.
Our first story dealt with Darfur refugees who spoke at a recent demonstration at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington – one of many concerning Darfur held around the world the same day. The theme of the protest was violence against women and girls in the region. Refugees told their stories and made a plea to the international community for help. This story is on the student anti-genocide coalition called “STAND.”
“STAND” was born out of a meeting in September two years ago at the Holocaust Museum here in the nation’s capital. Soon after, the group spearheaded a campus rally at Washington’s Georgetown University. It featured students reading the accounts of those who witnessed atrocities of friends and family in Darfur. The following excerpts are from different students reading the testimony:
"At 7 am, my sister, aged 43, was captured by the military and the janjaweed. They tried to sleep with her. She resisted. I was present and could hear her. “I will not do something like this, even if you kill me”…and they immediately killed her ...
... after the attacks, we ran for four hours to our neighbors … on our way from Azernay two women were raped by the Janjaweed.
... There was also another rape of a young single girl, age 17, she was raped by six men in front of her house -- in front of her mother.
... I was with another woman aged at least 18, who had her son with her on the night we were abducted, she was pregnant and was killed, as they said it is the child of an enemy.
... I and another woman buried seven men. We could not bury that evening in a shelter. But the janjaweed returned in the night and burned the shelter and the bodies."
Erin Mazursky, is the executive director of STAND, which has grown to more than 600 chapters around the world. She spoke at the recent demonstration at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.
She said, "Rape is a constant reality in Darfur. In preparing for my remarks, I looked into accounts of Darfurian women who’d survived rape, hoping I could find a passage comparable to an account of an American woman who’d also survived rape – a crime of violence that largely happens behind closed doors in this country. But I found none, because the reality is that rape in Darfur is not like it is here in the US. It is used as a systematic weapon of war – used as a tool of stifling the reproduction of an entire population of people."
In other remarks, STAND’s executive director said the crisis has been going on for years, but despite the desperation, people still look to the future. She said, "It’s been almost four years since the genocide began, yet it continues. Despite our protests the Sudanese government continues to deny its crimes, and our government continues to argue for other priorities. We have to continue this movement because it serves as one of Darfur’s last hopes."
The STAND leader expressed concern about the continuing widespread lack of awareness of the Darfur crisis despite its high visibility over the years. She said, "It is hard to imagine that everyone in the US does not know about Darfur, but the reality is that only about 20% of the country’s population even knows what, or where, Darfur is. That leaves 80% of the population that we still have to tell about the atrocities – 80% of people who are able to go about their day without any knowledge of the humanity we share with the people of Darfur."
Mazursky says widespread awareness is needed and that being born in the U-S, “does not exclude us from the issues of others.” She adds that STAND has done its part to keep Darfur in the news, and in the bills before the US Congress, but she says if the genocide continues, the movement must also continue. She said, "We are all part of this human connection…and we owe it not just to the women and to the men in this country but to the women and the men around the world, especially the people of Darfur."
STAND’s executive director says as a woman, she is a symbol of all women who face rape. As a student, she says she feels a responsibility to take action, and as an American, she says she shares the responsibility to protect, and the need to urge others to join in. She urged members of the crowd to use their freedom to continue to fight – and to "push even harder."