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Prendergast urges action on Darfur

Laruen Knauf | Friday, September 19, 2008

Human rights activist John Prendergast spoke about the devastation of Dafur in western Sudan yesterday in the auditorium of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Prendergast, who witnessed firsthand the effects of a national genocide, said apathy is not an option, even for students halfway around the world.

“Although Darfur may be in its darkest hour, it is always darkest before the dawn. Sudan’s dawn is on its way,” Prendergast said. “Only we, in this room, can bring light to Sudan’s darkness.”

Prendergast began his lecture with a story of a Sudanese refugee named Ameena, who told him her tragic account of the night her village was crushed by the militia. Two of her four children were killed, and she was forced to travel miles through the harsh Sahara Desert. When she was done with her story, she said to him: “Now that you know, you must do something.”

The perpetrators of the genocide belong to a militia called the “Janjaweed,” which acts “with deadly efficiency, and is backed by the Sudanese government,” Prendergast said.

“The Sudanese government is making money hand over fist and has a lot to lose if the rebels seize power; therefore, they want to defeat the rebellion and send a message to the entire country.”

Prendergast said there was a wide array of reasons for the continuation of genocide in Darfur, including the war in Iraq, counter-terrorism efforts and China’s oil investments in the country. These have greatly inhibited efforts to extinguish the conflicts, making Sudan “a unique country – one of the greatest challenges of our time,” according to Prendergast.

Prendergast urged the audience to abandon the Hollywood view that African nations are “huge chasms of despair” and to see them as having “limitless potential for transformation.”

Prendergast described both presidential candidates and their camps as committed to the cause in Darfur, but he said they must be able to hear the constituency loud and clear.

“Raise your voices for Ameena, for the people of Sudan, for all the people who have been targeted in genocides past and present and say ‘not on our watch,” he said.

Twenty-five years ago, Prendergast began his work to bring peace and relief to Africa. Beginning with the famine in Ethiopia, he eventually moved onto conflict resolution and more recently, confronting genocide, particularly in Sudan.