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Students create Sudan awareness

Jen Rowling | Monday, November 22, 2004

A group of Notre Dame students has collaborated on campus to build awareness and take action against the atrocities in Sudan.

Senior Stephanie Aberger, one of the founders of the group, said this group was a collaboration of many ideas.

“It was originally a sub committee of Peace Collation but grew into a bigger group drawing from students from groups all over the campus,” Aberger said. “What happened was that individuals with different ideas about organizing Sudan events came together and determined that there was a need for an umbrella organization to oversee and coordinate events regarding the Sudan.”

The group has formulated a two-step plan, awareness and action, to battle the situation in Sudan. Currently the group is in the awareness phase while finalizing plans for action.

“The campaign is now focused on raising awareness – making people aware that genocide is happening right now,” Aberger said.

Patrick Corrigan, an original member of Notre Dame Sudan Steering Committee, believes there is a larger message that needs to be spread.

“The important thing about this situation is that the genocide is preventable if the international community would act,” Corrigan said. “The Sudanese government would likely disarm the Janjaweed militia and prevent them from killing Africans in Darfur if the international community put pressure on it to do so.”

The Notre Dame Sudan Steering Committee consists of about 20 students campus-wide with a large number from Amnesty International and Africa Faith and Justice Network.

“Most people don’t know about this,” Corrigan said. “If people at Notre Dame learned of the atrocities, it would shock their conscience, and they would want to take action.”

The team of students comprising The Sudan Steering Committee has finalized plans to build awareness. Members of the committee are passing out green ribbons, as part of a larger national campaign which began at Harvard University. One hundred humanitarian and faith-based organizations are now wearing green ribbons.

Each ribbon distributed at Notre Dame contains information about Sudan. A petition has also been submitted to pass the ribbons out at dorm masses. In the meantime, students can find the green ribbons at the Center for Social Concerns.

“Wearing a green ribbon is something for everyone,” Corrigan said. “People from engineers to business people to peace studies majors and everything in-between can wear these ribbons, because we are all responsible for our government’s response to terrible situations in the world.”

The committee has posted signs around campus with a photo of an innocent victimized young girl reading “Never Again” and is providing facts on the genocide. Currently, the group is also working to place a petition to be read at Sunday dorm masses.

After heightening awareness, the group plans to take action. Tentatively set for Jan. 26, the committee will formulate a symposium made up of the most highly-qualified speakers on the Sudan genocide. A possible speaker is Nick Kristof, a New York Times journalist who has written on Sudan.

“We are currently inviting speakers and fundraising as we need to raise a great deal of money to bring in the caliber of speakers,” Aberger said.

A writing campaign will accompany the panel speakers in the action plan. The Sudan Steering Committee plan includes writing letters to the U.S. Catholic Bishops and asking them to condemn the genocide and provide a moral voice. Letters will also be written to the U.S. government requesting that humanitarian aid be provided along with pressure on the Sudanese government.

Civil War in Darfur began in 2003, after two primarily black African rebel groups, Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, revolted against the government which they claimed neglected western Sudan. Government attacks have resulted and the Janjaweed, armed nomadic Arab tribesmen have been used to subdue the rebellion.

Arab militias have been accused of ethnic cleansing, killing, raping and torturing innocent victims. The Sudanese government has also been convicted of assisting the militia in air bombings over the region.

The United Nations called the Darfur situation the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has claimed at least 70,000 lives and has forced 1.8 million people from their homes.

Father Robert Dowd, political science and Kellogg Institute Faculty member, said the genocide in Darfur is a complex situation.

“This is genocide for political reasons. While it seems that some progress has been made, I fear this crisis is once again slipping outside our radar screen. More pressure must be asserted on Sudan,” Dowd said. “I’m not a big fan of sanctions. I don’t think they all work that well and often they hurt the very people they are intended to help. However, targeted sanctions on the bank account of elites and travel bans on leaders of the Khartoum (Sudanese) government may work”

Professor Daniel Lindley, political science and international peace studies faculty member, said the United States has classified the situation in Sudan genocide. Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to the case as genocide.

With more people taking notice throughout the government, organizers on campus are hoping students will take notice too.

“I think our effort to raise awareness about Sudan is going to grow exponentially … every day the green ribbons are more and more of a presence on our campus,” Aberger said. “Students recognize that this is a genocide and they understand that promises of “never again” after the holocaust, after Rwanda are empty if we remain bystanders to the current genocide.”